When I embarked on a search for a new home a year ago, New Orleans was an easy choice for me. I had always loved her and her people.
New Orleans is the city that birthed the grandmother who raised me. My grandfather was from Louisiana also, but it was always New Orleans that loomed large in the lore of my family.
My grandparents made sure that people from New Orleans surrounded us. We attended St. Brigid Catholic Church, a large Catholic church with many people born and bred in New Orleans. We looked forward to the annual events put on by the Louisiana to Los Angeles Organizing Committee. We aspired to join the Knights of Peter Claver Ladies Auxiliary. We wanted desperately to share in the culture these people brought with them from “back home” and to share something with the aunts, uncles, and cousins who were privileged enough to call Louisiana home.
Before moving to New Orleans, I had not anticipated all of the many things that would make living here as an adult, with the newly minted privilege of being a high earning college graduate, challenging. I hadn’t anticipated being placeless here.
I now sit at the intersections of many communities that make life in New Orleans “interesting.” I am not from New Orleans. I am Black. I grew up poor, but am part of a new wave of gentrification in the city. I am a woman. I am queer. I work in education reform. It is impossible for me to go anywhere in this city or to engage in any conversation here, without thinking about the state of the Black community. I cannot help but wonder whether the work I, and so many of the (often white) people in my professional network, have dedicated ourselves to is having any real impact on the lives of the city’s most vulnerable children.
It is also impossible not to be reminded, constantly, of how far this city has to go with regard to the deeply embedded racial, social, and class hierarchies that still exist here.
And, so, it’s complicated.
I believe that a quality education is the surest and fastest route to gainful employment for the many New Orleanians who confront the challenges of economic and social isolation every day. They live far away in pockets of the city with abysmal transportation options. They work the lowest paid service industry jobs. And while they are the faces represented on most of New Orleans’ postcards, they have little access to decision-making power in this city.
I care about the state of public education in New Orleans not because I’m concerned with anyone’s ability to claim credit for “progress since Katrina,” but because the city I have always loved so much desperately needs all of her people to help her reclaim her rightful place as the cultural and arts powerhouse she is.
But Black New Orleans and White New Orleans only come together in support the Saints or for a cup of gumbo at Little Dizzy’s. They rarely feel united or are even in honest conversations about things that matter most. Add to that, education reformers—many who are white migrants—have too often ignored the valid concerns raised by community members.
Many of us who arrive here with time, talent and resources to lend are unsure of where to start. And so for those of us who are invited to both the Zulu Ball and the St. Patrick’s Day block parties, it’s hard to find our place.
We find ourselves standing up for the real progress that has been made over the past decade in New Orleans while also having to own that many of our colleagues could have done more to engage communities in deciding what schools they wanted or needed after the storm.
We find ourselves having to defend the motives of other transplants who wanted desperately to help a city recovering from disaster, but were perhaps a bit naïve in their understanding of the depth and complexity of the challenges ahead.
We find ourselves having to champion the causes of organizations whose work we support and believe in while acknowledging that more needs to be done to diversify their staffs—especially at the most senior levels of leadership.
We know that the past decade has been a critical period of time for proving what is possible in public education in New Orleans, but we also know that this city’s history is longer than a decade; its challenges deeply rooted and not solvable in such a short period of time.
Here’s what is maybe the most complicated: I, the black non-native education reformer and critic, have no place here.
So I, the black non-native education reformer and critic, who cares deeply about the city and its progress, am stuck.
It’s truly complicated.
Sharhonda Bossier is Vice President, Network Impact at Education Cities, a national nonprofit that supports and advises city-based education organizations on their efforts to grow great public schools. In addition to core advising work, Sharhonda utilizes her experience launching and leading a multi-state education engagement and advocacy organization to help our members develop the skills and capacity to engage much more effectively with stakeholders. Prior to joining the Education Cities team, Sharhonda co-founded Families for Excellent Schools where she developed their training program and overall parent engagement strategy.
This post originally appeared on Citizen Ed.
Saturday marked the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. People have been quick to talk about education in New Orleans after the storm, and to the extent that it fosters learning and progress, that’s a conversation that matters. New Orleans’ educators have been working hard for their students, before and after Katrina. And because of that hard work, we’ve seen progress in the last decade. From graduation rates to ACT scores to college enrollment, New Orleans’ students have made substantial gains.
But last week was about so much more than that. While many discuss where our teachers’ classrooms have come in a decade, our teachers are pressing forward with persistence for the audience that matters most—students and their families.
