When policymakers search out ways to secure rights to education for disenfranchised students, they often tend to focus on equity in terms of civil rights.
However, a $2.6 million “Excellence through Equity” program launched last fall at D.C.’s public schools provides an inspiring look at how the focus on fairness can also be about the establishment of writing clubs in hopes of changing students’ perspectives of themselves and their environments.
“We’re starting to see some terrific things happening at schools with this money, related to social and emotional learning, math and literacy, and attendance,” said Kristina Saccone, District of Columbia Public Schools spokeswoman. “All of the spending is happening towards the goal of equity in education for all students, and one of the unique things about the ‘Excellence through Equity’ program is that there’s a story at every school.”
One such school is Ketcham Elementary School in the Anacostia community, where their forthcoming allocation has been earmarked for a Wednesday after-school writing club where students are improving literacy or math through the lens of equity in social emotional learning.
Ciji Dodds, founder of the three-year-old Anthology Project at Ketcham, and its teacher adviser Sarah Baraba, shared their enthusiasm about the $1,000 Ketcham stands to receive from Excellence through Equity.
Dodds said she started the project because of her interested in helping students expand their creative writing skills.
“I know it’s an ongoing issue in schools that trickles over into undergrad and college,” Dodds said. “I also know that kids need to develop skills to actually write and that the writing club is a great way to supplement what they’re already learning in school.”
Baraba said that since its inception, the project — which has been funded by Dodds and two former Ketcham teachers — depends on the volunteer efforts of herself, Dodds and a couple other teachers.
“On average, we have about 10 student members of the Anthology Project,” Baraba said. “We usually refer to them as the actual authors, although we sometimes call for contributing students who just want to submit their stories to the anthology.”
So far, students enrolled in grades two through five have authored two volumes of writings that express sentiments about themselves and their surroundings.
A visit to the after-school club instantly shines light on the students’ exuberance for their craft, as indicated by 3rd-grader Anari Pannell, who said her favorite part of being in the Anthology Club has been learning how to help make her community better.
Her sister Arzane said she likes everything about being in the club.
“I’ve been in the club for two years and it actually serves as a break from stress for me,” said the 4th-grader. “I love this part of the day on Wednesdays because I get excited when we’re all together writing and having fun.”
Dodds, who takes on the technical work of putting the books together and getting them published, said one book, “Beyond the Bridge,” makes the point of showing that great things can come out of Anacostia, while another, “In My Neighborhood,” details the students’ love of their Ward 8 community.
“The Me I Wish to Be” basically captures the student authors’ dreams, and a freestyle compilation entails various creative writings they have wanted to express.
“You can tell the growth of the students just by the quality of their writings over the past two years,” particularly in the politically-themed compilation, ‘Breakthrough,’” Dodds said. “Last year was big time in politics, and we focused on how policies and politics affect students. A lot of our students were concerned, and they were experiencing different feelings, so we wanted to give them an outlet to express that.”
While Ta’Shaun Hunt, 10, who simply likes learning new things, said writing taught her a lot about segregation, Black History Month and a lot of famous Black people, fifth-grader Jeremiah Walker paused momentarily before pensively stating his love of writing.
He also said it helps him to be more outgoing.
“I really like to write and being in the club helps with my [social] strategies,” he said with a wide smile. “I can see lot of improvement.”