Students sitting in circle talking.

WDMCS Students Explore Equity in Arts-Based Program

More than 50 students from Valley High School, Walnut Creek Campus, and Valley Southwoods Freshman High School had the opportunity to attend their first equity training session on Wednesday, Oct. 4. The students took part in Youth Equity Stewardship (YES!), an arts-based education program that is part of the Deep Equity framework chosen to guide the West Des Moines Community Schools’ equity work.

Youth Equity Stewardship Co-Founder/Executive Director Benjie Howard—son of Deep Equity creator Gary Howard—and Creative Director Wade Colwell-Sandoval led students through discussions and activities designed to help them examine their personal cultures and journeys. Songs, poems, and interactive activities supported the students’ learning.

In order to establish Tone and Trust, the first phase of Deep Equity training, students first worked together to create community agreements, guidelines for discussion that help to create a welcoming environment. WDMCS students’ community agreements included respecting the golden rule, assuming good intent, listening to understand, and collaborating. They also discussed stewardship and their personal strengths and growth areas as stewards in the community.

The students then completed an activity district staff experienced during their training in July. Students examined the statement “We, the people,” from the U.S. Constitution. They compared and contrasted the groups of people it represented in 1787—white, male property-owners—with the people present in the room. Then, they evaluated on a scale from zero to 100 percent how well the country has done making Constitution ideals accessible to all people. WDMCS students were approximately spread from 10 percent to 60 percent. They discussed social progress in small groups before representatives presented their thoughts to the entire group. The workshop ended with a discussion about what diversity is and a reflective poetry-writing activity. Students were given the opportunity to share these poems with the entire group. It was a powerful and emotional way to culminate the day’s activities.

Students will meet again on Jan. 24 and April 18 to continue their training. They will participate in three total days of training during the 2017-18 school year in order to build a greater understanding of equity, diversity, and issues of social justice.