Conversations in Equity: Ginnia Hargins
Recently, Bright Star Schools hosted a virtual panel discussion on diversity and inclusivity in the classroom, and why representation matters. One of our panelists was our incredible leader, Ginnia Hargins, Assistant Principal of Instruction for Bright Star Schools’ Stella Middle Charter Academy. She agreed to share her perspective on our blog as well so that we can continue having important conversations about race, diversity, inclusion, equity, and belonging.
When I was a kid, my dad dropped me off at school every day. I’d say goodbye and walk out of the car. Every day, he’d call me back to the car. “Gin,” he’d say, “change the world.” Every single time. I knew he was going to do it, and I had to turn around and hear it every day.
The pressure to change the world actually kept me out of education initially, even though I’m a teacher at heart. Our society doesn’t necessarily value educators as it should, and so I avoided education as a profession for a long time.
But when teaching is in you, it’s in you. You can’t ignore it. Finally, after listening to my own voice, I realized I was an educator. Just like my mom who taught for 38 years at a school in New York. She was a phenomenal teacher.
My mom was also the only teacher I had during my entire educational experience who looked like me. I had teachers who cared about me, but I had very few teachers who knew me. Because I was smart, worked hard, and didn’t get in trouble, it often meant that there weren’t many people who knew me because I didn’t put up a flag. It took me time to understand that, and it also motivated me to become an educator who knows her students. Who takes time to get to know them. Who talks to them, and who listens to them.
My goal is to ensure that my students don’t go through the education system and not see someone who looks like them. When you know the reality that most learners in our education system are learners of color, it’s an honor to be an educator of color. Our role is to make sure that we bring the perspectives that sometimes go unheard – the perspectives of our ancestors, our mothers, our fathers, and of people of color. Our presence and our perspectives show that we’re not just a face or a number; we are a voice.
More than that, being an educator of color is a special role and it’s important for us to consider the space we want to be in at work. Not every space looks to and values the opinions of educators of color at equal, or even greater, weight because of our experiences. I’ve worked in different schools, and that hasn’t always been my experience. In contrast, I’m grateful to feel honored and respected as an educator of color at Bright Star Schools.
At Bright Star, in our mission and vision, we talk about championing equity. We have an anti-racism commitment to back it up. As leaders and educators, it’s up to us to manifest that in our schools, and I’m proud to be doing that work here at Bright Star.
At Stella Middle Charter Academy, our staff have some really good book readings together. Our teachers read Zaretta Hammond’s Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain, and that helped to transform some mindsets and the connection to the brain and its impact.
We’ve also read Grading for Equity by Joe Feldman, and we’re starting to change how we grade students so that it’s standards-based, bias-resistant, fair, replicable, and equitable. I value being at Bright Star and in a school system where we can make those changes.
We’ve also been responsive to incidents at our schools. To be candid, we had too many kids using the n word. To address it, we started out by asking our parents and teachers, and particularly our African American parents and teachers, how they wanted us to approach it. From there, I developed a lesson about the history of the n word and met with all of our African American students. I gave them more background on the word, because some didn’t know, or what they knew was superficial.
Getting into that depth with them and the history of the word caused them to say, “we don’t want anyone to say this word.” From there, we took a school-wide approach in creating a lesson for all students, with our African American students helping lead the lessons and collaborating with teachers and having adult support.
We were clear as a school: this is the stance that we’re taking, and if you want to dispel anti-Blackness and support your African American peers, this is what we need you to do. Simply, we don’t tolerate the n word in our school and our kids speak out on it when they hear it. Our African American students who participated in the lesson said that no one had ever asked them about it before. Having their voice is really important and has been special.
Part of what helped make that process successful is that we embrace our core value of ubuntu – “I am because you are.” We come together in small circles where our kids are truly vulnerable, and they have a space to announce their presence and be known. They have a mentor who cares about them and who checks back with them. When the kids express who they are, we see it. We hear them, and say what we see in them.
I came to Bright Star because the school I was in before wasn’t a place that wanted to understand me. I knew there were places where I was needed, and I found my place here. I’m grateful to be building a school where we work to see, understand, and know everyone here.
Ginnia Hargins is the Assistant Principal of Instruction for Bright Star Schools’ Stella Middle Charter Academy, a 5th - 8th charter public school in Baldwin Village in Los Angeles. Learn more about SMCA at www.brightstarschools.org/SMCA.
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