The Second Line Blog

Brothers Empowered to Teach (BE2T)

NOLA.COM just recently posted an article about Brothers Empowered to Teach (BE2T), a program that recruits African American teachers, particularly men, to work in schools in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. As I read the article I realized Lamont Douglas wrote a story on that same program a few years ago.

Because Brothers Empowered to Teach (BE2T) intentionally makes it a point to spark conversation with young men who may not particularly see themselves in the classroom teaching or think that they would excel at a career pouring into the lives of our kids.

Read Lamonts article here

A Strong Parent-Teacher Relationship Is Crucial to a Child’s Educational Success

As a teacher, here is my message to parents: “I hear you!” I’m finally in that space where I totally get your frustrations. You’ve worked a long and exhausting day knowing that your children, household and spouse are already a laundry list of “needs, wants and to-do’s” waiting for you at quitting time. Now, to add to it all, there are the weekly and lengthy homework assignments, a school calendar of events and the inevitable forms from the school or teacher that must be completed and returned (some with cash attached) ASAP! Aaaaaah…enough right?!

But here’s the unavoidable and unpleasant truth; adulting is hard! With everything in life, we seek to find a balance that doesn’t make us completely nuts and we try to find a way to make time for the things that count. There is simply no replacement, no substitute, and no APP that can perform the important role you play in the parent-teacher relationship for your child.

Parents and teachers essentially share the responsibilities in the lives of what become “our children” during the months of August to May. From 8am to 3:30pm, I am trusted to nurture, guide, challenge, entertain, protect, and educate almost 30 little ones until returned to sender. I have learned in over a decade of teaching that this relationship between all three of us is most beneficial when it is a cooperative between the parent and the teacher specifically. Why is it so crucial? And what are the benefits you might ask?

Behavior and Character Development

The parent and teacher are the first models for kindness, responsibility, respect, and integrity that any child has. They watch what we do, and only listen to a very small portion of what we say to do. Understanding as well as observing that the teacher and parent are a team rooting for and supporting them towards being and giving their best is key!

Academic Achievement

The more time you spend involved in the actual requirements grade-by-grade of your child, the better you can connect with their strengths and areas that may be in need of growth. When the teacher also has the ability to connect with you as the parent in this way be it by homework practice, phone calls, parent-teacher conference, or online communication, we can better serve and support these needs and facilitate the student’s success more swiftly together! This can also cut down on your child’s frustration and anxiety by having multiple, cooperative, involved adults to provide informed assistance.

Safety First!

Teachers, coaches, and mentors are all trusted adults that we expect to give to our children in a similar way to what we would and honestly the way they should. However, we’ve sadly all heard the TV or online news and neighborhood stories of isolated service volunteers and educational professionals that bully, manipulate, assault, and neglect the children in their care. As a parent, these individuals need to see your face and know you are involved. You need to see their face as well and get a sense of them before releasing or committing your children to them and assuming they will uphold the standards you’d expect! All children have the right to feel safe in their learning environment and this is one way that as a parent we can assist that goal being met!

The parent-teacher relationship won’t always be perfect, but it will always be crucial, and the cooperation modeled by both parties will absolutely be reflected in multiple ways by the child. Get involved now to reduce stress in the long term, to support your child’s achievement on a cooperative team, and to show them how important they are by taking on just a little of the shared responsibility and experience of the place they spend most of their days, weeks, and months in those first 18 years. They’ll thank you later and you will thank yourself!

How Can You Teach Black Children and be Afraid of Black Parents?

It’s a simple question I ask many white and even some black colleagues. I don’t get it. I just do not get it. You tell the story about how you want to educate black children, but you take issue with Black parents. I hear some of these educators complain about the parents and how they come off or the way they talk. Then they look at me like I am supposed to deal with the parent for them.

I find myself frustrated that so many teachers want admiration and praise for educating black children but won’t even have a conversation with black parents. This isn’t just white teachers I see it from some black teachers as well. I tell new, young teachers all the time that when you teach you not only form a relationship with the child but also with the parents of the child. You don’t get any extra recognition for educating black children. They do not give you a little extra on your paycheck for teaching black children. 

