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    One School and One Community at Graham Hill Elementary School
    Posted on 05/16/2019
    Some of the community group at Graham Hill pose for a photo

    Graham Hill Elementary is a neighborhood school located in the Seward Park neighborhood of southeast Seattle. The school has consistently been named one of the most racially diverse schools in the city and has also been recognized as a School of Distinction.

    Beginning in 2016, the racial equity team at the school decided to bring families and staff together, identify a problem of practice, and develop a plan to break down existing barriers and foster equitable access and learning opportunities. The team soon identified a problem of practice – segregation at Graham Hill, which was noticeable in the Montessori program.

    "We weren’t the only ones to see this," said Deena Russo, principal.

    Michael Baughman, Montessori teacher added, "Visitors and families would visit and point out that the Montessori program didn’t represent the demographics of the entire school. We all knew this problem existed, and it was important that we addressed this to make our school a welcoming and open place for all students and families."

    The equity teams have committed hours of effort in transitioning the school towards a One School model, where all classrooms will reflect the diversity of the community. Eradicating the Montessori program is not the goal; they want to see the school become more inclusive in all learning spaces.

    The team shared the proposed changes with all families at a school assembly, which were then followed up with small language groups with families that speak Amharic, Somali, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese. They wanted to hear from families that have historically been excluded.

    "What we heard still makes me emotional," said Russo. "Every time I think about what we heard at those meetings, I begin to cry. I can’t think of an exact quote except that they were feeling that their child was in a lesser program. Their children were feeling this way, and parents were feeling this way. This solidified for the racial equity team that our work was important."

    "My dream is that there is no segregation in our school, and my desire is to see a One School program," said Russo.

    She credits the racial equity team, staff, and families for their unwavering commitment to see the work through. In addition to teaching during the day, teachers and families along with Russo spent long hours after work building a long-term plan towards a One School model at Graham Hill. The One School model aims to promote an integrated learning experience for all students at the school.

    There are currently two programs at Graham Hill: Montessori and Contemporary. Students in Montessori and Contemporary have separate break and lunch times and have little to no opportunity to be around each other throughout the school year. Upon completion of one grade level, students also move through the school in a cohort model.

    The equity team unequivocally shared that there is still much work left to do. In the next coming months, the team will continue to do more outreach with all families to prepare them in navigating the changes. They recognize that change is hard for all, and the last thing they want to do is leave any families behind and feeling excluded and unsupported.

    "We hope to have our students feel the difference when we don’t have two programs," said Bethany Cooper, teacher. “It’s clear that we still have a lot of work to do. One of the reasons we’re doing this is because we know their lives will be enriched when they learn to live and communicate with lots of people that are different from them.”

    Read more about the Graham Hill One School including advisory board members and a timeline.

    Note accompanying photo: In the accompany photo for this story not all members were present when the photo was taken, and this is not representative of everyone in the racial equity team.