Drawing of a student sitting cross-legged and using a computer in front of a colorful background made of cogs, leaves, and a lightbulb
When Students Write the Story, Equity Comes to Life
By Kevin Baird
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quity is an easy word to say, a harder concept to achieve. Recently, I had the honor of speaking with educators and parents whose students had taken part in our contest to “Write the Final Episode” of the middle grades’ fiction series “Ben and Ruby: The Final Faceoff.” Each of them told their story of putting equity into action.

Leading a middle school is never easy, but Dr. Mallanie Harris at Palm Middle School in Moreno Valley, California makes it look that way. As she tells her story of coming to lead the STEM-focused school community, she begins by tackling the hard truth of many premier programs — not all students get to take part. The Palm Middle School STEM (now STEAM) Academy is a highly sought-after experience for motivated students. But it has limited capacity.

Dr. Harris believes that access is the cornerstone of equity. And so, through a focused stepwise approach, which included curriculum design, internal professional development, and patient support of teachers asked to “try new things,” Dr. Harris led her community to integrate STEAM into every classroom. Part of that initiative was the introduction of Achieve3000 Literacy, with its science, technology, arts, and other nonfiction content, differentiated so all students could access the same ideas, engaged in discussion together at the same time in the same classroom.

Drawing of students communicating with colorful speech bubbles
The Lifting up teachers, encouraging them and enabling them, so that they can provide access to the richest learning experiences to all students, is at the heart of Palm Middle School. So too is that shared expectation that all students will contribute the same highest effort…
Lifting up teachers, encouraging them, and enabling them, so that they can provide access to the richest learning experiences to all students, is at the heart of Palm Middle School. So too is that shared expectation that all students will contribute the same highest effort. It was not surprising then that the winner of Achieve3000’s recent “You Write the Final Episode” contest was part of this student community. English Language Arts teacher Mrs. Amy Byrd integrates Achieve3000 Literacy into her classroom, but offered students the chance to “Write the Final Episode” to Achieve3000’s “Ben and Ruby: The Final Faceoff” as an elective. A writing experience she encouraged not just for her superstar readers, but for her reluctant readers as well.

Encouraging and offering students of all confidence levels, all ability levels, and all experience levels to go the extra mile, can make amazing things happen. It focused Palm Middle School on encouraging all students to stretch their minds and skills. And that reluctant reader in Ms. Byrd’s classroom — her amazing imagination is on display, as her episode “A Way Out” has been published for millions of students around the globe. Emerey Anderson is America’s newest author, and we cannot wait to see what she writes next.

Art of a computer accessing books online
I spoke with Emerey’s mom, Melody Anderson, about her family’s experience with reading and with Achieve3000 Literacy. Her voice revealed the caring heart of a parent who wants her child to gain confidence and find enjoyment in learning. The same heart I know Achieve3000 teachers and team members aspire to share with every student. Mrs. Anderson was clear — sometimes it is important for children to slow down, and Achieve3000 Literacy’s differentiated content helps her children access the ideas, so they can understand and think for themselves.

Access differs from exposure. It is the opportunity to experience ideas in a way that they connect, presented in a form that allows comprehension. Access includes giving time enough for the students to deepen their understanding and make connections. Access includes encouraging the learner to use those ideas in alternative ways, like writing their own ending to “Ben and Ruby: The Final Faceoff.”

When I asked Mrs. Anderson how Achieve3000 Literacy can best engage her children, she did not have an immediate answer. But in an email later in the day, she offered this feedback (edited lightly for clarity):
“When a teacher understands Achieve3000 Literacy and how it can be used to enhance the curriculum, it makes a big difference. Sometimes, the program is used as more of a time filler during the first 15-20 minutes of class. … I find that Emerey is more disengaged when this happens. She is rushing to get it done and doesn’t really digest the information. When her teachers really use Achieve3000 Literacy as an extension for what the students are learning, she is more engaged. Sometimes the topics correlate, sometimes it is how the article is written, or the questions the article asks are tied into what they are learning with grammar or vocabulary. And with ‘Ben and Ruby,’ it was just about reading something fun, and that is nice too.”
Different people putting their hands together next to a signed document
Equity begins with access, and access includes the opportunity to integrate ideas and make them into something new — the opportunity to create, not just remember; to understand, not just recite. Jason Velante’s students at Paterson Elementary School in New Jersey, are expected to integrate ideas in a big way — in English and in Spanish.
Equity begins with access, and access includes the opportunity to integrate ideas and make them into something new — the opportunity to create, not just remember; to understand, not just recite.
Diverse students discussing in a group setting
Jason invited Civil Engineer Vanessa Galvez to speak to his bilingual students, as they were also reading about Ms. Galvez in the Achieve3000 article “Latinas Making Their Mark.” And when it came to writing a final episode for “Ben and Ruby: The Final Faceoff,” which is differentiated for students at all reading levels in English and Spanish, Mr. Valente’s classroom connected our intrepid time-traveling heroes with the history of Ancient China. They even made a video, which you can watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YSmtAgQKCd8.

Dr. Harris, Mrs. Byrd, Mrs. Anderson, and Mr. Valente each shared with me their stories of putting equity into action. At the heart of each was the same caring and yet rigorous expectation, give students access to ideas and time to make connections, and then let them write the next chapter of the story. Equity begins with access and blooms with the opportunity and the encouragement to create new ideas from our own connections.

Invite your students to “Ask a Scientist,” and to “Finish the Story.” Each week, we invite students to submit questions to scientists in our Kids’ Channel, and each quarter we invite students to Finish the Story (or engage in other creative writing challenges) in our fiction writing contests.

We believe equity begins with access and flourishes when students make their own connections. When students write the story, equity comes to life.

About the author
Kevin Baird (MBA, ALEP) serves chief academic officer for Achieve3000. He is a noted leader in college and career readiness content, strategies, and standards. He has taken part in educational research on every continent save for Antarctica; consulted with governments to create college & career readiness initiatives; and has served as trainer and consultant for states and districts across North America. Kevin has served as chairperson and senior faculty at the non-profit Center for College & Career Readiness and has collaborated with Achieve3000 for over 15 years and contributes as a member of our Educator Leadership Council.