Some teachers are afraid to speak to all types of black parents. You have your so-called ghetto, uneducated black parents. Yes, they may be a little loud and do not always use proper English or you may think they come off a little aggressive. Teachers are afraid of those black parents. They feel threatened because when they talk and get excited, their voice raises a level, or they use their hands a little more for expression. I had a parent reach out to me about wanting to meet with her child’s teacher. I went to the teacher and asked the teacher to set up the meeting. The teacher responded and said, will you be in the meeting. I told her I didn’t plan on being in the meeting and she replied, “I don’t feel comfortable meeting with this parent alone.” Confused about the statement, I pushed for more. Her response was she noticed the way the parent spoke to teachers last year. 

You want to teach black children, but you’re afraid to talk to black parents. 

Then you have a second type of black family; the one I call the most dangerous. The educated Black family. Indy Education blogger Shawnta Barnes tweeted how one of her son’s teachers was afraid to meet with her and her husband alone. The teacher misdiagnosed her son’s reading level. Now, because Shawnta and her husband are educated, this made the teacher fearful and concerned. The black parents who are educated will either push back or ask clarifying questions about the things that will make some teachers worry. Educated black people concern the masses because of how powerful we are when we know what’s up. 

Too often, parents are assigned the blame when children underperform in school. I believe parent involvement does impact student achievement. Teacher lounges are full of teachers who talk about how parents do not show up for things. They never talk about how they are afraid to talk to black parents when they do show up. In what world can someone spend 8 hours a day, five days a week with a child and not be able to have a 10-minute conversation with that child’s parent? 

To my black parents out there struggling to get a conversation with their child’s teacher, don’t give up. Press the issue and force the conversation. As long as you respect that teacher, they can not deny you the right to speak about your child. When you do have the conversation, don’t be afraid to push back or ask questions. 

To my teachers, afraid of talking to black parents, get over yourself. Be thankful the parent wants to engage with you. Be thankful the parent is available and answers the phone or email. There are many teachers out there begging and pleading for this relationship with their child’s parent, and you have it on a silver platter in front of you. If you don’t want to have conversations with black parents, you should not and cannot teach black children. 

Schools need more black parents, regardless of their socioeconomics to be warriors and advocates for their child’s education. Sometimes schools and teachers don’t always operate in the best interest of Black children. Engaged, vigilant parents must be the first and last line of defense to ensure their child gets what they need to succeed. 

Women Raising The Bar: Stevona Elem-Rogers

This article was first posted on

Bold. Trailblazing. Unapologetic. That’s the best way to describe this force of a woman. Stevona Elem-Rogers embodies the essence of the Aurate woman of substance. She is a womanist writer, educator, and orator (or as we prefer, AUrator) with a passion for innovative examination and advocacy of Black culture and womanhood. She received her B.A. from The University of Alabama in English and African-American Studies, and in 2007, she began her teaching journey by way of Teach For America – New Orleans and received her Master of Arts in Teaching from Louisiana College, with a concentration in Culturally Responsive Teaching, a pedagogical theory created and advanced by Black women scholars.

In spring 2016, education became the foundation of Black Women Are For Grown Ups, a digital campaign she launched alongside an ever popular t-shirts to celebrate — and heighten the visibility of — the full, complex narratives of Black women. This idea continues to inspire tangible projects and collaborations exclusively for Black women under the platform Project BWAFGU. 

Whether it’s curating Black women centered spaces or getting sticky palms for a raw, guerrilla art campaign, the idea behind her work is that it is artistic, intellectual, and accessible for all Black women. This is her life’s work, and it’s just the beginning. 

Name: Stevona Elem-Rogers

Title: Womanist writer and educator

What did you want to be growing up? At 13 I was introduced to Toni Morrison and what stuck with me was she taught at Howard University and became a writer. I thought that sounded like a lovely life, to teach and write.

