RUMFORD — How can something so simple as having a crayon color to match a little girl’s skin tone give a child a feeling of being more comfortable and “seen?”

Lynn Newell, a literacy coach at Rumford Elementary School and member of the Regional School Unit 10 Equity Committee, recently shared with the committee a blog she had written about an experience she had this spring with RES first-grader Aveah Ramos.

While Newell watched Aveah coloring, she heard her say, “I have to leave my skin white because there isn’t a color to match.” This prompted Newell to find her student some crayons that included a close match to the girl’s skin tone, which Aveah said is “light milk chocolate.”

Once Aveah opened the box of Crayola Colors of the World crayons, she was excited to find one that she could use to color a picture of herself.

“Wow, these look like (my) skin,” Aveah said when she saw the crayons.

Rumford Elementary School first-grader Aveaha Ramos gives third-grade teacher Kayla Coulombe a gift of Colors of the World crayons in May. Aveaha gave the multicultural skin-tone-colored crayons to classrooms at Rumford Elementary School after literacy coach Lynn Newell overheard Aveaha saying she had to leave her skin white when she colored pictures of herself because there were no crayons that matched her skin tone. Contributed photo

Situations such as these, which may have gone unnoticed by educators and others in the past, are some of the reasons the Equity Committee was formed, according to committee Co-Chairs Jill Bartash, the principal at RES, and Tom Danylik, the assistant principal and athletic director at Mountain Valley High School in Rumford.

“With really the passing of George Floyd and the things that followed,” Danylik said, “we knew that we had to do better, and that we really needed to take a look at how we were teaching equity and how was equity present in our schools.”

He also said the group’s mission statement states what the group is working toward and why. In part, that statement reads: “It is our collective responsibility to create and maintain a safe space for all students, families and staff. We are committed to elevating marginalized voices in order to grow and learn, and to become an anti-racist and anti-bias learning community.”

The RSU 10 Equity Committee is a group of more than 35 members, including educators, school resource officers, school psychologists, students, school board members and administrators who, beginning in October, met one to two times a month throughout the year via Zoom.

The committee also includes four subcommittees: curriculum and assessment, policy, professional development and equitable community engagement.

This year, the committee’s work has included a review of the student dress code policy, which the committee found to be “overly restrictive of females, such as no bare shoulders and no leggings and goth dress (no spiked jewelry).”

Other dress code revisions suggested by the committee included no longer banning hoods and leaving the decision on whether students can wear hats or caps to school as school-based decisions.

Another project on which committee members worked was titled “Groundbreaking People of Color.” It involved creating monthly posters of Black and brown people throughout history who have made notable impacts on the world.

The posters were displayed at all of the district’s school lobbies, inside school busses and at local businesses and organizations.

Bartash said committee members are also working on an “audit of physical spaces in the buildings,” to notice what is on the walls and what is not, and see who is represented and who is not.

“It’s the same idea,” she said. “It’s people of color, but it’s also do we have leveled books for early readers that show kids with disabilities, or do we show families that are different from just a mom and dad and two kids, and how are we representing all of our kids who are in the school in the literature?”

MVHS Assistant Principal Danylik says he realized the Equity Committee and district’s work is ongoing.

“We’re committed to this as an RSU,” he said. “We do have a lot of growing left to do and a lot of learning left to do, and we know that. We have a really good foundation, and we’re excited to keep it going.”

Members of the RSU 10 Equity Committee have offered many thoughts, ideas and opinions for why they believe their work on the committee is important:

  • “My goal based on my upbringing and even more so in my profession is to treat people the way I would expect to be treated no matter who they are or what they may have done. This has helped me dealing with people in life and my career and I wish more people had this mindset.” Doug Maifeld, RSU 10 school resource officer.
  • “As someone who was married to a Black man and raised Black children I saw the effects of racism in this country up close more times than I can count. Working to make our society better is a passion of mine.” Christine Ford, educational technician at Mountain Valley High School.
  • “I have enjoyed this work because I feel we are working together in a new way to make an impact on learning, to broaden the marginalized voices that are being heard and shared, and to contribute to a long-term shift in our community outlook and acceptance. It is important to me that my own children are accepting and understanding of multiple cultures and I want our schools to reflect those views and priorities.” Ryanne Prevost, eighth-grade teacher at Mountain Valley Middle School.
  • “I was inspired to participate in the Equity Committee because I spent the last 20 years teaching in an urban school district in Cleveland and felt I could bring a different perspective to the group.” Ellen Kulgowski, educational technician at Rumford Elementary School.
  • “As a mother raising three children and an educator who serves students from our community every day, I want to be a part of dismantling racism. I feel it is my responsibility to do this work.” Crystal Duguay, director of Western Foothills Regional Program.
  • “Our world is beautiful and fascinating because it is diverse, and we need to celebrate, honor, and value our differences.” Karen Wilson, math coach at Meroby Elementary School.
  • “It’s important that all people have access to the resources and support they need to live in an equitable world.” Kim Fuller, principal at Meroby Elementary School.
  • “I am committed to fighting for educational equity and to disrupting systems of oppression.” Leanne Condon, RSU 10 assistant superintendent.
  • “The work of the RSU 10 Equity Committee is so important because we need our schools to be a safe place for all students and families. Lifting marginalized voices to become an anti-racist school district is a priority for RSU 10 moving forward.” Tom Danylik, assistant principal and athletic director at MVHS.
  • “I’m doing this work because, as a student, I believe that it is important to make my fellow students aware of what is going on in the world, as well as how we should treat everyone as equals- regardless of race, religion, etc. For future generations, I believe that it is vital to educate them on civil rights issues, human rights, and everything in between!” Mikayla Burse, MVHS student.
  • “As a nation we believe educating all students to become productive citizens is important, but the reality is that inequities (caused by racism, implicit bias, poverty, low expectations) lead to vastly different experiences and outcomes in schools. Educational equity is attainable through the efforts of individuals who are willing to step up and challenge power, privilege, and inequities in our education system. The equity committee provides me with an opportunity in my community to do this important work.” Sean Scribner, fifth-grade teacher at MVHS.
  • “If we are told from the beginning, that we are to bring kindness around the world, let us start with a community of validation and equity to all.” Isabella Chalout, MVHS student.

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