Attending a diverse high school, Molly McDonough often found herself surrounded by familiar faces in her Honors and AP classes. It wasn’t until after graduation that she realized how many of her classmates she had never even met. She also later realized how disproportionally white those faces in her AP and Honors classes were.
Upon graduating from high school, Molly went on to pursue her degree in teaching. It was at this time that Molly received an email from Mr. Barrio, a teacher from her high school. Though she had never had him as a teacher, he was reaching out to her and all other students from the high school who were going on to become teachers. Mr. Barrio became Molly’s mentor. “It wasn’t so much what he said, but his example. He would help students fill out scholarship applications and would fill out FAFSA applications for parents who didn’t speak English. He always went the extra mile for his students.” This mentorship became a driving force in Molly’s equity journey and reinforced her dedication to the idea that all students deserved the same opportunities for rigor and exposure to activities.
Sparked by the murder of George Floyd by policemen in the summer of 2020, Molly was inspired to do more. She participated in community protests in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and attended city council meetings on racial equality. Having earned respect and autonomy as an educator in her district also strengthened her confidence to make her voice heard at a school and district level. She began working on an equity and inclusion committee with other like-minded teachers. She also began participating in the Opportunity Coalition Network’s program Leaders for Just Schools.
Bolstered by what she was learning from LFJS and with the support of members of her cohort, Molly began connecting with community members to give them a space to voice their concerns. While she felt a lot of support from staff and administration at her school, there was a lack of representation in the equity meetings themselves. Reminiscent of her high school experience, Molly was a part of a diverse school but surrounded by white faces in meetings about equity.
Molly knew that it was important to have allies but that it was even more important to hear the actual voices of those most likely feeling inequities. With this in mind, the idea of having an international cultural night was born. It would be an opportunity for cultural displays, foods, and performances from the many cultures that made up the school district. The event did exactly what Molly had hoped. “The entire school year I heard from people about how appreciated and respected they felt. The celebration really brought the community together.” Most importantly it made people feel welcome to bring their voices to the school. The celebration did what months of outreach had not. At the next diversity meeting, Molly was surrounded by a group of people that reflected the community she taught in.
Molly encourages any educator ready to begin their equity work to take the leap. “Get involved. Find a support system that you can trust and depend on. Leaders for Just Schools helped me to learn about myself and allowed me to reflect on my own biases first. I also found like-minded individuals who were allies, who would be an ally with me.” She acknowledges that the work can be slow and tiring, but that having advice and feedback from members of her cohort has helped her not give up when compassion fatigue sets in. As a teacher, her motivation is always her students. “In my classroom everyone is welcome, all voices are meant to be heard, and high expectations are for all students.” And now when Molly looks around her honors English classroom, she sees all faces, not just ones that look like hers.