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Working to end racism one family at a time

Up until last summer, Marie and Matt Sprader hadn’t really thought about racism. As two white people, raising their young children in the largely white community of Stillwater, they’d never experienced discrimination or even talked about systemic racism. But then George Floyd was murdered in a nearby community and suddenly their understanding of the world around them began to change.

“The events of last summer really made it clear to my husband and I that we didn’t know enough about racism for our own knowledge,” said Marie Sprader, “nor did we know how to talk to our kids and how to raise them to be the kind of humans we hope them to be. If we don’t educate ourselves and do something about [systemic racism] nothing is going to change and people will continue to die.”

So when the Stillwater Area Public Schools’ Early Childhood Family Education program offered a series of classes on Parenting for Racial Justice, the Spaders were among the first to sign up.

“The classes motivated us and equipped us to talk to our son about it,” Marie said. “It’s never too early to have these conversations with children. These events continue to happen and it is so disheartening and so sad. It’s all the more reason to talk about it and raise awareness and help him understand what he can do to be anti racist.”

The Spraders are among more than 60 people who have participated in the racial justice courses this year. The classes are taught by school district staff and special guests, and are designed to help participants understand the history of racism in America and teach them to become allies and change makers within their community. Part 1 of the series outlines the systemic racism that has existed in this country since its founding and helps participants recognize biases that exist in their everyday lives. Part 2 focuses on what families can do in their own homes to help children grow up without negative biases. A new Part 3 will be added this summer, which will allow participants to take part in a book study to dig even deeper into topics covered in the first classes.

Classes are open to all district residents, whether their kids attend Stillwater Area Public Schools or not. While originally designed for parents and caregivers of young children, the content is relevant for elementary and middle school kids as well.

“The knowledge that we’ve gained is just unbelievable,” said Matt Sprader. “And you’re in it with other people who are in the same boat you are, eager to make the change. It’s ok to feel uncomfortable and the leaders told us we should feel uncomfortable. There is no playbook. The biggest thing is to keep talking about racism and apply what you’ve learned to you and your family.”

The courses recently caught the attention of the Stillwater Area Community Foundation, which selected the program as the recipient of its first Racial and Social Justice grant. With a $15,000 funding boost, the series will be made available to even more families next year. The grant will fund the purchase of books for the book studies, as well as expand its reach beyond families with young children by providing a condensed version of the Parenting for Racial Justice series to elementary and middle school parent groups. Additionally, the grant will help make the course more accessible to families by lowering the cost, and providing free registration for those who are unable to pay. 

“Most parents want to raise children who are caring and kind,” said Jenny Hanlon, a parent educator who helped to design and teach the course and submitted the grant request this winter. “To do that, we have to help them be caring and kind to everybody - not just tolerant of everybody. We want them to truly celebrate all the ways we are different and how those are such wonderful things.”

Interested in learning more?

Find course descriptions and registration information for the Parenting for Racial Justice online. Part 1 in the series is currently available as an asynchronous course that you can take at your own pace, and will be offered live again in the fall. 


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