I’ve seen that spirit shine in a colleague of mine, Angele DeLarge. Angele grew up in New Orleans, and she taught for eight years in the city before beginning to work with me to coach new teachers. Last week, she wrote about the storm:
Thinking about the 10 years that have passed since Hurricane Katrina, the only time I really think of systematic changes are through conversations with others. Honestly and truthfully, my thoughts are much more personal and far more difficult to articulate than my stances on political, social, economic, and education issues.
I think about the exact moment I looked at the news and realized my home was underwater.
I think about the fact that we weren’t able to hear from my father for a week, as he stayed behind to rescue others.
People begin to tell you, “Aren’t you lucky that things have gotten so much better since the storm?” They remind you of how “bad” things were before.
They forget about the human experience.
They forget they are talking about your life.
Angele emailed this reflection to the group of teachers she works with. After her thoughts, she jumped right into links and resources titled, “Important Documents Driving our Work for Kids this Year.”
That struck me as extraordinary, and in our city, all too familiar. Angele, like so many great educators, keeps pushing on for children, no matter what. Like her father, who stayed in the city after the flood to help others, Angele’s first thought after her own pain last week was to be the change she wishes to see—to work for children.
After Katrina, the power of that persistence was so visible in leaders who pressed on despite the obstacles and who did incredible work for children. I think of the teachers who evacuated to Houston and went to the Astrodome and other shelters to search for New Orleans students. Upon arriving, they found some of the students they’d taught for just a few days before the storm. The students asked their teachers a question that everyone knew there was no answer for: what was going to happen with school this year? In the face of having no answers, they created one alongside longtime local educator Gary Robichaux. Gary guided them to create a makeshift school, one that later became permanent, so that students had a place to learn.
I’m inspired by the stories of educators who, in the absence of schools to work at, stepped up to help at FEMA centers. Folks would wait in long lines just because they “only wanted to talk to the teachers,” who had become experts at navigating the complex web of paperwork and support. Our city’s educators were there for students and families, even when the walls of their classrooms were not.
I think of Mary Laurie, a New Orleans native and veteran educator, who came back to New Orleans after the storm and opened the doors of her school a full year before the system was ready. She brought together a diverse team of veteran educators and new teachers to give children a place to learn, even before the city was fully reopened. Today, her school is a beacon of pride in our community.
I think of Adam Meinig, who began his career as an educator with Teach For America five years prior. Adam and other educators knew what the first Mardi Gras would mean to our city after the storm—and that many of our citizens would return still recovering and in need of fellowship with one another. So he spent an entire week walking up and down St. Charles Avenue giving beads to our city’s children and families with school contact information visible, recruiting children to come back to school before any information was centralized. Adam’s students are now sophomores in college.
Every day that I have lived and worked in this city, I have seen educators in New Orleans doing what Angele, Gary, Mary and Adam have done. They are extraordinary, but they are in good company. They are among countless others, those who have taught for two weeks alongside those who have taught for two decades, who press forward with pride and joy because that’s what children and families deserve. Above all the statistics and reports, beyond all the analysis and opinion, this moment of remembrance in New Orleans calls us to acknowledge what’s true—that our educators, families and students press on, despite the odds.
Through Stand for Children’s efforts to help parents to advocate for their children’s educational success, I have had the great privilege of getting to know hardworking parents all across the country with inspiring stories. Reflecting on the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and how it profoundly affected the New Orleans’ public school system, I wanted to share with you the story of Roshand Miller, a proud mother of three school-age children who was born and raised in New Orleans and then watched her city, her community, and her childhood get washed away.
Because stories about Katrina and education in New Orleans are so often told by outsiders, I wanted to provide you with Roshand’s unfiltered first-person perspective on the storm and the changes in the New Orleans schools that followed it.
So with that, here is Roshand Miller’s story. Jonah Edelman @
“The hurricane redefined my city in so many ways.”
In New Orleans, it’s common to speak of things as they were “before the storm” or “since the storm.”
I remember the days “before the storm” like a vivid dream. A week before it hit, I was in Houston, TX, living my life. Going to work, dating my new boyfriend (now husband), hanging out with friends, and just living. I knew a storm was brewing, but I wasn’t paying it too much attention. My mom was back in New Orleans getting ready to drive my sister to college in St. Louis, fully expecting to drop her off and return home.
We had no inkling of what was to come.
