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Parkwood Elementary Awarded $20,000 MVP Award Grant

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Symetra Life Insurance Company recently awarded Parkwood Elementary a $20,000 MVP Award grant as part of its Heroes in the Classroom program. Parkwood was eligible to apply for the grant program because it had one or more teachers who were selected by Symetra and the Seattle Seahawks as Heroes in the Classroom during the 2019-2020 school year. Earlier this school year, Parkwood teachers Carla Salmon and Renee Iverson were honored as part of that program.

The ability to apply for the MVP Award grant came at the right time for Parkwood, according to Principal Ann Torres. “As part of our ongoing work around race and equity, we engaged in an audit of who we saw reflected in our school and classroom libraries, as well as in the artwork and posters in our school,” said Torres. While 55 percent of Parkwood students are students of color, and 27 percent speak a language other than English as their primary language, they found that the percentage of books and artwork that represented or featured a main character who was a person of color was low. “After we looked at the results of the audit, a strong desire emerged to improve our libraries and art to better represent the diversity of our student body,” said Torres.

From this sprung the “I See Me!” project that they developed to apply for the MVP Award grant. “I See Me!” leverages Parkwood’s existing race and equity work by taking it directly to students and affirming their identities in a positive, impactful way. The MVP Award grant will equip all 22 classrooms and the school library with books, play materials and artwork that reflect racial diversity to help ensure that Parkwood students see themselves reflected in the stories they read and materials they study.

“Positive self-concept is an important thing for everyone to have in order to reach their dreams,” said Torres. “And all too often, students of color do not see themselves positively represented in books, toys or artwork in our communities, including schools. The goal with this project is for students to be affirmed and validated in materials and resources that positively reflect the diversity of our community.”

The grant funds for Parkwood’s “I See Me!” project will be used to purchase books for their classroom and school libraries that reflect the diversity of their school. They will also purchase copies of “What Does It Mean To Be White? Developing Racial Literacy” by Robin DiAngelo for a staff book study. Additionally, posters and artwork will be purchased to display their school community’s culture throughout the hallways and classrooms of their school.

“Symetra is proud to act as a catalyst for innovative programs that benefit our local schools by building both academic skills and crucial relationships within the broader school community,” said Sharmila Swenson, AVP, Public Affairs at Symetra. “Together with our program partners, we applaud educators like the teams at Parkwood Elementary School who recognize the varied, diverse voices that make up a school community and respond with unique programs that actively promote inclusion and empower young learners.”