Learning for Justice Educator Fund Awardee Spotlight

Interested in learning about past LFJ Educator Fund projects? Read more about our most recent cohort of Educator Fund awardees below.

Jeremiah Smith: Building Peace and Justice in Rosedale Public Schools

Jeremiah Smith and students looking at a camera.

Jeremiah Smith (he/him) is the founder and Director of Programming at the Rosedale Freedom Project, an after-school and summer youth program modeled after the 1964 Freedom Schools. At the RFP, Jeremiah facilitates classes in filmmaking, economics, reading, math, and community organizing, as well as hosting the RFP’s Gender-Sexuality Alliance. Jeremiah is the project lead for Building Peace, which seeks to bring the RFP’s Restorative and Transformative Justice work into the public schools in Rosedale. Working with educators and young people at the school, Building Peace will pilot youth-led restorative justice interventions at West Bolivar High School, study the impact of restorative justice on school culture, and publicize the results to the community. Building Peace aspires to build community support for RJ in school and serve as a model for other public school communities in Mississippi seeking to interrupt systemic harm and criminalization of students, particularly Black youth, poor youth, and young people with disabilities. In his spare time, Jeremiah is also an organizer with the Memphis Tenants Union, supporting renters to build power with their neighbors and win control of land and housing.

Dillon Falk: Forming Strong Communities with Scholars, families and School Staff

Dillon Falk.

“Hi, I'm Dillon Falk, Co-Head of School at Blackstone Valley Prep Upper Elementary School in the small state of Rhode Island. I started my career in education as a Teach for America corps member in New Haven, CT in 2008. I am proud to now be in my tenth year as an educator at BVP! BVP accepts scholars from four different districts - Central Falls, Pawtucket, Lincoln, and Cumberland - through a lottery. This has created a racially and socioeconomically diverse school community. However, we want to move beyond just putting scholars in the same classroom and actually prepare our scholars, families, and staff for meaningful conversations regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion. Our project will develop after school opportunities for scholars, families, and staff to collaborate on how to best build a strong sense of community. Topics will include: building out our restorative justice approach & alternatives to suspension, developing a scope and sequence for Circles that incorporates scholar voice, and scholar-owned initiatives to embrace our diverse identities. We have utilized resources from Learning for Justice for the past few years and are grateful to partner with LFJ for this project!”

Chris Dolgos: The Role of Diverse Artists in a Community’s Cultural Life

Chris Dolgos.

“‘Close Up: Portraits and Profiles of Rochester Artists’ is an opportunity for students to learn about the vital role diverse artists play in the cultural life of a community and how we can amplify their work to become advocates for the arts in Rochester, New York. Our students will explore the role of the arts in communities and their culminating project will be a wall calendar that features portrait photography and written narratives about 12 local artists making a difference in Rochester. Working with artists-in-residence, our students will learn about digital photography and process their own images to be included in the calendar along with narrative profiles of these artists. Chris is in his 27th year of teaching and works at Genesee Community Charter School in Rochester, NY, where he teaches sixth grade with his teammates, Alexis Stubbe and Melissa Jones.”

Amanda Stevens: LFJ Family and Community Engagement Program

Amanda Stevens and students.

“Westabou Montessori School is an inclusive nonprofit school serving ages 2-15 in the Harrisburg neighborhood of Augusta, GA. Our mission is to increase access to high-quality Montessori education for families who are most in need. Most of our families are experiencing issues related to generational poverty, including homelessness, food scarcity, drug use, low socioeconomic status, and unemployment. Roughly 70% of our students attend on financial aid scholarships, and we work hard to never turn away a family based on their inability to afford our programs.

We will be using our funds to get parents involved in our social justice programming. It's essential that parents feel happy and confident that what their children are learning is good and wholesome and character-building content. Some parents in this area worry about schools teaching controversial history topics regarding racism, gender, diversity, and inclusion. These funds will allow us to have public history educators and social justice activists and visiting speakers come weekly to talk to our families about the importance of inclusion and diversity. Families will get an opportunity to take home books and materials to read to their kids, the same books we use in our classes to teach peace education, and see what it is like to have those discussions at home. They will meet every two weeks for a support group to unpack what they learned and experienced, and to have a safe space with professional adult educators to help them navigate these tough conversations so that they feel more confident talking to their children and others about social justice issues. We will also be training all of our new teachers to use a trauma-sensitive approach to teaching and to use positive discipline in alignment with our school-wide culture of peace education.”

PS 372 Inclusion Advisory: Student Film About the History of Their Disability-inclusive School

Emily Stutts and students.

“We are the PS 372 Inclusion Advisory Committee. We are a coalition of students working to grow inclusion in our New York City schools and stop ableism. As a group of kind, caring, and helpful kids, we want to make the schools in NYC more inclusive for students and staff with disabilities. As members of a uniquely disability-inclusive school community that was created in 1992 in NYC and continues to be the only school of its kind in the NYC Dept. of Education. As the school approaches its 30th anniversary, these 4th and 5th grade students who make up the Inclusion Advisory Committee will create a short documentary film to tell the story of our school’s collective history. Over the course of this 3 to 4 month long project, students will see the impact that our school has had and also envision the school’s future as a beacon of disability justice in our city.”

Rania Hammoud: Student-led Youth Dialogues Program

Rania Hammoud.

