For the past five years, the Manhattan Beach Education Foundation has dedicated a small portion of its funding towards its Social Inclusion Grant Program, which supports programs that inspire change and nurture a productive and honest dialogue in our schools. The Social Inclusion Grant Program was introduced after a suspected hate crime was inflicted on the Clintons, a local Manhattan Beach family, in 2015. The perpetrator was never identified, and the Clintons used the reward money to partner with MBEF to create the grant to fund small, application-based programs focused on educating the community, inspiring an open, honest, and inclusive culture in our schools, and encouraging people to stand up against racism and discrimination.
Circumstances over the past year and beyond have continued to encourage pause and reflection among our neighborhoods, our families, and our schools. Public acts of hatred and racism across the country have shed light on areas where we, collectively, can do better as communities, including Manhattan Beach.
At the start of the current academic year, the Manhattan Beach Unified School District Board of Trustees committed to examining inclusion and equity for all students with a 2020/21 Board goal to support equity, diversity, social justice and inclusion. This, in turn, led to the formation of a committee, the Equity, Diversity, Social Justice and Inclusion (EDSJI) Committee to support and advise MBUSD on achieving this goal in all MBUSD schools. The EDSJI Committee consists of 40 students, teachers, administrators, parents, and community members who are committed to ensuring a welcoming and inclusive climate for all students and their families throughout the district.
MBUSD Superintendent, Dr. Mike Matthews, has shared that MBUSD is “striving to be a place where we can work together to eliminate racism and all forms of discriminatory behavior.” The importance of the Board goal and dedicated committee is that it demonstrates a commitment to all MBUSD families – “the intent of our Board goal and all of our efforts is to make all of us more aware and more inclusive, and to make all of our community members feel welcome. We are proclaiming, in a way loud enough for all to hear, that we want every student and family to know they are welcome, and that they are included in our community.”
It is difficult to acknowledge that acts of racism occur in our community but the stories of our students and community members prove otherwise. MBUSD has had a number of students and staff come forward individually to report troubling experiences and interactions with other students and community members both on and off campus. According to the administration, these incidents cannot be described as anything other than racist, and are an indication of some of the work needed. These experiences that students are reporting illustrate the importance of auditing and examining practices across the district to create a more inclusive environment.
When Committee members were asked why it was important to be a part of this committee, one Committee member shared: “After working closely with the MBUSD Alumni Equity Panel last summer, I was incredibly inspired by our former students’ commitment to making our district a more equitable and inclusive place, and I thought joining the EDSJI Committee would be the best way to continue working towards that goal.”
Recognizing that institutional change requires analysis, self-reflection, courage, and collaboration, the EDSJI Committee began meeting in September. The Committee established a partnership with The Center for Leadership, Equity and Research (CLEAR), a leading equity and research organization in California, to conduct an equity audit and needs assessment at all MBUSD campuses. The EDSJI Committee will review the equity assessment report, share it with the Board of Trustees and post it on the website once it is completed.
The Committee has also connected with UCLA’s Center X to conduct bias training, partially funded through MBEF’s Social Inclusion Grant Program, to help them to promote relational trust among all MBUSD staff and community members. Relational trust allows individuals to feel safe being vulnerable and encourages fair treatment of others. All committee members attended the training workshop and a second one is scheduled for later the month for MBUSD administrators. A committee member reflected on the bias training conducted by UCLA’s Center X, “By examining the nuanced layers of our own identity and the unique lenses through which we view the world, we have become more cognizant of what we each bring to every space we enter. We have opened up and shared these crucial aspects of our identity in small and large groups, building bridges of understanding and empathy between us. The training has opened my eyes to how crucial developing relational trust is when seeking to cultivate a culture of inclusivity.”
The EDSJI Committee’s efforts are still in the early stages and are anticipated to continue for years to come. Future EDSJI Committee meetings will be posted on the MBUSD website and open to the public.
MBEF will continue to direct $15,000 of its overall grant to MBUSD to fund pilot initiatives to support their EDSJI Board goal. Each year between 10-15 grants are approved that demonstrate collaboration across grades, schools or disciplines in the hopes that successful grants will be replicated, shared or adopted districtwide. Grant applications are accepted from MBUSD administrators, teachers, students and community members for the coming school year beginning June 1st. All proposals must be received by October 1, 2021 and approved applicants will be announced by October 30, 2021. To learn more about the MBEF Social Inclusion Grant Program, please click here.