Tivonsheia “Tee” Broussard grew up on Galvez and Charbonnet in the Lower Nine in a house her great grandfather built on his own. Before the storm she lived in this house with her mother along with her grandparents. Like most 16 year old kids, she was consumed by social media and the prospect of driving. She recalls a time when hurricane evacuations in New Orleans had little significance and instead, became the justification for extra vacation days from school.
On Friday, August 26, 2005, Tee’s mother made sure her family evacuated the city. Tee’s grandpa drove the family to Houston to make sure they were comfortable. Tee spoke with her mom after arriving safely in Houston and without much concern, she got off the phone and said, “See you Monday mom.” They went to sleep Friday and woke up Saturday to the chaos and devastation brought on by Hurricane Katrina. As TV stations began to air images of people on the roof of the Desire, she knew this wasn’t an ordinary hurricane “scare”. The storm had ripped through the city. She remembers hearing constant mumblings that families needed to begin planning their lives elsewhere and that parents needed to find new schools for their children to attend.
From 35 to Providence High
Tee was a 10th grader at McDonogh 35 when she left New Orleans. She had no home, no school and they hadn’t heard from her mother in over a week. They eventually left Houston to stay with family in Florence, MS, however, Mississippi offered Tee few opportunities; to the point of suffocation, so she was sent alone to stay in Charlotte, NC with an aunt. Her favorite childhood cousin lived there and her aunt promised to enroll her into the best school in the city.
Her aunt kept her word and enrolled her into Providence— a nationally high-ranked high school with over 50% of its student enrolled in Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Tee remembers seeing herself as a smart child and a good student— after all she had tested into “35”. Every morning she woke up before 5am to get to school. There, she was faced with challenging coursework. Her experience at Providence turned out to be too overwhelming so she left. She pleaded with her aunt to enroll her into her cousin’s school— Vance the local neighborhood high school. Vance wasn’t as challenging, her cousin went there and it was closer to home. As she thinks back she says, “It had to be the stress and pressure of the storm’s aftermath along with not being with my family and not being used to being a struggling student that made me leave Providence.”
Seeing Mom and Coming Home
It had been six months since Tee had seen her mom. Seeing her mom for the first time since the storm confirmed that her dream of going away for college and going to study medicine at Howard University would no longer happen. She knew she never again wanted to leave her mom’s side.
In February 2006, as promised her mom found a place, sent for her daughter and moved the family back to New Orleans. They rented an apartment in Gretna— the same apartment Tee rents for herself now. McDonogh 35 was one of the first schools to reopen and Tee was desperate and couldn’t wait to come back to see her Roneagle family. Prior to the storm there were kids she had classes with that she never spoke to and because of the deep need to connect to her city and to be in relationship with the familiar she without question became friends with anyone she could connect with via Myspace. These relationships filled some of the void of things that were lost in the storm.
On orientation day at “35”, the anticipation was thicker than summertime humidity in New Orleans, Tee recalls.
“I walked into the auditorium and knew I was home.”
As we look forward to the Next 10 years of education reform in New Orleans and those leading the work we have to look at the first graduating cohort of Urban Leaders for Equity and Diversity— ULEAD fellows.
In the way that civil right leaders and those in the movement gathered at the legendary Dooky Chase to share their ideas of how to end racial segregation and discrimination in the 1960’s—fellows of the inaugural ULEAD cohort came together in that same spirit to share their ideas on how they would move education forward in New Orleans. ULEAD is an education leadership academy to train and empower Black professionals in the city with the knowledge, resources, and network to act in support of creating sustainable quality educational options and policies.
The 26 fellows presented their post fellowship projects around increasing human capital in schools, establishing networks of support for black teachers, becoming board members of schools and organizations, engaging in neighborhood political grassroots organizations, STEM programs, establishing an afrocentric learning institution. Lori Vaugh, a native of New Orleans and speech therapist, wants to develop a mentorship program that trains and redirects student-athletes into career paths post high school and college athletic careers. She has been accepted into 4.0 Schools Essentials program this month where participants are given an opportunity to test their ideas for a product, school model, or service in an effort to launch their idea.
Dr. Howard Fuller gave the keynote address and shared from Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth with, “Each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it, in relative opacity.” He charged fellows to think about what their mission in New Orleans is and how exactly they would fulfill it. Below are two perspectives from ULEAD fellows and their thoughts about what education should look like in New Orleans.
