Four Iowa City teachers to receive Inclusive Teaching Awards at event honoring the 65th anniversary of Brown v. Board

Inclusive Teaching Awards

Meeting Room A, Iowa City Public Library — Friday, June 28 at 1:30 p.m.

Exhibit: In Pursuit of Freedom and Equality: Kansas and the African American Public School Experience, 1855-1955

Iowa City Public Library — on display until July 8

Dr. Cheryl Brown Henderson, daughter of Brown v. Board plaintiff Rev. Oliver L. Brown, will be the keynote speaker at the first Inclusive Teaching Awards ceremony. — courtesy of the Iowa City Department of Equity and Human Rights

In light of the 65th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the Iowa City Department of Equity and Human Rights is recognizing area teachers for their inclusivity at the Iowa City Public Library on Friday afternoon. The event is the first of its kind.

The US Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education ruled it unconstitutional for children to be racially segregated in public schools and other educational facilities. Although forced desegregation within school districts led to protests, the landmark case became part of the foundation of the civil rights movement.

Kristin Watson, human rights investigator at the Iowa City Department of Equity and Human Rights, initiated the Inclusive Teaching Awards.

“It just occurred to me that we could recognize inclusive teachers, ones that had done really well with integrating their classrooms and making sure that everybody felt heard and noticed and created an environment where people felt able to learn and [be] supported,” she said. The idea was liked and approved by Stefanie Bowers, equity director at the Iowa City Department of Equity and Human Rights.

Eligibility for the award is limited to high school teachers in the Iowa City Community School District and at Regina Catholic Education Center in Iowa City. Students were prompted to nominate teachers that they felt embodied a list of “inclusive teaching characteristics”:

  • Includes perspectives from multiple viewpoints, including those who are not traditionally represented in class materials
  • Creates a respectful and productive environment where students want to learn
  • Teaches using a variety of methods that consider diverse ways of learning, different abilities, ways of knowing, and prior experience, so that all students can benefit
  • Listens to students so that they feel valued
  • Communicates clear expectations and supports students in achieving them
  • Offers different ways for students to share their knowledge

“Not all of the nominations actually address these points, but most of them did a very good job of telling why they felt the teacher was inclusive anyhow,” Watson said. “They mostly just said, ‘Look, here is how I feel about this teacher, and this is why.’”

Award winners were chosen by the Education Committee of the Human Rights Commission. One winner was chosen from each high school except Liberty High School, because no Liberty students submitted recognitions.

Tony Balcaen, a French teacher, is the winner for City High School.

One nominator wrote of Balcaen, “Whether it’s making sure to invite difficult conversation in his classroom or engaging in humor-filled dialogue with native French speakers, Monsieur has always made certain to celebrate difference in his classroom.”

Elizabeth Tate High School librarian Lisa Petrie will take home the award for her school.

“She is the center point of Tate High. She actively seeks out diverse books and media that represent our majority/minority population,” a nominator said of Petrie. “She’s the most open and welcoming teacher I have ever had.”

Art teacher John Demory is Regina Catholic Education Center’s award winner, with one of his nominators writing, “He is a teacher who not only exemplifies what a perfect teacher is, but what a great friend is as well.” Another one wrote, “Mr. Demory makes everyone feel special, shows something new every day, listens to everyone and makes the environment somewhere where everyone wants to be.”

Travis Henderson, a psychology teacher, is the winner for Iowa City West High School.

“On the first day, he asked everyone’s pronouns and if they were comfortable with him using them. He encourages discussions about race and why stereotypes exist,” said one nomination. “He doesn’t shy away from talking about implicit bias or how to make classes more equitable.”

The award ceremony honoring the four teachers will include a keynote address by Dr. Cheryl Brown Henderson, daughter of Rev. Oliver L. Brown, the named plaintiff for Brown v. Board of Education. Brown Henderson is the founding president of the Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence and Research.

The Brown Foundation has lent their traveling exhibit In Pursuit of Freedom and Equality: Kansas and the African American Public School Experience, 1855-1955 to the Iowa City Public Library. The exhibit will be on display until July 8.

Iowa City Mayor Jim Throgmorton will also use the event as an occasion to declare May 17 as Brown v. Board of Education Day for Iowa City.

The ceremony will begin at 1:30 p.m. It’s free and open to the public.

Joining the Department of Equity and Human Rights in the awards are its lead sponsor, the UI College of Education, and supporting sponsors the UI College of Law, Student Legal Services, UI Community Credit Union), UI Center for Human Rights and the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature.

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