As the storm kicked up, my family back in New Orleans began to scatter. My grandmother went to one state, my dad and his family went to another. My mom, meanwhile, was rushing between states. I, on the other hand, was glued to the television, watching images of this grey beast churning in the ocean before finally making landfall.
It was there we saw the wind rip through familiar buildings, and it was there we saw the water coming down familiar streets. All we could think about was those family members left behind. We wanted to drive back down, but the news demanded we “don’t come back”.
My aunt, a police officer, and her family stayed in the city because emergency personnel were told not to leave. My other aunt and her family were also still in the city. They, along with my stepfather, fled to my mom’s house. We all thought that was the safest bet because, in case of flooding, it stood feet above the ground and had a second floor.
My mom was on the phone with my stepfather as the water came into the house. There was a calm panic in his voice before the phones went dead. It would be one week before we’d hear from them again. One week of watching the non-stop media coverage, trying to get any hint of information about the status of my family. One week of watching images of my city under water, looking for landmarks close to the house, trying to determine how much water was in my childhood home. One week of my family being trapped on the second floor of my mother’s house, after it was overcome with flood waters.
It would be days before they would get out, only to be trapped again on the interstate leading out of the city. My aunt, the police officer, found them and was able to get them water. She talks of breaking down and crying right there, having to leave her sister, her nieces, and her nephews. We were crying in Houston too, praying that everyone was alright.
Days after the storm and the levees broke, we found out that people were being bussed to the Astrodome in Houston. We went there to search for my family. It was there I saw a sea of people crowding every inch of the stadium. I remember the sounds, the smells, the blue cots, and the disparity of a thousand faces. I spoke with one family, a young man and a woman with an infant in tow. The father told us of how he floated his newborn on a mattress, wading through debris and passing dead bodies to escape what was left of New Orleans. It was all just too much for me at that point, but I had to stay strong to help find our missing.
The next few days were an emotional rollercoaster as we located family members one by one, and took them back to my home in Houston. At this point, my one-bedroom apartment was now home to 13 people. I joked during those trying times about my tiny place turning into a “refugee camp.” We would eventually find out that my mother’s house, which served as sanctuary during the storm, was damaged, but salvageable. We would be able to return home.
We were blessed, but so many lost so much more.
“Rebuilding and remaking my city after the storm.”
Ten years later, I’m back in my hometown. I’ve been back for seven years now. I came home for several reasons, but one of those reasons was to be a part of the rebuilding and remaking of my city. My family is back. New Orleans is back. We survived the storm.
I am a different person now–with different concerns and responsibilities. I have been married for almost 10 years. We have 3 beautiful children: ages 7, 6, and 1. We chose to raise our kids in my hometown, but things are different from when I was a kid. Back then, you went to your district school. It was close to home, but, if it was failing and you couldn’t afford private school, you had no choice. That’s all changed.
These days, we have more of a choice, and that’s a good thing. If the school in your area is failing, you have options. Parents now have access to quality schools – much different from the system before the storm. We have what’s called a One Application system for most schools; parents have the ability to rank which school they want their children to attend. Does it work? It depends on who you ask. I’m blessed. I did my research and ranked my choices. My top choice schools don’t participate in the new system, plus everyone is trying to get their kids in those schools–so they were long shots. The OneApp process, however, did work in our favor. We were able to enroll our daughter in our first choice school, Akili Academy, a public charter school. Akili is new to our city (post Katrina), and they’re doing good things for their scholars. They recognize that we are a village working together to educate the children.
But not every NOLA parent is so lucky under the new process. Some parents have kids, who are siblings, in different schools. Some have kids in schools far from home and their jobs. Some parents have to struggle to find transportation to schools with no buses. And some kids are still in failing schools. The process is far from perfect.
So how do we make it better? By making all of New Orleans’ schools better. Parents shouldn’t have to fight to get into a handful of “good schools.” Some don’t like the use of that term, “good schools,” but that’s the world we’re living in right now. We are making progress, and as a parent, I own that process. We all have to own it, and by owning it, we have to get involved. Involvement can be different for different people. For some, it’s joining the Parent Teacher Organization or sitting on the board of a charter school. For others, it’s staying in constant contact with their child’s teacher.
Me personally, I chose to work with Stand for Children Louisiana as a parent leader, and it’s benefited me greatly. I try to stay informed, but Stand has educated me about different issues facing our schools— the transition to higher standards, OneApp, School Board Leadership, etc. I’ve always advocated for my kids, now I have the tools to try and help every child in my community.
