Conversations We Need To Have

About the news. About race and racism.

West Hartford Public Schools elementary leadership team of school leaders in collaboration with our Director of Elementary Education, Director of Diversity Advancement, and Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction have developed this guide to support the conversations we need to have today with our children about recent news and about race and racism.

Please share your resources and ideas with us to continue the conversation.

A 2017 Common Sense Media survey of children age 10 to 18 found 63 percent say the news makes them afraid, angry or depressed.

Most children will trust family members more than anyone else to talk about these recent events. Teachers and other adults are a second trusted source of information.

As West Hartford families and educators, we need to talk with our kids and listen. They are looking to us for facts. They need a safe space to share their feelings.They need us to offer hope. We cannot stand by and say or do nothing.

“Students pay attention to everything we say and do. They pay attention to our silence.” - Jamilah Pitts (2016)

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So, if we are not already having this conversation right now, how do we start as educators and families?

The advice offered to educators and families from children’s media experts in the January 20, 2020 NPR piece, What To Say to Kids When the News is Scary, provides a starting point:

  1. Limit young children’s exposure to breaking news.

  2. Ask: "What have you heard and how are you feeling?"

  3. Give kids facts and context.

  4. When they ask why something happened, avoid labels like "bad guys." "It's not helpful, and it may increase fear and confusion.” Children may wonder, Aren’t police officers supposed to be the “good guys”?

  5. Encourage kids to process the story through art/creative expression. This helps children make meaning of what they are hearing or seeing.
  6. "Look for the helpers." Fred Rogers, children's TV host, shared this advice from his mother: "When something scary is happening, look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
  7. Take positive action together.

"Why All Parents Should Talk With Their Kids About Social Identity"

Full article and link to 3 min podcast here

"A majority of parents rarely, if ever, discuss race/ethnicity, gender, class or other categories of social identity with their kids, according to a new, nationally representative survey of more than 6,000 parents conducted by Sesame Workshop and NORC at the University of Chicago," notes Cory Turner in this article.

Yet, research shows that children are "hard-wired" to notice differences as early as six months. Children notice differences and ask questions about them. Tanya Haider, executive Vice President at Sesame Workshop, suggests, "We sometimes are scared to talk about these things. If the adults stiffen up and say, "Oh, you shouldn't say that loudly," that's sending [children] a cue that there's something wrong.' What's risky is when kids are left alone to make sense of the differences they see, with little more than stereotypes, television and guesswork to guide them."

A quarter of white parents surveyed by the Sesame Street/University of Chicago team say they talk about race/ethnicity with any frequency. Families of color are more likely to talk with their kids about race/ethnicity than are white families. Sixty-one percent of black parents, 56 percent of Asian parents and 46 percent of Hispanic parents say their families discuss race/ethnicity often or sometimes. “When children hear negative comments about their identities, they are more likely to have a conversation with their parents about those identities. For example, of children who have heard a negative comment about their religion, 70% discuss with their families.”

Conversations about social identity at young ages help build positive self-identity and foster relationships with others. Avoiding conversation, delaying the talk until children are older or reacting only after a child hears a negative comment about identity (race/ethnicity, gender identity, religion, family makeup, country of origin, social class) all have degrees of impact on child development.

Source: Turner, C., October 9, 2019. "Why All Parents Should Talk With Their Kids About Social Identity." NPR Morning Edition. Retrieved from May 31, 2020.

Resources to Support Talking Race and Anti-Racism

"Talking About Race"

Tools and Guidance from the National Museum of African American History & Culture

Books to Support Conversation

Our school libraries have many hard copy resources to share when buildings open. In the meantime, our Library Media Specialists are curating lists of accessible ebooks and videos to share here in the coming days. Below are a few to begin the conversation.
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Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America

by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Jamey Christoph

Click here for a video read-aloud by Sanfoka Read Aloud


His white teacher tells her all-black class, You’ll all wind up porters and waiters. What did she know? Gordon Parks is most famous for being the first black director in Hollywood. But before he made movies and wrote books, he was a poor African American looking for work. When he bought a camera, his life changed forever. He taught himself how to take pictures and before long, people noticed. His success as a fashion photographer landed him a job working for the government. In Washington DC, Gordon went looking for a subject, but what he found was segregation. He and others were treated differently because of the color of their skin. Gordon wanted to take a stand against the racism he observed. With his camera in hand, he found a way. Told through lyrical verse and atmospheric art, this is the story of how, with a single photograph, a self-taught artist got America to take notice.