Tackling tough topics with student tutors: Breakthrough San Francisco’s Educational Equity Workshop

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Service-learning educators must hold a high standard for their curricula, ensuring the work does not reinforce stereotypes and cultural biases as it tackles persistent, complex social issues.

Sasha Mungal, Director of Volunteer Programs and Community Partnerships of Breakthrough San Francisco at San Francisco Day School, recognized that SFDS 7th and 8th grade tutors, despite orientation and training, needed more support as they worked with 5th and 6th graders from area public schools.

“I noticed there was a gap in dialogue,” says Mungal. To ensure that learning took place alongside service, she developed the Educational Equity Workshop, asking her student-tutors to investigate hard questions about our educational landscape.

Prior to the workshop’s two, lunch-hour sessions, Mungal required tutors to complete a quick survey, asking them to share perceptions – their own and those they’ve heard – about public school and private school students.

The results were startlingly honest.

The students’ responses painted a picture of over-privileged private school kids with access to multiple resources and an “easier life.” On the other side, public school students were cast as less able and without the resources to succeed.

Mungal also asked them to research the phrase “educational equity” and write a short description of it in their own words.

During the workshop, Mungal asked the students to reflect on the two lists of responses – public and private – and consider the following questions:

  • What similarities and differences did you notice between the two lists? Which list was more positive? Why do you think this is the case?
  • Where do you think these perceptions came from (for both public and private school)?
  • What can you learn from the Breakthrough students that may differ from these perceptions?

Through the pre-work and guided discussion, students were asked to examine how their perceptions and perspectives helped or hindered their work. Each participant left with a set of questions to consider for future discussion. 

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