UTAH (ABC4) – According to the Utah State Board of Education, more than 675,000 students were enrolled in Utah public schools in 2021. As that population continues to grow and becomes more diverse, different groups are working to ensure equity for all students. One of those groups is the education committee with the Ogden NAACP chapter.
The Ogden NAACP education committee works with school districts in northern Utah (specifically Weber, Ogden and Davis) to help identify policies that unintentionally hurt specific groups of students.
According to the committee chair, this school year, the group plans on focusing its efforts on policies that hurt LGBTQIA+ students, proper school funding, and addressing curriculum that aims to erase (or minimize) the more painful events in the country’s past.
“My child is in third grade, so there’s still a lot of time that we can make improvements,” Jeremy Shinoda told ABC4. Shinoda, like any parent, wants his child to grow up receiving the best education possible. That’s why he became a member of the Ogden NAACP education committee.
“I’m really just interested in helping facilitate a safe, supportive, and welcoming environment for our students, our teachers, our staff,” says Shinoda.
The committee regularly works with Davis, Weber and Ogden school districts; all of which now have strategic plans in place. “To take a look at what they’re doing around student achievement, student progress,” explains Betty Sawyer, president of the NAACP’s Ogden chapter.
Sawyer said that along with looking at student needs, they hope districts will focus on staff needs as well. One way to meet the needs of both students and staff, Sawyer explained, is through diversifying staff to match its student population. Ogden school district’s student body, for example, is roughly 50 percent Latino.
“Representation matters, so it’s important that students get to see people who look like them, learn from people who look like them so they have an understanding, a belief that they too could one day be an educator,” says Sawyer.
The committee wants schools to be a safe place for students of all backgrounds to learn. “When we talk about equity, we get into this realm of what are the specific needs that this child, this student needs in order to be successful,” explains Bianca Mittendorf. Mittendorf is a former educator and is the chair of the education committee. She added, “The simplest of analogies is handing out a size 12 shoe for everyone versus giving each person the shoe that fits their feet.”
“If we don’t fully fund education, and we don’t have equitable access for all, our marginalized populations tend to suffer,” says Angel Castillo, Executive Committee member at NAACP Ogden. “And it’s not just populations of color. It’s folks that are working class, or poorer, and it’s so important to have that access to education so that you can succeed in whatever it is you want to do in your life.”
Castillo says adequately funding public schools is one of the best ways to ensure equity for all students. When funding is lost, she said, it often affects rural school districts, poorer counties and urban districts disproportionately. “Everybody, no matter where you come from, no matter what’s in your wallet, or the color of your skin is, that you feel welcome and that you belong, and that you have access to a free and equitable education.”
So how can the average Utahn help ensure equity, and therefore success, for all students?
“We need to make sure that we have education-friendly individuals in the office,” says Mittendorf. “So, for the average person out there, if you’re wondering how to get involved, I’d say get informed. Start there.”