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Area Teachers Hope to Bring Awareness to Social Justice Issues at Yearly Conference

Teachers from across the St. Louis area will gather for the 12th annual "Educating for Change Curriculum Conference," on Saturday hosted by the group Educators for Social Justice (ESJ).

This year's theme is "Courageous Teaching and 21st Centrury Civil Rights," and the goal is to educate teachers from all grade levels about different techniques and strategies on how to facilitate social justice dialogue in classrooms.

"Educators for Social Justice is a grassroots network of educators across the metro St. Louis area that is committed to social justice education in classrooms, schools and in the community," ESJ member Becky Rogers said.

Rogers says their annual conference is one of the best tools they have to try and achieve their ultimate goal as a group.

"Groups like Educators for Social Justice really provide the inspiration and the solidarity for teachers to come together to reclaim public education and their expertise and autonomy as teachers," Rogers said.

ESJ member Carolyn Fuller says the conference will use workshops, round-table discussions and speakers to touch on a variety of social justice issues relevant in today's society.

"How to engage in talk around race, sexuality, identity politics," Fuller said. "The conference has a lot of interactions and different types of displays for teacher educators. We have table displays, dynamic speakers this year. We have teacher-led workshops where the participants can interact with different teachers who are leading the workshop."

In today's sometimes divisive political climate, ESJ member Tamara Times says it's good for teachers to be educated on how to handle controversial topics with young students in the classroom, who were raised with different political ideologies.

"You're dealing with children," Times said. "They don't know prejudice. They don't know anything about 'well, I don't like transgender individuals or I don't like individuals with disabilities.' They don't know anything like that. That's taught. Once they have experience with interacting with other individuals of a different ethnicity, religion, things of that nature, then they'll be able to maybe share that with their parents."

ESJ member Kate O'Brien says it's about making sure each child, regardless of their differences, is educated in a nurturing space.

"I think most parents want their child to be accepted in the classroom and that's honoring their culture, honoring their spirit and if they're concerned about their own student first, than maybe that's what we need to look at," O'Brien said. "Practicing citizenship to allow for differences in other students, just as we want our own children to have similar allowances."

O'Brien says regardless of politics, having open dialogues about social justice issues can help everyone learn more about themselves and others while growing in the process.

"I really embrace everyone's freedom to believe as they want to believe, which means everyone else gets to believe the way they want to believe so I think there's a lot of openness to be gained through listening and learning," O'Brien said. "I've taught students at the university level who were very resistant to learning about differences, but that's really a part of learning about who we are. If we are afraid to learn about the differences of other people, than maybe we are afraid to learn about some of our own restrictions."

The conference is open to anyone and the registration cost is $40. It will be held at Maplewood Richmond Heights Elementary School from 8:00 a.m. until 4 p.m on Saturday, February 4th. To register, head to www.educatorsforsocialjustice.org.

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