Planting SEEDS of Change
Program helps support educational equity in schools
You could say Sara Lenz has a green thumb.
Sensitive to the diverse and growing needs of her students, as well as the backgrounds from which they each come, Lenz has begun to plant SEEDs of change in her classroom and school district.
SEED, or Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity, is a peer-led professional development program offered through Sourcewell to regional educators that promotes change through self-reflection and interpersonal dialogue. Participants challenge their own personal beliefs and practices, while connecting with other educators.
Topics explored in SEED sessions include poverty, gender, race, religion, language, immigration, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
Lenz, a kindergarten and first grade special education teacher in the Wadena-Deer Creek School District, signed up to attend the SEED seminar last year.
“I was interested in them because I have always had a passion to be an advocate and stand up for those who need a little extra help,” she said. “I felt that these classes would give me the chance to open my mind, have courage, and the knowledge to fight, speak, and advocate for students and their families.”
Lenz participated in all three SEED seminars and joined an Equity Leadership Advocacy group offered at Sourcewell to continue learning, growing, and sharing. The Equity Advocates group meets four full days each year, is facilitated by consultants from the Equity Literacy Institute, and leads educators who want to be an intentional voice advocating for systems change. While prior SEED experience is helpful, it's not required.
“Out of all the trainings and education that I've experienced in the last 12 years, SEED by far has been the most influential in how I teach, interact, and respond to those around me,” Lenz said “My vision is to spread the knowledge I have gained to my co-workers and others that surround me so they, too, can change lives in a way that all students and families feel wanted, accepted, supported, and loved in our schools.”
Food for Thought
An area where SEED has changed the status quo and made a positive impact came by way of simply changing the way Lenz words and promotes family events for her class, including the Muffins for Moms and Donuts for Dads events each spring.
“Learning what I did in SEED, I knew I needed to make the change for those students who may not have a mom or a dad that could make it for whatever reason, being death, divorce, work, transportation, or whatever it may be.”
Lenz changed the name of the special events to ‘Morning Muffins’ and ‘Donut Day.’
“I made sure that all children had the opportunity to invite whoever they wanted that loved them and wanted to be there for them,” Lenz said. “I felt by offering this event that way it made the activity equitable for all students to obtain the same love and attention the activities were intended for without excluding anyone.”
Creating Safe Spaces
Also stemming from information shared at SEED and equity training, Lenz has taken a closer look at ensuring all students are emotionally supported in the classroom.
Lenz created a special space in her classroom for Tristan, a student with special emotional needs. This space allows Tristan to remain in the classroom with his peers and absorb the experiences and information he would miss if he had to leave the room to regain control over his emotions.
“I truly feel that all kids deserve the opportunity to experience what their peers do,” Lenz said. “And if that means creating a space for them that allows them to be able to self-regulate and feel safe, then I am all for it.”
This space also helps other students and peers understand Tristan is wanting to participate; however, his emotions or out-of-control feelings require he take a few minutes to process what is going on in his environment and a chance to take a mental time out.
Rachel Logan is an education consultant at Sourcewell and champion of the SEED program, among others.
“Sourcewell's work toward intentional equity work and training is absolutely gaining momentum in the region thanks to educators like Sara,” Logan said. "Sara Lenz is influencing and empowering her students and colleagues to take a hard look at our schooling systems.
“What current practices close a door to some, what practices exclude or silence some students and families... While some practices may need to stop all together, some just need to be redressed, much like the ‘morning muffins’ and ‘donut day’ example. Sara didn't take that opportunity away from anyone; she just opened it up to include all of her students, no matter how they show up to school.”
To learn more about education equity opportunities, visit sourcewell-mn.gov/education.
This story originally appeared in the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of Well Connected magazine. View the full magazine.
Sourcewell (formerly National Joint Powers Alliance) is a self-supporting government organization, partnering with education, government, and nonprofits to boost student and community success. Created in 1978 as one of Minnesota's nine service cooperatives, we offer training and shared services to our central-Minnesota members. Throughout North America, we offer a cooperative purchasing program with more than 325 awarded vendors on contract. Sourcewell is driven by service and the ability to strategically reinvest in member communities.