• “Equity and Belonging, Every Person, Every Day”

    By: Dr. Nkolika E. OnyeChief of Equity and Belonging


    Check this page for frequent updates on what you need to know from the Providence Public School Department’s Office of Equity and Belonging.


    May 1, 2023   

    May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Month! During this month we celebrate the amazing contributions and accomplishments of Asian Americans, Pacific Islander Americans, and Native Hawaiians.

    The theme for this year is “Community Coming Together: Strength in Unity.” Click here to learn more about how you can share in the learning and celebrate with others this month and throughout the year.


    January 20, 2023  

    February 1-28 Is Black History Month

    The theme for Black History Month this year is “Black Resistance” and centers on how African Americans have fought repression from America’s earliest days. This is an opportunity for educators to share the successes that  African Americans have achieved with their students; and to discuss the history of slavery and  emancipation as it  relates to the continuing journey towards equity for African Americans, in the areas of education, housing, healthcare, and/or wealth acquisition.


    Below are some resources for educators in preparation for the month.



    February 6-10 Is Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action

    The lessons that educators teach during this week of action correspond to the thirteen guiding principles of Black Lives Matter using the schedule below.
    Monday: Restorative Justice, Empathy and Loving Engagement
    Tuesday: Diversity and Globalism
    Wednesday: Trans-Affirming, Queer Affirming and Collective Value
    Thursday: Intergenerational, Black Families and Black Villages
    Friday: Black Women and Unapologetically Black


    Below are additional resources that educators, who wish to take part in this week of action, can use.


    January 6, 2023

    On behalf of the Office of Equity and Belonging, I’d like to welcome everyone back from what I hope was a peaceful winter break. As we forge ahead into a new year, it’s important that we continue to push for equity in education. According to Santos et al. (2020) and Field et al. (2007), there are numerous reasons why a focus on equity in education is important. These are just a few:

    • Creates opportunity for all students, regardless of race, economic status, language development, sex, gender, ethnicity, and zip code, to garner high level skills and find their success pathway
    • Gives students the chance to learn in the way that best supports their learning style
    • Helps students become more engaged in what they are learning by ensuring they see people who share their same race, gender, ethnicity, etc. as they are learning
    • Grants students more access to the resources that can strengthen their understanding of the world around them
    • Strengthens the connection between a student and their teacher in such a way that learning is enhanced
    • Fosters a more enriching relationship between home and school that empowers parents and guardians to be strong advocates for their student
    • Closes the opportunity and achievement gap for all students, especially those who have been historically marginalized
    • Improves a school district’s performance
    • Improves and strengthens the community and economy, by increasing home ownership, wealth and property values, reducing crime rates and instances of mental illness


    Educators and friends of education can do several things to promote equity in education (Santos et al., 2020; Field et al., 2007).

    • Understand, identify, and address systemic issues that impact urban education
    • Understand the importance of the role of leadership and administration in education, and seek ways to strengthen knowledge, develop capacity, increase advocacy, and empower for equity-focused decision making
    • Understand the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), addressing gaps at all levels, and insist on the creation of systems designed to foster DEI
    • Identify and remove barriers to learning in the school environment
    • Understand the important role of technology in education and advocate for equitable access and distribution of resources
    • Review and revamp existing policies, and create new policies that support equity
    • Create opportunities and space for student empowerment and advocacy
    • Remove “dead ends” for students and create opportunities for students to successfully achieve graduation requirements
    • Regularly assess and reassess student performance, using a variety of trusted measures, at the school and district level


    This is where the bulk of our work lies, and as the Office of Equity and Belonging continues to grow and evolve, this is the work to which we are committed. If you have a keen desire to work on some of these issues, please consider joining our Equity Advisory Council. Reach out to our office at equity@ppsd.org.


    Upcoming events from the Office of Equity & Belonging:



    Equity Advisory Council, second meeting - January 12th – please email equity@ppsd.org

    emPOWER – a meetup for PPSD Educators of Color - January 19th – RSVP here


    Teachers! We will be launching 2 new equity-based professional learning opportunities. Look out for announcements beginning next week.


    Students and teachers! Have an equity-based school group, committee or club? Would you like to start one? Are you interested in funding to support your school-based equity work? Please fill out this form.  


     December 16, 2022

    Shoutouts- educators making moves in equity. 

