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Study Circle Stories

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Telling Our Stories 

Scott Murphy 

"In my 13 years as a school administrator, our work with Study Circles/Equity Team in 2012-13 was the best professional development for the leadership team that I have ever experienced.

Not only did we develop a community of leaders who is now able to talk about race and the persistent achievement gap at our school, but we came together as a strong, cohesive team to a degree that we had never experienced. We got to know each other’s stories and brought levels of trust, commitment, accountability, and shared leadership to new heights.

This unintended outcome has strengthened the ILT more so than I ever envisioned, and has launched us into a renewed commitment to confront issues of race and work together to close the achievement gap." 

 Scott Murphy, principal, Watkins Mill High School, October, 2013      

 gilesI am a Living Example’ – Giles Benson, Participant Acting Director, Department of Recruitment and Staffing.

For my first 58 years, I was not aware of any impact that race had on my life.  I was blind to the reality that my whiteness conferred upon me advantages not available to people of different racial or ethnic backgrounds.  I have lived my life in relative racial isolation.  While my schooling had always involved classmates from other races, that was the extent of my racial integration.  My parents never discussed race and I continued the same parenting skills while raising my children.

My life has been clearly partitioned between school/work and “life outside school/work”.  As I review my memories, social activities have not been integrated.  Only through my children’s activities, sports etc., was there any visual evidence of racial interaction. 

I am a living example of “it’s who you know, not what you know” that began my career MCPS.  With my blinders off, I can see my white privilege was at work very hard in the beginning of my employment.  It was the stepping stone to who and where I am today.  I believe being aware of this invisible advantage is MY becoming a more effective leader. 

I hope with continued dialogue on race,   I can become a better leader with stronger interpersonal skills, and improved understanding of cultural awareness.

undefined ‘My Reflections’ – Adrianna Navia-Lopez, Participant

Since participating in the Study Circle at Rosemary Hills, I’ve noticed a lot more about the world around me and myself. I have become aware of how divided people are in terms of race. I am from Colombia, and before the Study Circle, I thought of myself as white—because there, I’m considered white, not Hispanic or Latina. After participating in the Study Circle, I understand a lot more about how people view the world and how they form their stereotypes of race and skin color. The Study Circle really opened my mind about how to speak about race and confront people without offending them. Before, race was a subject I didn’t want to talk about, didn’t know how to talk about, but now I’ve become braver.

One day I was running late for the shuttle bus at the airport where I work and heard a woman say, “Don’t wait for her, she’s white,” referring to me. I confronted her and asked her why she had said that. A year ago, I never would have done that. I sometimes see reverse racism like that—blacks to Hispanics, blacks to whites. I wish everyone had the opportunity to do a Study Circle; it will open minds.

It was an awakening experience, an enriching experience. I will have a better opportunity to talk to the principal at my son’s school. I won’t be so intimidated, won’t be held back by my accent or feeling nervous about my English. I really appreciated the Study Circle—how people want to be involved in their children’s schools, sharing that experience. I want my child to treat everyone equally. Especially after participating in the Study Circle, I’m not afraid to talk about race. I even recommended the Study Circles program to my friend who lives in Fairfax County.


jane‘You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught’ – Jane O. Smith, Facilitator

I remember hearing the soundtrack to “South Pacific” as a little girl, and the lyrics “You’ve Got to Be Taught to Hate and Fear …You’ve Got to be Taught from Year to Year… It’s Got to Be Drummed in Your Dear Little Ear…You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught.” My life experience informs me that this is true.

As a facilitator for Study Circles, I am able to help others understand why they are  creating these barriers—and to help begin the process of healing. The content and exercises encourage self-expression and deep dialogue in an honest and safe environment. This is no small matter. It is powerful and it is my ministry.

There is great joy in watching participants grow, in speaking their minds courageously. As a facilitator I have the privilege of promoting conversations about race and ethnicity and how they sometimes keep students from moving ahead. With a shared understanding of the barriers, we begin formulating strategies to overcome them. If I do my job well, the creativity and passion of even the quietest of personalities will shine through.

Oscar Hammerstein challenges us to affirm each other in light of our differences. Study Circles gives us a set of tools to prompt new ways of thinking and acting, so our children can embrace learning as positive, no matter where they come from or what they look like. I am truly blessed and humbled to play a part in this marvelous endeavor!


  leslie‘Actively Welcoming Parents at Tilden Middle School’ – Leslie Eure, Participant

As a minority, I was already sensitive to racial and cultural prejudice and stereotyping. However, I learned so much from the other participants in my Study Circle at Tilden and in reality learned some things about myself (both positive and negative stereotypes I carry about other groups). I believe the experience helped me grow as an individual and parent. For example, as a result of spending weeks together, our study circle formed two new groups for the school. One of them, tentatively called the “Welcoming Committee,” will further increase parent communication and participation in school activities.

The Welcoming Committee will serve as an additional resource for our school and directly reach out to and mentor families new to Tilden. These new families include those of rising fifth graders and any transferring family from other MCPS schools, private schools or out of the country. This is based on a recognized need to make sure every family feels connected to our diverse school community. We wish to help families who may have language and/or cultural barriers become more informed and involved in our school. Further, we expect that a stronger connection, aided by a mentoring group of parents, will increase success and improve the quality of education for all our students.

I have become involved in the new Welcoming Committee and I am hopeful that both new and seasoned parents see this as an opportunity to mentor and/or share information for the benefit of their own families as well as the school community. 





Damascus SC  Stepping Out of the Circle: Damascus High School Students and Staff Discuss the Tough Issues    RMHS  Richard Montgomery Students Tackle Race 
 undefined  Latino Parents and Staff Talk and Work Together at Cannon Road Elementary School 



Northeast Consortium Roundtables Address Race and School Choice 
 Wheaton Small  Spanish Language Study Circle Leads to Changes at Wheaton HS     Farquhar 150 wide  Farquhar Middle School Confronts Race and Achievement 
 Spanish Language Study Circle 150 wide  What I Learned In Study Circles on Student Achievement by Rosa Sanchez, parent   Paint Branch students 150 wide   Paint Branch Students "Tell It!" 
 G. Martinez 150 wide   Highlights and Appreciations