My name is Colleen Colarusso. I am an educator, daughter, sister, aunt, friend, the Chief Schools Officer at Blackstone Valley Prep, and I am white. I grew up in a not-quite-suburban-not-quite-rural town in Massachusetts. After I graduated from High School, I attended Regis College, a small all women’s college located in Weston, Massachusetts, where as a History major I examined how the personal is political. Shortly after graduation, I started my teaching career as a Teach for America Corps Member in Miami-Dade County Public Schools. I attended majority white public schools as a child and started a teaching career in majority minority public schools.
As a white educator, my experience in Miami-Dade County Public Schools highlighted for me the discriminatory practices and policies that are pushed onto communities of color and the inequities in public schools in ways that couldn’t fully be understood until I was there. As a Kindergarten teacher, our school didn’t have adequate play space to enjoy during recess. In my years since teaching in Miami, I often think about how my students found ways to entertain them during recess without a dedicated playspace.
Following my time in Miami, I attended the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Mind, Brain, and Education program. During my graduate studies, I spent time deeply learning theory and best practices in child development, psychology, neuroscience, public health, and supporting diverse learners while also reflecting on what impact do I as an educator want to have and the type of school I want to work at following graduation. I was drawn to BVP for its commitment to a mission of preparing every scholar for success in college and the world beyond and our collective vision of intentional diversity, bringing together a community that has robust racial, ethnic, linguistic, social-economic diversity.
Due to the COVID-19 public health crisis, so much is different, birthday celebrations, community gatherings, shifting from in-person instruction to Distance Learning, graduation, and yet so much is the same, specifically the racism and oppressive policies and practices that exist in our country. COVID-19 has further revealed the discrepancies in access to quality health care and the trauma of living in poverty as can be seen when we examine the rates of infection and death rates in our state due to the pandemic. In fact, COVID-19 infection rates are higher in Central Falls than they are in New York City, one of the epicenters of the pandemic.
Like many in our community, in the days since the murder of George Floyd, I feel that all of my sense have been heightened. In ways that the Parkland shooting changed many of the practices and policies in our schools and in our country, I hope that the murder of George Floyd will forever shift the polices and practices in our county and communities.
My nephew just turned 5 and, like me, he is white. He is also a lover of the outdoors and mostly things that stereotypical “boys” enjoy. He is an admirer of the outdoor world, constantly asking questions, “what’s that?” when he hears sounds only to rejoice in naming the specific machinery that is making that sound. So for his birthday I got him a set of walkie talkies and my dad got him some Nerf guns. As I FaceTimed with my family to see him open these presents, the sense of joy and excitement is palpable. At this moment, as a first time aunt, I couldn’t fully appreciate his joy as I think about the reality of what it means to be a child in America that isn’t born with white privilege.
I had flashes of the life of Tamir Rice and how his life was taken experiencing the joy of playing in a park with his friends and his sister.
Today, as I walk around my neighborhood taking in the sights and sounds of Providence, I see children playing with squirt guns on an 80 degree day. I can’t help but take pause in how white children are able to be innocent in ways that children who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) do not get the luxury.
Recently, I joined Facing History Facing Ourselves Webinar, Working for Justice, Equity and Civic Agency in Our Schools: A Conversation with Clint Smith, where he shared part of his poem, How to Raise a Black Son in America and recounts a conversation with his father where he expressed his genuine concerns about the well-being of his son. “Son, I’m sorry, but you can’t act the same as your white friends. You can’t pretend to shoot guns. You can’t run around in the dark.” I’d listened to his Ted Talk a number of times before, but these words hit differently tonight given the current reality of our country.
Working in an intentionally diverse school, I often hear concerns from white parents about the amount of play in school and how critical play is to child development. We have 25 minutes of daily recess in our elementary school, more than the state guidelines call for, but I can’t help but wonder what the impact of years, if not decades, of stripped joy and play for children who live in communities of color…
Black lives matter.
Black children matter.
Black children deserve joy and to play with their friends without fear of fatal consequence.