    Jaime David, Assistant Principal, Nathanael Greene Middle School

    The Office of Equity and Belonging wants to give a shout out to Assistant Principal Jaime David for her commitment to learning and engaging about Title IX procedures at PPSD. Assistant Principal David attended two training sessions and has communicated effectively to ensure her students are learning about their resources and has worked with the E&B team effectively throughout the last four weeks. Thank you Assistant Principal David for your commitment to this work, we are so lucky to have you as a member of the PPSD team!

    Jen Walker, Principal, Leviton Dual Language School

    Shout out to Jen Walker and her team at Leviton Dual Language School for their efforts to improve gender diversity visibility and inclusion. Leviton staff engaged in grade-level PLC discussions with our office to deepen their understanding of gender identity and gender diversity. Teams discussed strategies to integrate responsive practices that foster a safe and welcoming school for gender diverse students which benefit all children and families. Thank you Ms. Walker and Leviton staff!

    Hope High School ILT 

    Shout out to the Hope High School ILT for their focus on Culturally Relevant Practices in their instructional priority for the school year. Through this focus, teachers are growing strategies to implement the 4 Rs of these practices: Realness, Relevance, Relationships and Rigor. As a result, Hope aims for its students to be challenged, engaged, self-reflective and to have equitable access to their learning. Go Blue Wave!

    Words matter.

    Words impact people and relationships. Regardless of intention, our words can quickly affirm or harm others. When working with young people, being mindful of our language can go a long way. Below are two pieces of guidance to mindfully engage and speak with young people and community members

    Trauma informed care & language.

    Trauma-informed care is the idea that we will provide a welcoming, reliable, and encouraging space for our community members that may be impacted by trauma. We may not always know when a student, employee, or community member has been affected by trauma. Therefore, we should seek to ask questions that allow for the person to tell their story rather than labeling or implying something is “wrong with them.” For example, experiencing a traumatic event (e.g. family abuse, sexual assault, death of a family member, etc.) may cause someone to not remember full details of an incident. Rather than assuming the person is lying or making their story up, we should remember that the traumatic event could have real impacts on their brain chemistry and memory. More information on how trauma affects the brain and body can be found here. The following resource can help continue the conversation regarding trauma informed care and language. 


    Identity-affirming language.

    Correctly pronouncing someone’s name is a direct way to affirm someone’s identity. When meeting a student or community member, ask the person to repeat their name slowly so you can carefully hear their pronunciation. If their name is unfamiliar to you, avoid saying things like, “I’m not going to be able to pronounce your name;” rather, consider saying something like, “I’ll practice your name so I can get it right.” Namecoach is a helpful website that allows users to create a personal name badge by recording their name, and teachers and staff could consider having students each create a name badge. Model pronouncing your own name to “normalize” the practice and reduce stigma students may experience. 

    Similar to names, using a person’s correct personal pronouns is another way to affirm identity, specifically gender identity. Pronouns are the words we use to refer to others in the 3rd person-- such as she/her/hers, they/them/theirs, or he/him/his. Why are pronouns important? Recognizing someone’s personal pronouns is a simple matter of the respect we all seek, and for transgender and gender diverse people, personal pronouns may hold more weight in affirming gender identity. It’s okay in some contexts to ask someone’s pronouns-- for example, “What pronouns do you use?” Another option is to set the expectation by introducing yourself with your pronouns, making space for the other person to share their pronouns too. Being a good ally to gender diverse people can be as simple as saying gently, “Carrie uses they/them pronouns,” if you hear someone misgendering them with incorrect pronouns. With name pronunciation and pronouns, you may make mistakes. If that happens, apologize and move on, taking care not to repeat the mistake in the future and not dwelling on it. Instead, take time to practice.

    October 28, 2022

    Our Equity and Belonging team is growing! The Providence Public School District is excited and proud to welcome the following new staff members to continue providing resources and support matched to student needs, for every student in every school:

    • Aarav Sundaresh: Director of Equity & Belonging
    • Carian Diaz: Title IX & EEO Officer
    • Denezia Fahie: Equity and Belonging Support Specialist

    You can learn more below about our new team members and their role in supporting our students.


    sundareshAarav Sundaresh: Director of Equity & Belonging


    Aarav is an educational leader dedicated to activating youth voice and advocating for equity and justice. He earned is BA in Visual Arts from Brown University, and his MAT from RISD where he was a President Scholar. An art teacher in Providence Schools for over 13 years, Aarav centered his practice on student experience, restorative justice, and cultural responsiveness. Outside the classroom, Aarav co-chaired the Providence Teachers Union's Racial Justice Committee and has worked with schools, counselors, teachers, and other support staff in and beyond PPSD on topics related to gender diversity & equity and supporting LGBTQ+ students.



