The Second Line Blog

A Quality Education: Access Denied

Children have been made to be the most controversial issue in America. When did the education of our children become a gamble?

-Dana Wade

The Parent Advocators

Educationally things have been constantly changing and churning in New Orleans. Which is a good and a bad thing respectively. You see for children positive change is good but you also need a constant and plenty of consistency as well. Now, are there some situations and schools that are working? Sure, there is but with an autonomous school structure, everyone seems to want to do their own thing instead of coming together collectively and deciding what works for kids on a bigger scale.

I feel like we were selected to be the prototype. There have been a lot of good intentions gone wrong. They said: Let’s initiate the development of an all-charter district. Take OneApp for example, the central enrollment system for New Orleans, a good intention gone wrong. We don’t even understand how it works, but we try to explain it confusing you and us even more. Disregard district schools we’ll establish a juggernaut transportation system that will cost millions sending kids all over the entire city taking away funds from education. We can just worry about regular students initially and figure out any of those kids with special needs circumstances as we go. Disregarding any rights that special needs children have under the law. Let’s start a bunch of duplicate education nonprofits to seem as if we have the people on our side. Let’s use cliche phrases like parent involvement and community stakeholders making it look good. However, keep most parents at bay and in the dark about what is really going on. In fact some of them you will literally have to get restraining orders on even though their children are attending the school. Lastly, disenfranchise the entire local veteran educator pool but keep some of those burly black men. Yeah, you know the ones who we can use to keep their children inline. Use them for discipline purposes against their own. They’re good for that. While we interject a younger, less experienced, not as costly, right out college, looking to set up camp for a spell and then leave town educator pool. Educators who won’t resonate with the children that they teach and definitely not their parents. I think that’ll do it for now. If I think of something else and have any changes I’ll let you know.

The search for a quality education in New Orleans is still a chore. It is a task parents and guardians face daily. It is a task that most of us have endured since coming home post-Katrina and I’m not sure when the task will end. A large majority of our citizens opt out of the public school uncertainty by opting into private school enrollment with New Orleans continually being among the cities with the most children on private school rosters. But for parents who can’t afford that luxury, public education is where we land. The before mentioned One app system continues to be interesting and unexplainable to the public it serves although the system is responsible for placing every child within a school in Orleans parish, even preschool children.

Exceptions to the OneApp process are highly sorted after public school that literally operate on a freelance basis. Their application process proves to be a cumbersome duty. Complete with test, deadlines, your children information in a particular color folder and in some cases a who you know nature to get into their sacred walls. Even then there are only so many seats which send the unfortunate students who didn’t attain a place back to the ONEAPP computer algorithm model for placement.

Our kids in New Orleans need to be more than just the prototype. More than a model to be studied, diagnosed and learned from. Our children need educators to have extensive conversations about them and their educational outcomes. Engage in dialogue concerning their well being that includes mental, emotional and.physical aspects of their lives. They need to have pinpoint, personal and strategic solutions to the problems that they will face in their lives. Solutions that are sparked by the obtaining of a great education. A quality education that starts with access. And for too long our kid’s access has been denied. We’re ready



Are You Ready for OneApp?


Parents, are you ready for OneApp for the next school year? Since you have to choose a school for your child/children, why not get an early start?  The application period opens on November 1, 2017 and closes on February 23, 2018.
“In New Orleans, every school is a choice school. You don’t have a neighborhood school, but you do get priority to the schools that are near your home.”

Read more here

A Closed Mouth Don’t Get Fed

By Sherece Williams

I was just thinking today… “What happened to the good ole days when kids and parents sat at the kitchen table doing homework?”  I could be wrong, but everything now seems so fast-paced and priorities are lost in the shuffle of extra jobs, extracurricular activities, and social lives.  With so many kids being raised by single parents, an additional job is needed, which leaves little to no time for the kids.  I often hear kids say mom is not home and no one is there to help with homework.  Sometimes kids are diligent enough to persevere but more often those kids’ education fall by the wayside.  Most kids are not responsible enough to go home and do an assignment with little or no help. A parent or guardian is needed to ensure tasks are being completed and studying is being done.   

I teach second grade in a low economic area, where parental involvement is little to none.  At the beginning of every school year, I send home a welcome letter that briefly tells who I am and my expectations of my class for the upcoming school year.  Also included in that letter is my email address and personal cell phone number to allow parents to contact me as needed for any additional concerns.  A lot of teachers say, “ I don’t give my number out.  I don’t like being bothered after hours.”  Here’s the thing; I’m not bothered.  So few use my number that it isn’t an inconvenience.  Occasionally, I get a parent calling with “cause my child told me you or why you gave my baby this grade?!” Seldom do I get calls from concerned parents wanting to know about an assignment or wanting to know if they can come to class to help out.  Parents need to know what goes on in the school and what’s going on in their child’s class.

