VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — As we fight for racial equality and inclusion, it’s important to remember our children are watching and we are all learning.
WAVY.com had an in-depth conversation with Dr. LaQuiche Parrott on this topic. She is the director of the Office of Opportunity and Achievement for Virginia Beach City Public Schools.
“The first thing I would advise parents to do is take a deep breath. Take maybe several deep breaths, because having discussion around race and equity and discrimination, those are very tough conversations to have, especially with young people… Don’t miss the opportunity to engage in this courageous conversation,” Parrott said.
Parrott’s doctorate degree is in educational leadership and policy studies. She was an elementary school principal. She has focused on the well-being of students and the growth of schools for years.
“Our students are observing us, our anxiety we have, which may be unspoken. They’re hearing some dialogue between adults and they may see the adults get upset or maybe see the adults cheering. They’re observing things on television, protests, police officers, and so they’re trying to make sense of what’s going on. So, I would encourage our parents to start a discussion that’s rooted in positive language that’s solution-oriented,” she said.
Parrott says it’s important to be honest with your children about skin color, race, and differences. She says it is critical that your child feels safe to ask questions.
“It can simply be you see them watching the news and say, ‘What do you think is happening?’ and listen. Stop talking and listen to what they say. Hear their perspective. Books, age-appropriate books, and age-appropriate movies are great ways to naturally integrate questions because they will come out naturally. For example, CNN had a special Sesame Street Town Hall and it’s one of the resources we have on VBschools.com and it was age-appropriate,” Parrott said. “I have a 6-year-old nephew and it sparked some questions. He asked why people were being arrested in protests.”
In a time when so many voices are being heard, Parrott says it’s time for you to speak up.
“Silence is a response, and during this time when everyone has a very strong opinion, many times those racist comments or behaviors go unchecked. They go unaddressed and I say that this is the time to address those comments and behaviors in a safe manner,” Parrott said.
“I’m not encouraging to be confrontational with people that you don’t know, but … many times these comments come from people that we know, that we have a relationship with, and I would like to believe that many individuals don’t know that what they’re saying is very inappropriate and [don’t] take into consideration the experiences and the feelings of others. So, I would say if you hear something or if you see something that is not equitable, that is not treating others with respect and valuing their differences, that you speak up. Whether that’s in person, whether that’s through an email, you say something.”
If you want to step into this movement for equality right now but aren’t sure how, Parrott has some suggestions.
“Evaluate, self reflect on your own values and beliefs. What is your aim? Are you solution-oriented? So, I think this is a great time for all of us to self reflect on who are we. What do we value? What do we believe? And then once we are grounded in our beliefs and our values, then seek out like-minded individuals.”
Parrott also says there is strength in numbers.
“There are many civic organizations that are helping out and that doesn’t mean you have to stand out and protest. There’s other ways that you can get engaged and I think that the first form, or the first line of engagement, is truly self-educating. Self-reflection on your own values and beliefs to ensure that you are entering a space where you are prepared to put action behind your values and your belief system.”
She also suggests focusing the long term by registering to vote, and then actually voting.
So, what changes might you see at Virginia Beach City Public Schools because of protests and the death of George Floyd?
“The work has already begun,” Parrott said. “As I sit here talking to you, we have our various departments thinking about what’s next. What can we do differently? What should we do differently? And those actions have been put into place regarding our summer schools.”
Parrott says VBCPS has already engaged in some “very difficult” conversations and will continue to do so.
“Societal problems are part of our school division as well, so we are not safe from what happens outside our school walls, and so we can’t help but be different. The recent events have impacted us all, and I can tell by the conversations that I’m having with my colleagues, I can tell by the conversations that I’m having with external stakeholders, we must do what’s best for all of our students and families… I know with these recent events, though not new to us, unfortunately, have changed us and we can’t help but change what we’re doing to ensure that all of our students know that they’re valued and that they’re loved and cared for… That starts with them seeing themselves in the curriculum. Students need to be able to see themselves reflected positively in our curriculum, not just in books, but in our curriculum, in our stories that we read, in our math, different scientists,” Parrott said.
“We talk about girls in STEM, but they rarely see another female scientist throughout the curriculum. So, we have to take a look at and examine our practices, and so I can tell you that work has already begun in Virginia Beach City Public Schools.”
Inclusive learning environments for students are imperative to the success of the current generation and future generations, according to Parrott.
“Racism and discrimination is everyone’s problem. It’s not just black and brown people’s problem. Unfortunately black and brown people bear the brunt of the discrimination, however when students don’t feel safe, valued, seen in the curriculum, have opportunities to access rigorous curriculum, they stop learning and that’s everyone’s problem. So, when others may wonder why schools are involved in race, in equity, in talking about inclusive learning environments, because it’s about teaching and learning and if kids don’t feel safe and valued, they’re not going to learn. It’s important that we address these issues so that hopefully the next generation doesn’t have to go through what we’re going through right now.”
Virginia Beach City Public Schools has held one virtual community conversation about race and equity. Parrott says the school plans to hold more virtual conversations throughout the year.