A few weeks ago, district leadership once again studied a pool of staff nominations, as they had for the past several months, to choose Chatham County Schools’ April Equity Champion of the Month.
This time, they chose Siler City Elementary’s Alirio Estevez — and in early May, CCS’ executive director for excellence and opportunity, Chris Poston, showed up at SCE with a certificate, a bundle of balloons, and a whole lot of gratitude.
“Mr. Estevez is a leader in his school and in our district,” Poston told the News + Record.
And for Estevez, the award affirms he’s moving in the right direction — and offers him encouragement to keep promoting equity within and without his school.
“Equity means to give love to our students and provide them with the supports they need to succeed academically and in their future lives,” said Estevez, who teaches ESL. “Each one of our students is an individual and we must try to give them the appropriate tools to unleash their potential.”
The Equity Champion Award initiative first began in December of last year, Poston said, as a way to highlight and celebrate the various ways CCS staff “consistently go above and beyond.” First on the list? Deanna Fox, a 5th grade teacher at Virginia Cross Elementary.
The criteria qualifying her and other award recipients derive from the district’s definition of equity, which Poston recited in part as “reducing the predictability of who succeeds and who fails,” dismantling practices hurting diverse students in school settings, and providing all students whatever they need to succeed.
“All of our nominees have one thing in common: They advocate for students fiercely,” Poston said. “In addition to advocating for students, they also seize opportunities to support diversity, and they lead equity initiatives in their respective schools.”
Other recipients include Lindsay Phillips, a school counselor at Seaforth High School, and Cheryl Whitehead, who teaches English at the Chatham School of Science and Engineering. All awardees received a certificate honoring their work, “a balloon bouquet,” one paid registration for a conference of their choice, and recognition during school board meetings.
Most, Poston said, received nominations from multiple colleagues within their schools. SCE principal Tania Poston nominated Estevez for April’s award, describing him as a “true asset to SCE” and an advocate for marginalized students.
“He ensures that every student he serves has the resources and support needed to be successful by communicating with the classroom teacher and building home to school connections,” she wrote. “Mr. Estevez in conjunction with the Equity team wrote morning meeting lessons for Hispanic Heritage Month. He also submitted biographical information of notable local and famous African Americans for Black History Month. Mr. Estevez believes that representation matters and arranged for Rep. Robert Reives II to do a whole school read aloud during this month as well.”
But his equity efforts aren’t just limited to the classroom; outside of school, Tania Poston said Estevez also “works tirelessly” to register voters. Estevez is also a member of Chatham County Literacy Council’s board of directors.
“I want to promote and breathe equity not only in my classroom but my whole school and my community,” Estevez said. “I strive to recognize our differences and use them as strengths. For instance, I encourage my Latino students and families to be proud of their language as well as their culture while learning English.”
As to what advice he’d offer other teachers seeking to create an equitable learning environment, he pointed to something he thinks most teachers already apply — “Love and respect your students and their families.”
“I deeply believe that we should love and value every one of our fellow human beings because of and in spite of our similarities and differences,” he said. “Hatred, racism, sexism, bigotry are regrettable ideas that may lead us — as it has in the past — to painful outcomes.”
Reporter Victoria Johnson can be reached at email@example.com.