Mission CISD’s school year came to a close, and with that, so did the year-long cultural inclusivity program known as the Illumination Project. But Deputy Superintendent for Curriculum & Instruction Dr. Sharon Roberts assures there is more to come.
The district partnered with local nonprofit Village in the Valley (ViVa) to launch a modified version of a program originally designed to build trust between communities and their local law enforcement agencies. With the help of Illumination Project founder Robert “Jake” Jacobs, ViVa developed a curriculum related to cultural diversity and inclusion for secondary students at Mission CISD. Jacobs and ViVa based the curriculum on survey responses and focus group feedback from MCISD students, employees and parents.
The deputy superintendent said that one of the themes that resulted from the survey was the students’ desire to learn about other cultures and ethnicities in the district.
“They felt like they have an inclusive culture but they would like to continue building that,” Roberts said. “And just to be more aware of what other cultures are like because they think it’s one way and it’s actually not.”
Although most of the student population is Hispanic or Latino, the enrollment consists of at least five other races and ethnicities. According to a recent report from the Director for Safety & Security Martin Castañeda, MCISD had 14,503 students enrolled by the end of the fall 2022 semester. Thirty-four of those students were nonwhite, Latino or Hispanic, in addition to seven biracial students.
The Illumination Project culminated in a Blue Ribbon Week in February with themed content. For example, the teachers showed a short video to their classroom regarding a topic such as discriminatory language. The students had the opportunity to ask questions, start a dialogue and then have a follow-up activity to familiarize themselves with the subject. By the end of the session, they would know how to identify and avoid derogatory language and understand how words can be harmful.
Following Blue Ribbon Week, ViVa and administration held feedback sessions with focus groups that consisted of students, parents and teachers. The sessions finished in May, and Roberts said the stakeholders had a positive response to the program.
“I think the students were taking more ownership and trying to create more inclusive communities with each other,” the deputy superintendent said. “Sometimes kids think that just saying things is not hurtful and then they start learning that maybe they are hurtful, even though people don’t show it. And I think that they want to have more activities that are more culturally aware of where other people of different backgrounds are coming from, and how to be more caring toward one another and other cultures.”
Roberts said the district plans to incorporate the lessons from the Illumination Project into other areas of their curriculum in the years to come to build on the knowledge.
“For the first year, we attained our goal that we set out which was awareness. But I don’t think that we’ll ever reach a goal because we always have a higher goal that we want to attain. We always continually move the bar because it’s about continuous improvement,” she said. “We’re not where we need to be by any means but we’ve made great progress and we just need to continue on.”