It Takes a Village, by Jameeta M. Youngblood
Imagine, if you will, a community where education is not an option, but a necessity. Students are allowed to learn in ways that make sense to them. Each student has a personally tailored education profile that starts with the basic fundamentals of learning, and evolves based on the student’s college or career choice. Testing is not the only means to judge progr ess, because, let’s face it, everyone does not test well.
Community organizations and local businesses are instrumental in helping students develop their path in life through after-school mentoring programs. Parents, teachers, and school administration work together to ensure that students are on the right path and receiving the direction they need. The school board consists of people who are invested in the community and the success of the students.
My ideal school system is one where the whole community is involved and learning is a forethought and not an afterthought.
My Ideal Education System, by Jasmine Ratliff
My ideal education system heavily involves a sense of community where the entire family is part of the education process. I believe there should be a heavy emphasis on equality for all students regardless of a family’s financial resources or status.
There should also be appropriate individual evaluations of knowledge instead of standardized testing. The students should be taught by culturally competent, academically qualified, and well trained teachers. There should be competitive pay for teachers, not just leaders, incorporated with the progression of student learning.
Overall, my ideal education system would teach students how to be leaders, and push them to be productive and contributing members of society.
Hurricane Katrina unfolded via radio and television for me on my younger brother’s 10th birthday. While home from college, I dropped him off at school with cupcakes for his class and a close listen to what was happening on the Gulf Coast via The Tom Joyner Morning Show. Listeners from New Orleans and surrounding areas were calling in to share if they “would ride it out” or not. Little did they know…
I didn’t come to New Orleans to change the world, but I did come to change my world. Along the way, I had many family members, advisors and friends supported me in being a better woman, and my goal in New Orleans is to be that guide to my students that I lead each day.
Being mindful of the history of New Orleans, since its beginning and especially in the past ten years, I knew that I had been called to lead an extraordinary group of young people. I thought that those people I heard on Tom Joyner and saw on TV and in magazines could have been their family. One of my students shared with me pictures of when she met President George W. Bush and the First Lady in the White House because of being one of the last located children of Hurricane Katrina. She didn’t quite understand what that meant as a 6th grader, as she was about 4 when the meeting took place. Elated, I explained, “You are destined for greatness!!! It’s written in these pictures. If you have already met the president, NOTHING is impossible for you!”. She laughed, yet I was serious.
The New Orleans education overhaul that occurred after the storm is debatable on many fronts. But most importantly, whether it is the contributing factor to student’s current success is not important. What I know is that the students of New Orleans are currently exposed to technology, innovation and schools equipped with learning and teaching. As a transplant and product of an alternative certification program my hope is that other educators here in the city realize the uniqueness of our students here. Teaching is not a profession where you can simply get your experience in a couple of year…And teaching in New Orleans has to be a commitment. I have seen dozens of colleague’s cycle in and out of New Orleans. Each time I would see one go with only a couple of years down here, I would be disappointed that many were not up to the true challenge, but then I would be pleased that the students here would have a solid opportunity to work with someone who truly believed in their growth and future long term. As we continue to grow as educators of New Orleanians, we have to maintain the momentum socially and academically for students. If we don’t…who will? We owe it to ourselves. We owe it to our city.
New Orleanians are regal people, rich with hope and filled with resilience. Blacks in New Orleans have been living in established communities here longer than anywhere else in the country. The will to survive and be upstanding and accomplished is nothing new. And even though my current students may not have went through some of the same experiences as residents in the past, it’s in their pedigree to be hard working and brilliant beyond measure. I believe that. And I believe they can do whatever…ANYTHING that they decide on, using their innate New Orleanian abilities.
While at Cohen High School Willie Muhammad learned of Mrs. Jeff’s reputation for academic rigor and her low tolerance for behavior issues, but the “war stories” passed down from other students didn’t deter him from enrolling in her history course. It was in that class that he became aware of the inhumane treatment and atrocities committed against Native Americans, African people, and people of color as a whole across the globe. It was because of Mrs. Jeff’s infamous History class that Willie Muhammad began his journey as a student of history.
As he began to think about college and making a living he knew he wanted to share his passion for history with others. At the time, Xavier University had a program for recruiting more black teachers, particularly black men. He graduated from the program and began his teaching career at John F. Kennedy High School where he taught world history and geography. He quickly became known as the teacher who made history come alive for students. He recalls a professional development meeting where older teachers discussed feeling defeated and lacking ideas to reach the youth; when suddenly, with eagerness, he popped out of his seat in a Jerry Maguire moment proclaiming, “What we have to do is make the subject matter interesting and relevant to students— and I know how!”
