Social Justice Curriculum Fair Inspires Educators

The University of Pittsburgh School of Education recently hosted a Social Justice Curriculum Fair, sponsored by the Office of the Dean and the Department of Teaching, Leading, and Learning. Nearly 200 K-12 educators, community partners, and School of Education students, faculty, and staff attended the virtual session.

The event began with a poetry reading by Josiah Russell, a current student at Pittsburgh Westinghouse Academy, who read a poem titled, “Where I’m From.”

“I loved that a current student did the poetry reading, because as teachers, we need students to help us to be the best we can be. We need to bring students into the discussions about their schools and classrooms,” says Joshua Bowers, a Master of Arts in Teaching student in the School of Education.

Educator and activist Michelle King delivered the keynote lecture. She stated that schools are microcosms of society. She urged educators to build spaces in their classrooms where students can learn alongside one another.

After the opening poem and keynote, the session continued with workshops from various community organizations.

Through a workshop with ARYSE, a local organization that supports refugee youth, educators in the audience learned how they could better support immigrant and refugee students.

Another workshop featured the Persad Center, a mental health center created specifically to advocate and care for the LGBT+ community in Pittsburgh. Educators asked questions about how to best support LGBT+ youth. The unit Global Minds of the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh and the Western Pennsylvania Writing Project also hosted workshops. Participants could also choose to attend a Social Justice Panel discussion.

The session then broke out into 27 roundtable discussions, allowing for smaller, meaningful conversations.

School of Education students in teacher education programs presented various ways to weave social justice into the K-12 curriculum. One group demonstrated a math activity in which students calculated housing costs and minimum wage in a city to determine if workers were paid a fair wage.

Another group presented a secondary English Language Arts unit on how teachers can use Angie Thomas’s novel, “The Hate U Give,” to talk about racial injustices.

Kari Kokka, assistant professor of mathematics education, who spearheaded the Social Justice Curriculum Fair, described the event as a “labor of love.” The event was planned to occur last spring, but complications with the pandemic pushed it back a year. Kokka says she was “elated and overjoyed that students, faculty, and guests enjoyed the event.”

“I’m grateful for my colleagues’ support, especially professor Emily Rainey, department chair Sabina Vaught, Renée and Richard Goldman Dean Valerie Kinloch, and my colleagues and students in the Department of Teaching, Learning, and Leading.”

The event included one element not often found in a typical Zoom conference: a live DJ.

Entertainer and educator Justis “DJ Faro” Lopez, who goes by the stage name DJ Faro and holds the title of chief enthusiasm officer at Just Experience, spun tracks in between sessions. Lopez’s music received rave reviews from the audience in the Zoom chatbox, with several students asking to bring him back for future events.

Kokka says she was happy that DJ Faro could share his “incredibly infectious positive energy with us.”

The Social Justice Curriculum Fair then concluded with a book raffle. Lucky winners could select among the following books: “We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom” by Bettina Love, which was last year’s School-Wide Read, “Teaching for Black Lives” by Jesse Hagopian, Dyan Watson, and Wayne Au, and “Troublemakers” by Carla Shalaby.

One student wrote in the chatbox, “I’m leaving [the Social Justice Curriculum Fair] rejuvenated with new ideas.”

Learn more

The Pitt School of Education’s various teaching programs are accepting applications. To browse degree programs, click here.