MILFORD — Foran High School student Juanito Briones said he wants all people of color to have a positive experience in the Milford Public Schools, just like he had, and not experience the ridicule that some of his friends did.

Although he came to U.S. from the Philippines knowing English, his friends didn’t speak the language, he said.

“My friends, who were also immigrants, were ridiculed and ostracized from not being able to transition smoothly from the language barrier,” he said. “I want my positive experience in the Milford public schools to translate to all people of color and have that be the norm rather than the outlier.”

Juanito was one of the students who spoke at Monday’s Board of Education meeting in Milford on the topic of unconscious bias in schools. At the meeting, which was held online via Zoom, educators shared highlights from the district’s work addressing the issue.

The examination of race in schools began in June, when a group of students approached school administrators about their interest in how to make change around the topics of race, equity and social justice.

“We’re here because of them,” said Annaliese Spaziano instructional supervisor of student development & wellness at Milford Public Schools. “I commend them for their courageousness and their desire for change.”

Protests

Sean Smyth, who works with Spaziano, spoke about why the group formed, and what the group is doing now.

“The image that propelled people across the country to take action was the killing of George Floyd,” he said. “Floyd really sparked action throughout the country and throughout the world.”

He spoke about the protests that erupted across the country, including a local protest on Milford Green. The reactions have forced people to ask tough questions, he said.

“The killing of George Floyd, as well as others around the same time, moved all of us to take a fresh look at racism,” he said.

The conversation led to the creation of a student group known as the Committee on Race, Equity and Social Justice Resolution. The committee, made up of students from Milford’s high schools. is service-based and will advise the district on recommended changes regarding race, equity and social justice. Key priorities are adult learning, school climate and culture, and raising student awareness around the issue.

Student Aliya Prosser said she would like to build up the group to begin taking meaningful action.

“It’s not a a one and done,” she said. “It’s something that’s considered for future generations to come.”

She said she would like teachers to be more mindful of the things they say and to see the curriculum changed to consider all aspects of history and recognize multiple cultures.

“I just want it to be something that really sticks with people, and actually has a real results rather than just a temporary means of action,” she said.

Another student, Alexis Agaymang, said change starts with teachers.

“If we are all taught to be equal and love each other for who we are, we will all be together as one,” she said.

The group also has set up a private Instagram page where students can anonymously talk about things that they’ve experienced and created a Multicultural Day in schools.

“It raises a lot of awareness for what were trying to do,” Alexis said.

The group will continue to meet on a monthly basis, she said.

“A journey”

The work of the group will not always be an easy one, Spaziano said.

“The work is complicated and can be uncomfortable but it’s absolutely necessary,” she said. “In Milford, we’ve been referring to this work as a journey, a long-term commitment.”

Spaziano addressed the future of the group, saying that the students addressed and identified a broad area of work that needs to be addressed. To do that, they will look at the courses that are provided to all students, the technology that’s available to them, and think about school climate and culture, according to Spaziano.

Superintendent Anna Cutaia spoke about how the young people will play a leadership role in the group going forward.

“We believe we got it right by starting with our young people first,” she said. “We promise to keep them at the center of our decision making as we move forward. The aggressive and courageous conversations that we need to have will be hard conversations.”

Board Chairman Susan Glennon agree.

“This is a multi-year process,” she said. “It will be part of our work for a very long time in Milford.”

sfox@milfordmirror.com