“Knowledge of self has to be included in the curriculum and teaching approach in order for education to become relevant to our students. When you teach children history and that their ancestors have made meaningful contributions to civilization in areas like math, art, science and history, this helps them not have a disdain for the subject matter,” said Muhammad. New Orleans youth live in a state of trauma that stems from the stress of post-Katrina living conditions, poverty, and crime— where it’s easier to access guns, drugs, and hopelessness than quality schools. As we approach the next 10 years of education reform in NOLA, an important component will be using pedagogical strategies to undo the conditioning students are indoctrinated into by using history, science, math, and art to help them realize their lives do indeed matter.
Mr. Muhammad said that if you ask a young person to name their top priorities— education would likely not be at the top. Reason being— “Many youth do not see education as a real means for changing their immediate circumstances.” He explained that the real life examples they have learned from don’t come from doctors, engineers and professionals but rather from the tales and experiences of local rappers like Kevin Gates and Boosie Badazz. The #Next10 is about an education that includes knowledge of self. Education that addresses their skills gaps, lack of interest for the content and negative self-worth. Education for children who live in a state of trauma and a city that has yet to heal from the psychological and economic wounds of Hurricane Katrina. Education in New Orleans can’t look the same as education in other cities, our context matters.
He now is a 15 year veteran teacher at McMain High School, remains active in the community, and leads Mosque 46 in New Orleans. The passion that came alive for him in Mrs. Jeff’s classroom still leads him to ignite the interest for history in young people. This real New Orleans hero came out of a teaching program that recruited black males much like Brothers Empowered to Teach (BE2T) and calls for curriculum and teaching approaches similar to those of Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu, author of Understanding Black Male Learning Styles.
With tears in her eyes, Rhonda Jordan expressed fear and uncertainty concerning her son who will be an incoming 9th grader in the fall. They are hoping the OneApp late enrollment process yields a positive result and are holding out hope to land a spot at one of the top schools in the city.
Her youngest and only son just finished at Langston Hughes. Although he has had behavioral issues in the past, he was in a supportive environment where he was being coached beyond academics. All of her school choices were “C” grade schools away from their community. Because she knows what her son needs in a school—her top priority is getting her son into a school that encourages his academic, behavioral and emotional growth. “I want my child to go to school to get an education, not to be in fear of constant confrontation.” Rhonda believes confrontation comes from children not knowing each other and coming from different wards in the city.
For students who need positive behavioral support, attending a “C” grade school while beholden to can result in parent voices like Rhonda saying, “I fear for my son’s life in this city and this shouldn’t be the case at a school.” Children land in schools in unfamiliar neighborhoods, turfs, and wards, yet are expected to co-exist and perform. As educators, reformers, and community stakeholders, what can we do to build community on school campuses that allows students to bring in their positive identities and values to perform as their true authentic selves? With the concern of turfs and sets rising in New Orleans, how can schools and a decentralized school system create a strengths-based strategy for building a sustainable school community where children thrive and parents don’t fear for their safety?
Summer can be a very unsafe and vulnerable time for our children. Temperatures reach 90+, the last second line of the season has passed and unless your child is in a summer program, chances are they are bored. Playing outside can be dangerous as crime rates go up in the city. The FBI reports that on average, crime increases nearly 10 percent between the months of June and August. As a city we have already reached 91 murders compared to 70 last year at this same time. Our children also experience an equally dangerous summer learning loss— an average of 2 months is loss over the summer according to National Summer Learning Association.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can help to prevent our teachers from spending the first month of school reviewing old information, skills and content to get students caught up. Summer 2015 is not over and our students can come back stronger than before they went on summer break. Here is how:
Here are some of my friend Dooda’s favorite summer reads:
–Shark vs. Train
–Dragon’s Love Tacos
–The Diary of a Worm (book we received at the National Charter School Conference through Scholastics Summer Reading Take-Home Program that includes very affordable Fiction/Non-Fiction books, think sheets and a journal.
2. #NOLAKIDS go to summer camp
-Check NORDC or call (504) 658-3000 for summer camps that still have open slots.
