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“Teaching the whole human”: RV’s work with the DVCEE
March 6, 2023
Rancocas Valley Regional High School participates in the Delaware Valley Consortium for Excellence and Equity (the DVCEE) as one way to nurture its diverse population. As they preach the acronym PRIDE (the D of which stands for diversity), a lot of the work is done to promote diversity: professional development, inclusive courses, as well as student-run clubs and organizations.
“[The DVCEE is an organization that] offers research-based instructional support for all levels of educators, counselors, nurses, administrators [and] teachers to work with what in our world sometimes you recognize as sub groups,” Director of Curriculum and Instruction Ms. Matozzo said. “A subgroup is sort of a big catch-all phrase for your different demographic population. You have students who identify as white, black, Pacific or Asian-American, Pacific Islander, Asian, [or] Native American, [etc]. Within those groups there are other subgroups: ELL (English Language Learners) [and] students who identify in the LGBTQIA+ area. Each of the workshops are tailored to meet the needs of those learners in our schools so that our staff and administrators know what the best practices are and how to make sure that we are appropriately, equally representing all students and adults in our school community.”
The DVCEE is the main organization RV uses for professional-development. Professional development can be formal classes, seminars, or workshops that aim to develop their skills as educators. But the DVCEE is not the only organization RV works through— the ASCD and the NJ Bar Organization provide professional development opportunities as well.
Mr. Stephen Joseph, a member of the Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Cultural Competency Committee, explains RV’s role in these DVCEE professional development opportunities.
“We collaborate with other districts from Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and even some from Delaware, on different diversity initiatives that stem from curriculum to…clubs and activities to equity policies to just general school functions,” Joseph said. “They also have different school events too, sessions that we can attend. Those sessions can range from dealing with common LGBTQ issues that could arise to school policies to state regulated policies and how they’re changing.”
The DVCEE tends to have about one or two offerings a month. Although administration cannot require teachers to go to professional development that is available during their teaching hours, they can give them the resources they need to attend if they are interested. Teachers can also discuss what topics they need to learn about to better serve their students equitably.
“The one area where people feel like they need additional training or support tends to be in the LGBTQIA+ community with regard to gender binary, gender language, [and] gender expression because that’s something that is also explored in a lot of different ways in our curriculum,” Matozzo said.
There is a lot of ambiguity and factors to consider with these topics. For example, Mr. Joseph uses the example of transgender students using the bathroom. A law may suggest one thing to offer equity, but that student may not want that.
“You can have a law or policy, and you could abide by it, but sometimes that [transgender] student doesn’t want to do that,” Joseph said. “Part of that [could be] they’re still coming out or still realizing themselves and they don’t feel comfortable. You don’t want to institute that policy on them just because it’s a policy to make them feel better, and they’re not ready yet. So it’s a little bit of everything, so sometimes there’s wider conversations of what would make the difference in general.”
Additionally, on half-days when students are sent home early, teachers stay late to work on professional development. Teachers get to become learners and open up tough conversations; these forms of professional development provide the opportunity for teachers (and RV) to evaluate their areas of strengths and weaknesses as far as equity goes.
Mental health is interconnected with equity and the ability for a student to feel safe and comfortable in the classroom. RV collaborates with the National Center for Safe Supporting Schools (Mental Health) organization.
“We’re in the second year of NCS-3 training where we can better identify and open up conversations for students who we think might be depressed or anxious or might want to hurt themselves in some capacity,” Matozzo says. “If you take mental health and then you take a student who feels that because of the color of their skin or the shape of their body or their sexual orientation or the words that come out of their mouth or their ability or disability, feel that there’s something else stacked against them where they can’t be comfortable being themselves, that contributes to someone’s mental health.”
The goal is to create an environment where students can grow and thrive, not in spite of their differences, but because of them.
