Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am Evonne Bankston. I teach 7th Grade Social Studies at KIPP Bloom College Prep, where I also serve as the SEL Chair, boys basketball coach, Enrollment Officer, Model UN Advisor, and Vocal Justice Fellow. If it sounds like a lot, it’s not. Believe it or not, all of these roles intertwine with one goal; coming together to support the best intentions for the lives of inner-city youth so they can promote and push their best selves to the world.
One of the many hats you wear is Vocal Justice Fellow. Can you share a little about that?
Vocal Justice is an anti-oppressive organization committed to social equity. The fellowship program helps teachers like myself advocate and help individuals who identify with groups that have been historically marginalized. Teachers like myself are taught how to effectively support youth learn how to speak out against injustice, and understand what caused it. Rather than just learning to name social issues, students learn why these problems persist. Understanding the root causes of social injustices enables my students to advocate for appropriate solutions. I teach students how to explore the wide range of negative impacts that stem from structural oppression, including those that are not immediately apparent, so that they can advocate for changes that others may not recognize are needed.
How has your work with Vocal Justice impacted your teaching?
I purposefully teach culturally affirming history that provides Black and Brown youth opportunities to understand their history and identity and reflect on their personal lives to advocate for themselves. I push these students to learn about the causes and consequences of oppression and advocate for social justice to promote change in ways that are true to who they are and persuasive to their intended targets. Our very own KIPP students have done a fantastic job in this program because it gave them a voice, and time after time, students let me know they felt heard on issues they thought they did not affect.
Rather than targeting “high-achieving” students of color, I intentionally focus on children and work in schools to reach the children I feel are forgotten about by policy. Many students from this spectrum become disengaged in school. These students, however, have incredible ideas on how to change the world precisely because the status quo has failed them. I push to educate them because they deserve a space to cultivate their voice, be heard, and learn how to do so.
I hope to continue this fellowship curriculum for years to come at this school because we have a lot of work to do. It embodies my passion with my “ why” I teach and do what I do, which helps me wake up with positive vibes and energy every morning.
Tell us about your role as SEL Chair.
I advocate for SEL in inner-city communities to help children and adults identify problems that a child could be struggling with to summon the appropriate way to help. I did not have these resources when I was in school. However, I could have appreciated and grown from the support. Due to that, I must establish foundations of supportive communities within the schools that are safe for the child. Through SEL, I inspire and prepare youth to become socially conscious by helping build their confidence, communication skills, and critical consciousness. It is possible. Identifying that schools are communities and residences of diversity, it is only natural to embody a school curriculum and practice that teaches to the whole child and all children.
What SEL ideas, programs, and teaching are you most excited to bring students?
I am motivated to help and educate students to understand and identify their emotions to have a healthy sense of empathy, self-control, and stress management. Because children experience stress from things and traumas, they have no control. Implementing SEL also helps them build better relationships and interpersonal skills to serve them in school and beyond, helping them succeed as adults. Within this role, I hope to continue to address the continued racial and gender disparities in school systems. With our children being on the frontline within communities that many issues affect, I push to promote and create change because my school team and I are dedicated to understanding and recognizing the root causes of barriers to equitable educational outcomes for each child. As an SEL chair, I am also one of the coordinators with our Social Worker for my school with Communities in School, giving tools, training, and information so our school can remove barriers to underserved students.
Why are you passionate about your work with SEL and Vocal Justice?
As a gender-nonconforming person in Chicago working within a public school system and dealing with everyday problems as an African American, I face discrimination and hardships daily. I realize there are laws to protect LGBTQ people and children, but honestly, there are not enough. I continue to see state legislatures advancing bills that target transgender people, limit local protections, and allow the use of religion to discriminate. It’s unfair to people like me, and I would like to use my voice to advocate for and educate people. There are children like me within KIPP, so I use my voice and leadership to say we exist in urban areas and need support and a sense of belonging. So while I’m clearing that path, why not educate and teach it?
In this recap video, Patrice Freeman, KIPP Bloom College Prep 2021 graduate, shares an electrifying poem. Bankston is featured near the end, speaking about what Vocal Justice can do in Inner City Chicago.
On Saturday, March 15, 2022, we culminated Latinx heritage month with a beautiful Fiesta Final at KIPP One Academy! The day started with welcoming families with breakfast. With the help of Rush hospital, families participated in informative workshops. There was a special performance of “Oye” by 3rd-grade students from KIPP Academy Chicago Primary, led by music teacher Katie Schmelzer. The event concluded with a grand finale Mariachi performance! Families were able to leave with free bags of clothing. We appreciate our partner Allies for Community Business, Sylvia Ibarra Delgado (Managing Director of Multilingual Learner Services), the team at KIPP One, and all the families and staff that came out to support the event.