Dr. Harrison & Students

Over the last several days I have been looking for the right words to share; words that would adequately express the sadness and pain that I have been feeling over the senseless death of an unarmed black man. Once again, our country roils in outrage and anguish over the violence and destruction that stems from systemic racism. Once again, we grieve with the victims and their families, and try to wrap our heads around the daily trauma that racism inflicts upon people of color. Recent news stories remind us that moral outrage alone is not enough to create a safe harbor for those of us who are predisposed to dehumanizing treatment based on the color of our skin. As my hope began to wane and the ongoing fear that I have for my five sons grew, I remembered the unique position we are in as educators. Amid all of the coronavirus-related cancellations, we must let our students know that HOPE IS NOT CANCELLED!

Our commitment to the children we educate and the communities we serve goes far beyond the standards we teach or the lessons we design. As educators, we have answered the call to shape the next generation of young adults who will help us create a more democratic, fair, and just world. Our commitment to this work is captured in our Vision of a Watertown Graduate which emphasizes empathy, critical thinking, responsible leadership, global understanding, and social and emotional awareness. When my hope is depleted, I am encouraged to know that these guiding principles undergird our collective work as a district.

According to John Dewey, “Democracy begins in conversation.” If we want our students to be active participants in the creation of a more democratic and just world, we need to teach them not only to think for themselves, but also to speak to one another. We also need to provide them with the space to acknowledge the racial injustice they see around them and, although we may not have all of the answers, engage them in meaningful and age-appropriate discussions about equity. The way forward for us all is through productive discourse, built upon the foundation of respectful give-and-take. We know that active and careful listening are empathy's crucial scaffold; undoubtedly, our growth as a people and our growing of future generations rest upon this necessary capacity to both hear and listen.

To assist you in this work, I am linking resources that include strategies to help engage in a dialogue about racism, hate, violence, and other tragic events that children may hear about at school and/or see on the news. Some of these resources were shared by Dr. Miguel Cardona, Commissioner of Education, and some are resources that I’ve found to be useful in engaging folk in equity-focused work. I’d also like to provide a safe space for you to reach out to me and ask questions. While I would never speak on behalf of all people of color or assume that every person’s journey is the same, I am willing to share some of my own experiences which may shed light on how some of our students may be feeling at this time. I will be available via Google Meet during the times listed in the email sent earlier. If you’d prefer to speak with me individually, please feel free to email me to schedule a time for us to connect.