At West Des Moines’ Valley High School, faculty is finishing its second year of Deep Equity Training, interested students are wrapping up another year of YES! (Youth Equity Stewardship Program), and the two sides got together last month for a day of equity learning.
David Maxwell, principal of Valley High, told the West Des Moines Guide in a telephone interview that the projects were sparked by a fight about five years ago that the school determined was instigated by racial content on social media.
At a resulting panel discussion, Katy Swalwell — a Valley High graduate and professor at Iowa State University — offered to bring in her team to conduct an “equity audit.” The school accepted her offer.
An equity audit looks at achievement, suspension and other date through the lenses of race, gender, socioeconomic status and other demographics.
“We found that inequitable practices were taking place at Valley High School,” Maxwell said. For example, white and Asian students had higher test scores than Latinos and African Americans, who also had higher suspension rates and zero representation in the school’s gifted and talented program.
“That’s what we mean by ‘equity,’” Maxwell said, “asking ourselves if our policies and procedures are fair and equitable for all students to take advantage of.”
The school began participating in Corwin Publishing’s Deep Equity Consulting Program, offering seminars that teachers could choose from. For example, Maxwell said, in January and February he led sessions on how to have difficult conversations and the history of the “achievement gap.”
The program has five phases, he explained, and Valley HS is at “Tone and Trust” — creating space for “real, honest, authentic conversations” about sensitive issues.
Meanwhile, interested students were taking advantage of the YES! (Youth Equity Stewardship) program that meets in the school three times a year.
“We learned about becoming change agents in our schools and presenting these issues to other students,” said Taylor Thomas, a 17-year-old senior who will be attending Simpson College in the fall. The purpose, she said, is to “highlight inequities and solve them.”
YES! has an arts/performance component that allows students to share in different media what they have learned; this is what they did for their teachers at Valley High on April 4.
The school, which has a 74 percent white student body and only a handful of nonwhite faculty, intends to continue both programs next year.