    Screen Shot 2022-10-27 at 3.38.07 PM (002)Carian Diaz: Title IX & EEO Officer


    Carian is responsible for conducting and/or managing investigations of possible violations of the district’s Title IX and EEO policies for students and all PPSD employees. Carian earned both her BA and MA from UMass Boston in Sociology and is currently in the final stages of completing her Ed.D from the University of New England in Educational Leadership. Carian has over seven years of experience in Title IX and EEO as an investigator in the field of higher education and has hosted numerous workshops on topics of dating and domestic violence, healthy relationships, and equity and belonging.  



    denezia265Denezia Fahie: Equity and Belonging Support Specialist


    Denezia is an alumna of Brandeis University (22’) where she completed a dual degree in Education studies and African and African American Studies and a minor in Social Justice, Social Policy. She co-founded the university’s first peer health education program to connect students with university resources relevant to their needs. Denezia also conducted educational research with the Race, Equity and Education Lab (REEL) that examined the impacts of COVID-19 on Boston Public School students and families. She also taught with Breakthrough Birmingham Alabama, where she served as a teaching fellow for rising secondary students. She later worked supporting the Boston Public Schools Office of Equity with their LGBTQ Student Support Services.



    October 14, 2022

    Competition-Hispanic Heritage Month Ends October 15, 2022

    Students with signJust a gentle reminder that October 15 marks the end of Hispanic Heritage Month. There is still time to get your student submissions in. Checkout the submission from Jacqueline Bartlett, PPSD teacher and lead project manager on this project. Thirty-two students from Leviton Dual Language School and A-Venture Academy collaborated to create an annual banner celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month. The banner will be displayed each year for the celebration at Leviton. Congrats to Ms. Bartlett and the 32 students who brought the project to magnificent fruition. There are three days left to get those submissions in! Send an email to Nkoli.onye@ppsd.org. In the subject line please write: Unidos. Let’s get it!


    Black Men in White Coats Youth Summit

    Black Men in White Coats Youth Summit will be held on October 29, 2022 at the Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University. More information can be found here.


    A Morning Leading and Learning with Dr. Mark Gooden November 3, 2022

    On November 3, 2022, Dr. Mark Gooden, educator and author of the Five Practices of Equity-Focused School Leadership will facilitate a work session for PPSD Principals and District administrators. Dr. Mark Anthony Gooden is the Christian A. Johnson Endeavor Professor in Education Leadership, Teachers College, Columbia University. He serves on and is President-Elect of the Executive Committee for University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA). His research has appeared in the American Educational Research Journal, Educational Administration Quarterly, Teachers College Record, Review of Educational Research, and The Journal of Negro Education & Urban Education. Dr. Gooden’s  resume includes more than two decades of research and culturally-relevant academic leadership at the confluence of race and law.


    RESPECT Student Equity Leadership Conference November 16, 2022

    The RESPECT (Raising Expectations for Student Perspectives, Experiences, Consciousness, and Traditions) Conference will take place at the Marriott Hotel located on Orms St. in Providence, from 8:30-2:30 PM, on November 16. The Keynote and Facilitator of this session for 60 middle and high school student leaders  will be Mr. William Winfield. Mr. Winfield has over 9+ years of experience in public speaking, mentoring and coaching, William is one of the most sought-after professional speakers for inspiring and activating students and educators in America. His own life experiences have prepared him well and have made him an expert in his field. His transparency, honesty and heart-felt desire to inspire people to achieve greatness is what sets William apart. Mr. Winfield is originally from RI.


