Celebrating Black History Month with Ebony Pattenaude

Ebony Pattenaude, Director of Renton Innovation Zone Partnerships and Early Learning, Renton School District

What is your role?

I serve as the Director of Renton Innovation Zone Partnerships and Early Learning. The Renton Innovation Zone Partnership (RIZP) is four elementary Schools in the Skyway, West Hill, and Highland Sunset neighborhoods of Renton. This is my 4th year in this role and prior to that I was doing family and community engagement coordination for the Renton Innovation Zone schools as well.

What brought you to your current work?

Pretty much my whole career has been around education and workforce development and community engagement, so it’s been a natural progression to this point. One of my first gigs out of college was working at an elementary school in South Seattle. It was grant funded after school programming in partnership with the Boys and Girls Club. I was Associate Director, and we ran it in partnership with the school, getting to know teachers and cafeteria workers and PE teachers and partnering with them to get to know who the kids were and how we could best serve them. We also ran the program in summer. We would go to Seward Park and work with the naturalists. We would bring in yoga and African drumming and dance.

With that being one of my first experiences in the workforce, it really helped set the stage for me to understand the importance of partnerships. Regarding social emotional learning, the importance to kids and adults alike having opportunities to breathe and connect with themselves, connect with each other, connect with the natural world – that’s been important to me for a long time, so it’s a pleasure and a joy to be able to see that still reflected absolutely in the work that I’m doing now.

 How does SEL inform your work now? 

Going back to those first kinds of experiences working in a school with principals and teachers and community partners, I saw from the start that you’ve got the academic side which is key and crucial -you’ve got to have highly qualified engaging teachers in the front of the classroom. But, at the same time, teachers need to be supported to build community in their classrooms and I wonder, how can folks outside of the classroom be leveraged to help build community and to help students?

I have had those opportunities to learn and grow in ways that, traditionally, students might not have access to. So, in my work through partnerships and early learning, I’m continually looking to build those bridges into the schools and bring in mentors and community leaders who may be non-traditional leaders who have wanted access to working with kids and making a positive difference. My goal and job are to help bring down barriers and open up space for that to happen.

Why do you think SEL is important right now?

It’s always been important, it’ll always be important, but of course particularly right now with the massive challenges that we are all facing. The level of uncertainty that we’ve all been living with – for our sanity, for our health and well-being – it’s more important than ever to really be grounded in paying attention to what is happening with us. What is going on spiritually, emotionally, physically, and how we can increase activities and practices to help us.  At a minimum to tolerate the challenges, and best case scenario, to help inspire us to find opportunities to see silver linings and to see ways forward.

For adults, kids, everyone in between, the more we are talking about feelings, destigmatizing mental health issues, and talking about this trauma that we are all living through, the better it is for our society and our world.

We see SEL work as liberation work. What are your thoughts?

I would say that, on a personal level – what do I want to be liberated from?  Fear, anger, anxiety, these kinds of negative entrenched patterns. To be able to free ourselves from these patterns and replace them with positive healthy patterns we can see and work towards.

Any addiction, like the example of smoking for instance, you are chained to it. The freedom folks get when they can resist and find other healthier patterns is real. Similarly with social emotional learning, the idea that I don’t have to be beholden to old ingrained patterns, I can break free from those, that is really liberating and very powerful.

Which contemporary and historic Black Leaders have influenced you and your work?

There are so many! Growing up, Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks stand out, definitely – the self-sacrifice, the putting the community ahead of yourself, being part of something greater than yourself – those ideals to strive towards.

Beautiful writers like Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Zora Hurston. Amazing musicians like Big Mama Thornton and Mahalia Jackson and Nina Simone: inspiring, powerful women, talented women, so committed to putting truth into the world. They show so many different ways to lead change in the world.

Most personally, people close to me: family members, coaches, and teachers who I am blessed to know and have known. They inspired me and continue to inspire me in terms of their work ethic and determination and their “not giving up” mentality. Those who both individually and collectively continue to progress the work. Too many folks to name!


Ebony was interviewed by Sound Discipline Facilitator Glenda Montgomery