“You think you know a little about a subject, but another person's perspective really helps to provoke those deeper thoughts and emotions. Empathy is truly a gift to be shared with our kids.”
A greater sense of empathy was just one of the things Shannon Rhodes, a kindergarten enrichment leader at Timberline Elementary, took away from a daylong professional development conference.
Rhodes was one of more than 200 employees from the CCSD Extended Child Services (ECS) Department who attended the annual ECS fall conference, held Sept. 8 at Laredo Middle School. The theme for this year’s conference was “Unpacking Equity.”
“It is important to ‘unpack’ all of the issues of equity, including race, sexual orientation and behavioral changes for children in the program, as well as adults,” said Sarah Conley, director of Extended Child Services for Cherry Creek Schools. “With breakout sessions about having courageous conversations about race and implicit bias, it gave ECS employees the opportunity to better understand and support the students in our diverse programs.”
Those programs include Kindergarten Enrichment and Before and After School Programs at every elementary school in the district, which serve some 8,000 students.
The conference was guided by the district’s Beyond Diversity training in partnership with the Office of Inclusive Excellence. By design, some of the sessions were challenging and thought-provoking.
“I really didn't know what to expect coming into the conference,” explained Carly Zody, a kindergarten enrichment specialist at High Plains Elementary. “I quickly discovered that we were having uncomfortable conversations about race, sexual orientation and gender. We talked about each person's own truth and life experience. Some conversations were difficult to listen to and participate in.”
Zody said the conference affected her deeply.
“Bottom line is that I came out of the experience excited, a little scared and reflective about how I will move forward in my equity journey. I am so proud to be a part of a school district that is willing to dive into equity this way. I also feel like I see things with a little more empathy and respect toward students and their personal truth,” Zody said.
That tied in with some of the conference goals, which included giving employees a better understanding of equity and equipping them with new and better ways to support students’ behaviors. By all accounts, those goals were achieved.
“It really was a pleasure to go back on Monday looking at my kids with a much broader perspective, not to mention more tools for solving conflicts when they arise,” Shannon Rhodes added.
“This was one of the most inspiring conferences I’ve ever attended,” said Danny Brown, Before and After School program director at Black Forest Hills Elementary. “I know that my staff and I left with a wealth of knowledge and our kids will benefit from what we’ve learned. All kids need to know they are loved and treated fairly in life.”