    An Afternoon Leading and Learning with Dr. Gholdy Muhammad November 30, 2022

    On November 30, 2022, Dr. Gholdy Muhammad, educator and author of Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy, will facilitate a virtual work session for teachers and other interested PPSD educators. A number of seats will be reserved for members of the community and parents. This will be one of two convening’s. The second will be in late May 2023. Dr. Gholdy Muhammad offers a unique, culturally, and historically responsive approach to cultivating genius and joy in education. This approach is essential for accelerating the growth of all students and uniquely youth of color, who have been traditionally underserved in learning standards, policies, and school practices. She will present her equity framework, called the HILL Model, to help educators develop students’ histories, identities, literacies, and liberations.  Participants will learn and understand history and policy and personal and instructional factors that justify the need and purpose for culturally and historically responsive education. The lead researcher, Dr. Gholdy Muhammad, has published research on this model and has received substantial grant funds to study this model from the U.S. Department of Education. Registration will open at the end of October.


    We are GROWING: Welcome our New Team Members

    In the next issue, I will introduce you to the newest members of the Department of Equity and Belonging:

    • Denezia Fahie, Intern
    • Carian Diaz, Title 1X/EEO Officer
    • Aarav Sundaresh, Director of Equity and Belonging





    September 30, 2022

    One of the latest trends in education that will continue to have major impact on federal, state, and district policies, is equity in education. But, what is equity? How does it differ from equality? Can both coexist harmoniously, in education? What does this mean for our students?


    In general, when groups focus on equality, the goal is to ensure that everyone has the same rights, opportunities, and materials, supplies, and/or resources (Minnow, 2021). However, in education, when we focus solely on equality, we don’t always address the specific needs of the student. An equal approach may not be a good fit for a student who may be differently abled, new to the country, a multilingual learner and/or a refugee. This approach may not be enough to support students experiencing homelessness, poverty, poor or no healthcare, mental health challenges, family crises, and/or hunger (OECD, 2008). So, even if a school or district provides equal resources and opportunities to all students, some students may still struggle. This is why a focus on equity as well as equality, is crucial (NSHSS,2021).


    Schools and districts that also focus on equity, are committed to providing students with the resources that fit their individual needs. Schools that prioritize equity, have analyzed their school data thoroughly and understand their students’ individual needs. Although difficult, the staff in these schools make conscious and strategic decisions and work to provide resources based on individual student needs, to help them overcome their specific challenges and excel (Gooden et al., 2021; Catapano, 2016).


    A focus on equity can have a huge pay off for school communities. According to Gorard &Smith (2004), “Schools with the smallest achievement gaps between demographics have the highest overall test scores (p. 15-28. In other words, when the scores of historically marginalized students improve, achievement of students from more privileged backgrounds improve, as well. This is why leadership is important in the quest for equity. When equity-focused leaders understand the student diversity within their school, courageously commit to removing barriers within their control, build a coalition of like-minded teachers and staff, and provide appropriate resources with fidelity, all students are prepared to learn and help each other succeed (Gooden et al., 2021).


    There are more benefits to schools and communities that invest in equity in education. In schools focused and committed to equity, students experience improved health and social-emotional growth (OECD, 2008). According to Atchison et al., (2017), “In a study involving over 4,300 students in Southern California, the children who felt safer, less lonely, and reported less bullying, also had higher diversity levels in their class” (p. 1-8). Schools that commit to a focus on equity, also commit to promoting diversity and inclusion. Their students feel a stronger sense of belonging, have longer average life spans, higher instances of attainment of higher education, and thus, enjoy greater personal economic growth (OECD, 2008).


    Of course, achieving equity is complicated and challenging. There are many systems that must be transformed to support an equity focus in schools, particularly at the federal and state level. Inadequate funding formulas, high property taxes, implicit bias, racism, discrimination, bad policing, food deserts, poor healthcare and housing, disproportionately affect students in poorer communities (Minnow, 2021). However, when schools courageously commit to a focus on equity with fidelity, they can develop strong allies in their local community, who become powerful advocates for change, despite the challenges. These communities benefit greatly in the long run.   According to Waterford.org, (2022), “Equity is linked to stronger social cohesion, meaning that individuals connect with each other better and are more compassionate. It also leads to long-term economic growth. This means that promoting equity in schools can be one of the best and most effective social investments” (p.1).


