Gradient Learning

2020 | Photograph by FatCamera via Getty Images.
2020 | Photograph by FatCamera via Getty Images.

Honoring culture and supporting well-being through culturally sustaining curriculum

One of the core values of the Summit Learning program is fostering student engagement. When students find their classes personally meaningful, they are more likely to persist through challenges and develop the capacity to take ownership of their learning.

Culturally sustaining curriculum that reflects and honors students’ identities is a critical part of supporting student engagement and well-being. That’s why Summit Learning projects and lessons allow students to explore important social issues that are central to their lived experiences including racial discrimination, LGBTQ rights, Latinx culture, and divides in rural America. 

CZI partners with Gradient Learning, the nonprofit that oversees the Summit Learning program, to build tools that help teachers differentiate instruction to meet the needs of every student. CZI also supports teacher training and professional development for educators participating in the program including opportunities for teachers to come together to develop a culturally sustaining curriculum.

Ericka Streeter-Adams, an English language arts teacher at Henry Snyder High School in Jersey City, N.J., is one of the educators helping to develop culturally sustaining curriculum that is used by teachers and students in nearly 400 Summit Learning schools across the country. Streeter-Adams developed “Black Women Writers,” a  supplemental high school humanities project that explores how authors like Maya Angelou, Zora Neale Hurston, and Toni Morrison use authenticity to connect with an audience and how the debates over their work have shaped contemporary Black writers. 

For Streeter-Adams, one of the most exciting parts of the project is the summative performance task where students analyze the diversity of reading lists in their school and then develop their own culturally relevant curriculum proposal with recommendations for administrators. Assignments like this reflect the needs of today’s students who want to make an impact on their community especially in the midst of nationwide protests against racial injustice and police brutality. “When students have more choice when they get to put more of themselves into the assignment you get a better response,” said Streeter-Adams.

Culturally sustaining projects like “Black Women Writers” also expand the diversity of authors in the curriculum allowing students to see their experiences and communities reflected in literature and they give students a chance to grapple with issues of identity and representation from multiple perspectives. 

It’s all part of creating a classroom experience that reflects the real world and values the culture of each student. Streeter-Adams works to create space in her classes for students’ diverse perspectives. They soon realize that they have more in common than they thought. “You don’t have to be afraid anymore when you see visual differences because your experiences are pretty much the same.”

Oct 15, 2020

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