EMAC Conference Provides Education on Critically-Important Issues

by: David Wright


Access to valuable, relevant professional learning ranks near the top of most educators’ wish lists. 


Shortly after the end of spring break, DSEA’s Ethnic Minority Affairs Committee (EMAC) held its 13th annual conference, built around providing that type of focused, intensive professional learning, which educators can immediately apply in their work setting. 


“Educators must continue to have in-service programs, conferences, and learning experiences to stay current with what students are experiencing inside and outside of the classroom and how to help them,” said Rep. Stell Parker Selby (20th district), who was the conference’s keynote speaker. 


In addition to Rep. Selby’s keynote address, the April 22 event also featured courses such as “Culturally Competent Instruction” (with Cliffvon Howell), “Understanding Youth in Poverty” (with Dr. Malik Muhammed), “Trauma Informed Practices” (with Dr. Julius Mullen), and “Facilitating Discussions in the Classroom Around Race” (with Charla Williams).


Montessa Brooks, an educator in the Milford School District, attended the session on “Facilitating Discussions” because she felt it would be immediately helpful in her work.


“Facilitating conversations around race in today’s environment is very necessary, but can also be scary,” she said.  “One major take away from the session was not reducing anyone to a single story.  This became relevant for me as soon as the following Monday.  I was approached about a student and their needs and engaged in a conversation with my colleague about looking at the whole student and their story.”


Brooks’ experience addressed what is always a key issue for EMAC when it organizes its conference:  Provide educators with more training and guidance on how to help their students in the current educational climate.


Cliffvon Howell, the Equity and Diversity Coordinator for the Caesar Rodney School District, presented a session about Culturally Competent Instruction.  What Howell hoped attendees took away from his session ties directly to that key issue for EMAC when organizing the conference.


“At its core, education is about making connections,” said Howell.  “Culturally proficient educators are able to connect with more students in a diverse student population.  The experience of students actively engaged in a culturally conscious environment provides  the proper model for an equity-focused education.  It places the students at the center of the learning experience.”


Gloria Ho, EMAC Chairperson and a school social worker in Cape Henlopen School District, was very pleased with how the conference turned out.


“I loved how excited our members were with the sessions and how engaged they were with the content,” said Ho.  “They connected with the presenters and took valuable information from each session.”


One of the annual goals for the EMAC conference is to build the internal capacity to educate members on topics that address and support the needs of DSEA’s diverse membership and the students they educate and support.


EMAC leaders consistently look to support member learning on topics such as recruitment and retention of diverse educators, school to prison pipeline, racial traumatization, achievement gap and health disparities, and equitable policies and practices.


In addition to the annual conference, EMAC leaders remain committed to supporting the creation and maintenance of local-level EMAC’s.  A strong and vibrant local EMAC presence increases the ability to effectively advocate for ethnic minority members.


“EMAC groups are essential to advance the work that still needs to be done,” said Katrina Cowan, a school counselor in the Colonial School District. “It's important for educators of color to have a committee that will advocate for them. Unfortunately, we live in a world where we still have so much more work to do when it comes to educators of color. In order to advance the work of EMAC we have to spread the work, people are unaware who EMAC is, and how we can help.”


The critical work of local, state, and national EMAC groups is ongoing and evolving, seeking to advocate for ethnic minority educators and students, as Cowan stated, as well as help recruit more educators of color into the profession.


“We need more black, brown, and Indigenous teachers to diversify our teaching force and match the demographic of our students,” said Jozette Hartsfield, President of the Colonial Paraprofessionals Association. “That can help students of color achieve higher graduation rates, reduce dropout rates, and have fewer disciplinary incidents.  Being part of an organization like EMAC can and will help make a difference.”


If you are interested in creating an Ethnic Minority Affairs Committee for your local association, please reach out to Gloria Ho (gloria.ho@dsea.org) for more information.