After a year of teaching social studies and English in the Dominican Republic and five years in New York City’s Dominican neighborhood, Hillary Parkhouse wanted to make an impact on the urban city schools in Richmond, VA. To do that, Parkhouse, assistant professor in the VCU School of Education Teaching and Learning department, joined the Richmond Teachers for Social Justice Group (RVA TSJ) soon after moving to Richmond in 2016.
“RVA TSJ supports teachers' efforts to ensure that schools are welcoming and safe places for all students, regardless of race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, or immigration history,” says Parkhouse.
The RVA TSJ was founded in 2010 by Jesse Senechal and Kurt Stemhagen, both faculty members in the VCU SOE. Senechal, who also has a background in urban education from Chicago Public Schools, noticed no one was addressing these issues in Richmond.
“We [Senechal and Stemhagen] wanted to pull together a community of teachers and and other professionals at VCU who were interested in issues of social justice in schools,” said Senechal.
The RVA TSJ mission is to support teachers in any way they can with issues of social justice facing their schools and students, including, developing curricula that address issues of social justice.
“The hope is that teachers across the country will take a portion of their instructional time to teach a lesson on the importance of public education,” says Parkhouse.
The organization has initiated monthly national teach-ins and their website. includes lesson plans and other helpful classroom resources. In addition, the organization fundraises for public schools with events like LOVE Public Schools Concert to promote public education.
One of the RVA TSJ projects is raising awareness of the importance of public education for a healthy democratic society. The group also advocates for better funding of local schools and more just disciplinary processes.
“We want to get teachers’ voices heard in debates regarding school policies,” said Senechal as he described the resources RVA TSJ provides for local teachers.“Teachers have an important perspective that is often overlooked.”
“Our work is more critically important than ever due to the current political climate in which support for traditional public schools is being displaced by private and charter school interests” added Parkhouse.
RVA TSJ events have entailed discussions on the value or misuse of standardized testing in Virginia public schools and interviews collecting an oral history of how high stakes testing affects real people.
A recent concern was voiced during a monthly panel meeting last December, when local Richmond teachers expressed their worry for their undocumented immigrant students in light of the current political climate.
In response, on March 18th, RVA TSJ and PLUMAS at VCU held a UndocuALLY Training for teachers. The training provided information for K-12 educators about supporting undocumented immigrant students and their families.
PLUMAS is a student organization of Latinx students and allies who work towards enacting social action for the rights of Latinxs in the US.
The first training was so successful they are hosting another one on April 22nd from 10-12pm.They are still accepting teacher registration here.