What do you still want to be when you grow up? I look forward to owning and curating a gorgeous reading room dedicated exclusively to Black women writers. Guests will be able to purchase their works, fresh flowers and a bomb glass of wine.

What gets you out of bed in the morning? My ancestors! Also, I made a morning playlist on Spotify called Shine and it bangs.

What gets you into bed at night? I’m a night owl. At 1:00 a.m. I’m likely up reading about Afrofuturism in The Wiz. Ha! My mind is always on; only exhaustion can get me in bed.

Where is your favorite place? Dancing directly behind the brass band at a New Orleans second line.

What makes you laugh? Storytelling with my homegirls.

What’s on your bucket list? Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.

Favorite piece of book? For colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange.

Favorite piece of art? I will forever love the installation Out of One’s Skin by Armina Mussa.

Favorite past time? Reading at sunset.

How do you stay motivated? I watch Nikky Finney’s 2011 National Book Award acceptance speech.

What is the best advice you’ve received? Whatever good there is to get, get it, and feel good.

Which women have inspired you most in both your career and life? My grandmother, Lois Elem. She raised six children on her own during Jim Crow in Birmingham, Alabama while also working as a full-time nurse.

What does being a female in your industry mean to you? Being a Black woman writer is sacred work. I write in the tradition of Nikki Giovanni, Alice Walker, and Sonia Sanchez who taught me that our lives are worthy of high regard and record.

How do you hope to be an inspiration to others? I hope to inspire vulnerability. I created the ‘Black Women are for Grown Ups’ project in honor of Dr. Maya Angelou who openly used her past as a sex worker for collective healing and hope. She defined what it meant to hold authority over life experiences; this work exists to affirm Black women who are committed to walking in our full truth and require the same of those with whom we interact.

Back to School Joy

I asked my son how he felt about starting school this year. I decided not to post his response because like most kids starting back, He wasn’t happy. So I decided to move on and ask an educator we love so much, his old PreK teacher. I asked Mrs Varnado to briefly tell me how she feels about upcoming year. This is what she had to say.

“My fifth year of teaching is about to begin and I can honestly say that I am as excited for this year as I was for my first. I am looking forward to working with my students and their families so that they can be successful this school year. I am excited for the learning, laughter and love that will fill our classroom walls. I am prepared for the challenging days that will help me grow and learn alongside them. I set high expectations for my students because of my faith in their ability to succeed. I love that I get to share my love of learning each day. Soon, I will meet the twenty children who will fill up not only my roster, but my heart. I get ten short months to teach them and begin to mold them into the best possible people they can be. Yes, that job description may seem scary to some, but I love what I do and I am proud to be an educator. “

Madelynn Varnado PreK Teacher

I love hearing stories like this from educators. It makes turning my kids over to them much easier.

Optimism Alone Won’t Create a Successful School Year

This article was first posted here

The smell of education is in the air. Parents have bought uniforms. School supplies are packed up and ready to go. Teachers have completed their beginning of the year requirements, decorated their classrooms and have received finalized student rolls. Students are fully aware that summer break is shortly coming to an end. As the new school year comes upon us, there is a need to get a better grasp on a more sufficient and efficient level of education. In order to accomplish that goal, I believe that a fundamental commitment to education by parents and teachers is of the utmost importance. Our children need to be provided the tools for them to progress in life when they become of age. Sure we all have optimism when it comes to life’s goals but I’m talking about a recommitted zeal to the development of our children’s foundation, an intentional acceptance that more work needs to be done and a pledge that better home to school partnerships are at the forefront of our short and long term plans. I have listed some ideas that I believe would go a long way to making not only this school year better but change the course of progressive education in the future


  • Make Your presence known!

There is no one who will speak up for your children or represent them better than you.

Follow this link to see tips on how to be an effective advocate for your child

Clearly state what you envision academically to your child. It is said that attitude is everything and studies have shown that students are 81% more likely to finish high school when parents express high hopes and solid expectations

Introduce yourself to everyone in your child’s school building from the Head of School to the Custodian, they should all know your name.

