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Samantha Kim stands outside of her 6th grade classroom on the first day of school
photo credit: Photo courtesy of Samantha Kim

Samantha Kim teaches sixth grade at Santa Rosa's Steele Lane Elementary School. On the first day of school, Kim assigned self-portraits.

“As I was watching the kids color I was like, oh my gosh some of these kids are only using orange, yellow or brown,” Kim said. “And one of the kids was like, ‘I don't know what color to use for my skin.”

Within days Kim was raising money for markers, colored pencils and construction paper in dozens of colors. Four days later $230 appeared in her account with the nonprofit Donors Choose. She's used the group in the past to buy books and digital alarm clocks during the pandemic, helping students join zoom meetings on time.

And it's more than the supplies, Kim has started the school year supplementing the curriculum with social justice issues. Before diving into ancient civilizations, she's teaching about race and cultural differences. And Kim also shares her own lived-experience with her 26 students, who she says all come from different ethnic, racial and cultural backgrounds.

“We talked about where our ancestors came from,” Kim said. “I talked about my background as a Korean American and also an Asian American and how there was a lot of stress and fear, especially at the beginning of the pandemic, different acts of violence against Asian Americans.”

And she hopes having representative art supplies will open up more conversations like this in her classroom.

“I definitely challenge them to think about different racial groups with an open mind and that everybody at the end of the day we are all human and we are on this earth together,” Kim said. “My hope is that they feel empowered as kids and they go on to be advocates for change when they are teenagers and then adults.”


Samantha Kim's students drew self-portraits on their first full day back to school since March, 2020
photo credit: Photo Courtesy of Samantha Kim

To hear about Kim’s journey through the pandemic and distance learning, listen here

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