Teacher Reflections on Racial Justice Work at Heilicher

Teacher Reflections on Racial Justice Work at Heilicher

By Becka Steinberg 

לֹא עָלֶיךָ הַמְלָאכָה לִגְמֹר, וְלֹא אַתָּה בֶן חוֹרִים לְהִבָּטֵל מִמֶנָה (אבות ב:טז)

Lo Alecha ha-m’lacha ligmor, v’lo atah ven chorin l’hi-bateil mimena. (Pirkei Avot 2:16)

“You are not obligated to complete the task, but neither are you free to withdraw from it.”

This is one of our school’s core values, and for me, it describes the challenge of teaching our students to be thoughtful, ethical citizens who take action for social justice. Not long after George Floyd was killed in May 2020, two Heilicher fourth graders spoke at the school’s annual meeting. They challenged our school to take a more active role in combating racism and working for justice. This was a powerful and inspiring call to action.

Since then, we have formed a racial justice task force that is divided into several subgroups focusing on:

  • Updating the Heilicher Official statement on racial justice to be posted on the school’s website

  • Updating our curriculum to make it more inclusive and representative of all races

  • Furthering professional development for staff

  • Organizing student groups focused on racial and social justice.

While these groups are engaged in large-scale initiatives, there are several things already occurring at school. Students in 6-8th grades are hearing from a diverse array of community speakers on Fridays, the majority of which are focusing on issues of racial and social justice.

We also have a long-standing tradition of being in school on Martin Luther King Day, engaging in activities around social justice and civil rights. This year, our theme was “Nonviolent Protest”. Our youngest students learned about civil rights heroes like Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. Older students studied a variety of nonviolent protests from the past and present, from the marches and activism of the 1960s, to the protests for racial justice that swept the country this past summer, to athlete protests supporting Black Lives Matter. Each grade also did a service project contributing to our local community, and the entire school held a food drive.

Martin Luther King Day is a meaningful and moving day, but we know our efforts cannot stop there. We will keep striving to make our community more inclusive, and to give students the knowledge and skills to engage in tikkun olam- repairing the world. 


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