Fearlessly & Intentionally Working Toward Anti-Racism (#89)

Promoting anti-racism and anti-bias in schools can be tricky. But in our continued conversation with Ricky Almeida and Rebecca Cohen from Portland, Oregon, the results of empowering student voices benefit not only students but the entire school culture.

Inspiring School Counselors
Fearlessly & Intentionally Working Toward Anti-Racism (#89)

This Week's Storyteller

Rebecca Cohen has been a school counselor and special educator for over two decades.  She has worked in a variety of settings including Title 1, Dual Language Immersion, Private Boarding Schools, Public K-12 and as the Director of Disability Support at Reed College. Rebecca uses her experience and skills from one setting to help students in other settings. Rebecca says she loves being a school counselor and has endless enthusiasm and commitment to ALL students’ success in and out of school. She was also a finalist for School Counselor of the Year in 2021.

Ricky Almeida has been an educator for over 13 years. Throughout his career Ricky has placed a large amount of effort into helping students feel empowered and heard, including starting multiple racial affinity and leadership groups at his schools. In 2018 Ricky was a top 10 finalist for Onpoint Educator of the Year then, in 2019, he was awarded Oregon School Counselor of the Year and in 2021 Ricky was recognized as a “Hometown Hero” during a Portland Trail Blazers game.

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Rough transcript follows — full transcript coming soon!

Matt Fleck:
Hi, everyone. We’re back again this week with Rebecca Cohen and Ricky Almeda from West Sylvan Middle School in Portland, Oregon as part of a continuing discussion with them here on the Encouraging Words for School Counselors podcast. I’m Matt Fleck with Inspire Success – the nonprofit serving our nation’s youth by inspiring those who help students succeed. That would be you. So thanks for joining us. 

If you missed last week’s podcast with Rebecca and Ricky, I highly encourage you to go back and take a listen because they provide their impressions of some awesome books and resources that would benefit ANY school counselor. 

Last week, Rebecca and Ricky talked about how they have been intentionally working with their school to explore anti-bias and anti-racism principles…and how committed they are to this work.  

Ricky Almeida:
I would say if you’re able to find a way to integrate anti-racist anti-bias work into your school some way. Um, I would jump on that opportunity if I were you, I, there’s nothing more powerful than what we just did last the last couple weeks in being in a room with students of color who felt comfortable in talking about their viewpoints and the way they see themselves in a school setting and the way they feel everyone else sees them. Um, and then to be able to it from that group and put it out schoolwide, um, we all make these assumptions that our students, no matter their race, know exactly how the world is or that we should guide them into the direction that we see as appropriate and or by the dominant culture. And we are gluing a whole bunch of kids in that, by just assuming that things are the way they should be makes it makes kids like me who are growing up, uh, a kid who’s Mexican and white, not knowing what it is, uh, or how the world is even more confused. And, and we have a whole bunch of kids who need to have their voices are. And so if there’s a way to integrate that type of work in your school, that it would be amazing. And there are lots of resources out there. This book is anti-racist by Tiffany jewel, like Rebecca said is incredible. And that’s a really good start. And that’s how we got started last year. Um, so that’s the one piece I would say.  

 Rebecca Cohen:
I agree with everything that Ricky just said. And I would say that as a white woman, where that started for me was probably the mindfulness journey, um, whether it was reading Dan Siegel’s books or, um, just doing workshops, getting in touch with like who I am as an educator and what is my, why, which is, you know, that everyone feels safe and loved at school and that they then have like the freedom to learn. And I think that, um, that came through my work on mindfulness with kids. So I think if, if it all funnels together, I really think doing a dive into both of those things is just the best.

If you need a why for it. Cuz I know a lot of times we, we need to teach to the why. And then the, how, if you want to give your staff a why empower student voices and let them tell you why, let them talk about their experiences. They don’t have to be front and center, but it can be quotes. And uh, and I would say in any other situation, you can’t empower your students, put ’em front and center, give ’em opportunities. Even those kids that you think are fringe, kids or ones you’re not sure about give ’em a chance to step up, cuz you could as essentially be that one person that gave ’em a shot. And sometimes that’s what we need.

What’s nice is that Ricky and Rebecca have been serving as professional school counselors long enough at their school that they get a chance to hear how former students still practice some of the lessons they taught them years before.   

I get emails frequently from parents about how it’s impacted their, our children and, and what that relationship is like. And I have one student who I practice mindfulness with, you know, in the classroom setting, like I said week after week after week. And I got an email a while later with a picture attached and the child and the parent had gone to the beach on his birthday. That’s what he requested. He was sitting out on the ground, looking at the ocean and he said to his mom, I just wanna take in this moment. This is just a really good moment. And like he was young like seven. So I think like when you can teach someone that so young, it does have an impact on the rest of their lives. So yeah.

You won’t be surprised to learn that Rebecca was a finalist for Oregon’s school counselor of the year in 2021 and Ricky was honored with that distinction in 2019. You can see a picture of this dynamic duo and check out last week’s list of books and resources that they highly recommend on our website at inspiresuccess.org/podcast. 

Remember that you don’t have to be a past, present, or future school counselor of the year to share a story or two with us about your school counseling experiences. In fact – we’d love to hear from you. Last week we got to laughing about stories of students that all started with, “you will never believe this but…” – so if you have story about a situation that completes that sentence – we have to hear it. You can record it on our online soundbooth right there at inspiresuccess.org/podcast OR email us to set up a quick Zoom chat with you by emailing me at matt@inspiresuccess.org 

Alright, that’s enough from me. Have a great week – and please join us again – NEXT week.