“Where we go from here.”
Some work has to be done on a larger scale. The best way to get continued improvement in our new school system is for parents to put continued pressure on charter boards, the school system, the legislature, and whoever else has an iron in the fire. As parents, we have our kids’ best interests at heart. We need to make sure that legislators, school board members, charter board members, principals, and teachers have our kids’ best interests in mind, as well. These are our kids and our schools. Let’s make sure we have a seat at the table so we’re not left just watching, like I had to helplessly just watch Katrina ravage my city.
It has been 10 years since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. But contrary to those images on the screen, we were not destroyed. We rebuilt, and we are here. We are still rebuilding, and there is still work to do, and we all must do our part. Ten years from now, my kids will be 17, 16, and 11 and still in New Orleans Public Schools, so I have long range goals for the school system. I’d like to see the “A” schools partnering with the “F” schools to show them how it’s done. That way, we aren’t still fighting in 2025 to get into that handful of “good schools.” When all of our schools and students excel, our city will reap the benefits.– New Orleans native Roshand Miller, 37, lives in the city’s 8th Ward with her husband and three children.
August 29, 2005 is a date I will remember for the rest of my life. I personally lost a lot, but also discovered a new sense of resilience and determination. Just two days earlier, I was one of 100 Edna Karr High School coaches and students who were huddled together in New Orleans, learning that our first football game of the season would be canceled due to a storm in the Gulf of Mexico. We all assumed we would return to New Orleans in a day or two to play the game, and that a normal school year would follow. But that distant storm turned out to be Hurricane Katrina, and in the days that followed, our city was devastated beyond recognition. August 27, 2005 marked the last day that I would ever see numerous students, parents, and families — and the first day of a very different New Orleans.
I relocated to Baton Rouge for the next 12 months, and during that time, I often thought of the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling in hopes of processing the sense of loss that followed. After the hurricane I was fired like all other educators in New Orleans due to a lack of students in New Orleans and struggled greatly with the emotional toll that accompanies the uncertainty of not knowing whether my students or coworkers were safe, secure, or even alive.
As we now approach the 10th anniversary of Katrina, I find myself thinking about something I do every year around this time: pausing to remember all those students, families, and coworkers. In December 2005, Edna Karr High School reopened to serve the students and families returning to rebuild their homes, communities, and city. It has been a long process, but now, nearly 10 years after the hurricane, I can truly see the academic progress of our city’s youth. Now, more than ever, I salute those students, families, and teachers who, before the storm and especially after the storm, continuously fight for our students — and our city.
Just think of how far we’ve come as educators: Since 2005, New Orleans has cut the percentage of students attending schools labeled “Academically Unacceptable” or “Failing” from 62% to just 7%. We’ve more than tripled the number of students attending schools graded as A, B, or Cs by the state—from 20% to 67%. Within my organization, InspireNOLA Charter Schools, our graduation is now 100% and our schools are now regarded as top academic institutions with high parent demand.
New Orleans students have closed the overall performance gap with their peers statewide from 23 percentage points to just 6 points. For African-American students, the passage rate on state tests is now five points higher in New Orleans than it is statewide. Additionally, 40% of students with disabilities are passing state tests—a huge improvement from the 11% who passed those tests in the years before and immediately after the storm.
These numbers make it clear that the changes made over the past ten years have produced significant growth that is broad, sustained and meaningful. Most notably, the K-12 system in New Orleans is beginning to accomplish one of its most important goals: sending students to college with aspirations to graduate and then return to New Orleans to continue to rebuild their local communities. For the first time in recorded history, the rate of students from New Orleans entering college matches the average for the rest of Louisiana. As those students find success on college campuses and eventually return to New Orleans as active young leaders, they will help overturn decades of low expectations, poverty, and violence in our city.
As I think back on some of the arguments that have surrounded our schools and education reforms over the last decade, I often think once again about Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem “If.” With its description of how to overcome adversity and obstacles, this poem is a source of light in times of struggle. And in this moment of city-wide reflection and nationwide discussion as we approach August 29, 2015, there is one stanza I return to repeatedly:
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools.
As we hear some of the critics debate our students’ progress, I want them to know that New Orleanians know all about stooping and building their lives with worn-out tools. This is a city that has rebuilt from fire, plagues and floods many times over the last 300 years but has never lost its deep sense of pride, love, and hope. To know New Orleans is to understand that we believe in a rebirth and progress; it goes hand in hand in living so close to the delta.
