This year, ten KIPPsters worked all school year on a Challenge 5280 social justice project–a competition that Denver Public Schools hosts that challenges high school students to tackle an equity issue in their community.
For their project, KIPPsters at KIPP Denver Collegiate High School (KDCHS) created a student hiring committee for their school. Their goal is to help hire teachers who are willing to dismantle oppressive practices in education and are capable of providing students the rights to just opportunities, resources, and knowledge.
The committee is already making a difference, and it began interviewing candidates along
with the school’s administrative staff in January.
The KDCHS 5280 Challenge group is composed of students from the school’s social activism class. These students have developed a critical consciousness by learning about systems of oppression and how they work. Now, they are implementing their knowledge of equity and liberation through actions that ca
n change them.
For Elizabeth Salas, a KDCHS student and founding committee member, developing a framework of liberation and equity for the school’s hiring process will extend a positive learning experience to more students.
“I hope this project will help KDCHS grow to have more liberated teachers,” she said. “In the past we’ve had teachers who have left us mid-year and it really damages us. Something that shocked me in my research was that mostly Latino schools have inadequate teachers compared to schools with predominantly white students.”
Although representation is often discussed as a matter of racial diversity, the student hiring committee didn’t set out to hire more educators of color. The students decided to address their community’s concern of lack of teachers of color by outlining and implementing two priorities for their school’s hiring criteria: cultural understanding and understanding of systems of oppression.
“Our issue started off with needing more teachers of color, and the students’ initial observations were about the predominately white staff that they’ve had throughout their educational careers,” said Mr. Ramirez, their Social Activism teacher. “However, what we want is bigger than just skin color; it’s a mindset.”
Mr. Ramirez developed the Social Justice curriculum for KDCHS and says he wants his students to learn how to implement change so that they can be stakeholders in their education and avoid being treated as passive.
“I think the work that they’re doing is beyond college-level,” he said. “They are doing the work of community organizers, which are people with a higher education who first learn about these systems in college.”
Each year, Challenge 5280 teams gather to defend their proposals for implementing their social justice policy. Teams present among all participating high schools in Denver Public Schools to school officials, district officials, and members of their school communities.
The KDCHS team presented their project on May 14th, and earned third place for their work.
“We’ve been performing research, interviews, and observations for months,” said Dafne Lucio, student and founding committee member. “Trying to convey all of our work into a five-minute presentation was the hardest part.”
Now that the hiring committee has been established, it will continue to function even after its founding members graduate. Students will have the opportunity to become members of the student hiring committee after they take the social justice class.