It was a time to speak, and a time to listen. In a world of ever-increasing intolerance, violence, and injustice, it was also a time for healing and inclusivity.

More than 300 youth, families, educators, and community leaders joined together for the fourth annual Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota Missing Voices: Equity in Education Summit on Nov. 3 to engage in meaningful conversation to promote transformative change. Participants also learned about incorporating healing and mindfulness into their personal and professional lives. The day-long conference was held on Saint Mary’s Twin Cities Campus in Minneapolis.

The Missing Voices conference brings together a variety of stakeholder voices to engage in solution-oriented dialogue and actionable steps toward educational equity. Missing Voices is hosted by the Graduate School of Education at Saint Mary’s University and its Culturally Responsive Teaching program.

This year’s conference theme: A Sanctuary for Centering Self, Relationships, and Communities,

featured authors Paul Chappell and Gary Howard, and Wade Colwell-Sandoval and Benjie Howard from the arts-based education and equity group New Wilderness Project, as keynote speakers.

“Every keynote speaker had something different and complementary to add to the conversation throughout the day,” said Rebecca Hopkins, Ed.D., dean of education at Saint Mary’s. The day began with Chappell discussing how pain and trauma can help people find healing, hope, and peace. Colwell-Sandoval and Benjie Howard worked with youth on creatively expressing themselves. And Gary Howard talked about the deep connections between educational equity and the practice of pluralistic democracy in a diverse society.

Missing Voices summit breakout session

Participants attended breakout sessions to engage in conversation on a variety of topics.

Between keynote presentations, attendees participated in breakout sessions covering a variety of topics, including mental health; negative thinking and feeling; ethnic studies as a healing process; and parent/family empowerment.

During the morning keynote address, Chappell spoke of people’s need to belong and have meaning in their lives. As author of the Road to Peace series and peace leadership director for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, Chappell spoke of his childhood in a violent household and subsequent deployment to Iraq as experiences that led him to seek resolutions to war and trauma and to find hope. He discussed the need for peace literacy in education in order to teach students about leadership, perseverance, and the possibility of achieving world peace.

“I attended the conference to gain more ideas about peace literacy because I think it’s something I can take back and share with my community and fellow teachers,” said Andrea Bernhardt, an Edina Public Schools teacher.

Gary Howard, who has been living his passion of creating schools and communities that serve children well for more than 40 years, was the afternoon keynote speaker. His presentation expanded on points made in his most recent book, We Can’t Teach What We Don’t Know (Third Edition, 2016), which explores the discussion of race and social justice in education. He argued that students need to be more than just college- and career-ready—they need to be culturally sensitive as well. In addition, Howard examined systemic oppression and how educators can strengthen the cultural-responsiveness of their practices in order to bring long-term system change to their classrooms, schools, and communities.

The New Wilderness Project, a duo of artist-educators, brought forth their ideas for working to support equity, dignity, and justice in schools. Colwell-Sandoval and Benjie Howard led music and movement activities to generate conversations about positive communication and creative self-expression. In one activity, youth were asked to write poems about themselves and their experiences, empowering them to share their stories and allowing adults the opportunity to honor each youth voice. This was one example of an inclusive teaching strategy for the participants to bring back to their classrooms.

“One of the most valuable things we can do as human beings is to listen to somebody else’s story,” Colwell-Sandoval said during Missing Voices. “What kind of healing, what kind of dignity, and what kind of hope can grow out of that simple act of listening to these young people share their stories.”

Missing Voices youth

Youth at the Missing Voices summit expressed themselves through poetry.

Twelve teens volunteered to read their poems in front of the entire conference. Some particularly impactful lines were:

  • “I guess the moral of the story is, be you in every expression and do what makes you, you. Make time for the people that you care about. And more importantly, keep it true.”
  • “In my one beat, there is a gay, Hispanic, free-spirited woman in America begging to be a gay, Hispanic, free-spirited woman in America. In my one beat, there’s a peace of mind from just being me.”

Missing Voices has consistently included a strong student component—providing a venue to integrate student voices into education improvement efforts. This year’s conference drew about 140 youth. Eight of those youth were members of the Youth Equity Solutions! (YES!) team, a group of high school and college-age youth from around the Twin Cities. According to Hopkins, these students were key players in planning and running the conference.

“I believe more conferences need to integrate student-led components or have students meaningfully involved in the planning,” Hopkins said. “That has been a really powerful element of Missing Voices.”

High school freshman and YES! member Juan Sarenpa said, “We’re 20 percent of the population, but we’re 100 percent of the future.”

For more information on Saint Mary’s Missing Voices, visit smumn.edu/missingvoices. For more information on the Graduate Certificate in Culturally Responsive Teaching, visit smumn.edu/crt.

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