During these last ten years, the first half of Kipling’s stanza has been put to the test for too many of our students. Because while something incredible has been happening in our schools, our students have been told by some critics that those incredible things aren’t possible: they aren’t actually graduating from high school, aren’t succeeding at higher rates than before, and aren’t enrolling in college programs.
I realize more now than ever that nothing I write will convince some national pundits to stop their bickering over whether or not New Orleans school reforms are working, but, as we approach Katrina’s 10th anniversary, I hope we can all focus on saluting students, teachers, and families for our miraculous rebirth. We have rebuilt our city, neighborhoods and most importantly have brought a renewed sense of purpose to our families and students.
As we approach the anniversary of Katrina, I once again lead our New Orleans students with a chant we use at InspireNOLA charter schools: MOTIVATED, MOTIVATED, down right MOTIVATED! You check us out! You check us out!
InspireNOLA Charter Schools
Chief Executive Officer
This story was first published by The Seventy Four, a non-profit, non-partisan news site covering education in America.
Here’s What I Want to See in the #Next10: Schools That Live in the Reality of the Children We Hope to Educate
I was asked a question, a very good question the other day. The question was “What do you want to see in the next 10 years regarding education in New Orleans?”
The answer is very simple yet very complex. What I need to see is a foundation that listens to the people who are actually impacted.
I want to see schools that are modern with up-to-date pools, gyms with up-to-date equipment, laboratories, technology labs, robotics labs, woodshops, electricians classes, Mason Taylor’s fashion and design classes, and media classes with everything stocked to deal with production to set design.
What I want is to see people from my city employed, citizens who look like the children that they are educating—thus making it more believable for young people to think that they can get an education and obtain jobs. It is very hard, very very hard to believe that college education is the key when you see college-level educated sisters, brothers and neighbors unable to receive employment in the city where they were born and raised.
Young people are learning what you’re teaching them, but they are also learning that racism and disenfranchisement is the way of modern development.
I want to see schools with critical multicultural pedagogy. I want to see schools understand the impact of racism, but also systemic oppression against black people in the South. That if you are black you have to fight ten times harder for any breadcrumb.
We need institutions to prepare them for the work of the real world they are stepping into, not the world we wish they were stepping into. That we look at the best practices which we have created for other countries that they have put into use like Finland, which have some of the best school systems of the world.
I wish that we had schools that understood that P.E. and recreational time outside aren’t optional—they are necessary for physical, mental, and emotional health and social development. I wish that we understood that early childhood brain development does not lie. That children need certain fundamental things to develop properly and that you cannot always test stages of children in early childhood. That the idea that children develop differently is not a theory, but a proven fact. It’s something we all know if we think about ourselves and our friends as young children, and think about how successful some of us are and some of us are not. I wish we actually honored this basic knowledge instead of throwing everything that we know, our grounded experience and knowledge, out the window.
I want to see reciprocity come to New Orleans, respecting the people and the culture. Not in a National Geographic, we need to tour and talk to these people kind of way, a we know what’s best for them kind of way, but in a we are equal human beings and what do you need kind of way.
I’ve often felt like a National Geographic animal since Katrina. Everybody was looking to study and take pictures of us but no one was actually listening to us. People write papers about poor black people in New Orleans, people have discussions and debates over what should happen to us. Which is very similar to what you would do with the National Geographic animal, except I doubt people would move into their habitat and push them out. No one would move into the elephant’s area, have a tenant, and say “you know what elephants, you go live at the edge of the forest because we’re making it better for you by living here.”
The exception is that even though they would speak for and take picture of us just like they would do for National Geographic animals. The fact that they would displace us shows us that we do not even have the same respect or are treated as well as those National Geographic animals. I know that I’m reaching for the sky with this hope, but I want to be treated like a, you know, full-fledged human being. I know it’s a lot I’m asking though.
I want to talk about the kind of school I went to for a minute. I went to a little hippie school where I got to choose what I would learn for half of the day. If there weren’t a teacher who could teach me what I wanted to learn, they would find a community member that could. I was told that I was brilliant and was going to be an incredible writer even though I was dyslexic and two grade levels behind. I was bad at things like spelling, but I was good at things like processing large chunks of information. I understood the big picture framework that my world worked in and everything around me was affected by. That whatever was happening in the world would defiantly impact me. It was understanding that if Johnny didn’t eat his lunch it wasn’t just his problem. That he was going to be cranky and disrupt the class that I was in, including me in the problem as well. I also understood that it wasn’t his fault, that he could be allergic to the food that they were serving or he didn’t have the money to buy lunch today. But that if I was to truly have a day without problems it was my responsibility to make sure that Johnny and everyone else was okay too.
