The Second Line Blog

Women Raising The Bar: Stevona Elem-Rogers

This article was first posted on https://auratenewyork.com/

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

Parents

  • 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

https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/partnering-with-childs-school/working-with-childs-teacher/10-ways-to-be-an-effective-advocate-for-your-child-at-school

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

https://www.laaclu.org/sites/default/files/field_documents/2015_KYR_Students_Rights.pdf

and the Parents’ Bill of Rights for Public Schools

https://law.justia.com/codes/louisiana/2014/code-revisedstatutes/title-17/rs-17-406.9


Educators

  • 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 https://www.ednavigator.com

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.

It’s time to admit Diane Ravitch’s troubled crusade derails honest debate about public education

This article was first published on citizenstewart.com

The longstanding arguments for charters could still be had in clean exchanges between judicious people – sans Ravitch – if we seek understanding and progress.

I should start adding a qualifier when I say the former scholar and historian Diane Ravitch is the Ann Coulter of education commentary.

In fairness, Coulter has better manners and makes more attempts to employ logic as she “owns” the libs with verbal Jujitsu.

Ravitch, by contrast, has fallen irreparably into polemics so much that her daily blogs put her in league with Alex Jones’ made-for-YouTube Info Wars.

Along those lines, her blog-fart today ties “the charter industry” to the “infamous pedophile and “super-rich” Jeffrey Epstein.

“In 2013, his foundation issued a press release announcing that he looked forward to the dominance of charter schools in Washington, D.C. and predicted that they would succeed because they were unregulated,” she crows.

Then she offers crude analysis of why people like Epstein would want to privatize schools in D.C.:

People often ask me, “Why do the super-rich cluster to the cause of privatization?” The Answer is not simple because many different motives are at work. Some see giving to charters as a charitable endeavor, and their friends assure them that they are “giving back,” helping poor children escape poverty. Others want to impress their friends in their social strata, their colleagues in the world of high finance. Being a supporter of charter schools is like belonging to the right clubs, going to the right parties, sharing a cause with other very rich people.

If you are reading this you probably know that Ravitch was once a charter school supporter, and that makes it fair to ask which camp of nincompoops she fell into?

Did she see charters as a “charitable endeavor,” or was charter support her attempt to “impress [her] friends in [her] social strata, [and her] colleagues in the world of high finance.”

Only she can say, but as an established scholar of education history (and a player in policy) it’s doubtful her support was so in want of a factual basis.

During testimony to Congress conservative William Bennett gave decades ago he invoked Ravitch as a bipartisan voice for school choice.

Regarding the school reforms that were advancing in Chicago under Mayor Daley and Paul Vallas Bennett declared “[t]he empirical evidence, now widely available, is irrefutable: Not only are many of our public-schools not getting better, they are getting worse. American students finish in the bottom half, and often near the bottom, in comparison to students from other industrialized nations.”

Then, after promoting the benefits of charter schools, he asked lawmakers to “follow my friend Diane Ravitch’s prescript” to:

…make Title I into a “portable entitlement” that would aid all poor kids regardless of what school they attend. This is the one way to assure that every single Title I child will receive Title I services at the school they currently attend. This is also the best way to assure accountability. If a parent is not satisfied with the Title I services they are getting, they can take their Title I dollars with them to the school or provider of choice; power to the parents, and not bureaucrats, in other words.

Was Ravitch’s support for school choice back then the result of suspicious philanthropy, or glossy marketing to mindless parents, or, more logically,  the result of her considerable scholarship by that point in her life?

Again, only she can say.

In the spring of 1997 she praised then-New York Pataki’s proposed charter school policies that allowed groups other than local boards to grant charters, allowed for an un-capped number of charters to open, and allowed these schools to hire teachers who weren’t state certified.

Why?

In supporting Pataki’s push she said:

It’s impossible to know whether a law permitting charter schools will emerge from this session of the Legislature; the opposition of the teachers’ union, which is the most powerful voice in Albany on education issues, is certainly not encouraging. This is unfortunate, for a large and vital network of charter schools in New York would offer hope to educators, parents, and students in troubled school districts and would promote higher academic standards for all the state’s public schools.

Why would she support such craven policies of such anti-democratic that today she maligns as wealthy pedophiles and privatizers? Projection much?

Forget that teachers’ unions – the ones Ravitch herself once admitted were the “most powerful voices in education” – today block legislation making it a crime for teachers to sexualize students, defeat resolutions that called for them to re-dedicate their profession to student achievement, and pay retail civil rights organizations to defeat the voices of their grassroots members.

Here’s the real kick to the taco, when Lamar Alexander pitched the idea that every D.C. school should be converted to a charter (in 1997, six years before Epstein arrived at the same conclusion) he ascribed this definition of charter schools to his friend Diane Ravitch:

Think of a charter school as a public school district with only one school. It receives public funds, agrees to meet clear academic standards and accepts all students who apply. Unlike existing public schools, it has a contract that can be revoked if the school fails to make good on its commitments.

If she were at all generous she would at very least admit the decency of long-term charter backers who hold valid theories for why charters improve the educational landscape. The longstanding arguments for charters could still be had in clean exchanges between judicious people – sans Ravitch – if we seek understanding and progress. The tensions between autonomy and regulation, local control and federal oversight, and public education as an institution or as a service to American learners could still be exercised by smart people truly seeking solutions to the inarguable problems of public schooling.

