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Building an Equitable School Climate at UCAP

Jaretta Konneh

Jul 19, 2023

The UCAP School in Providence, RI, partnered with New England Basecamp (NEB) to launch an equity initiative aimed at fostering an inclusive school climate. With NEB's support, the UCAP Equity Team developed an action plan to address priority areas, including cognitive demand, physical environment representation, and equitable curriculum. The collaborative efforts resulted in positive growth on all indicators and demonstrated the power of personalized support and teamwork in achieving equitable outcomes for students.

Equitable school climate support is a crucial aspect of creating a positive learning environment for all students. When students feel safe and supported, they are more likely to thrive academically, socially, and emotionally (Darling-Hammond, L., & Cook-Harvey, C. M. 2018). Lynn Prentiss, Executive Director at The UCAP School (UCAP) in Providence RI, recognized the importance of creating an equitable school climate and received a grant from United Way to start an equity initiative. In March 2022, she was referred to New England Basecamp (NEB) by Julie Nora, Executive Director at International Charter School, who had previously worked with NEB and was impressed by their strong system-level support.

To achieve their goal of creating an equitable school climate, UCAP and Hannah Goodwin-Brown (NEB Director of Systems and Programs), and Oneika Castro (NEB Professional Learning Specialist) formed the UCAP Equity Team that had representatives from all members of the UCAP community. The team created a walkthrough tool to measure equitable-based practices at UCAP based on the school's priorities. The walkthrough tool was adapted from CASEL's rubric and Massachusetts Culturally Responsive Teaching Rubric and consisted of seven categories: Teacher-Student Relationships, Student-Student Relationships, Content, Windows & Mirrors, Cognitive Demand, Discourse, and Physical Environment.

In Spring 2022, the UCAP Equity Team, with NEB support, conducted initial walkthroughs based on school priorities and Surveyworks data to identify the greatest areas of need. The baseline data showed that “Cognitive Demand” scored the lowest across the school(1.33). Data also revealed that the physical environment did not reflect the diverse backgrounds and identities of the students. Furthermore, the rubric indicator "Windows and Mirrors" earned an average score of 1.5 out of 4, indicating that the academic curriculum did not equally represent the diverse identities of the UCAP student body.

From there, the NEB supported the UCAP Equity Team in creating an action plan with three goals:

Goal 1: Cognitive Demand

Our school community will focus on cognitive demand by ensuring students’ access to content that is scaffolded, pushes students’ thinking, and meets rigorous standards.  As a result, we will see an increase of between 0.7 and 1 points. By November 17th, we will achieve at least a 2.0 on the Equity Walkthrough Rubric in November and April, as compared to the spring data. Our goal is to attain a minimum score of 2.0 on the Equity Walkthrough Rubric during the months of November and April, in comparison to the data from the previous spring.

Goal 2: Physical Environment

Through professional learning experiences, coaching opportunities, spotlight months, and community events, we will increase the representation of community member identities and evidence of collaboration in our school’s physical environment. As a result, by the end of the year we will see an average score of 2 out of 4 on the rubric indicator “Physical Environment.”

Goal 3: Equitable Curriculum

By June 30th, 2023, all academic teachers will be trained to use elements of the Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium audit rubric and the UCAP Equity Walkthrough Rubric to analyze, revise, and teach at least one curricular unit.  As a result, the UCAP classroom walkthrough data from Spring 2023 will show an increase of at least 0.5 points as compared to Spring 2022 on the rubric indicator “Windows and Mirrors,” and favorable responses to Surveyworks “School Engagement” questions will increase by at least 5 percentage points across all subgroups.

During November's walkthrough, UCAP showed growth on all seven indicators. They are currently meeting Goal 1: Cognitive Demand and Goal 2: Physical Environment. 

The support provided by NEB was well-received by UCAP, with 92% to 94% of participants responding positively. Neida Gilmete, UCAP School Counselor, said, "Hannah is always available. She's great at communicating and leading tough conversations. She's also a great facilitator at meetings, and she provides excellent resources." Amanda Lutrario, UCAP Social Studies Teacher, echoed these sentiments, saying, "Oneika is my equity coach in the classroom. Her perspective is amazing, and as a teacher, it's been incredibly helpful. She's not only assisting me with equity-related issues but also with becoming a better teacher overall." Lynn Prentiss, Executive Director at UCAP, said, "We decided to work with NEB because of their flexibility in meeting our unique needs. We weren't just looking for professional learning opportunities; we were also seeking coaching to build our capacity as teacher leaders. Hannah and Oneika are very easy to work with, and I can reach out to them anytime."

The partnership between UCAP and NEB highlights the importance of personalized support and collaboration in achieving equity and inclusion in schools. By working closely with school leaders, teachers, and staff, NEB was able to develop a tailored approach that addressed the unique needs of UCAP. This led to concrete improvements in the school climate and demonstrated the potential for equitable outcomes for all students.

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