Storm clouds couldn’t keep teachers away from a rally last night in Bloomfield to support the Black Lives Matter movement.
Hundreds turned out for a community march for students, teachers, and families—Black Lives Matter in Bloomfield Schools—organized by Carmen Arace Intermediate School fifth grade teacher Mary Kay Rendock and her colleagues throughout the district.
“The idea to do this came to me after seeing East Hartford teachers rally for their kids and Windsor High School students organize their own event,” Rendock says. “I wanted ours to combine both teachers and students to show that we are one voice. Our students, most of them being black or brown, deserve to hear their teachers loudly proclaim, ‘Your lives matter! Your voice matters!’”
Rendock, who is Connecticut’s 2006 Teacher of the Year, gathered all 2020 Bloomfield Teachers of the Year—representing seven schools—to help plan the event.
“I wanted to harness their leadership in their own school buildings to bring this march together,” she says. “They are an incredible cohort of educators who care deeply about their students.”
“Our teachers around the state care deeply about equity and social justice, and on a personal level, about their students and families,” says CEA President Jeff Leake, who marched with the Bloomfield school community. “This event is just one of the many ways our members demonstrate what’s important to their profession, what matters to them, and what’s key to preserving our democracy.”
The procession, which began at Bloomfield’s Park Avenue school complex and ended on the town green, included chants of “Black Lives…Matter” and “Say his name: George Floyd; say her name: Breonna Taylor.” It culminated in speeches, music, and poetry readings from both teachers and students.
In this together
Zoe Morris, who graduated from Bloomfield High School in June and is headed for Smith College in the fall, read from fellow black poet Nikki Giovanni’s “Revolutionary Dreams.”
“This march means a lot to me,” Morris said. “Being part of a school that’s predominantly black in a community with a large black population, it’s necessary to have this conversation and uplift each other. It means a lot to have teachers I’ve known since my early grades—black teachers, but also white ones—supporting us as members of the black community. They are our allies, helping us get through everything that’s going on, and I’m really excited to have this moment.”
Bloomfield High School English teacher Andrea Henchey, who taught Morris and describes her as a young poet in her own right, said teachers organized the event because, “We wanted to communicate to our students that we see you and are aware of this moment in history and this critical movement that’s happening. As teachers, we will take part in it by revisiting curriculum, by looking at disciplinary practices that discriminate, and more, to ensure that Black Lives Matter in our schools. Our message is, ‘We care for you, we love you, and we want to get this right.’”
Henchey, who has taught in Bloomfield for the past seven of her 15 years, notes that her district is often described as racially isolated—more than ninety percent black—and that while Bloomfield has a higher percentage of teachers of color than many other districts, a majority of teachers are white.
Kindergarten teacher Caryn Pastor, who is entering her eighth year as a teacher, said she and her fellow Bloomfield Teachers of the Year liked the idea of representing each of the district’s schools and uniting as one in peaceful protest with students, families, and community members.
“We care so much about our students, our families, and the Black Lives Matter movement,” says Pastor. “We have a responsibility to uphold, because education is the foundation where it starts. Education helps young people understand what’s happening, and teachers can show students, by their words and actions, that you matter, your voice matters, we support you, and we hear you. We liked the idea of having both students and teachers at this march share out by singing, reading a poem or book, or speaking. Having our students be a part of it is a big thing. Change will happen. As teachers, we want change, and that can start in school by having important conversations and by having books where students see themselves represented. Despite the pandemic, we can take this moment and do something positive. We can be proactive and vocal.”
Culturally responsive classroom
Lisa Smith-Horn, a 30-year teacher who has been at Bloomfield’s Wintonbury Early Childhood Magnet School for the past five years, was one of the speakers at the march. She read aloud from A Kid’s Book About Racism, by Jelani Memory.
“As a pre-K teacher, I often thought my students were too young to learn about race, but I have been doing a lot of reading this summer, much of it about culturally responsive teaching, and I realize that when you don’t talk about it, you’re denying the experiences of children of color. In preschool, we have a chance to affirm students’ racial identities and validate their experiences. My growth as an educator this summer is understanding that it’s OK to talk about racism, because then we can help children process it and help all children recognize and call attention to it.”
Smith-Horn, whose school serves children with special needs from seven different cities and towns, cherishes the diversity of her classroom. “There is no one dominant color. It’s beautiful, because it’s truly diverse and it feels like what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., dreamed of.”
She acknowledges that in spite of two graduate degrees and decades of teaching experience, “I am just beginning to internalize the true history of African Americans,” adding, “It wasn’t until three years ago that I truly began to understand the continued systemic racism that permeates our country, the daily struggle that people of color face, and the implicit racism that guides our actions, much of it unconsciously.” She believes strongly that teacher preparation programs should include a course in anti-racism.
“When teachers learn the history of racism, identify their own biases, and learn about the research into how our unconscious actions can impede equitable learning, there is an opportunity to make a real shift toward equity in education,” she says.
CEA provides members with professional development in implicit bias, cultural competence, restorative practice, and more. To schedule free training in your district, contact your local president or visit cea.org/professional-development/.