This earlier month, we sat down with Lilibeth (Lily) Mora and Dominick Sanders, who are part of the 2020-2021 CSTA Equity Fellowship cohort.
This earlier month, we sat down with Lilibeth (Lily) Mora and Dominick Sanders, who are part of the 2020-2021 CSTA Equity Fellowship cohort. We ask them about their experiences with the fellowship, being present for your students, and why you need to attend the 2021 CSTA Equity In Action Summit. Register here for the summit! Have more questions after this interview? Join the Equity Fellows for a Twitter chat on Feb. 17, at 7 p.m. ET, to learn more about the summit.
Lily, we are checking-in a few days after the Capitol attack and the first week back for many teachers. How are you doing?
Lily: I’m doing ok. It’s been a rough re-entry back to work after the holidays, honestly. We’re still virtual. We struggled to change our scheduling so that teachers had more time and fewer student contacts in a day. We’re currently on a six-bell schedule, and we’re trying to go to block, so it lessens how many kids you see in a day. Our district recently lost three of our staff members, non-COVID-related.
How do you stay optimistic about the work you’re doing around equity? And what tips can you share about engaging with your students?
Dominick: I’m a very reflective person and try my best to find the good in everything. I journal at least one good thing every day that went well. My students always say I’m in good spirits, but I think that’s kind of what helps, finding the good and the joy in something. Celebrating my kids has been a focus, mainly because we are in this virtual world for every little thing. I also like playing music for the kids. It gives us a chance to get to know each other better, and I feel like music is a part of everyone’s soul.
Lily: As far as how do we keep going and continue to work in equity, every day has been rough, and even if you just take one element, what’s happening politically, the pandemic, every aspect is so overwhelming in itself. With work, we are expected to keep pushing despite everything that’s happening around us. I have to end the day with gratitude, so I do this with at least one other coworker; we’ll connect on a video conference and talk about something we’re grateful for that day just as a way to ground ourselves at the end.
Can you talk about your experience with the CSTA Equity Fellowship?
Lily: What has helped me professionally and even personally, the past year has been the Equity Fellows program. We get to collaborate and learn from each other. Our struggles are similar as we push for equity, even if we are spread across the US. Having various perspectives and experiences in the cohort is so valuable – we’re diverse in ethnicity, upbringings. The other fellows help me process all of the other stuff going on [during our regular meetings]. I feel like I’m in my bubble here, working virtually at times. But to hear what is happening and to hear perspectives is healthy.
Do you see it as your role in the capacity of teaching to talk about current events such as political turmoil or racism?
Dominick: To be honest, I think it always goes back into the hands of the teacher. Some teachers aren’t equipped yet to have those difficult conversations, so I wouldn’t want some of my teachers doing that if they aren’t comfortable having those conversations because it will make their classrooms more hostile. In my classroom, we talk about it whenever we see fit; this has helped build positive relationships with the kids early on. That has been my goal. Whenever something happens, or the kids are having a bad day, I’ve created this bond with my kids to come to be open and honest and be themselves with me. There is no judgment, and we can have different discussions. I have kids from all different backgrounds, and everyone can embrace everyone’s diversity, so it doesn’t feel like I’m scared to say what’s going on. Some kids didn’t understand what was going on, and other kids who have a hard time processing things one way because they’re at a multicultural school, but their parents didn’t grow up like that. When they’re at home, they can’t talk to their parents about these things and different issues because their parents’ viewpoints are entirely different. Building those relationships and creating those spaces for those kids have much helped me this school year.
Lily: I want to echo Dominick’s statement that there is a need to strengthen your relationships with your students. I am not in a classroom, but I support a lot of the teachers and so what we do on our side is we develop a lot of training and provide support to help teachers develop systems. Whether it’s collaboratively developing your classroom norms with your students or figuring out how to implement them fairly, building your classroom relationships and trust is essential. It all starts with us individually. We want to encourage students to be self-reflective. As teachers, we need to provide teachers the tools to have these conversations. We need to continue to find ways to show students that we care.
Why should someone attend the CSTA Equity Summit? Why is it important?
Lily: All students deserve the opportunity to learn. The reality is that we are not reaching all students, especially in computer science. The CSTA Equity in Action Summit was created as professional development to start/continue promoting CS to all. This summit is an opportunity to gather with teachers that are struggling with the same issues. We have a whole spectrum of workshops to help teachers connect, collaborate, learn, digest, and practice equity.
Dominick: We were very intentional in planning the summit, even from the design of the logo. The themes were created by all 2021 fellows, including justice, representation, access, cultural sustainability, vice, and power. Justice is the roots; representation is the trunk, access is the branches, cultural sustainability is the leaves, the voice and power is the production of fruit and distribution of knowledge. It’s the creation and fostering of equity in a cycle. It was such an organic process in this equity tree logo.
What should a teacher/CS advocate take away from this summit?
Lily: The objective at the end of the summit is that every individual will have created an action plan to implement in your school/district. That this event will allow teachers to pick up tools, resources, and information to proceed in their equity work. The summit is to make you accountable for what you have learned and been inspired by to act upon.
Dominick: We hope that all attendees will have access to resources during the equity summit as you participate and digest information. In February, there will be a Twitter chat about what to expect from the summit.
What were your expectations going into the CSTA Equity Fellowship?
Dominick: I wasn’t sure what to expect; I planned to look for a PD in computer science development, difficult to find. It has been an enriching experience working with my cohort and empowering. I am getting a chance to meet other fellows from various U.S. parts that are all working towards the same goal and best practices. Honestly, it doesn’t feel like work; it’s enjoyable projects and brainstorming. Being around other individuals that understand and are committed to equity work has been excellent.
Lily: I became an equity fellow junkie at the CSTA 2020 Virtual Conference. I had no idea what the equity fellowship was, but looking at the workshops that the equity fellows presented was terrific. When I signed up for EF, my voice of self-doubt spoke. This was in June and July, during the protest of Black Americans being killed. I didn’t want to be an imposter or try to be Shana V. White or Charity Freeman. It was realizing that equity in CS was where my passion was; I accepted the fellowship. There is so much time to process and learn with your cohort. It exceeded my expectations. In our cohort, someone mentioned imposter syndrome, and I identified strongly and felt comforted that I wasn’t the only one feeling this way. One of the expectations that haven’t been met is that this is a cohort and experience that I wish we could have done this in person.
What would you like to share with our CS teachers or advocates?
Lily: I would like to encourage members to get involved with your local CSTA chapter. Every time my chapter meets, there are at least three resources I can take away and apply in my teaching life within the following two weeks or even the next time. Check out a meeting and get involved. It is truly a community of practice; you get to collaborate and get free resources! It hones your skill as an educator and trainer.
Dominick: I have this written on my mirror “if you are waiting for a sign, this is it.” Get involved in following your passion, get the support you need.