UMSL alumna and associate professor emeritus co-author book on educational equity

by | May 30, 2023

Sonya Murray-Darden and Gwendolyn Y. Turner's new book “Serving Educational Equity: A Five-Course Framework for Accelerated Learning,” will be released on June 8.
Two head shots of two black women, one wearing a yellow blazer and one wearing a red blazer look ahead, smiling.

Sonya Murray-Darden (at left) and Gwendolyn Y. Turner co-authored “Serving Educational Equity: A Five-Course Framework for Accelerated Learning” to assist educators in helping students overcome educational losses due to the pandemic, with a focus on teaching through the lens of equity. (Photos provided by Darden-Murray and Turner)

Pandemic learning loss has been a trending topic among educators. According to a study by Stanford’s Educational Opportunity Project, on average, school districts lost about 52% of one year’s worth of math and 23% of one year’s worth of reading. The learning losses have been greater among low-income students and students of color.

Gwendolyn Y. Turner and Sonya Murray-Darden, both educators, have co-authored a book, “Serving Educational Equity: A Five-Course Framework for Accelerated Learning,” to help educators and administrators effectively address academic declines due to pandemic disruptions with messaging that underscores equity.

“We took more of a whole child approach to learning acceleration in our book,” said Murray-Darden, a University of Missouri–St. Louis alumna. “All the stakeholders we support – leaders, teachers and parents, shared they have been a bit stressed about helping students who have faced academic struggles following the educational disruption. But we saw these academic concerns even before the pandemic. So we focused on ways educators could see the whole child and elevate their genius potential by addressing unfinished teaching and learning while accelerating the learning process. We believe educators can take the lens of educational equity, recognizing that when educators see students holistically, they can provide them with what they need academically while keeping the bar high.”

Serving Educational Equity book cover

Murray-Darden serves as a leadership development specialist at Education Plus. Previously, she worked as a leadership coach for the national nonprofit, Achievement Network and as the principal at Confluence Academy and in the Normandy School Collaborative, where she was also the director of curriculum and staff development.. She now owns an education consulting firm, Equity Matters Consulting.

Turner is an associate professor emeritus who worked in the Department of Educator Preparation and Leadership at UMSL. She has also served as a social studies teacher, reading and communications specialist, educational consultant, adult educator, family literacy specialist and teacher educator.

The authors’ combined experience empowered them to write a book not only from the perspective of educators but also with their understanding of diverse populations of students.

Murray-Darden and Turner had worked together for years before co-authoring the book. They met while Murray-Darden was a graduate student at UMSL and later began working with educators in St. Louis to address the achievement gap. Through their work, the premise for the book developed. Its need was further demonstrated after the pandemic.

“The pandemic really was an eye opener,” Turner said. “Our work is very timely in addressing a problem that has been going on for some time, however, the global shutdown severely affected the learning of children and served as the impetus for us to move ahead with our ideas.

“Please keep in mind that the children who were being marginalized before the pandemic are now truly having to do a lot to move forward. We believe they can, but the right approach has to be used.”

Grounded in research and employing the Science of Learning development principles, this book offers alternative thinking about unfinished learning, equity and student success. Some of the guides offered in the five-course framework of the book are: assessing the current school conditions and mindset for acceleration versus remediation, surveying and reimagining curriculum, understanding and embracing diversity and equity, and promoting, expanding and reflecting on student engagement.

The guide also includes reader reflections, real-world vignettes and tools for the classroom. Murray-Darden and Turner attempt to deliver what educators need to adopt a holistic approach to advance learning and engagement.

When discussing teaching, it’s not just about curriculum. It involves understanding the student, their environment, background and learning style, which are values of equitable education.

“In some of the stories in our book, we talked about how when you think about educational equity and you think about some of the mindsets and beliefs that are associated with underserved students, many times marginalized students, we were able to change their thinking and their perception,” Turner said. “That’s why we love this book, because it provides a whole-child approach where you have to change how you view students, you have to change how you view your curriculum, your instruction, your assessment. That’s what the book is about.”

In the book, Murray-Darden and Turner provide scenarios that ask educators to put themselves in students’ shoes in order to impart more cultural competency in teaching. Creating a curriculum and using materials that are relatable to students of different backgrounds can foster more student success.

“We talk about windows, mirrors and sliding glass doors, meaning teachers should use books that culturally affirm students,” Murray-Darden said. “They should also let them look out the window and learn other cultures and backgrounds. And with the sliding glass doors, they should move in and out of those experiences while determining where they find themselves in that work. So, when we talk about culturally affirming, we talk about teachers using materials and resources where students see themselves, and they see themselves as parts of the book and parts of the learning experience that are positive, that make a difference, that are validating. We suggest quite a few tools and resources they can use to do that.”

“Serving Educational Equity: A Five-Course Framework for Accelerated Learning” will be available June 8. Pre-order is available at Amazon and Corwin.

Wendy Todd

Wendy Todd