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Meet the Newest Member of the Center for Innovative Education Team

I’d like to introduce myself. My name is Cheryl Vines and in March of 2020, I enthusiastically joined the staff of the Center for Innovative Education, a program of The Astra Foundation as the Program Director for Family & Community Partnerships (to review my formal biography click here).

As for a little background about myself, first and foremost, I am a proud Black woman. I was born in Chicago, Illinois and mostly raised in Massachusetts by a powerful single mother. I have been married for 36 years to a recently retired Massachusetts State Police Sergeant who keeps me laughing and growing. We have two adult daughters. One is a doctor with a family medicine practice in Atlanta, Georgia. The other is a banking attorney practicing in Boston, Massachusetts. I also have one amazing son-in-law, and an incredible 8-year-old grandson who is the light of my life and my advisor for all things involving computer technology.

Professionally, I bring over 30 years of experience in leadership positions supporting at-promise (I find the term “at-risk” demeaning) and marginalized families, children, youth and communities. I provided and supervised both direct and indirect strength-based and trauma-informed family therapy and family support services and programming. I have also been formally recognized for my work implementing and training others to implement organizational diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. I am also a co-author of an acclaimed and widely replicated evidence-based parent education and parent development program titled The Parenting Journey . To learn more about this amazing program click here.

As I started my position at the Center for Innovative Education (CIE), I was looking forward to visiting schools that CIE had worked with over the years with the hope of experiencing firsthand the school communities that inspired our team’s Radically Reimagined Relationships framework and report (to view report click here). Unfortunately, the timing could not have been worse. It was the beginning of the pandemic and schools and workplaces all over the country were starting to go remote as states began public health lockdowns due to the unprecedented spread of the Covid-19 virus.

Over the past year, my colleagues and I have focused on immersing ourselves in the latest research and literature on anti-racism and whole-child, brain-aligned frameworks for teaching, learning and equitable disciplinary practices in K-12 educational settings. I am passionate about CIE’s Radically Reimagined Relationships Framework because it was the missing piece of my educational experience.

As a Black woman born in the early 1960’s, and having attended predominantly white schools my entire life, my experiences with the American educational system have been rife with racism, prejudice, intentional and unintentional bias, and inequality. As a student growing up, I never felt a connection with any of the teachers or adults in my school community. They seemed content to view me as “other” and often related to me based on negative racial stereotypes. I longed to be accepted and to feel that I belonged. This lack of connection or relationships within the school community meant that when I was struggling or in need of help, few if any adults in my school communities noticed, or seemed to care about my discomfort or well-being. Unfortunately, in the cases where my struggles were noticed, the outcomes were almost always made worse and often concluded with my mother meeting with the Superintendent of schools.

One of the indicators of Radically Reimagined Relationships is the importance of school communities cultivating a “culture of belonging and well-being.” This means recognizing and honoring all students and their unique talents and identities, regardless of race, gender, socio-economic status, citizenship, religion, sexual orientation, gender expression, and other factors.

When a culture of belonging is not present or cultivated within a school community, research has shown that students are at higher risk of feeling persistently sad or helpless and even displaying decreased motivation and engagement in academics. It also puts students at risk for experiencing bullying by their peers, poor mental health, sleep deprivation, and overall feelings of unhappiness and suicidal thinking.

When you add racism to this culture, Black and brown students often pay a high price that can set them up for failure in their current and future endeavors, and worst, put them on the school-to-prison pipeline track with devastating consequences that can negatively affect them and their families for generations.

In my next blog, I will be reflecting on my 1st grade experience in Chicago in 1968. My older sister and I were part of a radical volunteer bussing experiment. The Chicago Board of Education bussed children from two predominantly black schools to eight entirely white schools. The impact of that experience has fueled my lifelong commitment to equity and social justice.


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