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Part 1: “We Can All Be Lifted Up” - The Power of Belonging for the APIA Community in Schools

“I didn't realize how important working with APIA folks was to me until now because I had learned not to expect it.”

Arun Antonyraj , Teacher Leader

Each day in EL Education schools, we see how learning flourishes when all students have access to safe, culturally-affirming environments. In May of 2021–against the backdrop of pandemic-fueled Anti-Asian rhetoric and violence–a group of Asian and Pacific-Islander American (APIA) educators from across the EL Education network gathered to:

  • Build solidarity as Crew
  • Share perspectives on what it means to be an APIA educator, and
  • Discuss ways in which schools can help to nourish the souls of APIA students and educators during challenging times and times of joy.
  • The group chose a fitting format for their discussion: a Mukbang–a popular Korean-style roundtable featuring a shared meal and interactive conversation. Hosted by EL Education senior coach Genie Kang, participants included:
  • Arun Antonyraj: Teacher Leader, MS 839, Brooklyn, New York
  • Scill Chan: Principal, Brooklyn Collaborative Studies, Brooklyn, New York
  • Elaine Hou: Director of Literacy Grades 3-8
  • Lauren Kosasa: 7th Grade Social Studies Teacher, MELS, Queens, New York
  • Priya Natarajan: Teacher Leader, Casco Bay High School, Portland, Maine
  • Ingrid Wong: School Designer, NYC Outward Bound Schools, New York City, New York

Over the next few weeks, we will share excerpts from our Mukbang. We invite you to join us at the table and engage in deeper learning around the themes that members of the APIA community continue to face daily that led to the significance and urgency of this Mukbang.

While APIA Heritage Month is a special time to revisit these themes of inclusion and belonging, they remain relevant throughout the year as we work together to create affirming learning environments for all.

Genie: As APIA folks, we have so many different contexts. Sometimes we are isolated, and other times we are very much surrounded by people we identify with. Are you in a community where you feel you have an APIA Crew?

Elaine: I’ve been with the school as a founding teacher, and in my 17 years there, this was our first year celebrating APIA month. It’s been a really exciting endeavor to engage our school leadership and work with other APIA staff members to plan these events.

Arun: At least 15% of our staff is APIA. This school is probably the first where I’ve worked with more than one or two APIA folks. I didn’t realize how important working with APIA folks was to me until now because I had learned not to expect it. For example, last spring we had our first APIA teach-in ever. Having a critical mass allows so many of these types of events to become possible so much faster.

Scill: I am one of four APIA staff members, and our student population is about 4% Asian. I grew up in Chinatown, so I’ve definitely been in a place where Asians are everywhere. Certainly, I would love for there to be more APIA community where I am, and that felt front and center this year, with the rise in anti-Asian violence and the need to be on the receiving end of someone’s emotions. I would have wanted to check in with somebody else at those times, but I didn’t always have the opportunity.

Lauren: I was born and raised in Hawaii. I grew up in a context that was very Asian, and the schools I attended were majority Japanese American. Then when I moved to New York and started at my school, it didn’t occur to me at first that it was hard for me not to be around other Asian folks until my second year when my school hired another Asian American teacher. We were drawn to each other and really connected. Then a new coach who was Asian and from Hawaii joined us, and I was super excited. I did not realize that connection was something I needed until I got it.

Priya: I’m the only Asian teacher in our school, but we do have a very large APIA community in my town. I think communities are burgeoning here mostly as a result of heightened awareness of the need for community and the potential to provide healing. Different communities have planned rallies, vigils, and meetings together, and such events have allowed us to form new communities. For example, the students at my school have expressed an interest in forming an affinity group, and plans are underway. They would like to meet with their teachers to talk about what they would like to see changed in the curriculum. The movement this year excites me.

Communities are burgeoning here mostly as a result of heightened awareness of why that community might be needed and their potential to provide healing.

*EL Education is proud to host diverse voices and offer a platform for dialogue on topics impacting educators and students. Views of guest bloggers are their own and may differ from the views of EL Education.

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    Educator Voices