Moving right along to success..
There are three words many have come to despise in Education in part, because it comes with a serious level of accountability and shines the spotlight on so much that is happening right now; ” The Achievement Gap”. For those of us who spend an inordinate amount of time looking at the data, it very clearly shows two things; If you are considered poor or a child of color, you are less likely to succeed in school. Over the years, lots of new methods have been tried, billions of dollars spent, and buzz words were thrown around enough to make your head spin. We have heard things such as ” these kids just can’t learn no matter what we do”, ” Their parents just do not care” or the best one to date if you reside in the suburbs; ” It’s the kids who move in from the urban areas that are pulling our numbers down” Sadly, so many people believe this and it has become the mantra in places, as a way to justify low scores.
In many school buildings, there are wonderful educators who have tried, bless their hearts, a myriad of things and while they have had a modicum of success, it eventually peter out in a year or three. The answer to all of this is so simple really but because the largest problems in solving this issue is time and long-held beliefs that have stuck to the walls of many buildings, it all seemed in vain. Until now.
Travel if you will with me on the journey of a program that has met with serious resistance for the reasons described above but passion and a dogged determination,has led to an undeniable success to the point where this group has gained National attention. Welcome to VIBE and IMAGINE. The process is simple; twice a month, a group of children meet to discuss among other things, leadership, advocating for one’s self, aspiring to achieve at all costs and supporting each other. These young people, in 8 years have been exposed to everything positive under the sun; etiquette business luncheons, college tours, local, state and National leaders to name a few. A few key parents attend every meeting, makes visits as needed to homes in the communities and developed relationships with the families of these young people in a way that has long been thought of as impossible.
There were tears, disappointment and days when we wondered what had we done because it took about 3 years to truly begin seeing the manifestations of what we had begun. We have been invited to Higher learning institutions to discuss the Family portion of this program and even there, a well-known professor looked at me in disbelief and said “he truly believed the data was correct and children mostly fall through the cracks if their parents are not involved” I ran into that professor again last year at a National conference and he publicly stated it took his going through all the things we had discussed years before with his own child for him to fully grasp just what was happening with the children. He is completely involved with his children, well-known for this work and was met with resistance about his child choosing more challenging courses academically. In that full room, he apologized.
What we essentially did, was arm those children with a respectful voice to be their own advocates, the skills to walk into any room and carry themselves professionally at all times and the confidence to know anything is possible. Those same young people are now doing presentations to their peers in other districts and the program has been emulated in many places. Last evening, we came full circle as those young people sat in a meeting and did a beautiful presentation about the program and what it has meant to them.
Tears streamed silently down my face as it was relayed that they said things like this; ” Without this program, we would not be ready for college or comfortable in wearing business attire, or even able to say now with confidence, I am a bio chemistry major. Before this program, there was no one in the building that made us feel we belonged or thought enough of us to help us through our struggles. We have learned to pull our peers aside and have discussions to mentor anyone who is struggling. We thank God for Mrs. James and the parents who held us accountable at all times in love. We love Mrs. Watts for taking on the challenge of working with girls and we knew in order to get into this program, we had to have decent grades and stay out of trouble so that we could reap the benefits we saw other kids having. We want to thank the school and all the Administrators for having the courage to keep a program like this around because it is needed badly”. Those young people carried themselves so well, it made every tear worth it in the end.
Eight years in, what began as a program of 40 boys is now a program of hundreds. We partner with community leaders like the local chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity and believe me when I tell you, there is nothing we would not do to keep this program alive. All it required? Time and Consistency. Contrary to popular belief, it does not cost thousands of dollars to mentor a child; just act like you really care what happens to them and the rest will work itself out. Oh by the way? These are children in the suburbs who struggled so much, one would think they came from a system that was less than stellar. Oh no. the majority of them have generations of family members that has lived in this community so that excuse went right out the window.
We now have a cadre of those children in 4 year colleges AND they are graduating with degrees!! Add to that, we have been working with the parents on how to successfully navigate schools in a way that makes them allies on behalf of their children.
When we choose to get into public education, we made the promise that all children should have an equal opportunity. The law dictates it. We chose to give our lives in a profession that I still believe is the worthiest cause ever and it is not now, or will it ever be ok, to allow a few people latitude to drastically alter the course of what should be children who thrive in some of the best school systems in the country.
So while others continue to make excuses, we continue to do what is right and be a shining example for others to follow.