Lessons on bias, kindness coming to Bend-La Pine classrooms this fall

‘It empowers them, and it helps all of our students,’ middle school teacher says

(Update: Adding video, comments from Bend-La Pine teachers, director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) — With growing concern about incidents of racism in Bend-La Pine Schools, the district’s Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Kinsey Martin led a presentation to the school board Tuesday evening about ongoing and planned lessons teaching students about bias and kindness .

The main goal of the lessons is to nurture more inclusive school cultures.

A draft letter for parents says the students will be shown and discuss how to stop and report incidents of bias or hate.

“We have developed some student lessons around bias and bias incidents, really looking at what is bias,” Martin said. “What does it mean when we say that word? Why is it important to talk about? Who experiences it? How do different people experience it in different contexts? How do we stop it when we see it? And then how do we report it is a very important piece that we’ve been working on with students.”

Three teachers who have taught classes on racial bias shared their experiences and why they believe it’s a need across the school district.

Brayan Gonzales, a fifth-grade teacher at Bear Creek Elementary, shared feedback from one of his students.

“He was glad that I gave him the lesson, because he was experiencing racism before, and up until that point of the lesson, he didn’t know that is was called bias, or it was called stereotyping,” Gonzales said.

Erica Hoiness, a teacher at High Lakes Elementary, said, “For my kindergarten class, I really broke this lesson down into two parts.”

“The first part was really learning what identity meant and what that is, and then the second part was learning what to do if they heard unkind comments about themselves or about somebody else’s identity,” she said. “The bias part of the lesson for my youngest students was communicating what to do if there’s an unkind comment to you. or somebody’s left out.”

Ami Zepnewski, a middle school teacher at Pacific Crest Middle School, said orchestrating these classes and making sure students are comfortable, especially in middle school and high school, is a big part of the developmental piece.

“Kids are embarrassed, and they do not want to be in the spotlight,” Zepnewski said.

As of now, one class is scheduled, but Martin said the goal is to host more in the future.

“They have a space that they can ask these questions,” Zepnewski said. “It empowers them, and it helps all of our students.”

Martin said she encourages feedback from students and parents to improve the lessons as they go along.

She told the board they are now collecting feedback for refining the lessons over the summer and are planning to implement the lessons “in all classrooms, K-12 in the fall.”

Some people in the audience were not pleased with this type of lesson, as one woman sat with a sign reading, ‘Stop Parenting Our Children.’

The lessons will be optional, and parents can request their child to be placed in a study period instead.

You can find details about the classroom strategies here.

A list of related steps taken by the school district and what’s in the works had this introductory statement:

In 2019, Bend-La Pine Schools recognized the need to improve systems for identifying and responding to incidents involving racism and bias. In addition to our efforts to increase professional learning around equity and anti-racism, increase student and family voice in our decision-making processes, develop proactive strategies for cultivating inclusive school cultures, and improve recruitment and retention of a more diverse workforce, the following Steps were implemented to begin tracking, repairing, and eliminating incidents of racism and bias in our schools and workplaces.

To view a list of the steps taken, click here.

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