William James College Teams Work to Address Issues of Equity in Education, and for Children and Families

October 02, 2020

When ‘stay home’ orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic began earlier this year, and schools began to close, William James College Clinical Psychology student Jewel Heald was in the midst of her practicum work at an alternative public school in a lower income community. As classes and other school services moved online, Heald saw and experienced first-hand the challenges her school faced in teaching and connecting with and supporting students.

“The access to computers, laptops, tablets, smart phones, or even WiFi, was inconsistent amongst students, which obviously made remote learning an even more daunting challenge,” said Heald who, through her practicum work, was responsible for meeting with students, aiding classrooms, and providing clinical, social and emotional support. “It took about a month or so for laptops to be gathered from other schools in the district and then distributed, which puts the students at such a disadvantage compared to [schools in higher income neighborhoods] …essentially, they lost out on a month and a half of school.”

Equity is defined as the guarantee of fair treatment, access, opportunity and advancement for all, while at the same time striving to identify and eliminate barriers that have prevented the full participation of marginalized groups. The impacts of inequity certainly affect students’ learning and achievement in the classroom but extend far beyond academics.

“Students who do not have access to good health care, good nutrition, or stable, secure and healthy housing, as well as adequate financial resources, are affected by physical and emotional challenges that can limit and/or disrupt their academic achievement,” said André Ravenelle, executive director of Teachers21 at William James College. “Each of these factors contributes to a student’s well-being and establishes the foundation for their learning.”

Teachers21 provides leadership training and coaching that focuses on social emotional learning and school climate to teachers and administrators, including working specifically with Diversity Administrators to help them integrate equity work into all aspects of their districts. A focus on equity is a critical aspect of the team’s training, Ravenelle explained, and not just in the current climate. The COVID-19 pandemic, he said, “merely uncovered the level of inequity that already existed but was mostly invisible.”

The Richard I. and Joan L. Freedman Center for Child and Family Development at William James College also addresses inequity as a unique and important issue in their work with children and families. The work of the Freedman Center addresses equity as it pertains to different components of a child’s system with a focus on transformative practices that promote action and change.

“Inequities in education lead to decreased school connection, lower academic achievement and long-term attainment. Inequities in early development and mental health resources may lead to earlier distress, increased and more acute symptomatology and long-term negative outcomes,” said Margaret Hannah, Freedman Center executive director, and Dr. Nadja Reilly, associate director.

Freedman Center programs address topics like parenting, teacher/school quality, personal trauma and peer group influence. Through initiatives such as providing parenting support groups, promoting child-led play with caregivers, implementing programs for teachers on transformative social emotional learning and culturally-responsive teaching, increasing access to mental health services and more, the Freedman Center engages directly with families and communities to promote equity.

“William James College and our various departments and centers strive to create meaningful and sustained change not only within our institution, but in the communities that we serve,” said Gloria Noronha, director of diversity, equity and inclusion at William James College. “While the topics of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are all important and touch on many similar themes, it is critical to address each one individually.”

With DEI topics central to our mission and core values, the College trains, educates, mentors, and prepares professionals to address mental health disparities, and serve culturally diverse individuals and communities locally and across the globe. Educational opportunities for professionals who want to make a difference in this space are available through concentrations, areas of emphasis, and in the usual course of study in each of our programs.