Plymouth-Canton Community Schools is the fifth largest school district in Michigan and serves close to 18,000 students. The district’s three high schools are located on one campus where approximately 6,000 students cross paths on a daily basis. Although P-CCS includes a very diverse student population, it is located in the metropolitan Detroit area which also happens to be the nation's most segregated metropolitan area. Additionally, in the last few years, there have been several racial incidents that have negatively impacted the culture and climate of the three high schools. To help tackle these issues, P-CCS has partnered with the University of Michigan to send a team of student leaders to participate in the Student Youth Dialogues (SYD) on Race and Ethnicity program. In this program, young people of African, Asian, European, Latinx/a/o, and Middle Eastern descent participate in structured dialogues and community projects that increase dialogue, challenge discrimination, and create change. This program involves a per-student fee to participate and therefore the LFJ grant has made it possible to send a team of P-CCS student representatives to participate in the program. These students will become equipped with the skills and the right tools to lead the high schools' Social Justice club which will be using the LFJ lessons and activities to accomplish the following goals: 

  1. Tackle systemic racism by having student dialogues about bias, stereotypes, and microaggressions.
  2. Implement student-led projects and activities to promote tolerance and inclusiveness where all students feel that they belong in their school community. 
  3. Increase awareness on cultural diversity and intersectionality. 

As a K-12 Curriculum Coordinator who also oversees school culture and climate and works closely with students in the SYD program and Social Justice club, I am confident that the student leaders will be able to accomplish these goals and make a positive impact on their school community.

Roxanne Greenberg: Restorative Justice Practices in Rural Appalachia

Roxanne Greenberg.

Roxanne Greenberg lives in Floyd County, Virginia, and is a staff member at Springhouse Community School, an intergenerational learning community working towards a vision of regenerative culture where all people are connected to the vitality within themselves, their community, and the Earth. “To foster a school culture of restoration, we plan to strengthen current restorative justice practices and establish new ones through a collaborative working group of staff, teen learners, and mentors. We will be creating and implementing structures for learning about Restorative Justice and developing policies and procedures aligned with our values. We will integrate our learning into our day school curriculum to promote healing and growth and create a space where we feel respect, dignity, and mutual concern for one another.”

Jodi Larson: Training An Elementary Cohort of Educators On Using LFJ’s Teaching Hard History Resource and the Legacy of American Enslavement

Jodi Larson.

Dr. Jodi Larson is a professor and Teacher Residency Experience Coach with Virginia Commonwealth University and Richmond Teaching Residency in Richmond, VA. She works with future teachers and mentor coaches in elementary schools supporting social justice and equitable practices in the classroom. With support from the LFJ Educator Fund, Larson will support workshops for elementary teachers with a focus on teaching the truth about history in Richmond, Virginia and the surrounding area involving the history and legacy of American enslavement.

Kimberly Hilliard: Youth Civic Engagement Institute

Kimberly Hilliard.

The Piney Woods School (PWS) is a traditionally African American boarding school located in rural Mississippi between Jackson and the Pine Belt of the state. Founded in 1909, PWS celebrates its 113th year of continuous operation. A National Register of Historic Places designation documents our cultural significance as the oldest and one of two existing boarding schools for African Americans in this country. 

Monica Crossley, Dean of Faculty and Principal, is the Learning for Justice (LFJ) grant chair. She is a dedicated educator with over 20 years of experience and specializations in Curriculum and Special Education.

The Piney Woods School proposes the Global Citizen Institute as a youth civic engagement program for at least 80 African American 8th to 12th graders. Through the LFJ grant funding, we will:

  • Incorporate curriculum aids for the History and Social Justice classes.
  • Add a social justice section in the Zilpha Chandler Library.
  • Create reading and writing clubs, as well as a student-led 
  • podcast.
  • Explore socially and culturally conscious sites.

Jalea Turner: Decentering Whiteness Curriculum Development

Jalea Turner.

Jalea Turner teaches first grade at PK Yonge Developmental Research School in Gainesville, FL, and studies Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Florida as a doctoral student. Her project entails rebuilding a K/1 social studies curriculum to center the narratives of marginalized backgrounds that reflect the students of her learning community. “Rather than limiting our discussions to tokenized American holidays (Black History Month, MLK Day, Chinese New Year, etc),” Turner says, “we need a curriculum built on issues of social justice so that students can become comfortable and feel brave engaging in critical conversations and thinking from a young age. If we build a solid foundational knowledge base, and equip students with language to talk about social justice issues, we can begin fostering a generation of justice-oriented advocates moving throughout our education system.”

monét cooper and Erin Thesing: Black and Brown Queer Youth-designed Critical Learning for Educators

monét cooper.

monét cooper is a Black, Southern queer poet and writer, teacher-educator, and doctoral student in the Joint Program in English and Education at the University of Michigan. Prior to graduate school, she spent over a decade teaching secondary ELA in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. She uses ethnographic methods, poetics of aliveness, and Black queer theorizations of selfhood and futurity to learn about the literacy experiences of African American and Latinx trans and queer girls and genderexpansive youth both inside and outside of school. She also co-hosts Dancing on Desks—a podcast about justice-full, liberatory, and abolitionist education—with friend and fellow educator, Erin Thesing. Tune in whenever you listen to your favorite podcasts and songs.

Erin Thesing.

Erin Thesing is a white, elementary educator teaching third grade in London, UK. Before moving to London, Erin taught at schools in Paris, France, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, PA. She loves co-creating classroom communities that include singing, painting, reading, creating, playing, dreaming. She also co-hosts the podcast Dancing on Desks with monét cooper. Dancing on Desks is a podcast about justice-full, liberatory, and abolitionist education. You can listen wherever you listen to podcasts or at https://www.dancingondesks.org/ and on instagram @dancingondesks.

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