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Grandview Student Equity Group recognized for impactful equity work
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
That quote, often attributed to Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi, accurately describes the Student Equity Group (SEG) at Grandview High School. It is one of many student-led groups doing meaningful equity work at schools across the Cherry Creek School District.
“This is a group of students with a passion for making life better for students of color at Grandview,” GHS Principal Dr. Lisa Roberts said. “They are wise and innovative in their thinking and they have a strong belief in inclusion. We are fortunate to have their leadership.”
The group was organized a year-and-a-half ago by 2021 graduates Jasmine Jeffries and Chabelly Acosta, and current students Alexandra Acosta (she/her), Maya Epstein (she/her), Peace Iheukwumere (she/her), Ameya Kamani (he/him), Laila Shekarchian (she/her) and Sophia Vertido (she/her.) (Editor’s note: The students asked us to include their pronouns in this story. Get more information about pronouns and why they matter here: https://www.mypronouns.org/what-and-why.)
On Nov. 12, the group received a statewide honor for its work during the 2020-21 school year. As part of National Philanthropy Day celebrations across the country, the Grandview SEG received the Outstanding Youth Group Award for Colorado from the Association of Fundraising Professionals. The award is presented to a youth group that has demonstrated an outstanding commitment to the promotion of volunteerism through their work in the community. The GHS SEG also received a $3,000 award, sponsored by The Daniels Fund, to assist in the continuation of its equity work.
It was well-deserved recognition for efforts that began in mid-2020, after the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, an event that sparked social unrest across the country. Since then, SEG has worked to develop effective ways to engage Grandview students and staff in conversations around racial, LGBTQIA+, gender and disability issues through the lens of equity. It hasn’t always been easy.
“The most challenging part is getting some people to care, getting their attention, showing them that what we’re doing is important,” said junior Laila Shekarchian, who is Iranian American. She and her fellow SEG members came together for reasons as diverse as they are.
A lack of varied and representative books in the school library prompted senior Maya Epstein, who is White and Jewish, to contact the Grandview administration, which encouraged her to check out the group.
“We haven’t seen a lot of representation and caring, especially for students of color, but for all minoritized people,” said junior Ameya Kamani, who is Asian American and Indian American. He wanted to change that.
“I wanted to advocate for a lot of minorities and allow people to gain a broader understanding of things they wouldn’t necessarily get in class,” explained senior Peace Iheukwumere who is Nigerian.
Junior Amanda Acosta, who is Peruvian American, said she wanted to advocate for herself and her sister. During their time in the Cherry Creek School District, they were not encouraged to take advantage of the same educational opportunities – such as Honors or Advanced Placement classes – as many of their White classmates.
“I didn’t have the opportunity to learn a lot of things that other kids did even though I was capable, just because I was Hispanic and my parents spoke Spanish,” Acosta said.
From those disparate motivations and backgrounds came a common cause and focus: to provide a safe space for all Grandview students and staff members to explore issues of equity, to raise awareness, foster understanding and hopefully, to promote change.
SEG members didn’t let apathy, political divisiveness or a global pandemic stop them from moving forward. They held regular meetings that were open to all Grandview students and provided a safe place for students to listen or to share their experiences. They hosted Grandview’s first Racial Affinity Forum, where students met in racial affinity groups. That’s when senior Sophia Vertido, who is Filipino American, first got involved with the group.
“I realized how connected we were in terms of our experiences,” Vertido said. “Honestly, it motivated me to speak up and want to elevate voices, especially from students of color, who really just aren’t heard.”
The group also met with GHS teachers and administrators to discuss textbooks, curriculum and course offerings. They attended Board of Education meetings and met with the school’s P.A.S.S. (Partnership for Academically Successful Students) parent group.
“Listening to them share about their achievements, lessons and obstacles helped me see more clearly exactly where myself and P.A.S.S. have to refocus our energies to create change,” said P.A.S.S. co-chair Alma McKinley.
GHS Spanish teacher and SEG sponsor, Miguel Ortega, said working with the group has been inspiring.
“Inspiring just because of how heavy the work is,” Ortega said. He explained that people often feel uncomfortable or defensive when dealing with issues of racism or discrimination. “Having students do this work and do it in a very mature way - they’re exhibiting wisdom beyond their years. That’s the thing that inspires.”
SEG member Maya Epstein says no matter how heavy the work is, it’s worth it.
“While these conversations can be really challenging and uncomfortable, at the end of the day, for us, they’re very celebratory. We want this to be a happy thing, because diversity adds so much beauty and richness to all of our lives.
“Whether that’s the food you eat, the places you travel, or the friends and connections you make, this is a place to celebrate culture and identity,” she said.
CCSD students who would like to share their equity story are encouraged to contact firstname.lastname@example.org.