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Northgate Listens holds panel on educational inequity

California State Assembly members Tim Grayson and Catharine Baker led a discussion on current events in the Little Theater last night. It was the second panel organized by student club, Northgate Listens.
Northgate Listens was founded by juniors Aava Farhadi, Sara Wheeler, and Ellora Easton to encourage students to listen to the voices others who possess different and valuable perspectives, and to pay attention to prominent issues within the community. The club organizes panels featuring speakers of diverse backgrounds.

Wheeler explained that for their second event, “we wanted to do something slightly more explicitly political than our last panel. We thought that a great choice for doing that would be our local state assembly members.” She hopes to encourage the student body to question the people who represent them directly. The discussion occurred after this issue’s dea

The first panel of the year was entitled “Eliminating Inequity”, and addressed issues such as racism, classism, and sexism that can generate inequity within the classroom. On Nov. 9, over 100 people including staff, parents, students, and community members gathered in the Little Theater for the two-hour event.

“It is aimed at exposing our community, especially students, to issues that many do not have firsthand experience with and simply broaden people’s minds and perspectives to the issues others face, innovative ideas, and exciting disciplines,” explained Easton.

“Living in the Walnut Creek area, many of us tend to be sheltered from social issues that severely impact the lives of so many students both in our own school and in our region. Inequity in the classroom is an issue that contaminates the basic education of students, affecting their motivation, opportunities and their careers.”

Club founder Sara Wheeler moderated the panel and asked the speakers a series of questions.
One of the speakers, Dr. Mary Raygoza, an Assistant Professor of Education
at St. Mary’s College in Walnut Creek, discussed how she used math education as a vessel for social change. Her curriculum explores how teachers and students investigate real-world topics of social injustice in the contexts of math.

Providing insight on the student perspective was Allyson Tayao, a senior at Northgate and vocal student activist.

“Ignoring our differences doesn’t erase them,” Tayao said, addressing the importance of embracing cultural differences within education. Tayao discussed her experiences as an Asian-American attending a predominantly white school.

The third speaker was Andrew Kodama, recent Cal Berkeley graduate and after school teacher in Berkeley. Kodoma explained the importance of acknowledging what goes on “behind-the-scenes” in a misbehaving child’s life; a difficult or unstable family life may lead a child to act inappropriately in class, he noted.

The speakers discussed how being born with different economic circumstances can have a significant impact on the quality of education one can receive. For example, Tayao noted how students of lower-income families may not be able to afford expensive services such as tutoring or SAT prep that can supplement a student’s education.

Racism, Kodama explained, can also factor into education. Attending Las Lomas in Walnut Creek, a predominantly white high school, Kodama often felt like an outcast due to his “strange” Asian lunches, appearance, and culture. Growing up surrounded by people who do not look or act like you can be extremely isolating, he remarked. As a quiet Asian-American, he noticed how teachers would stereotype him, recommending him for higher math classes despite not actually being good at math. Although he also acknowledged that for other minorities such as black and Hispanics, this discrimination could be worse, with teachers assuming that they are unintelligent.

Speakers also explained the definition of equity. As noted in the panel, the difference between equity and equality can be explained by a simple analogy.

Imagine people are standing behind a fence, trying to watch a baseball game. Equality means giving each person the same number of boxes to stand on. While this may seem like the most “equal” solution, this does not account for the fact that each individual is a different height, with height representing differences in privilege or circumstances. For “taller” people, the box is unnecessarily large, while for “shorter” people, the box is insufficient.

On the other hand, equity argues that each individual should be treated according to need–giving shorter people more boxes to see. Varying levels of support allow all to have equal access to the game.
In applying this principle of equity to education, the speakers argued that instead of treating schools exactly the same, with the same resources and curriculum, each school and student should receive the unique care it needs to thrive.

“We were happy to see that our first Northgate Listens panel had a huge turnout of community members, including numerous Northgate students,” remarked Easton. “There was a lot of student-speaker collaboration and the students seemed immersed in the conversation. I think that everyone, including ourselves, learned a lot from the phenomenal speakers.”

“I found the panel informative and interesting. I agreed with all the points that the three speakers brought up but I disagree that what students learn in school is the same skill students need in real life,” stated senior Emily Wu after the panel.

Northgate Listens plans to have an event every two months, encouraging Northgate students, staff, and community members to take an hour or two to simply listen to the important issues and perspectives within our community.

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