Closing the Achievement Gap by Empowering Black and Latino Boys
Teachers and administrators from the New York City Department of Education gathered at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture to sit back, listen, and learn from students, in particular Black and Latino male youth. In a much-needed recourse in education conferences, the audience came to hear from successful minority students on their experiences, looking for ways that can be replicated in the classroom.
The event was part of the DOE’s Closing the Achievement Gap series, which brings together speakers and professionals at events throughout the school year to end the disparity between low-income African-American and Latino students and their white non-Hispanic and Asian counterparts. The disparities are often seen in state test scores, graduation rates and college enrollment.
The series, which is in its third year, closed with the event at the Schomburg Center. This particular event brought together two student panels from programs whose participants have accomplished great achievements.
The first panel was composed of students who participated in the Schomburg Center’s Junior Scholars Program. This program seeks to engage and motivate young men and women of color by teaching them of their rich past, which is often overlooked in a traditional education setting.
“We learned more than in the one month of Black history we get at school, more than just Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks,” said panelist Gerald Bryan, a junior at All Hollows High School, a Catholic boys high school in the Bronx.
Another student, Marcus Charles, a graduate of Florida A&M University and Junior Scholars alumni, toted the success of the Junior Scholars program in exposing him to a wide range of successful men of color who in turn were role models for him.
“We need to learn about our past to learn of our future,” Charles said.
When asked why so many boys of color are falling behind in the achievement gap, Bryan critiqued the media’s negative portrait of minorities, noting the number of times they are shown committing crimes, and questioning how many times the news showcased an outstanding African-American student.
The second panel consisted of students from Blue Nile Passage’s Rights-of-Passage program which pairs participants one-on-one with life mentors as well as group mentorship.
Roman Lawson, a 12th grader at the Eagle Academy for Young Men and future Howard University student, stressed the outside-the-classroom approach to a mentorship.
“Students are always asking in the classroom, how does this connect to my life?” Lawson said. “Teaching through experience is stronger because they see how.”
The standout moment came from 7th grader Ahmad Simmons, who emphasized that most teachers don’t understand his classmates’ tough backgrounds. A mentor like the one he received through the Rite of Passage program can relate and share his feelings.
Clifford B. Simmons, the co-founder and executive director at Blue Nile Passage and moderator for the second group, summed up the importance of the event: “We need to listen to the kids. Right now there is monologue between adults and not dialogue with kids.”
Charan Morris, who teaches 10th-grade writing at Vanguard High School in Manhattan, came to the event to see how she could learn from the all student panels. She noticed a gap between students of color in her school. She added that the ethnicity of teachers should be more diversified so that students feel more comfortable and have someone they can relate to as Simmons mentioned.
One way she has been productive in her school, which she says has no African or Latino male teachers, is by setting up a series of events in the library, which brings in a minority professional to speak to the students about their lives and careers.
During the closing remarks, Dr. Sabina Hope King, the chief academic officer for the New York Department of Education’s Office of Curriculum and Professional Development, gave a moving speech to the crowd. “We needed to hear your voices to stay relevant to the students we teach,” she said. “It’s time to stop questioning what we can do and do it, regardless of any obstacle and bureaucracy. It’s time to keep the dream alive.” #
Watch a video of this event at www.empoweringboys.org.