Open discussion about difficult topics that her students may deal with in their own lives is where Deborah Bertlesman starts her approach to an anti-racist curriculum.

“It's focused on social justice issues, especially race," Bertlesman, an English teacher at P.S. 156 Frederick Law Olmstead said. "Although there is an understanding that it is intersectional.”

She has the support of her district, but perhaps more importantly, the support of fellow teachers in the region.

“This work is also happening in school districts that have very few students of color [who] are over an hour outside of the city," she said. "I think that speaks to the value of this work.”

Backing her up is the Western New York Network of English Teachers.

“It was about getting like-minded teachers together, who sometimes found that they felt alone in their rooms because they couldn't find teachers who wanted to have complex conversations about difficult issues that were sort of sneaking into our classrooms or- weren't sneaking in, they were there,” Bertlesman explained.

That's why she’s taking the work she does in her own classroom and bringing it to a new one where she meets with her offshoot Anti-Racist Inquiry Group.

There are around a dozen teachers involved and they meet up a few times a year to go over what an anti-racist curriculum looks like and how to be better moving forward.

“Let's investigate this idea of how you're feeling or what you're feeling. Let's research it, and then you tell me at the end of it, or tell your audience, if it's still something that you believe,” explained Cheyon Cross, an English teacher in the Sweet Home School District.

Cross sees the world as ever-evolving, and so why shouldn’t education be the same way?

“What does it mean to be an American? Are we all equal in our society," he said of the topics they discuss in class. "When we look back on who we are as individuals, where we come from, how have we evolved?”

A teacher for two years now, Cross says having students dig into topics they’re passionate about flips a switch in them and the value is clear.

“A better sense of self and identity and understanding who they are as individuals and their place in the world, and where they are headed and where they want society to head,” Cross said.

Their anti-racist efforts are funded by a grant through the Buffalo Literary Center. It's work they don’t want to stop anytime soon.

“[It's] something that's important, something that should be talked about," Cross said. "As long as I'm in the field of education, that's something that will always be talked about in my classroom”

The teachers who Spectrum News 1 Buffalo spoke to said they do face backlash to their approach every now and then, whether from parents or outside groups.

They do have material for teachers and superintendents to help defend their work and try to navigate through the backlash.

Cross says while there is sometimes a lot of defending of the teaching they have to do, he just tries to keep moving forward.