Are we listening to student voices when it comes to success in education?
Over the past few weeks, education circles have received more volume of information with a greater complexity than they probably were prepared for. The question yet to be answered is are people in the circles listening? For example, are school board members engaging the families they were elected to represent in education issues? More importantly, are any of us listening to the children of this education movement? We’re 12 years post-Hurricane Katrina and our students are still crying out for help in New Orleans. How do we help them? Is the Superintendent of the Orleans Parish Public Schools listening? Has he read the responses to the surveys that the school system has used to elicit feedback from parents and community members?
If he hasn’t, he should. Time is running out for our children.
Last year the NAACP passed a moratorium on the creation of new charter schools. Because of that moratorium, a committee was formed to travel the country hosting town hall meetings to hear from community members – those for and against charters – about charter schools in their city or state.
They came to New Orleans on April 5th.
And what started out as a basic business meeting with presenters from both sides offering testimony for and against charter schools, quickly turned into a display of raw emotion from community members, specifically students, about the harsh realities of their current education situations.
Students from McDonough 35 High School, a current OPSB traditional public school, emotionally gave their accounts of being drastically unprepared for the EOC (End Of Course) test. Having had teachers changed several times throughout the year in the same class left many of the students feeling unsupported and misguided. The students told stories about how they were working from worksheets instead of textbooks; watching movies instead of engaging in dialogue, and wondering who would be their teacher from one day to the next.
They were scared. It was clear by the determined yet shaky voices and the emotional tears that they shed while at the podium.
And while the students from McDonough 35 used their opportunity at the hearing to talk about a traditional public school in New Orleans, a group of young men called Black Men Rising, spoke as former students of a charter school also in New Orleans. They talked about how they felt like they were in prison because they were forced to walk in straight lines in the hallways and how although they had a regimented school day, they found themselves not prepared for college life. One young man talked about not knowing what to do when he arrived at college and that he expected the professor and school personnel to guide him along and that he has a rude awakening shortly after getting to college. His charter school simply did not prepare him for college.
And speaking of college, did you see the open letter high school senior Karriem Bennet penned to Governor Jon Bel Edwards after receiving a state scholarship award totaling $2? Astounding! And while Ms. Bennett and many of her fellow students have worked hard to prepare for a higher education, what’s currently at stake is lawmakers proposing to raise the minimum academic requirements to receive financial assistance through the state’s Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) program, which provides state scholarships to Louisiana residents who attend one of the Louisiana public colleges and universities.
I believe TOPS funding is essential and a priority for our students to go to and finish college. And while we all want our children to do well in school and be college-ready, my fear is not all of them will be. And raising the standards will deter even more of our students from even attempting to go to college.
After contemplating these significant events involving our children in our city, I have concluded that we don’t seem to be listening and hearing what our children are saying and expressing to us. In a state where mental health appears to have been abandoned. In a city where more than 90% of black children are more likely to be arrested than receive a proper education and a significant percentage of our children live in poverty, I ask the questions are we engaging these students about what is ailing them and more importantly are we looking at them as an intricate part of the solution to our educational woes? Real reform can only come when we allow the children of the movement to become a part of their own liberation.
We need to seriously consider changing our tune and rethinking our stance on supporting the valuable voice of our amazing young people. There is a youth-shift that is blazing trails in our fine city. Responsible, accountable and dedicated young people are lending their voice, sweat equity and time and I believe they will be the key to our success as we move forward in this state.