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Lower School Elevates Learning for Justice

“We’re planting the seeds. We’re building a foundation for what it means to learn and excel in a heterogeneous environment. Our students understand that in order to learn, you must be challenged with new ideas, perspectives, and viewpoints. It is only possible for our students to excel in math and reading by creating inclusive classrooms, full of diverse learners, with equitable access to the curriculum. This is what we practice every day in our classrooms. ” Bush Lower School Director Aliya Virani said. 

The curriculum and resources from Learning for Justice, formerly Teaching for Tolerance, are an important foundation for elevating Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) curriculum threads in the Lower School program. Learning for Justice is an educational organization that incorporates components of the mission of Southern Poverty Law Center to be a catalyst for racial justice. Working in partnership with school communities, LFJ to advance human rights of all people. 

Bush Lower School teachers access a robust catalog of educational resources—articles, guides, lessons, films, webinars, frameworks and more— to foster shared learning and reflection in our classrooms.

 “We work hard for students to see themselves as leaders and change-makers,” Fifth Grade Teacher Randi Gordner said. “I think that there has been a lot of intention around anti-bias and anti-racist work in all of our curriculum. (Since) we’ve adopted the Learning for Justice, which is around identity, action, justice, and diversity, it’s really making sure our social studies lessons, and then also that a lot of our curriculum, is framed through that anti-bias lens. I think it’s really thinking about what we each bring to the community and also thinking about in many different ways whose stories are being told, whose stories are being left out, and whose history is being shared. I think there’s a lot more focus on being intentional with those lessons and that has led to a revamp of the social studies curriculum from years ago.” 

Last spring, the Lower School began the DEI curriculum mapping process. Faculty examined current lessons around identity, action, diversity, and social justice, and worked collaboratively to audit lessons that they were previously implementing using in these areas. During this process, Bush Lower School teachers reflected on the importance of developing curriculum and programming that aligns with best practices and the demographics of the Lower School–63% of the students identify as BIPOC. This attention helps to ensure that all students have mirrors and windows in their experience in the curriculum. 
“Our lessons are meant to spiral so that students can absorb concepts more deeply across grade levels. In Kindergarten, we are creating a scope of identity,'' Aliya said. “Skin color is a powerful way to have students begin to think about differences. We are asking how we can continue to explore these same themes in Kindergarten and throughout the Lower School and deepen the students’ understanding of the topics?” 
Identity is a main curricular thread and continues to be a  focal point  for Third Grade Teachers Anna Belknap and Dana Zulauf.  Students contemplate their internal and external identities through various projects throughout the year. 
“After reading about Temple Grandin (American scientist, academic, and animal behaviorist), we discuss the personality traits, background, learning differences, and interests that come together to form her identity,” Anna said. “Then, the students chart their own complex identities. Afterwards, the students write sentences describing themselves, we create an interactive bulletin board for them to reference, compare, and contrast.”
Fourth Grade students in Julie Barber’s class investigate fiction books for explicit and hidden messages about race and beauty in childrens' fiction books, developing students’ critical reasoning. Julie explained students will consider how these messages affect the way they see and identify with characters in the books they read.  
“The K-5 curriculum mapping process centers around DEI allows us to examine the areas that we need more intention, time, and training to build a comprehensive DEI curriculum,” Aliya said. 
This year, the work continues. Aliya allocates time in division meetings for teachers to examine the Learning for Justice goals and how they are brought into their work with students. Part of the process also includes the development of skills and lessons to help students develop voice, agency, and skills to create a more just and equitable world. 
“We will continue to work on this scope and sequence as a key curriculum document and are now working on developing a public-facing goals’ document and learning outcomes to share with families,” Aliya said. “What is amazing and unlike any other school where I’ve worked is the commitment from the faculty to grapple with these issues and seek guidance when needed in order to provide our students the most academic, robust, and challenging learning environment. Yes, this work is hard, but we are going to engage. This is why we are here. This is why we want to work at Bush, and this is how we want to provide our students the skills to be engaged and active participants in their own learning.”
-by Mary Albl, Communications Manager 
The Bush School is an independent, coeducational day school located in Seattle, WA enrolling 710 students in grades K–12. The mission of The Bush School is to spark in students of diverse backgrounds and talents a passion for learning, accomplishment, and contribution to their communities.

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