Local schools need more diversity to effectively teach an increasingly diverse group of students, a panel of educators said at Highline recently.
Highline’s annual Unity Through Diversity Week gathered virtually this year via Zoom. Unity Week is an annual event focusing on cultural inclusivity and to bring the Highline community together.
Eileen Yoshina, director of equity in education for the Puget Sound Educational Service District, said education can’t be separated from the people who provide it.
“A big part of who I am is where I am from,” Yoshina said. “I was fortunate to be able to be a part of a generation of people in Hawaii.”
Yoshina said she is passionate about her ancestors and her family members who have roots in Hawaii and connecting with them.
“A huge part of growing up in Hawaii means connecting to your roots in Hawaii to your ancestors and what it means to be part of a community that has lived there for a long time,” she said.
As a teacher, Yoshina said education is more than just learning.
“Sometimes people talk about teaching as what they do, and I think for a lot of us who really see education as our path forward really understand the ways in which education is a kind of power,” she said.
“Education is who we are, not what we do,” Yoshina said. “Even if I didn’t work in a school, in a work system I would worry that somehow, somewhere in a community that education would be a part of what I was doing in that space.”
Education isn’t just in schools; it is all around us. Everyone has a chance to be an educator in our community, she said.
“I also believe that all of us are educators, whether we that's employed or not, education is what we do in communities we pass wisdom from one generation to the next,” Yoshina said.
Yoshina spoke about the lack of diversity in some local Seattle school systems in the past and present and ways it needed change for the better.
“As we know that there is a critical lack of teachers of color nationwide, specifically in our region and this Seattle, King County area,” Yoshina said. “If you're like most people and you went to school around here, you didn't have a teacher of color, maybe you had one.”
Tamasha Emedi is a fifth-grade teacher in Des Moines also said she is passionate about unity through diversity.
“I have a very binary family,” Emedi said. “My generation is the first one on both sides of my family to be mixed with a person from another continent and that was really difficult.”
“My favorite thing to share about myself is the pronunciation of my last name,” Emedi said.
Emedi’s last name caused confusion growing up, as both sides of her family pronounced it differently.
Emedi grew up in Olympia and said she was raised with love and support from her family and community, but the school system was unpredictable.
“Even though I grew up in this community that was so accepting of this specific piece of my identity,” Emedi said. “The white supremacist system existed in schools and that is the thing that really kept me closeted.”
Emedi spoke about a liberated education system and the patience that comes with it. Educators and students need to look out for each other as a community.
“I think that folks who Identify as queer can feel some empathy towards when I did finally come out,” Emedi said. “Nobody pushed me, my community didn’t push me into a space that I wasn’t ready to be in.”
Erica Gonzalez is a local educator and an anti-racist activist, and said she is passionate about reclaiming what has been taken from her.
“My ethnic or racial ancestral intersectionality is something that I have been really trying to reclaim as my authentic self,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez was part of a military family and moved around a lot as a child, which is a big part of who she is, she said. She came in contact with many different people from different locations.
“Finding the languages of my people that I began with in the beginning, that were lost and taken from me,” Gonzalez said. “That is just a part of who I am.”
Gonzalez spoke about reclaiming the languages of her people, which were taken from her.
“There is a lot of abundance that has been taken from me,” Gonzalez said. “I had a really traumatic incident that happened in school that caused me to stop speaking Spanish, which was the language that I spoke more than anything and I’m reclaiming that back now.”
Gonzalez said she enjoyed learning new languages, which helped her feel more connected with her students and those around her.
“I speak Spanish to kids that don’t speak Spanish,” Gonzalez said. “I learn phrases and I learn how to speak to my kids who speak Korean, who speak French, who speak Tigrine.”
Gonzalez said that students and children should feel comfortable speaking their own language and should always feel like they belong.
“Schools should be one in which we all feel like we belong,” Gonzalez said. “Anything that we are, anything that we bring to the table is going to be okay, and not only okay, but it is going to be celebrated.”
Communities need to come together to uplift one another in a way that is welcoming and safe for all students and educators.
“It has to be dynamic,” Gonzalez said. “We have to push each other to be ourselves, but really in a way that is compassionate and uplifting of each other.”