    New Equity and Belonging Team Members

    • Equity and Belonging Intern-Denezia Fahie (starting October 10)
    • Title IV/EEO Officer-Carian Diaz (starting October 10)
    • Director of Equity and Belonging-Aarav Sundaresh (starting October 17)


    Upcoming Events

    • September 15-October 15 Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month Student Competition. See details on the Equity and Belonging Website here.  
    • November 3 Dr. Marc Gooden, author of Five Practices of Equity Focused Leadership, will facilitate Principal Leadership Academy 830-1130 See Dr. Gooden’s bio here.
    • November 16 (In-person) RESPECT Student Leadership Equity Conference See Speaker/Facilitator William Winfield’s bio  here.
    • November 30 (virtual) Dr. Gholdy Muhammad Fall Virtual Conference. See Dr. Muhammad’s CV here. Registration will open soon. Teachers receive priority. Will be open to the public.


    Department Priorities and Objectives for Upcoming Weeks: 

    • On-boarding new team members and supporting our new Equity and Belonging team
    • Branding and identity for the Department of E&B
    • Completing planning and logistics for upcoming events listed above
    • Identifying and updating policies which need updating including- Racial Equity, and Transgender policies
    • Developing systems and processes

    Working with other departments to develop professional development, guidance, and/or training plans for Department of Equity and Belonging priorities such as culturally responsive teaching, use of preferred names, student empowerment and advocacy, and equity focused leadership  


    September 14, 2022 


    Call for Submissions-Hispanic Heritage Month September 15-October 15

    The theme for Hispanic Heritage Month is Unidos: Inclusivity for a Stronger Nation. In honor of Hispanic Heritage month, we are calling for student submissions. We want to know how our students are leading in their schools and/or connecting, learning, celebrating, and interpreting this theme, through their writing, poetry, spoken word, art, music, service to the community, video or photography. Please send submissions to nkoli.onye@ppsd.org. In the subject line please write “Unidos”. Submissions must be in no later than October 15, 2022. Winners will be selected from each category and each will receive a prize. All submissions will be shared on our website and/or social media platforms.


    PPSD Student Leadership Conference-November 16, 2022

    On November 16, 2022, we will convene our first Student Leadership Conference for 3-4 student leaders from each PPSD middle and high school. This will be a day of learning, leading, visioning, advocating and planning. Principals, if you have not done so, please organize your student leadership groups and begin meeting with them. Be ready to submit names by the end of September 2022.


    Opportunity Gaps Exist for BIPOC Students-Advanced Courses

    Click here to check out this research about the opportunity gaps that exist for BIPOC (Black, Indigineos, and other People of Color) students, regarding access to advanced placement courses. If you are unable to read the entire article, just read the Introduction/Summary page. Remember that the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) offers free Advanced Courses at local colleges for our middle and high school students. They are offering information sessions next week for partnering schools. The schedule is below:


    ·       Thursday, September 22nd at 8:00am-8:45am: School Member Info Session #1https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZUoc-mtpjwjHd0xFQadbgy--wmq61xdJ9Qd


    ·       Thursday, September 22nd at 3:00pm-3:45pm: School Member Info Session #2https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZAuceqgrDotGNB4TGUnMtfEvBHrS_rPzfbH


    Department News

    We are currently searching for a Director of Equity and Belonging, a Title IX/Equal Employment Officer, and an Equity and Belonging Intern. We hope to be fully staffed by October 2022.


    September 2, 2022


    Preparing to Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month

    September 15 to October 15 marks Hispanic Heritage Month. The 2022 Hispanic Heritage Month Observance Theme is: "Unidos: Inclusivity for a Stronger Nation." 


    The observation started in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson and was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988, to cover a 30-day period starting on September 15 and ending on October 15. It was enacted into law on August 17, 1988, on the approval of Public Law 100-402.


    In honor of this national celebration, we would like to clarify the differences/relationships between the terms Hispanic, Latino/Latina/Latinx, and Spanish.

    ·        Hispanic refers to people, cultures, or countries that are characteristic of or derived from Spain or Spanish-speaking countries*.

    ·        Latino/Latina/Latinx includes people who are of Latin American descent**.

    ·        Spanish refers to a language or a person from Spain.


    * Spanish-speaking countries are those where Spanish is the official language.


    Depending on how you count, there are 22 Spanish-speaking countries in the world. The five most populous countries where Spanish is the official language are: 

    ·        Mexico,

    ·        Colombia

    ·        Spain

    ·        Argentina

    ·        Peru. 


    ** Latin-America includes more than 20 countries or territories:

    ·        Mexico in North America; 

    ·        Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama in Central America; 

    ·        Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay in South America; and, 

    ·        Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico in the Caribbean