'Witnessing Whiteness' influencing lessons for children at St. Louis school

Using a handful of crayons, some St. Louis educators are teaching students as early as pre-kindergarten about racial differences after the teachers volunteered for "Witnessing Whiteness" training.

About half of the administration at The College School signed up for 10-week voluntary training sessions aimed at highlighting and healing racial differences between their students – from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade.

During one recent lesson, a teacher asked pre-k students to use different shades of crayons, ranging from beige to brown, to make sure the youngest students recognized different skin colors, The St. Louis American reported.

“In order for us to dismantle racism, white folks have to change,” said Vincent Flewellen, the Director of Equality and Inclusion at The College School.

Flewellen helped introduce the program to the school in the aftermath of the Ferguson protests in St. Louis.

“I think they saw participating in this as the first step in understanding and unpacking some of their own biases about race,” Flewellen said. “As a person of color, it gets exhausting at times trying to help folks who are well-intentioned.”

He adds critics who think the program is racist “misunderstand” it.

“We don’t have a problem with any group of people,” Flewellen told Fox News. “The purpose of the program is for white members of our larger school community to have a safe space to talk freely and openly about their personal experiences around race and learn how it impacts their environments.”

Witnessing Whiteness is a program sponsored by YWCA Metro St. Louis and based on a book with the same name authored by Shelly Tochluk, the St. Louis Metro YWCA Marketing and Communications Manager, Laurie Waters, told Fox News.

The program began seven years ago and “joined other facilitated, public discussion groups including a group for people of color to discuss the harm of racism and to approach healing and a group of all races and identities to discuss topics of race and gender,” Waters said.

As the book is described on Amazon, the author invites readers to “consider what it means to be white, describes and critiques strategies used to avoid race issues, and identifies the detrimental effect of avoiding race on cross-race collaborations.”

Jaclyn Stewart-Strothmann, Director of Institutional Advancement, told Fox News that participants, such as herself, are “provided an opportunity to examine our identities, as a white people, on a very personal and individual level. Through our guided readings and conversations, we uncover any biases we bring to our personal and work life – be it conscious or unconscious.”

While only 26 percent of the children at The College School identify as minorities, and the majority of the administration is white, Stewart-Strothmann said they've become more aware of others’ perspectives on race.

“Maybe a student of color might need something different from their white counterpart,” she said. “Students of color need a community of adults who understand them as individuals, including their cultural identity they bring to our school.”

While most "Witnessing Whiteness" programs are held in community spaces, The College School wanted to take a proactive approach, and despite criticism, the Head of School, Ed Maggart, says they plan to implement more race-based programs built on the school’s values of diversity, equity and inclusion.