But not if we follow the zero-sum and divisive lead of Ravitch whose enemy-imaging toward those who differ on policy has escalated so far she no longer sees them as human. We’ll predictably end up in her abyss of false binaries, intellectual excursions, and forlorn paralysis.

Given Ms. Ravitch’s clever wits and stockpile of information I can’t imagine she leads us to that confused, somber place by accident. There is no better way to ensure the education establishment’s special interests – those who are among Ravitch’s most ardent disciples – are never brought to account than to ignore the brisk but level Ravitch of yesteryear and listen to the caustic and battled one before us now.

“He’s not my son, he’s our son”


“He’s not my son, he’s our son.”-Monteria Robinson

When Monteria  Robinson, the mother of Jamarion Robinson said those words, I felt it in my soul. Her son was shot 76 times by US Marshals in Atlanta.

I’m a mother of a black son. It could have been mine. 

He’s not her son, he’s our son. Moms of Black Boys United, Inc. (M.O.B.B. United) is a non-profit organization focused on impacting practices, perceptions and policies that affect the way law enforcement and society interacts with black boys and men. 

Founder Depelsha McGruder, a mother of two Black sons, started MOBB United as a Facebook group in July 2016. This group remains active and moms share photos of their sons, their accomplishments as well as their struggles. Since then, the movement has grown into several chapters throughout the United States. There is a chapter in Baton Rouge and the New Orleans chapter is being established.

  Moms of Black Boys United, Inc. provides information and support for moms of Black sons and promotes positive images of Black boys and men. The organization is dedicated to changing perceptions, encouraging self-care, and fostering understanding of the plight of Black boys and men in America by telling their stories, celebrating their accomplishments, and connecting them to opportunities. The group supports moms by encouraging strong family and community connections and sharing information that empowers them to navigate all of the institutions that interact with, influence, and impact our sons.

In commemoration of the organization’s third anniversary, M.O.B.B. United partnered with the “BeWoke.Vote” Campaign at the 2019 ESSENCE Festival and on July 6th, hosted its 2nd Annual “Champions of Change” Breakfast fundraiser to honor moms who have been key forces in the fight to advocate for our Black sons.

 Honorees included: Phaedra Parks; Baton Rouge Mayor Sharon Weston Broome; Monteria Robinson; and Korey Wise, Dr. Yusef Salaam, and Raymond Santana from the Exonerated Five. Guests enjoyed the soulful voices of the Royal Boys Choir and even participated in a live auction of a painting of the Central Park 5. 

As I listened to Dr. Yusef Salaam speak, I couldn’t help but think about my own son. These black men, who were boys at the time, were imprisoned for a crime they didn’t commit. They served prison sentences ranging from 6 to 13 years. The current President, who was an entrepreneur in 1989, spent $85,000 on ads in the paper, which Dr. Salaam said were actually “bounties” on their heads. He has yet to apologize. “When They See Us” is the story of the Central Park Five. I haven’t had the strength to watch it, but know that as a mother of a black son, I have to. 

I left this breakfast knowing that I have to join the fight. The truth is, we don’t know if and when our son will be the next hashtag. If we don’t protect them, who will? 

Take Action Today! 

If you’re a mom of a Black son and want to join with other moms to protect our sons from unfair treatment and brutality, join the advocacy movement! If you’re not a mom of a Black son, but support our cause to improve perceptions and ensure equal treatment for Black boys and men, please subscribe to MOBB United’s email list and donate to our cause.

Visit www.mobbunited.org 

Adults fail kids AGAIN with broken promises because of the “A” word . . .


Almost half of Kennedy’s graduating class of seniors weren’t eligible to be promoted during this year’s commencement exercises held in May, according to reports from the Lens last week.  Consultants were hired, resignations tendered, stories written, and social media platforms exploded with finger-pointing and blame being targeted at “the charter” system of public schools in New Orleans. Whether you support charters or direct run district schools, the common thread that must exist in any education system is the “A” word . . .(and no, not Autonomy); it’s ACCOUNTABILITY!  It’s a concept that has been weaponized inconsistently by the Orleans Parish School District over the last 3 years.

See, accountability is supposed to force the Charter School Board of Directors to make sure that the School Leader or Principal clearly understands that no instances of fraud, corruption, or malfeasance rise to the level of a full blown scandal.  Accountability is supposed to force the Principal to communicate unequivocally to his or her staff that grade changing is not allowed . . .EVER! Accountability is supposed to force the Superintendent to meet with Charter School Board of Directors to convey clearly that grade changes, fixes, or modifications aren’t allowed, unless exigent circumstances exist to warrant a grade change according to District policy.  And, accountability should force the Orleans Parish School Board members to speak publicly about how this tragedy will never happen again. Instead, what we’ll likely hear from the Superintendent, the Orleans Parish School Board members, the Charter School Board of Directors, and school Principals is the other “A” word; Autonomy! Unbridled autonomy has created a culture and environment of a passive governance model that lends itself to the “tail wagging the dog” and instances of fraud that have been unearthed at Kennedy and is highly likely occurring at other schools as well.

It’s time for the Orleans Parish School Board and the Charter School Board of Directors to wake up, engage, and hold school and network leaders ACCOUNTABLE, before the tragedy occurs.  This “wild, wild West” atmosphere that currently exists in the New Orleans Public School system will continue to encourage fraud, corruption, and malfeasance unless accountability becomes the north-star of governance principles in our city public schools.