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How Milwaukee Public Schools' SPACE Program Is Building Trust And Cultural Understanding

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Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association
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Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association
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As we're in the beginning stages of a new school year, families and school staff are adjusting to in-person learning — not just for students, but for themselves.

School Psychologists for Anti-Racism and Cultural Equity, also known as SPACE, is a group of school psychologists working in Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS).

SPACE is dedicated to recognizing how race impacts their work with families and students and how they can authentically build trust through cultural understanding.

SPACE developed around the 2017/2018 school year after an incident in the district prompted MPS psychologists to recognize the heightened need for a formalized group to incorporate culturally responsive practices in their work.

School psychologist and SPACE member Brooke Soupenne explains how SPACE is breaking the social discomfort in talking about race: "What we found is that continuing this work and continuing the conversation really helps with making sure that we're giving the very best that we can when we are serving our families and our children in Milwaukee," she says.

Before the program began, group members said there were very limited conversations about race and how it impacts education. In order to better support the diverse population attending MPS, SPACE works on fostering and focusing on positive relationships in education between students, staff, and families.

"Race is something you have to continually talk about. It's like a muscle that you have to keep working out. It only can get stronger. And if you let it go, you lose it, and you lose that comfortability," notes Soupenne.

For Fada Shelbourne, also a school psychologist and SPACE member, the group offered a her a sense of community as someone new to the district. Additionally as a Black woman, she saw the importance of tending to the needs of the majority Black student population.

Shelbourne expresses, "I feel like SPACE has been really powerful in that regard of working together as a team to figure out how to establish trust ... and have those conversations in a room where we can see body language and smiles, and facial expressions and just connect on a human level."

Soupenne says that giving grace and showing empathy should be expected, especially when things are not normal as we experience the COVID-19 pandemic.

The SPACE program has impacted MPS by emphasizing that social-emotional needs matter now more than ever, says Soupenne. "They matter for students, and they matter for staff in this work."

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