Parental involvement is a crucial component in the educational process.  Ensuring academic success in most kids is necessary.  Having a relationship with your child’s teacher is a good start.  Teachers are often able to recognize things parents miss, both academically and socially.  This opens the door to more opportunities and fewer things being ignored or falling by the wayside.  

One year, I had a boy who was an only child being raised by a single mom.  At the beginning of the year, his mom came to me and introduced herself.  She told me about her job in the healthcare field and who would pick her child up since she worked long hours. Mom stayed in contact with me to make sure her son was on track.  After school, the child was being picked up and cared for by an elderly relative.  The relative seemed to be in good health mentally and physically but moved a little slower at times.  She did her best assisting with assignments, etc., but here’s where the problem came in.  There were some older cousins that visited too.  Those cousins were saying things that a seven-year-old should not hear.   Needless to say, the boy absorbed it all and brought back to school.  Soon the other students in my class would tell me things he would say or do.  I questioned the child and he initially denied it.  After I talked to him, he admitted where he learned this behavior.  Having had prior conversations with his mom, I was comfortable with telling her about the incident.  Had we not established this relationship, it could have gone a couple of different ways, none being favorable.  Because we had an open dialogue, we were able to fix the problem before it got out of hand. This is just a mild case of how being involved without being present was effective.

I could tell you several cases of situations that got out of control because parents weren’t involved.  Being involved doesn’t mean you have to give up your job and volunteer daily.  Start with talking to your child’s teacher regularly. Simple things like telling your child’s teacher when you are running late to pick up or if someone else is picking up helps.  Also updating information (cell phone number, address, work number), as soon as possible can eliminate unneeded confusion.  

I know in many cases kids can get things tangled and twisted.  Reaching out to your child’s teacher is a quick, easy way to get things straight.  Most teachers are parents as well, and we understand the struggle.  Let us know what’s going on and maybe we can help or even get you some help.  As the old folks would say, “A closed mouth don’t get fed.”  You never know what assistance your child’s teacher can give.  

All Hands on Deck

When it comes to helping students succeed, parents, teachers and school leaders must all be invested. Critical conversations regarding preparation and benchmarks are important between parents and teachers.
“Before a parent can be expected to effectively support their children’s learning, they first need to have an accurate picture of the areas where their children excel and where they need more support.”

Read more here

Reflections on Black and Brown Liberation

During Hispanic Heritage month, which recently ended on October 15, I spent a lot of time reflecting on Black and Brown relations. While it is always a time for me to think about my El Salvadorian heritage and celebrate that aspect of my identity, this year I also thought a lot about what that identity means when living and working in a Black-centered space in New Orleans and in particular the field of education.  In my curiosity, I separately asked two students who are friends, one Latinx, Lena, and the other Black, Erica, about race relations at their different high schools.

“Do Black and Latinx students get along?” I asked.

Lena shrugged.  “Black students don’t really like us. Especially when we speak Spanish.”

I nodded. Throughout my life, I’ve also witnessed the same reaction towards Spanish-speakers, including my own mother. As an immigrant with an accent, my mother has been treated like an outsider by both White and Black people, though mostly White, in part because we lived in a predominately White area. My mother is fully bilingual, but I’ve also seen that speaking Spanish in front of others seems to draw out suspicion or insecurity. So, I understood Lena’s response. But I also know it’s easy to point the finger at others, when there is so much work to be done within our own culture. Racism and colorism are deeply embedded in Latinx culture, which is often ignored or denied among us.  While I knew Lena and her mother well enough to think she did not consciously hold many of those false beliefs, I’ve had to deconstruct enough of my own internalized bias to know none of us are immune and we’re never finished.

Recently, I asked another student, Erica, who is Black, the same question about Latinx and Black students at her school.  

“We don’t really mix,” she told me. “The Hispanic students get treated better than us at my school,” she replied. “They pretend they don’t know English so that they can be in the same classes.”

I nodded, but instead of focusing on the first part of her statement, I felt a bit defensive about the latter. Though, I also didn’t doubt this happens because when I was a teenager, I would have done anything I could to get into a class with my best friend. I could only imagine how I’d feel if I was also adjusting to a new country. I also thought maybe Erica didn’t realize that some students were probably much more comfortable learning in their native language, even if they did speak English.

“Do you think you have more in common with Whites or Hispanics?” I inquired. I also didn’t take the time to say anything about the terms ‘Hispanic’ or ‘Latinx’ or tell her why I prefer the latter. I let it slide partly because she was young, but also because I get tired of these explanations.  Sometimes, I just hope the other person will eventually learn or, in the case of adults, do the work to learn.

Erica smiled shyly and paused for a moment.

“White people. I don’t really talk to the Hispanics.”