But somehow that has gotten lost. They keep talking about the “culture of violence.” Our mayor keeps talking about this culture of violence, talking about the black community, yet he never talks about how the culture of violence is perpetrated on us. This is not saying that we don’t have criminal activity going on in the black community; I wouldn’t say that because we have a whole underground economy. I’m just saying that if there weren’t an underground economy there would be a lot of hungry children in New Orleans.
Yeah I said it.
So if the only job you can get as a parent or even a student is a minimum wage job, the rent is between $900-$1300 a month for one bedroom apartment. The electric is higher; the water is higher, yet the wages aren’t. How is one to pay their bills, feed their children, and not move away? The answer is the message that this sends: “Move away please, we don’t want you.”
And this message is being received by children when they are being sent to far away schools that are run by people that don’t look like them but who can easily afford to pay the rent to live in the city.
Now the question that started this was about education, and what I would like to see going forward. But what people don’t seem to understand is that all systems are linked—housing, jobs, and education.
This is true when a child moves every six months because her parents are evicted and don’t make enough money to feed the child. They are not eating, they have no safe place to play, and if that same child is on the bus for ten hours a day, that child is then impacted by all those systems.
There is also the stress of the parents who are unable to provide safe shelter and three meals a day for their child, who are unable to drop their child off to school and pick them up. If you are a child and one of your parents applies for job assistance, then applies for a job and doesn’t get it, they are frustrated, stressed out. They probably still have trauma disorders, PTSD from the storm that is untreated, affecting your social, emotional, and overall sense of safety and well-being.
To ignore what is happening to people that is so young, to poor black people, in a system full of poor black children is ridiculous and preposterous. To say that it is not our problem in education is also ridiculous and preposterous; for children to succeed in school but for their people to not succeed in any other way is ridiculous.
I’ve heard people say, “I want to focus on the children, I can’t be worried about adult problems.” But the adult’s problems are the children’s problems. I don’t know if the people saying these things have short-term memory loss, but if they remembered being a child, having your parents keep you safe and having your bed warm, that was important. Not having dads and saying that they are going to succeed in spite of it, having children who are in homeless shelters, children who move 12 times in one year and are getting good grades, children who live in their parents’ cars and eat one meal a day, children who in the summertime lose weight because they are not getting their school lunches and their parents don’t make enough to even feed them once a day. Yeah, some of those children score high and succeed, but can I mention how much better they will be doing if they were safe and secure?
By the way, high grades do not promise a successful life, since grades do not account for social and emotional development. Ted Kaczynski had great grades, and he is one of our most notorious killers. I can’t say that we could have prevented him from turning out the way he did, but we have to focus on holistic learning. We have to understand that we are human beings and that we develop in a variety of ways and go through a variety of developmental stages. That we are not just widgets on an assembly line. This is key to education. And if we are going to reform education, we should at least have education reform for humans, not robots.
I hope we can continue to report on the reform in our schools. I hope we can continue to look forward with the understanding that schools probably look different, but to recognize that foundational understanding of early childhood and adolescent development cannot be tossed aside.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs cannot be tossed aside; children do need food, shelter, and safety for them to self-actualize. This is proven, we have to live in reality if we want our children to survive reality, so I suggest now that we demand an education system that lives in the reality of the children we intend to educate. And if the reality is too troublesome and problematic, then change it.
I hope you’ll join me in changing it, in making this city at least a better place for all children, families, and community. Thank you.
Ashana Bigard (@ashanabigard) is a parent and community activist in New Orleans.
My name is Jabari Walters and I am a recent New Orleans high school graduate, soon to be LSU undergrad. For most of my life, I never thought I would leave New Orleans or go to college. But my teachers saw things in me that I never saw in myself. With their help, I learned what it means to persevere.
I am the fourth of five children in my family that grew up in Gretna and New Orleans. Back in Gretna, family was everywhere, watching my every move. My grandmother Sharon a registered nurse, lived down the street, my great uncle was around the corner, and my father, who is from Trinidad, was the neighborhood handyman, always there to help when someone called. We couldn’t afford much growing up, with my father working construction and my mother holding down several part time and full time jobs while also attending school, but that never got us down.
