Coffee Break: Charter School Leader Ramona Patrick on Diversity and Busy Summers

Ramona Patrick is the founding principal of Citizens of the World, Silver Lake in Los Angeles. The Citizens of the World Charter Schools (CWCS) network reflect the socioeconomic, racial and cultural diversity of their surrounding communities. Before founding CWCS, Ramona was an elementary school teacher in Lynwood, California, a program director for Teach For America’s Los Angeles region, and both a literacy and a math coach working with teachers in kindergarten through 10th grade. I imagine that leading a school requires a lot of energy, and sometimes caffeination! What's your jumpstart beverage of choice? It is kind of intense, but I drink about two ounces of undiluted cold brew coffee concentrate mixed with a splash of cream. Can you talk to me about your decision to have your son attend CWCS? My view of education has simultaneously evolved with my view of parenting. When I was teaching, I was focused on academic achievement. And then I had my own children, and I still wanted them to succeed academically, but I realized there was so much more to raising kids, to being a whole child. The decision to bring my son to a diverse school setting was about giving him the opportunity to succeed academically along with learning how to work with others. How do CWCS students learn to work with others? The diverse school model and socioemotional learning go hand in hand. Just like we teach kids math skills, we have to teach them skills on seeing each other’s perspectives, how to problem solve and how to self-regulate. This is especially important in diverse settings because we have students who come from all different walks of life, and have a lot of different perspectives. Why did you choose to found a Citizens of the World school? It started when I was pursuing my doctorate at the University of Southern California. One of the classes I took talked about disruptive innovation. I started thinking about the disruptive forces within education and education innovation. I started wondering, “Can we do things differently, in a way that we haven’t done before?” During the fellowship, CWCS reached out to me. I hadn’t thought about diverse education in the context of disruptive education, but we started talking and it suddenly made sense to me. What is disruptive about diverse schools? I think bringing children together of different backgrounds with a focus on them learning to work together isn’t an opportunity that is afforded in most learning environments. Most learning environments focus solely on academic fundamentals, which are still important. But as we see what’s happened in Ferguson, and with Donald Trump’s campaign, there are so many individuals who become adults who have not had exposure, who have not worked with people of different backgrounds, who are only able to consider their own perspective and point of view. As adults it’s actually really, really hard to change, but how about if we just started with children? How about if we ensured that children work together with people of diverse backgrounds, and they start building the ability to recognize the beauty of diversity? What are some specific disruptions or conflicts that have come up at CWCS that might not have happened in a school with a more homogenous student body? We have parents who work in the [entertainment] industry, and right around the time of the Oscars, there was a lot of talk of #OscarSoWhite. It was interesting because kids at school were starting to grapple with the issues of race and what that means. Now our parents and staff are starting to come together to say “We need to talk about this head on.” The opportunity for us to openly have discussions about race, culture and diversity within our school is unique. It’s something that we’re just starting to talk about. Up until this point we’ve talked about working together and celebrating each other’s uniqueness, but there’s a place now for us to recognize the role that race plays in our world. You have just about eight weeks left in the school year—any fun plans for the summer?   Summers tend to be my busiest work times of the year, since we are getting ready for the new school year and bringing on new staff and students because we are still growing as a school. So, no big vacations or time off planned, but I do plan on wearing yoga pants to work daily.
Photo courtesy of Ramona Patrick.
Halli Bayer
Halli Bayer is an attorney and former middle school English teacher. Since she left the classroom, she has been working in public education law, policy and funding. Halli lives in Los Angeles, California.

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