Joyous and Just Schools

                In September of 2021, SEL Harmony and Inspire Teaching and Learning had a webinar focused on cultivating joyous and just educational spaces for all. This webinar was led by the Council of Chief State School Officers Teacher of the Year 2021 awardee Juliana Urtubey, a special education elementary teacher at Booker Elementary School located in Las Vegas, Nevada.

                Juliana talked about her joyous and just schools framework as the crucial element to developing a school garden as a community and student space for collective healing and improved learning. She discussed the importance of cultural identity to the work she has done in the school system. Her love of the natural world and the metaphors of growth and roots with students often led them to delve deeper into who they were and what strengths lie inside. This philosophy led to developing a community garden on the school campus space that included families, staff, teachers, and students. The community garden was a place wherein people would bring their talents, resources, and knowledge, to assist in developing a sustainable garden. Juliana mentioned how she reached out to families and asked what times would be best for garden building days so that people could come who often may have felt left out due to conflicting work schedules. The students build an identity around this garden-they started being called gnomies (a merging of the words gnome and homies). Such a place was designed to allow for sustainable community involvement and an improved appreciation of the school culture as people came together.

                Within her work, she mainly discussed how social-emotional learning was an essential aspect of building this space and the joy of learning among her students. Students were asked to reflect on the various steps involved in creating this space. In addition, they were challenged to develop a place in the student community that allowed them to bring their backgrounds and identities to this learning environment. Throughout these endeavors, families were invited to be a part of the learning growth, healing the educational system traumas that some parents had experienced decades ago. By doing this, students were taught what it means to love learning and cultivate their passions alongside the school materials.

                An essential piece to this entire presentation is also the impact that storytelling has on relaying meaningful information to students. She discussed how she transforms some of the narratives that are often placed on her by others. In her presentation, she talks about English Language Learners such as herself as being linguistically gifted. They are learning what it means to have multiple languages to utilize in communication and perceiving the world. In addition, she talks to the students with disabilities in her classroom about finding their strengths and recognizing that they can be allowed to express themselves and communicate with the world in innovative ways (i.e. comic writing). Her focus has allowed students to feel heard in the classroom and recognize that they have some agency in creating this school environment.

                During the presentation, she talked about justice in school as well. This part of the joyous and just schools framework can mean challenging some assumptions about what the school environment needs to be like or what students need to do to fit the school culture. In this community space, there is an appreciation for multiple languages that are being shared. There is also an opportunity for students to find inclusion through elements such as structural accommodations. As was stated by Juliana's mother, "look how it is possible to change, the world can change, and we can help it change."

This space was developed on the campus to ensure that students had a place filled with joy and hope that conveyed what learning could offer. As stated by the speaker, joy and justice can build students up so that they have the support to flourish and succeed in meaningful ways.

If you would like to see this webinar, here is the link: Video Link. For a list of other webinars available, please click this link: Webinar Link.

For those interested in Inspire Teaching and Learning, there are some modules that highlight social-emotional skill building. One module surrounds ‘Supporting Trauma-Exposed Students’ and another focuses on ‘Understanding the Impact of Trauma on Students’ . If you reside in Wyoming and would like to use these resources to gain PTSB credit, please follow this link to access a step-by-step guide: How to get PTSB credit for doing an Inspire Module.

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