When it came to being frugal, grandma Sharon was a force to be reckoned with, dragging us to five different grocery stores in one day just to get the best deal. And instead of spending money on vacations we couldn’t afford, my mother would take us to the library, exposing us to different cultures through books. One of my favorite memories was making dinner from a Caribbean cookbook while listening to my father’s Soca & Calypso CDs.
When I was seven, we moved to a different neighborhood in Gretna and I attended McDonogh 26 where I faced bullying from both classmates and my third grade teacher. I didn’t like my new school, where none of my classmates wanted to read and my teachers didn’t seem to care. My teacher was always telling me that I needed medication, I was stupid, and that I was incapable of graduating high school. So I lost hope in my education and started cutting class. At that point, I was completely unmotivated to learn. I failed the third grade.
Things went from bad to worse when Hurricane Katrina hit. We moved to Newnan, GA, to be near my mother’s family who had moved there a month before us. Two months after the storm, grandma Sharon passed away. In the classroom, it was very difficult to focus. The sadness that I felt over my grandmother’s death and the storm made everything seem impossible. Georgia’s curriculum was also much more advanced than what I was used to in New Orleans. I used to stutter in class when my teacher asked me to read out loud. The other kids would make fun of me when I struggled, saying: “Why don’t you know this?”
When we returned to New Orleans two years later, I was still behind by one grade level. That meant that all of my friends were in the fourth grade, while I was in the third. It was too difficult to deal with, so my mother let me finish my school year out at Shirley T. Johnson/Gretna Park. In the sixth grade, I went to Martin Behrman Charter School, an arts school where I learned to play the drums.
At Behrman, I was still having issues with my classes. But when I met my eight grade math teacher, Ms. Hampton, everything began to change. She knew that the effort I was putting into my work was mediocre, but I was eager to continue playing the drums. She made it clear that I wouldn’t be able to do the things in life that I enjoyed, like music, if I didn’t take my schoolwork seriously. I agreed to let her tutor me.
That year, I passed the state’s LEAP test with one advance and three masteries. When I began to understand math, I felt like I could do anything. My grades started to improve, and I took her words of encouragement with me to Edna Karr High School. There, I really surprised myself. I continued to play the drums and my band director, Mr. Herrero, helped me start a brass band when I was still a freshman.
In my senior year, I won the Principal’s Award, the Golden Cougar Award, and the Horatio Alger Scholarship worth $10,500 for my leaderships and academics. I didn’t think I had it in me, but I had taken every opportunity that was handed my way by the teachers that believed in me. I knew I wanted to work in construction like my dad, so I started to view life as if I were building a house: the foundation was music, the roof was college, and everything in between was my high school career.
One of my favorite books is Hatchet, the story of a teenage boy named Brian who is stranded in the woods after his plane crashes. Brian had to learn how to build fires, shelter, and hunt for food just to survive, which took both mental and physical strength. It was a valuable story, because it helped me understand how to be resilient and bounce back. I thought of this story around the time the recession hit. I was 14 and my mother was struggling to pay the bills. I asked my mother to take me to Lowes the to buy a lawn mower and trimmer with the money she made from selling her second car. Soon I was waking up at 7AM just to knock on doors to get lawn mowing customers. Some days all I got were doors slammed in my face. But I kept going, and my perseverance eventually paid off.
When I think back on how I gained the strength to overcome the hard times, I can’t single out one person or thing that inspired me. But I do think back to my teachers and know that I would not be where I am today without them. People like Ms. Hampton, Mr. Hererro, my college advisors Amanda Lu and Emily Ferris—who told me in ninth grade that I would work with her as a student ambassador my senior year. They all saw things in me that were always there—I just needed help seeing them for myself.
This weekend distinguished gentleman wearing crimson and cream will flood the streets of The Crescent City as the New Orleans Alumni chapter welcomes the 82nd Grand Chapter Conclave Celebration of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity.
The weekend kicked off with what David Johns, Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans called the most important conversation of the weekend. While others called it,
One of the most relevant meetings happening amongst the most influential men of color in our nation about saving ourselves. #KappaTownHall
— Brandon Duronslet (@BJDuronslet) August 12, 2015
There were two different panel discussions on “Building a Movement for Black Male Achievement.” The second panel focused on the Black Lives Matter movement and included panelists Morehouse College Professor Marc Lamont Hill; 4th year student at University of Virginia, Martese Johnson; Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson; Kenneth Polite, US Attorney of the United States in the Eastern District of Louisiana; Kappa Alpha Psi Foundation President, Adolphus Pruitt; and Gospel Singer, Byron Cage. The panel was moderated by David Johns.
