Annual Sunset Chat Explores Social Justice and Equity at Bank Street

On November 2, Bank Street alumni and students gathered on campus at the Tabas Auditorium for the 2023 Sunset Chat, an annual conversation that provides an opportunity for the community to engage in thoughtful dialogue about current issues and events and how the College is taking action to address them.

Hosted by the Bank Street College Alumni Association (BSCAA) and moderated by BSCAA president Margaret Ryan, GSE ’01, the Sunset Chat featured a conversation with Bank Street President Shael Polakow-Suransky, GSE ’00, and Amy Stuart Wells, the new dean of Bank Street Graduate School of Education, who answered questions and discussed their vision for Bank Street as a leader in progressive education at a time when education—and the teaching profession, in particular—is increasingly under threat.

When asked about the current challenges facing our education system, especially for early childhood educators, Polakow-Suransky said, “We’re seeing words, books, and ideas being banned because people are uncomfortable with facing the truth about the history of this country and what is happening here today. It’s both a terrible thing and an opportunity. A few weeks ago, one of the kindergarten teachers had organized our four-, five-, and six-year-olds to have a protest against banned books in our lobby. I walked through and they were out in full force with signs and chants and having a great time, but they  were also reading those books in their class. My daughter was in that group, and she was very excited to talk to me about this protest and what banned books are. It’s not something I wish she had to learn, but children also need to understand that this is not just an isolated moment, it’s something that has a long history. And there’s also a long history of resistance that goes along with it.”

Wells answered a question about how parents and educators can push the envelope, saying, “When you look at the research on what parents say they want in education, it is much more in line with developmentally appropriate teaching and understanding about child development. Those who want books banned are a small minority with an outsized voice. So, it’s partly turning down the volume on that while also engaging more parents to speak out and become empowered to lead.”

“We’re also learning that there’s this groundswell of interest in education among undergrads who will become future leaders and social activists who care about education for all the right reasons and all the things that we stand for here at Bank Street,” Wells added. “They’ve got fire in their bellies. They’re just frustrated with us older folks for what has happened to the climate, to our public education system, to our democracy. I’d love to tap into that energy, build it into our curriculum, and provide a way to support them in becoming leaders for change through their education as teachers and school leaders.”

Sunset Chat 2023 at Bank Street CollegeAt the end of the discussion, alumni and guests asked questions and shared their experiences and reflections on topics that included ways to support teachers in the current political climate and the need to encourage teachers to work in public schools, among others. Afterwards, a reception gave attendees a forum to meet each other and discussed what they heard.

Alumni Relations Director Eric Gutiérrez, said, “This was the first time since 2020 that our Sunset Chat was held in person and we were thrilled to see so many people join us–over 40 people attended. After the discussion, faculty, alumni, and staff also spent time together at a reception that gave them the chance to connect with each other, discuss their thoughts, and enjoy our community.”