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"White Gold" Professional Development Expands Learning Horizons


Over the summer, a group of eight Providence Day School faculty and staff participated in a cross-divisional, cross-disciplinary virtual global experience. 

White Gold: Sugar, Slavery, and You included synchronous and asynchronous course work over a five-day period leading to a broad understanding of the development of sugar slavery throughout the colonial period. From Latin America to the Caribbean and beyond to the American South, the course explored the ways sugar slavery and sugar itself continue to impact the world.

The course was uniquely designed from an educational basis to keep learning outcomes in mind. “The intent of this course and future courses is to create learning across divisions and disciplines,” says Director of Global Programs Jessica Williams. “We hope to deepen understanding and relationships while considering a ‘pay it forward project’ – how are you bringing this learning back to PD?” 

Each participant found value in the experience and approached the course through a unique lens that informs what they bring back to the classroom or the PD campus.

Jennifer Bray, Upper School

     The most valuable part of the experience for me was considering how music and primary sources of information are integral to understanding place and experience. I plan to integrate course materials in both my AP Human Geography and Global Studies Africa courses through discussions of both the transatlantic slave trade and also agriculture. An experience like this allows for colleagues to create greater opportunities for cooperation among classes, departments, and divisions.

James Edge, Upper School

     The most valuable part of this experience for me was having opportunities to work closely with faculty members in other disciplines and divisions. It was enriching to hear different perspectives and discuss ways we could collaborate in the upcoming year. The most immediate way I would like to integrate what I learned into the classroom would be layered multimodal approaches in as many classes as possible. I think participating alongside colleagues adds a level of accountability to commit to collaboration and deepens connections between various faculty that can only make it more likely that learning outcomes are achieved in each class.

Sarah Goodman, Middle School

     In addition to being able to network cross-divisionally with the most amazing teachers, the most valuable piece of this experience was being able to meet and learn from experts in the field as well as take live virtual tours of places I would likely not be able to visit in person. I plan to connect with one of the data scientists to talk about Graphic Information Systems as well as the change of ecosystems over time. He has agreed to virtually visit my Global Environmental Issues class and talk about data/change over time/being a scientist of color. I have formed a connection with colleagues I normally may not ever see which makes it inviting and easier to collaborate about this workshop and ideas for integrating it into our classrooms. The schedule/logistics of the workshop show that being global and tackling global issues can be done locally as well, especially during a pandemic. This will empower our students to not be deterred by the pandemic and continue to move forward with making change where change is needed. 

Jack Hudson, Upper School

     This course gave me a broader and deeper understanding of slavery in the Americas, the way plantations worked, and how slavery underpinned the broader world economy in the 1800s.  I will be able to add highly valuable content to my current unit on the agricultural development of the US and the role of slavery in US agriculture in my Urban Farming class.  The most valuable part of the experience for me was getting global perspectives that I'd be unlikely to find on my own. I think engaging in a course like this with people that you know allows for more meaningful collaboration in breakout groups.  You don't have to get past being unfamiliar with people or not trusting them before you can begin sharing your thoughts. I also think it's very valuable to be able to easily follow up with people who have expertise or resources that can help me in my classes. 

Lynn Ruff, Lower School

     It was a remarkable course in so many ways. The most valuable aspect for me was the chance to participate in an online course that was so professionally structured. Participating in courses of this type with colleagues allows for cross-grade-level development to be explored in a defined setting and is a positive experience for all faculty and staff members to comprehend priorities from different perspectives.

Marcus Smith, Upper School

     Any time you are part of immersion into history it’s very valuable, and immersion coupled with colleagues is a winning combination because you are with people you collaborate and think with. It’s like a trust fall because you do have to trust the people in those conversations, you have to make yourself vulnerable, and be willing to give someone the benefit of the doubt. You get to know people better through the experience of learning together, so you can approach them later about something, your resources extend, and that’s a big asset for our school. The other opportunity we have here is collaboration and your community grows when people do trust falls together.

Fé Vivas Patriciu, Admissions      

     The White Gold course was not only valuable because it gave me a deeper understanding of the sugar trades' reliance on slave labor and the modern-day economic and environmental impact of sugar harvesting but also was eye-opening for me personally as I explored my own family's story. 

     Having been born in Ponce, Puerto Rico to a Dominican mother and Puerto Rican father I had always heard stories of pride about my great great great grandfather Sebastian Serrallés leaving Catalonia, Spain in the 1800s and creating a sugarcane plantation in Ponce which through the generations would become the Hacienda Mercedita and Serrallés Distillery. To this day, the well-known Puerto Rican rum Don Q bears my mother's maiden name on the label and remains a source of pride for my family. 

     Through the White Gold course, I was guided to take a critical look at the sugar boom in the Caribbean in the 19th Century. Through access to primary sources and through a virtual tour of a sugar plantation in Cuba, I was able to see clearly the role of the Caribbean in the Atlantic Slave Trade. From the early 1860s through the mid-1870s when slavery was abolished on the island of Puerto Rico, enslaved men and women faced unimaginable conditions to make a profitable plantation, the Hacienda Mercedita, which was owned by my great-great grandfather Juan Serrallés Colón. Generations of privilege and economic advantage for my ancestors depended on the work of those men and women who went unnamed and who did not enjoy generational wealth as a result of the success of the crop they harvested. It was sobering to recognize that as a person of color and someone who has felt the sting of discrimination that my family has a direct connection to slavery that rose out of sugar production in the Americas. To say that I felt this overwhelming feeling of guilt and sadness would be an understatement.

     For me, White Gold was impactful both professionally and personally. I have found myself seeking to better understand the colonial history of Puerto Rico and Afro-Caribbean contributions to Latin culture. I have also found myself speaking more openly with my parents and understanding how their generation confronted issues of race and colorism in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. I now feel even more fervently that we are all called to be actively anti-racist and to identify and confront and condemn racism in the past and present.