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  • Writer's pictureConvening Storytelling Team

Stories of Equity, Belonging, and Liberation

Updated: Aug 16, 2023

We are pleased to share with you today a piece from our storytelling series of reflections and noticings coming out of our convening in Tucson!

Please stay tuned for more writings from our team of storytellers and revisit the blog here to see them all in the coming months.


A number of storytellers captured their thoughts in images and short pieces. We'll be sharing those as well as the longer writing.

Sail With Me

By Nicole Ramirez, M.A. Ed.,

CRPI Mentor Teacher, Tucson Unified SD

Take a little trip with me back in time to my old elementary school. I was a young Mexican American girl, master of her skiff, loving to learn, strong minded and excited to navigate the waters of my education. My teachers, my captains held the treasure of knowledge before me, but on my own could not reach it; with my labels on my skiff, English Language Learner, and Specific Learning Disability, I felt a weight that anchored me to rocks and watched as peers sailed aimlessly in many different directions. The deficit based labels, disconnect with teachers and mass taught curriculum of one size fits all made for rough waters of my education. I have been given a unique opportunity with the ALP conference to revisit familiar waters of my old neighborhood elementary school. I am nervous, excited and strong minded just like that little niña in her skiff so long ago.

Today, I had the chance to see the vessel differently. The ship, my old elementary school, is now held with strong sails of student identity, classroom culture, student agency and formative assessment. The teachers and students are the co- captains in their journey of learning. The vessel is adorned with collaborative work/posters and done with intention, not perfection. Multiple points of entry of student knowledge in how they see the character traits of their novel Walk Two Moons by Sharon Chreech. Beautiful written work of students’ holidays, culture, lives and experiences, honored in frames near the front office for all to see. The vessel seems to be in tiptop shape and I am excited to see the rest on my visit.

The true test is to see the crew in action. I am able to visit and observe the youngest of mariners, a Kindergarten crew, charting the course of discourse. It is real, focused and critical questioning of “What’s the relationship to the trees? How do we depend on them?” I reflect on my own Kindergarten captain in that very room. I remember how distant I felt from her, removed from her world. She didn’t look like me, sound like me, or come from my world but thought she knew me enough to place me on a track that said I had too much baggage to learn. In comparison, I see this masterful Kindergarten teacher build such a loving caring community in the shared space I was once in. She shares language, laughter, and interacts masterfully in the paired discussions on the colorful carpet with her students. She offers constructive feedback to the conversations and challenges their responses with “Whys” and “Yes, but how?” She models how to respectfully challenge each other to bring out their best thinking.

In just a brief time, scaffolded discourse went from paired, whole group to small group discourse in line with their success criteria. How the students navigated to that success criteria was with their own agency. The students are the masters of their vessel jumping into small group discourse with the same essential question at their tables challenging respectfully their peers’ thinking with whys and “dime mas”, tell me more, given only a photo. Some of these mini mariners utilize different tools of white boards, pictures, and gestures in their discourse, with agency to express their thinking, their learning. There is no sailor left behind, all are on board.

Next, we are privileged to hear how the ship is built from the panel of students, principal, teacher coach, and teachers. They are honest, humble and their wisdom profound. As visitors we can ask questions on how they created this vessel of a learning community. The Admiral and Second in Command, principal, Mr. Carbajal and Mrs. Valdez-Badilla, teacher coach, speak honestly in how this was not an ark but a ship built by many hands with beautiful mistakes along the way. A labor of love in 6 years, where as Mrs. Valdez-Badilla said, formative assessment and academic discourse takes “teacher buy-in,it is huge…the feeling of something shifting in the culture…you feel it in the room, it is not robotic, it is not being compliant.”

One student was asked, “What would happen if you couldn’t talk or work in groups in your classroom anymore?” He said, “You have to listen to the teacher, but I would do it anyways, it helps me learn and others learn too”. His peers agreed and echoed the sentiment of, ”It helps me give information and get ideas talking to my group.” Teachers also agree that in the model and climate of the classroom it helps all learners, “It helps them operate at higher levels, using discourse and agency of their learning, and in my formative assessment I can turn and pivot from what I hear and observe in student discourse to better my lesson in that moment, or the next day.” In the closing of this voyage all agreed the vessel is not perfect, the crew is all still learning, yet there's a bright trajectory with the crew at different levels but all on board. I am proud and hopeful to see my little elementary school ready to navigate the waters of education, no longer alone, but together.


Cholla High School: YPAR Immersion

By Rickyana Estrada


About the Storytellers

Nicole Ramirez long-time educator since 2003. She taught at Manzo Elementary for 16 years as a fifth-fourth grade teacher, she lived and taught in Barrio Hollywood and truly believes that we as educators are fortunate to immerse ourselves in the worlds we teach. She currently works as a mentor teacher with the Culturally Responsive Pedagogy and Instruction Department for TUSD. The work of culturally responsive and culturally sustaining pedagogy is truly her life's work and passion. She loves helping teachers to grow and learn by becoming better educators who value students' lives and communities.

Rickyana Estrada is a master teacher in the Tucson Unified School District. Rickyana has over twenty years of experience in education as a middle school teacher, culturally responsive mentor/coach, district-wide professional development presenter and curriculum writer with expertise on middle school Language Arts and Social Studies. Rickyana is also the President of the Arizona Council for the Social Studies.

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