“People might say well in spite of his disability—it shouldn’t be framed that way,” Matozzo said. “He will be okay as a result of his disability. You have to learn to compensate for certain things or to learn things in a different way. Like you don’t learn things the same way I learn things and the teachers have to be able to know all that and 150 times for 150 different people simultaneously, and in 72 minutes, and that’s a lot, so we need to make sure that all of these things are presented in a way that is useful and will impact your world.”
This applies beyond disabilities, including any level of diversity.
Because you’re lesbian, because you’re bisexual, because you’re Black or brown or biracial or Asian or [an] immigrant, first generation, all those kinds of things, you want to embrace those components of you and you want your teachers to understand how to teach to all components of you, not just what they see or don’t see, or what assumptions they make.
— Mrs. Matozzo, Director of Curriculum and Instruction
“Because you’re lesbian, because you’re bisexual, because you’re Black or brown or biracial or Asian or [an] immigrant, first generation, all those kinds of things, you want to embrace those components of you and you want your teachers to understand how to teach to all components of you, not just what they see or don’t see, or what assumptions they make,” Matozzo said.. “That’s why the DVCEE offers programming, and then there are other things that we want to build upon.”
Professional development is more than education. Instead, it encompasses the other types of growth students will make besides learning. A lot of that has to do with self-growth and comfortability in the classroom.
“Trying to find ways to teach the whole human is the goal of education, but also then focusing on what diversity then means to us, and how we embrace that and raise it up and support that, is the main mission of the DVCEE and what RV is looking to do,” Matozzo said. “We are a very diverse school and that is a benefit because the world looks a whole lot more like us than other places so we have to find ways to capitalize on that and make sure everybody feels that way.”
Ms. Linda Wittman teaches English at RV and has recently become involved in designing a Freshman Seminar course at RV. Professional development and this course tend to have the same goal: fostering a sense of belonging in students and reaching them in the social-emotional aspect of things.
“There’s a need for students to be able to confidently express themselves and keep true to their opinions while having a conversation, not an argument,” Wittman said. “It’s okay to be different and feel differently and everyone can have different opinions, but still be part of our RV community and still have peace within it.”
The class offers an opportunity for students to personally reflect on what kind of ancestor the student wants to be, according to Wittman. Students can explore how they want to be remembered by not just their future family, but by those around them. Additionally, students can embrace their own diversity while respecting others.
Also new to RV is the African American Studies 9-week elective course. There is also a Latino Studies class that has been around for a few years, but does not run every year.
Having classes that specifically address these topics will ultimately lead us to be better people because we will understand the stories of everyone and how it all blended together, not just politicians or people who made the news, but the average and everyday Americans, the people who are the workforce, the people who historically have been oppressed, understanding the bigger picture.
— Mrs. Alspach, History teacher
Mrs. Cheryl Alspach worked on developing the African American studies class at RV. The class offers a chance to deep-dive into the topics that students don’t get to cover in US History I and II.
“Why we even teach history is [because] when we look at these stories of people in the past it helps us understand humanity, understand the way things are, and emphasize with each other,” Alspach said. “It also helps us create our own structure and understanding of how the world came to be. If we don’t tell the stories of all people then it’s really easy to wedge certain groups out or stick to certain stereotypes. By telling everyone’s stories, it’s a more inclusive history [and] we see everyone as part of the whole human story. Having classes that specifically address these topics will ultimately lead us to be better people because we will understand the stories of everyone and how it all blended together, not just politicians or people who made the news, but the average and everyday Americans, the people who are the workforce, the people who historically have been oppressed, understanding the bigger picture.”
RV also offers student run-clubs for people interested in learning about different cultures, or providing support for marginalized groups. These clubs include the Black Student Union, Circle of Women, Women in STEM Club, Jewish Culture Club, Korean Culture Club and the Gay-Straight Alliance.
The importance of these clubs and professional development comes down to the continuous opportunity to learn and expand your mindset.
“I’ve learned something from each one,” Joseph said.”I’ve had a takeaway from each one, whether it’s a way to do something or an interesting activity or something that was unique or different, or maybe a population that I wasn’t thinking about—maybe an underserved population.”