Flipping the Conversation
Equity is the focus for school and community projects
It takes time and energy to create a space where everyone feels welcome. FRANCHON FRANCEES, a licensed clinical mental health counselor, certified trauma practitioner, and founder of Wilmington-based Healing Your Almond, knows this all too well.
She is right in the middle of advancing safety and equity through workshops on diversity, inclusion, and authentic leadership; business consulting; and certified trauma training.
In January, with the COVID-19 pandemic still raging, some students at Myrtle Grove Middle School were struggling like at many schools around the country. Parents were frustrated and overwhelmed by virtual learning. Students who were originally participating started to drop out. There was a sense of anxiety. It was, and still is, a lot for anyone to manage.
Sparked by an idea from the school’s principal, CINDY BLISS, to open the cafeteria a few hours a day for individual tutoring, a team of school associates started to challenge one another to not make assumptions about what the families needed. The discussions blossomed into four deliberately planned re-engagement nights – safe gatherings for families to have conversations with educators and community experts about barriers impacting academic success. There were separate parent and student sessions followed by family dialogues.
“Our lens for improvement is one that centers on equity and inclusion through a multi-tiered support system. Attendance and engagement come first in that framework,” says KACEY SMITH, the academic and behavior success coordinator/coach at Myrtle Grove.
The re-engagement sessions included a Spanish interpreter and mental health experts matched to the diverse demographics of the school. Francees was one of those experts.
“Because I am not employed by the school and am well-known in the community as a mental health specialist, I became a facilitator of the conversation between parent and educator building trust, inclusion, and comfort. What is really encouraging to me is that the re-engagement nights were completely designed by teachers and support personnel at the school,” says Francees, shown above in the middle with her team from Healing Your Almond and Smith.
Results of the re-engagement nights are already apparent. Families were offered a hybrid schedule and socially distanced, two-hour study halls in the school cafeteria.
“Instead of allowing the combination of the pandemic and an already inequitable system’s tendency to push out these students, we continue to see the impact of our intentional efforts to push them back in,” Smith says.
Francees is not stopping here.
Healing Your Almond was recently awarded a grant from Duke University in partnership with the New Hanover County Resiliency Task Force to address and create equity in the community.
Francees states the goal of the three-phased approach to the complex topic: to obtain an authentic, sincere, and true understanding of where New Hanover County residents are in terms of equity.
“This program will consider both physical and emotional safety. People of color don’t go to certain places in Wilmington. We will expose and process systemic intentional oppression as well as equitable access to resources in the county, like education,” Francees says.
“It’s easy to dismiss microaggression, blatant racism, and inequalities by saying it’s all in the past,” she adds. “But, because of trauma and the study of brain science, we know it’s not all in the past. It’s living, breathing, and alive today.”
The program’s first phase invites New Hanover County residents to attend one of three information sessions.
The second phase separates participants into two groups, an all-white group and a people-of-color group, each led by two certified and licensed health professionals from the Healing Your Almond team.
After meeting four times throughout April, the cohorts will come back together to share learnings. The final phase will be an in-person community presentation in June, pending COVID-19 restrictions.
“Studies have shown that interacting with people who do life differently than you benefits all ethnicities and all economic statuses,” Francees says. “The more interactions you have with people who look, think, and act differently than you, the more you grow. Everyone needs to feel welcomed and safe. It’s not too hard, and it’s definitely not impossible.”
For more information about upcoming online information sessions for New Hanover County residents to discuss equity: healingyouralmond.com/upcoming.
Online Session Dates:
(including both English and Spanish sessions)
- March 9 at noon
- March 12 at 8 a.m
- March 13 at 12:30 p.m.
To view more of photographer Logan Burke’s work, go to LoganBurkePhoto.com
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