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School District Hosts Racism Conversation

Kara Frame, Becky Harlan and CJ Riculan

Another community conversation on racism is being hosted by school officials in Fairbanks. It’s part of a process the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District started last year.

About 55 parents, teachers and staff members attended a two-hour online workshop Tuesday night. Called “Open Circles: Conversations About Issues of Race and Equity.”

“And so, thank goodness, we are realizing, that where we are right now is not acceptable.”

Anne Wein Elementary School Principal Michael Angiak is one of the facilitators who are leading the district through a program outlined by the National Coalition Building Institute, or (NCBI.)

The discussion this week was to be an open conversation, where people could share experiences and learn from each other.

Here are Shayna Ellingrud, Rodney Gaskins and Sarah Finnell.

You know, we’re taught the Civil Rights Act happened, and then racism went away.”

“Just watching what’s going on in most of the major cities, for me it triggered so much trauma. From my upbringing, or just from life experience. My first instinct is to isolate.”

“Working within this epic and huge system built to oppress, how do I, as an educator, combat that?”

Gaskins is a consultant hired last year by the district to study gaps in student treatment. He says the NCBI process was started as an in-person workshop series before this summer’s confluence of racism protests and COVID-19. He says lots of people are have conversations about racism for the first time.

“We are talking them out with our affinity groups, or like-minded people, but we are not talking to each other. Seems like everyone is kind of camped up right now, and they are only communicating with people who are in agreement.”

These workshops are supposed to engage people across different groups, he says. Shayna Ellingrud says it’s working.

“It’s eye-opening.”

Superintendent Karen Gaborik says more parents and community members are coming forward to identify challenges the schools might have in treating students fairly. But she says change requires continued effort.

“Systemic change, and even policy change and curriculum change – we need the people who are in support of the change to share your voices. Because often, what the board hears and often what we hear are everyone who unhappy with those changes.”

This week’s workshop was recorded and is posted on the Fairbanks Community Builders webpage on the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District website.