  • Stay involved in your child’s education

You, a relative or a close family friend should be actively checking homework and assisting your child with their lessons away from school

Encourage reading and actively engage in reading with your child. It will increase their skills as well as give them a greater interest in their own education and school

Check for all information coming from the school(letters in backpack, text, email, voicemail and the school’s Parent Portal)

  • Know You and Your child’s rights

You can find Parents and student right at these links

and the Parents’ Bill of Rights for Public Schools


  • Encourage and support parental efforts

Engaged parents have a right to advocate for their kids give them your support plus the partnership will make educating children more efficient

Be an extension of home reinforcing a positive attitude plus remind students of hopes and expectations expressed by their parents

The families that you serve should be aware of everyone who may service children in their school. They should also have access if requested to any information on any person employed or contracted with the school

  • As families set new goals give them the support to make those goals possible

Realize that students have interesting support system, they come in many shapes and forms. Knowledge and understanding of each family’s circumstances goes a long way in educating each student properly

A family’s encouragement and engagement with homework and reading may depend solely on their personal abilities. I believe this doesn’t mean they are not involved but are limited in their effectiveness, assist them if necessary

Make yourself available. I know emails create a paper trail but nothing is more inviting and comforting as a phone call or face to face meeting

  • Be allies to parents on this education journey

Let parents know that they and their children have rights

Trust goes a long way in establishing great partnerships

These elements I have listed are essential and vital to making education outcomes more efficient for all parties involved. I know for a fact that most of these elements are not unfamiliar to us, but I believe that we have collectively taken them for granted. I believe complacency must end. We must get back to the time when we took pride in taking care of our neighbor, when we handled business and when we went the extra mile to get the job done. The success of our kids and our future is dependent on us embracing this work. Let’s show our kids that we care more than ever, while getting back to the basics. So let’s start this new year with both optimism and a committed effort. I truly believe it’s easier than we know!

4 Tips for Parents to Get Into Back to School Mode

It’s the end of July and here we are, already preparing for back-to-school. It’s a time that almost every mother—especially stay-at-home-moms— are rejoicing. We finally get our house back. I don’t know about you but my grocery bill has gone up and I finally just gave up on cleaning my house. I mean, what’s the point? 

In the coming weeks, all of that will change. I will have order and structure once again. Over the summer I honestly just let my kids run wild. No naps, no real bedtime and the obscene amount of time they’ve been on their electronics—y’all need to take my mom card away. This morning my son woke up and said, “Hey mom guess what? I had a dream about sonic the hedgehog…” as he was talking, I pretty much spaced out—I’m so tired of hearing about that little blue creature. I stopped him mid-sentence and said Ev, you start school in two weeks so today we will start preparing. He basically looked at me as if I said I was going to take all his games away and throw them in the trash. I’m really kicking myself because I should have started preparing him, or better yet, kept him on a schedule all summer. But I didn’t. 

So let’s start now. Here are a few things I’m doing to get OUR mind right for school: 

  1. Introduce a routine —Ok, as I said, my kids have pretty much been falling asleep anywhere and at whatever time. For your sanity and mine, let’s get them back on schedule. During the school year, my kids eat at 5:30pm, take a bath at 7pm, and head to bed at 8pm. Yes, I run a tight ship when I’m on it. I will definitely be earning back that mom card, y’all. 
  2. Review school material — Before you turn on the TV or give them their tablets and gaming device, have them do some stimulating work. Today I went online and printed out a few worksheets in math, reading, and science. Honestly, since his head has been in a screen all summer, I started off by doing some Kindergarten review and then we moved into first grade work since he will be a big first grader this year.
  3. Turn off the TV — Now, excuse me while I go turn ours off. It’s going to be a shock to them once school starts when you go cold turkey and say no TV, it’s homework time. So if you’re like me and can’t mentally deal with the teeth sucking, stomping and the “awww man,” you should start this now. Get them used to not seeing their favorite show at 4:00 in the afternoon. Again, establish that routine. It’s back to school time kids. (Sips wine)
  4. Back-to-school shopping —Bring them shopping with you. I know that may sound crazy, but it might actually get them excited. (Warning: It might also backfire.) I’m going to bring my two shopping with me so they can pick out their own school backpacks, lunch boxes, and supplies. Mine are still so young that they love to be involved. I can’t promise it will work with teenagers.

