LPS students, leaders gain insight at Educators of Color Summit

Razan and Valerie are both eager to lead future generations of students as Nebraska public school employees.
They learned in early November that they would have a strong support system to help them every step of the way.
The two Park Middle School students joined dozens of people from across the state at the fourth-annual Educators of Color Summit. Leaders from Lincoln Public Schools and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln co-hosted the multi-generational event. Activities took place at Lincoln Children’s Zoo on Nov. 2. The rest of the activities were at the UNL’s East Campus Union Nov. 3-4.
Razan and Valerie both said they were excited to be at the conference. The eighth-grade students are interested in pursuing education careers. Razan would like to become a guidance counselor and Valerie would like to be a teacher in an elementary school.
“It’s been a lot of fun today,” Razan said. “I’ve learned a lot more about becoming a counselor. I want to help kids, and that seems like a good way to do that.”
“I want to be a teacher and work with little kids,” Valerie said. “I came here because I wanted to learn more about it from people who are teachers now.”
Northwest High School junior Sophia also said she was gaining a great deal from the summit. Sophia would like to lead preschool students and has spent the past year speaking with current teachers about her future plans. She said she had established a good network of potential mentors from LPS at the conference.
“Over the past year I’ve become a lot more interested in doing this as a career, so I wanted to explore things in more detail today,” Sophia said. “When I heard about this I was really excited, so I thought it would be fun to come. I’ve really enjoyed it. I’m glad I’m here.”
Pete Ferguson, youth development coordinator at LPS, said the summit aims to empower and encourage students and teachers of color in Nebraska each year. The statewide event is open to high school students, pre-service education students, in-service educators, certificated and uncertificated staff, school administrators and university faculty.
The summit dovetailed with one of the top goals for LPS in the district’s All Means All Action Plan that was adopted in 2021. Lincoln Board of Education members would like to hire more employees from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. They would like to have at least 8.1 percent of LPS certified staff be from diverse groups.
Two of the summit’s keynote presentations took place Friday morning. Ferguson led a session called “Chop It Up” for a full room of participants. They gathered at round tables and talked about the significance and value of being either an educator or student of color.
Rudi Wolfe, assistant principal at Elliott Elementary School, was one of three people who shared their answers with everyone at the end of the session. She said it was important for educators to be proud of their personal heritage and experiences. She also said being an administrator gave her the chance to make positive connections with students and staff on a daily basis.
Robin Brandehoff, an assistant clinical professor of culturally and linguistically diverse education at the University of Colorado-Denver, then led the audience in a session about “Malama Pono.” The Hawaiian phrase means to take good and righteous care of yourself and others.
Brandehoff said it was critical for teachers and administrators to reserve time for self-care in their personal and professional lives.
“You cannot keep pouring into others when your cup is empty,” Brandehoff said.
Brandehoff is campus chair of diversity, equity and inclusion at UC-Denver and guides students of color who are pursuing doctoral degrees. She shared a method of teaching that focuses on ways to build a sense of community in classrooms. She said fostering this type of healthy environment is essential for both teaching and learning at all levels of education.
Valerie said she was glad to make connections with educators and students of color from all age groups. She felt the summit gave her a chance to take the first steps on her future teaching journey.
“I’ve liked it here because I’ve been able to relax and be myself,” Valerie said. “I feel comfortable being here.”
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Published: November 20, 2023, Updated: November 20, 2023

Students and teachers from across Nebraska came to Lincoln Nov. 2-4 for the fourth-annual Educators of Color Summit. They enjoyed multiple keynote speeches and breakout sessions during the conference. Students and teachers also established a strong support system with their conversations and small-group discussions.