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Mrs. Torres speaking to a classroom full of kids
Equity in Action - Mrs. Jennifer Torres

February 14, 2020

For the last two years, Jennifer Torres has served as an equity coach at Hamilton Southeastern High School. After spending 12 years as a business manager for a for-profit education company, Jen went back to school to get her teaching license. Today, she teaches Language Arts, putting into practice what she has gleaned as an equity coach and shared with her colleagues.
What does an equity coach do?
As members of the school building’s equity team, equity coaches provide teacher and staff colleagues various ways to engage students and families in topics, including equity and inclusion. Coaches help develop action steps to work on issues of equity as they relate to school district’s goals. This includes measures to improve achievement, opportunity gaps, and social emotional goals to enhance the students’ sense of belonging. We work closely with Dr. Buchanan-Rivera and engage in intentional learning experiences to understand the diverse needs of our learners.
Why is this work important to you?
In a perfect world, our equity team and coaches would not have to exist. The educational systems would be set up to make all people feel welcome, safe and inclusive. Historically, schools were not designed to be equitable to all students, and many of our current practices were shaped by institutional racism. While HSE is a fantastic place to work and go to school, educators must continue to do everything we can to question our practices and to ultimately to do a better job of making our kids feel safe and included. Our students deserve to be their authentic selves at school, which requires identity work where educators understand their biases.
What was it that got you interested in equity work?
I always thought that I was “woke” when it came to understanding the impact of diversity, equity and inclusion work at schools.  It wasn’t until an unfortunate experience one of my children had on the playground when I realized that we had so much more work to do.  We are not going to change centuries worth of bias and discrimination by teaching students to be kind.  To be a global citizen means valuing others’ experiences, especially when they are vastly different from your own. 
What is the most fulfilling part of the job?
This is hard work. To be honest, not everyone believes in the importance and value of this work.  It can be really easy to allow the news of the day or the red tape of the system get you down.  I am encouraged when I see kids being their authentic selves.  That means that we have created a space for students to feel brave, because it is truly an act of bravery to yourself. 
When was the moment you realized how important this work is?
To Kill a Mockingbird was my favorite book as a teenager, and was still very close to the top of that list a few years ago.  After reading the work of fellow teachers, including Tricia Ebarvia founder of the #DisruptTexts movement, I began to ask myself about the images and messages I was sending to my students through the texts that we were reading.  To Kill a Mockingbird, an American classic, silences the voices of African American characters, and instead tells a horrible tale of a wrongly accused and innocent Black man through the lens of a privileged White girl.  What message does that story send to my students?  Is there a more accurate and honest portrayal available? (Hint…yes, there are…many!)
Give an example of how you have incorporated equity and inclusion activities into your classroom.
I teach a class for juniors and seniors called “Literature of Marginalized Voices.” We read a series of books that are told from different perspectives. Using Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop’s work of Window, Mirrors and Sliding Glass Doors, we know that implicit messages are sent to children and young adults when they do not see themselves in the literary works they read.  Those messages become ingrained.  If authors choose not to write stories about me, then that must mean that my story is not true, or worse yet, not valued.  And that must mean, that I am not valued.  By taking stories, authors and characters that are often marginalized and bringing them to the forefront, we are sending a message that all students’ voices matter at HSE. 
About the HSE Equity Coach Program
Equity coaches throughout Hamilton Southeastern Schools work with district and building-level educational leaders to foster a positive school climate and culture that creates an identity-safe environment for everyone. They do this by developing strategies to eradicate disproportionality, institutional racism, and systems that contribute to marginalization within the student population.
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Hamilton Southeastern Schools

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Our Mission

Hamilton Southeastern Schools, as a forward-thinking school district, provides educational opportunities to ensure the success of each and every student, to become a responsible citizen and to positively influence an ever-changing world community.