I hope this list helps you jump start your back-to-school preparation. The countdown has started, y’all.

The Louisiana Parents’ Bill of Rights Turns 1: How Are Schools Doing?

By Gary Briggs

This article was first posted on

Since I joined EdNavigator as the organization’s very first Navigator, almost four years ago, our team has worked with nearly 500 New Orleans families across our city to support them in their pursuit of the best possible educational experiences for their children and themselves. That support might mean addressing their academic worries, making sure high-flying students get the challenge they need, finding summer programs, applying to college, and much more.

But sometimes, it’s not nearly that complex. Sometimes, it’s about a calendar. 

Let me explain. In the course of our work, my teammates and I noticed an important pattern: Many of our families didn’t have ready and easy access to basic information about their kids’ schooling—things like dates of the school year or fees they’ll owe for any “extras” (like graduation caps and gowns or field trips). We also saw family after family struggle to get their children’s academic records in a timely fashion, keeping them from getting the support they needed. 

Last year, Act 547, the Louisiana Parents’ Bill of Rights, set out to change that. When the Bill of Rights passed last August, it promised parents the right to clear and consistent lines of communication with school, and it clarified several types of information that parents must legally have ready access to. Specifically, Act 547 determined that schools are now required to display their annual calendar, uniform requirements, and any school fees (including an explanation for where that money was going), all on their school’s website. Importantly, Act 547 also requires schools to turn around students’ academic records within 10 business days.

It’s been almost a year since Act 547 passed in Louisiana, and we wanted to know how Orleans Parish schools were doing. Are schools holding up their end of the bargain and following through with the commitments required by the Parents’ Bill of Rights? Most important, are schools meeting the spirit of law, by making communication with parents easier and more transparent?

To find out, we put ourselves in the shoes of a parent: If we needed to find this information, could we find it? This wasn’t a scientific analysis, to be clear. But we scoured the websites of every school overseen by the Orleans Parish School Board, looking for the key information required by the new law. It turns out that while there have been some positive changes since the implementation of the Bill of Rights, there’s plenty of room for improvement.

Overall, we found that about 60 percent of all schools are out of compliance on at least one of the three key requirements of Act 547. (We looked primarily at calendars, lists of fees, and uniform requirements, since it’s almost impossible to tell how many schools are complying with the academic records requirement using publicly available information alone.)

On calendars and uniform requirements, most schools are doing all right. About 86 percent of OPSB schools have calendars posted on their websites, and about 85 percent have clear uniform requirements posted. But less than half (45 percent) identify fees on their websites.

Even where schools are technically meeting the requirements, it isn’t always easy to actually access the information—violating what we believe is the spirit of the law. We often found ourselves scrolling through lengthy student handbooks to find uniform information, for example, or in some cases staring at two calendars with conflicting dates. The goal here is not to have fine print buried in a long document, where parents could find it if they had the time and energy to dig around. And it isn’t to make parents guess at what information is accurate versus what might be out of date. The goal of the Parents’ Bill of Rights is to give parents easy access to basic, important information from their children’s schools. It should make parents’ lives easier, save them time, and help them plan ahead to support their kids—whether that’s academically, by saving up for that special end-of-year field trip, or by ensuring that they don’t miss class time because they’re not meeting the dress code. 

Sure, having information available in some form is better than nothing. But with a few simple improvements to school websites, parents could have much clearer, more transparent information. Why not use tabs to make it easy for families to jump to what they’re looking for, or highlight key information on the home page? Schools might look to Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary as an example. Their website features an entire section for “Families,” with each piece of information clearly labeled. Under “Expectations of Parents,” uniform requirements and school fees are easily accessible, and the homepage offers an expandable calendar. With a little more attention paid to details like these, schools could not only meet the letter of the law, but also allow parents to get back to the much more important business of supporting their children.