Required for Registration:
1. Proof of Orleans Parish Residency (copy of driver’s license or utility bill)
2. Proof of Income for one full month with a 2015 date (pay stubs, SSI or food stamp award letters). If no income, a notarized statement to that effect. (Proof of income and proof of residency may be the same document – pay stubs and award letters.)
3. Copy of a 2014-2015 report card
4. Registration fee (cash or money order only; no checks will be accepted)
3. #NOLAKIDS are learners and explorers
-Explore your child’s talents in sports, science, the arts etc.
-Team up with others in your family and/or neighborhood to teach each other’s children your own talents (instrument, drawing, sports, cultural heritage, cooking etc.)
-Build your family tree and teach your child about their family heritage and stories of their ancestors
-Take trips to historical sites, museums, art galleries, and visit college campuses
-Practice a new language(s)— Learn 5 basic words/phrases per week
-Contact previous teacher to find out what areas of development to focus on
-Contact new teachers to find our which areas of develop to prepare for the new school year
Can you imagine if Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin taught 4th grade English or if Shawn Carter (Jay-Z) was a professor of business administration? We need this kind of talent in schools to overcome institutional racism.
In his latest column, It’s Easier to Remove a Confederate Flag, than a Racist Teacher, Andre Perry sees the recent call to remove the confederate flag following the death of nine black citizens in South Carolina as a limited first step.
Racism has no place in public education considering the profound impact schooling has on a student’s trajectory. Removing racist teachers is obvious. But what’s the next step? Are there viable barometers that can detect personal biases such as racism, sexism, and non-commitment? People get jobs everyday out of necessity as opposed to a genuine commitment to a profession, justice or to noble democratic aims. Why would teaching be any different?
So how do we detect negative characteristics of teachers given the shortage of viable candidates in relation to the demand?
We may not be able to see what motivates one to teach, but we can get a closer look at candidates when they train. Also, we must recruit more candidates from the communities that need justice.
A teacher’s preparation and ability to connect with students is paramount to a student’s success. Before and after Katrina, there was a clear need for teachers. Many of our current teacher recruitment programs are focused on recruiting talented prospects. But because of the feverish demand for good teachers in New Orleans, particularly men of color, recruitment often trumps thorough preparation.
I don’t believe our teacher preparation programs intentionally set out to create such a dynamic. But a focus on filling teaching jobs can deprioritize the training that maximizes the student-teacher relationship. When we rush people in, they will more than likely rush out. The push to fill positions create turnstile relationships between students and their teachers as well as teachers and their schools. The rush also places inexperienced teachers in high-stake environments.
In addition, teacher recruitment starts with students in the schools. Students won’t want to become teachers if they don’t bond with them. We need to make sure teachers see students as being future teachers and not as troublemakers. Moreover, if we want more students to value their own education, they need to see themselves in their teachers.
In New Orleans nearly 50% of young black men will drop out as early as the 8th grade. There are 14,000 young people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are neither in school or working. There’s an obvious lack of attachment in the classroom, and I contend we can find opportunities in black boys who can fill teacher voids. We can design and deliver teacher programs that not only create stellar teachers but also increase diversity in the classroom.
Everybody deserves the opportunity to see someone who looks like them lead a classroom. Brothers Empowered to Teach (BE2T) is a response to that right.
Brothers Empowered to Teach’s (BE2T) mission is to generate a pipeline of incredible teachers who mirror success for their students by recruiting men of color into classroom-based careers.
BE2T takes a longer-term approach to developing stellar teachers with a focus on black men. Starting sophomore year BE2T fellows will be placed with a local school partner to engage in tutoring and mentoring for one year as an introduction to working in education and with kids. Junior year fellows will participate in a lab component, which facilitates a supported teaching experience in secondary schools. It also builds a myriad of capacities including administrative leadership. Finally, fellows’ senior year will continue to focus on pedagogy and professional development. They will also be paired with a veteran educator for personal mentorship and tutelage. BE2T also offers support to recent graduates and career-changers interested in teaching.
How does our model impact the learning and growing of students in classrooms? BE2T aims to place a firm emphasis on social and cultural responsiveness to counter the ‘deficit perspective’ that has plagued some of our classrooms. BE2T wants their teachers to focus on the strengths of their student and not weakness. This approach alone can combat the negative feelings many students develop over time in classrooms with teachers with clear biases.
We need more male teachers of color to combat institutional racism. We have a solution.
For more info on BE2T visit: www.be2t.org
Facebook: Brothers Empowered to Teach
Contact us: 504-708-8990