In 2020, as communities across the U.S. once again cried out for the just treatment of all who live here—regardless of their race, gender or sexual orientation—Jazmine Jackson, EDU ’17, was already striving to ensure that the next generation of Americans would be better positioned to respond.
Getting it right
A second-grade teacher at the independent Lowell School in Washington, D.C., Jackson is the youngest full-time educator at the school and also serves as its diversity, equity and inclusion leader.
In her leadership role, Jackson has the freedom to talk about her own personal experiences as a Black, queer woman in the classroom. And she is actively encouraged to make sure other educators have what they need to teach equity in theirs.
“I think that a lot of my teaching philosophy and my outlook on what teaching and education should be like is deeply rooted in the professors that I had and the classes that I took [while at Temple],” she said.
Activism in action
After three years on the job, Jackson’s efforts are already bearing fruit. Last year, she taught about the accessibility of buildings: are there ramps, elevators and braille signage? One day a student arrived at school clutching an article about the newly built $41 million Hunters Point Library in New York City, which lacks wheelchair accessibility. When Jackson then charged her students with penning a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio, it wasn’t lost on her how far ahead the civic action placed her students.
And thanks to Jackson, the school was also prepared for the historic protests of spring 2020. That’s because as part the Lowell’s annual participation in Black Lives Matter Week of Action in Schools, students learned in February about the Flint water crisis and “why Black Lives Matter exists,” Jackson said. By the time citizens took to the streets over the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery months later, Jackson’s students were equipped to talk about what was happening.
A catalyst for change
The challenge for Jackson is how to replicate such classroom experiences throughout the U.S. She hopes to one day lead an independent school of her own, but thinks it will take wholesale changes to the American education system to reach public schools. Educators need more freedom to teach about social justice and identity, and place less emphasis on standardized testing, Jackson said.
“Hopefully that becomes part of more programs when you’re learning to be a teacher,” Jackson said. “Learning how to advocate for yourself and your students, and not just how to write a lesson plan.”
—By Kyle Bagenstose, KLN ’11, and Lauri Kochis