Serving Students of Color—Voices of Black, Latino, and Native American Professionals

(contributing authors listed at end of article)

In a recent Facebook conversation, I asked a group of African-American, Latino, and Native American parents to comment on how white teachers in the public system might better serve children of color. After seeing how important this issue was to my on-line friends, I opened the conversation to a group of professionals of color from my local community. The co-authors live as a far east as New York, and as far west as San Francisco; among them are business executives, accountants, social workers, radical educators, community organizers, and artists.

Edreys Wajed, father, artist, and visual arts teacher commented, “The one thing that I think would benefit all parties are more frequent visits from “professionals” that are African-American, Latino, and Native–professionals of all sorts that may somehow relate to the teacher’s curriculum, which I believe would drive home a sense of ‘why’ the students are learning a particular portion of the related lesson.”

Media Specialist and former AIM (American Indian Movement) activist Jan Donald agreed with Wajed, “Seeing someone who looks like us and maybe has similar experiences can provide encouragement and momentum toward achievement.”

Carlos Gant, a business professional, listed the need for updated technology in the classrooms and homes of minority students, and suggested that minority parents be invited to education forums and conferences to create open dialogue about performance standards in their communities. He also suggested that white teachers should get engaged in minority support networks, and be available beyond the classroom. He asked for teachers to work with parents of Black, Latino, and Native American children to define what performance excellence looks like. Finally, he suggested that teachers update parents on social and legal matters that can impact their children’s ability to get quality education.i

Nakia Sangria, who earned her MBA at Medaille College, agreed about the need to bring in professionals, noting that this would help children to understand what is really required to attend medical school or law school. She also noted, “I’m a fan of putting college or future goals into a kid’s head as soon as they start school, my 2nd grade teacher had us write education plans and I followed mine to the letter! Take children on college tours with parents and show them how to save money that early, even if it’s $25 per month. Bring in a Financial Advisor to show them ways to save for college because by 8th grade it’s too late.”

Shaun Nelms, Superintendent in New York’s Greece School District, directed me to read the articles of Pedro A. Noguera.ii Noguera is a decorated educator who has shown a long-term and unwavering commitment to analyzing inequity in public education and postulating solutions. Among the hundreds of articles that Noguera has authored, I noticed several key concepts. He fights for the elimination of tracking systems that prohibit children of color from reaching advanced classes, and asks for an end to discipline systems that inordinately punish African-American and Latino youth. Noguera also promotes the placement of medical and mental health services inside public schools to create community centers that radiate wellbeing.

Salah-Jason Ross Brown, Development Director of the Arab Cultural and Community Center in San Francisco, suggested that white teachers, “Reflect on who you are as a leader. Revise accordingly. Hold self accountable. Maintain impeccability as humanitarian. Find joy in purpose, create rigor around student interests, and help students deepen knowledge by establishing class culture of independent study. Allow for inclusive evaluation. Let students evaluate you.”
Radical educator and mother Dana Steward Kemp noted, “I am bugged over and over again by the fact that schools are segregated—we learn best when we have the opportunity to learn from others—different cultures, races, classes, and SES. Also, ironic that Obama’s children attend Sidwell Friends—nice school—no high-stakes testing. You don’t see the folks there begging for their children to take a test to prove their intelligence. Children don’t need bubble sheets; they need experiences, and schools can be places for that.”

Social Worker Pedro Anglada Cordero, MSW, agreed with the other parents about the importance of allowing children of color to come into contact with African-American, Latino, and Native American professionals. He also remarked, “I agree with the idea of getting parents more involved with their children’s education. However, schools must provide additional support for children and families of color, especially when the family has limited resources. Doing the work I do, and also based on my past experience working in a high school, I often hear ‘complaints’ or antagonistic remarks from school (or agency) staff against parents of children of color because they are not involved in their children’s education, without considering the fact that they are from a low-income background. As you know, I personally came from a family situation in which my mother was too busy working to be involved in my education. During that time, I had a job: Pass all classes (excellence not required); don’t get in trouble; do not make parent lose work-time because getting in trouble.”

Latino Parent Liaison Raquel Laiz noted that Latino students and their parents face stereotypes in many school communities. She noted that while some non-Latino parents may have the perception that Latino parents don’t care as much about education, they often care deeply, but face a litany of challenges that non-Latino families don’t have to grapple with.

“Misunderstandings of school’s rules and expectations, the English language barrier, long work hours and little flexibility, misunderstandings about the role of parents in schools…sometimes Latino parents are also afraid of attending school meetings or providing personal information to schools, due to their immigration status,” Ms. Laiz said.

“However, there are many things we can do to serve students of color,” continued Laiz, “it is crucial to provide school materials in the parent’s native language, have interpreters available, be flexible and respectful of parent’s schedules, assure frequent and clear communication between parents and teachers, offer training to staff on Latino culture, have available bilingual/bicultural staff to work with parents and create communication pathways that will eliminate all cultural and language barriers.”

Pedro Anglada Cordero, who works as a bilingual state social worker and regularly visits a variety of schools, agreed with Laiz’s suggestions, but remarked, “From personal experience, I know that schools are often very unlikely to contact a family they just don’t feel “comfortable” with; whether it is because of a language barrier, or just because they seem to fear the parent. At times fear comes from never meeting the parent in person, or because the family is not white.”

As a white educator, I didn’t have to go far to hear solutions to the achievement gap problem that perplexes the nation. All it took was a willingness to listen. Since the answers are here, it is no longer acceptable to work toward maintaining the status quo—to do so when one is aware of inequity is the same as knowingly working to maintain racism. Eradicating racism and inequity in schools requires work, funding, passion, collaboration, and the willingness to surrender long-held beliefs and practices in order to create healthy learning communities that celebrate all children. If we are willing to open our ears, there are many answers to guide our path toward change.

i Gant noted that Affirmative Action is currently being challenged, and that parents need to know how this could impact their child’s educational future.

ii Noguera’s articles are available at

http://steinhardt.nyu.edu/m/metrocenter/resources/pedroarticles

Corresponding author: Susan Anglada Bartley, M.Ed
Contributing authors: Pedro Anglada Cordero, MSW, Jan Donald,  Salah-Jason Ross Brown, Carlos Gant, Dana Steward Kemp, Raquel Laiz,  Nakia S. Sangria, Shaun Nelms, and Edreys Wajed.
Helpful Editor: Kate Moore

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