Ray Yang has only been at UPrep three years, but is already well-integrated into our community, teaching visual arts in both Middle and Upper School, and serving as the 6th grade dean and an Ultimate Frisbee coach. Ray also co-facilitates our SEED (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) seminars for faculty. Ray describes diversity, equity, and inclusion at UPrep as creating “space for our students to take risks, make mistakes, and most importantly, to learn from those mistakes.”
What brought you to UPrep? Where did you previously work?
I came to UPrep after hearing about some of the really amazing work the school was doing in social justice. I also absolutely loved the vibe of the school when I came to interview, and how the philosophy of the Fine Arts Department really aligned with my own thinking around teaching.
Before UPrep I worked in lots of fields, including as a teaching artist at local museums (which I still do), as a consultant for Arts Education curriculum and teaching for Seattle Public Schools, working on professional development and arts programming in Chicago Public Schools, teaching graduate school students in art education, and doing community outreach on the south side of Chicago.
What have been some of your favorite UPrep moments so far this school year?
It’s been a really packed and eventful school year with our many transitions and changes. Among the highlights have been working with this year’s 6th graders as their dean, as well as in the 6th Grade Fine Arts rotation. The students have such great energy and enthusiasm for school! I also really enjoyed teaching the Middle School Graphic Novel Intensive. It was so much fun to get to dive into a subject I love and spend time making comics with students.
Who is a leader (current or a historical figure) you admire? Why?
Someone I’ve been really interested in lately is Grace Lee Boggs (especially relevant since she’s one of the inspirations for our Social Justice Day this year!). She was a pioneering radical activist during the civil rights movement who worked as an organizer on the ground level, fighting for justice and equality. She continued that work, connecting with communities and youth right up until she passed away a few years ago.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
In my spare time (when I can find it!) I get out and play pickup Ultimate Frisbee. I also try to make time to make art and comics and check out museum exhibitions around town. By far my favorite thing to do is spend time with my family, whether that’s playing catch or drawing with my kids, or taking walks with my partner. We try to take advantage of Seattle and all the beautiful scenery!
Ray was the featured faculty speaker at this year’s UPrep Together fundraiser; below is an excerpt of Ray's speech, which has been edited for length.
I believe that diversity in our UPrep classrooms impacts not just some, but ALL, students. It’s a tricky thing to talk about though, because diversity can mean many things to many people. What exactly are we talking about when we say diversity and inclusion and why does it matter?
There is one part of the UPrep Diversity Mission Statement that I think sums it up well:
Our students need to see, hear, and understand the diversity of people, perspectives and points of view around them and the world they will lead in the years ahead.
Let’s consider that statement. Students NEED to see, hear, and understand the diversity of people, perspectives, and points of view around them. We need to do it as a school. It’s vital to our mission.
Oftentimes when folks think of diversity, they picture racial diversity. And although racial diversity is vitally important, at UPrep diversity also means other things in our classrooms.
It means diversity of genders. Diversity of religion. Diversity of sexual orientation. Diversity of political views. Diversity of ability. Diversity of socio-economic status. While we can’t always plan out a perfectly balanced classroom around all these identities, what we can do as educators and adults in the community is work responsibly to support and include these identities in our classrooms.
We can create Windows and Mirrors for our students; a window into other people’s experiences that are new to us, and mirrors for those with whom we share commonalities. It’s a powerful way for students to feel seen by people AND to see others. In the classroom, diversity of experience makes the experience of all our students richer. It doesn’t take anything away from others.
As teachers, we have a responsibility to expose our students to a range of opinions and topics. We’re teaching them to think. To be able to discern for themselves what’s happening in the world. To push themselves to consider and reflect on new and challenging concepts.
Our sixth grade rotation is built around the idea of process over product. That real learning occurs when students take risks, make mistakes, and learn from those moments. A recent moment that stood out for me was watching one of my 6th graders work on a project to visualize sound.
Students approached it from a variety of ways, drawing sound waves, building instruments; but this student got interested in the physical sensation of sound. However, he wasn’t sure how to make that work. He was worried about taking a risk and exploring the idea, whether it was even visual art. I encouraged him to step into that discomfort though and play with the concept. We brainstormed, experimented, and finally cobbled together some speakers, sand, saran wrap and a bowl, and this is what happened. Pretty cool.
This student took a chance and tried something outside of his comfort zone. He made mistakes along the way, but that was part of the process. UPrep is a laboratory. A place for all students to engage in challenging thinking, to persevere through it, and to reflect and grow from those challenges.