Johns posed a question to the panelists, “What work is require for us to change the dominate narrative that exists about Black men that is also a barrier to the success of Black men? Marc Lamont Hill responded by suggesting that part of the work is in our lived experience, through mentors (Kappa Alpha Psi does this through their Guide Right mentorship program), by having Black male teachers in the classroom, he explains that there is something really special about being in the 6th grade and having a black male teacher and through these experiences the possibilities of what you can be and image for yourself opens up.
A few months ago Travis J. Bristol, Ph.D., Research & Policy Fellow at Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE) presented during a webinar hosted by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans. The research showed that during the 2014-2015 school year 1.9% of teacher in the US were Black male teacher while 2% were Latino male teachers in comparison to 13% white male teachers. While over 46% of children in the US are children of color, the majority of teachers in America are still white at 82%. The diversity-gap widens in black and urban cities like New Orleans where the majority of the public school student population is students of color.
One thing that often dominates the narrative and prevents black men from achieving success in the classroom is the ideology that they are somehow incapable of achieving. This notion is best articulated under the guise of “college is not for everyone”, however research shows that when students of color are taught by a teacher of color they, achieve more. They achieve more because “Black male teachers describe positive beliefs about their Black students’ academic abilities.” Opposed to, “White middle-class teachers project negative socialized world views on Black students, which influences how they assess Black students and Black students’ performance.” While policies around recruitment must reflect the need to have more Black male teachers in the classroom we must also step up. We must step up to confront and reject the notion that “college is not for everyone” and we must really push for Achievement in every field of human endeavor.
It is my sincere belief that as parents we are our children’s first teachers. In that space, it is our job to intimately know what academic setting would garner the most success for them and as parents we are empowered to make that choice. We must be an advocate, by researching, finding and guiding them through that avenue.
I am the mother of four very different vivacious spirits that engage and understand the world through a unique lens and it is because of this, my older two children ages 16 and 15 are educated through a home school option called Connections Academy. Connections Academy is an online k-12 organization the gives parents who feel that their child would matriculate successfully from a home model the ability to mimic a school environment in the home. Prepping for the beginning of the academic year is different from my younger two who are in a more traditional French school setting at an institution named Lycee Francais. The main items on their “school supply” list is two working laptops one of which is supplied by the school. In that same avenue I have to make sure that my internet capacity is strong enough for them to participate in all aspects of their academic life, including access to online textbooks, videos and school events. I have received all of their text books, science lab and art supplies by mail last week so we have etched out a space for them to be able to work on those activities as needed. We make a schedule based on live lesson which are times when all students in that class log on and are taught live by the teacher, the school mandated lessons that are to be completed that week and other activities that they participate in. There is also a home school PE requirement that they have to record each day.
In order for them to maximize the opportunity of having the community and the world around them as their instructor I utilize my surroundings and community which help garner a productive work environment. I have been extremely luck in having a work environment, friends and family that have assisted in carving out space and opportunity for them to be able to complete all of their required work, facilitate and celebrate success and redirect when challenges arise.
My mother taught for 42 years and because of that, I consider myself the product of an educator. She required all of us to adhere to standards that she set that were above and beyond that which was set by each of our academic institutions and I choose to continue that tradition. In addition to the regular school curriculum, I give my children a personalized curriculum that I create based on personal academic, social and activities that engage their desires to participate in the community. They have research reports, language, art and community engagements that they all must participate in which are calculated into the schedule as well. The older two often complete school work by 2pm each day. However, projects, study time and personal standards often have them engaged well into the night and into the weekend.
I am often challenged with questions about their socialization with is fair because home school is often misunderstood and thought of as a type of isolation. However, it is the opposite. They are able to engage with other students and friends in a variety of settings that are focused on their individual strengths and weaknesses. They have opportunities to travel, participate in symposiums, attend conferences, and engage with work in a unique manner. Taylor was accepted to a program at Phillips Exeter Academy this summer where he took classes on social justice, journalism, and United Nations with students from 35 states and 52 countries. Jordan has traveled to Tennessee and participated in Music programs with students from all over the United States. Moreover, they have been able to learn how to self-prioritize and self-motivate, attributes that are often gained through trial and error when students enter college. All parents want our children to succeed; we want to give them every opportunity to be the best people they can. We are blessed that we have options and the ability to make thoughtful choices when it come to our children and their education.