But I knew Lena was her friend, so I pointed this out. Erica laughed.

“Oh yeah. I guess she is Hispanic. But that never really entered into our conversation.”

Since moving to New Orleans four years ago, I’ve found the city, despite being incredibly mixed, is deeply attached to a fixed paradigm of Black and White.  In many ways, I understand this. Working in education, it is even hard for me to remember the nuances of race.  My work so often comes down to the seeming opposition between Black and White in regards to education funding, school resources, performance scores, discipline, etc., that I also sometimes forget about the shades in between.  In New Orleans, these are largely the Latinx and Vietnamese students.  This is partially because the numbers of these populations are still relatively small, but also because the differences between Black and White are so stark, that anything in the middle loses resonance.

This can be tricky. I work on racial equity from an anti-Blackness framework because I believe this is the ground on which we can achieve justice for all.  It’s one of the most deeply ingrained forms of othering, which allowed for the enslavement of people, and tremendous suffering as a result.  Since then, there seems no end to the legal and institutional racism put into place to block access for African-Americans.  Though many of these systems were replicated or have had a carry over effect for other groups as well, historically, many immigrant groups have slowly gained access, at least in part, to wealth and opportunity.  One of the biggest educational and economic barriers of new immigrants—language—is obsolete by even the second-generation.  If history can tell us the future, Latinxs will slowly integrate into some version of whiteness.

This is only a narrow picture. If we look at a global scale—which we must look at if we are to properly consider students and their families—the picture shifts again. The scales of crime and poverty are all relative, and as a whole, the United States is wealthier and safer, and there is more access to education and opportunities.  Poor children in the United States have a lot more advantages than poor children in the developing world. When students come from those places, they bring a host of challenges with them. Some students are undernourished, trying to learn English at the same time as their regular classes, and living in fear of losing their parents to deportation. Their families find themselves in another version of a neighborhood with high crime and poverty while also trying to send money back home.

In the end, I’ve realized that it’s complicated and that any form of comparison of oppression or suffering doesn’t serve us. The forces of oppression and racism have multiple aspects and layers and they operate differently upon different individuals and collectives. It is also important to notice the patterns. Certainly, anti-Blackness is a predominant pattern. It is a pattern within the Latinx culture. It is also a pattern on a global scale. The gravest harm, negligence, and exploitation are done to Black nations. I believe it is important for those of us who are in the middle, who are Brown in this Black-White paradigm to acknowledge that we are closer in proximity to concepts of whiteness simply because we are not Black. We, therefore, are able to access the privileges of whiteness with less challenge. Which is why after I had more time to reflect on Erica’s assessment, I realized this is probably why the Latinx students are treated better at her school.  Of course, it’s still not easy for them, and this doesn’t mean we simply forget or ignore Brownness and the accompanying struggles altogether. What it means is that we respect that we have different racialized experiences while also recognizing a common struggle.

The day after the election, I was in Detroit at a national conference on health equity that included a mix of African-Americans, Latinxs, Asians, and Arabs. I had awoken at 5:00 a.m. that morning to the news that Trump had won the election. All day, I felt nauseous, as if something terrible had just happened to the country.  A conference that we expected to be a celebration had quickly shifted to a funeral-like atmosphere, but the beauty of it was we were all there together. We all recognized the profound impact on our communities. We were sharing in our common struggle. It was clearer that day more than ever we needed to work together.  Now, almost a year later, we’re still trying to figure out exactly what that looks like on a national scale.

In New Orleans, we also still have some work to do. Lena and Erica’s answers were a clear sign we need to do better. Our children learn by example and they are not seeing strong examples of Black and Brown unity. If we don’t build stronger bridges between the Latinx, Vietnamese, and Black communities, we cannot and will not achieve equity in our city. For example, I was part of a racial reconciliation initiative through the Mayor’s office that had only a handful of Brown participants. Yet reconciliation and equity are not just about Black and White. Our lives and liberation depend on each other, and the system depends on our sense of separation. Often times, it is like we are chipping at different parts of a wall or sometimes even fighting over the tools. But if we came together and harnessed our energy in one place, maybe then we could start to see some bigger cracks. During Hispanic Heritage month I was glad to have the opportunity to reflect more deeply on my position as a Brown woman in a Black centered space. Over the last month, and even more so over the last year, I’ve realized how important Black and Brown relations are, and how much there is to be done.  If the election of Trump wasn’t enough, Lena’s and Erica’s responses were another call to action. We must come together in a more meaningful way, if not for us, but for the future generations.

Yes! to School Taxes

Three property taxes were renewed in New Orleans recently.  The taxes help to ensure school employee salaries, as well as supplies.
Voters again backed a 1.55-mill tax funds textbooks, library books, instructional equipment, and materials. The district expects this millage to generate $5.7 million annually.
Read more here