Tag Archives: identity

Get Schooled Six minutes of segregation a day: Can it help black students?

Ok, so my spiel:

I went to a women’s college for my undergraduate – and I loved it.  I honestly felt that learning in a single-sex environment enabled me to better understand both sexism and feminism.  I wouldn’t trade my education for anything.

But I also wouldn’t force it on anyone.  I chose to go to a women’s college.  Despite the good intentions, these students are not choosing to be segregated, which in turn excludes them, others them, and reinforces how they are the “problem” minority.  Now, if white students were segregated and in their groups discussed white privilege, then mmaaayyybbee I could see how this situation might be beneficial.

But even then you get into identities.  Are we only excluding students by race because what about class?  gender?  sexuality?  religion?  location?  …  I’m all about learning about inequality and multiple identities, and in that consciousness-raising discussion learning about one’s own identity, privileges, and disadvantages, but you can’t force it on people.  What identities do you choose and is everyone else discussing these same issues in their own groups?

So ultimately, while it may help black students find support, recognize injustice, and study harder, is this segregation challenging patriarchy, capitalism, and white privilege?  No.

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By Maureen Downey at the Atlanta Journal Constitution

A Pennsylvania high school has begun to segregate black students for daily homeroom to address the lower academic achievement, build mentoring relationships and explore stereotypes and challenges unique to African-American students.

Good idea?

Before you judge, take a look at this story about McCaskey High School in Lancaster, Pa. It is clear that this unique response came out of good intentions — an effort to see whether grouping students homogeneously both by gender and race even for a brief period each morning provides a backdrop to discuss tough issues and give teens personalized attention.

I hate to be wishy-washy for two blogs in a row — I am also torn on the punishment given to the mom who lied about residency  — but this is another story where I have mixed feelings. I first asked myself whether the school could accomplish its goals without resorting to segregating the students. I would think it could.

But I also have to point out that the premise behind the program — that you can talk more honestly to kids and motivate them when they share similar situations and face the same problems — is what has led to the resurgence of single gender schools and classrooms.

But I have to admit queasiness over this idea.

According to Lancasteronline.com

During a recent class period at McCaskey East High School, T’onna Johnson’s class discussed a film, learned about a college-visit trip, talked about designing a class T-shirt and was encouraged to sign up for a seminar on the importance of a good education.

This all happened during homeroom  — that fleeting period when teachers take attendance, principals make announcements and students, usually, don’t do much of anything.

Not at McCaskeyEast. Every junior at the school has been paired with an adult homeroom mentor who tries to squeeze as much information and activities as possible into six minutes each day and 20 minutes twice a month. The intent of the program, implemented in mid-December, is simple, principal Bill Jimanez said: “Let’s make these guys think for six minutes about their future.”

Every junior was matched with a teacher who already had a relationship with that pupil. But in the case of T’onna’s class, there are other ties that bind the homeroom. Every pupil is a black female. And their mentors are both female African-Americans. Across the hall, two homerooms of black male students are led by black men.

The all-black homerooms are part of an experiment to determine if grouping students homogeneously for a brief period each day will help them socially and academically. “At first I was kind of like iffy because why would we be in homeroom together?” T’onna recalled. “But we work together and we do problems together, so I like it. “Here we learn about how we can basically make a difference and how we don’t have to settle for less.”

The idea originated with Angela Tilghman, a McCaskey East instructional coach who was alarmed at the poor academic performance of the school ’s black students. Only about a third of McCaskey’s African-Americans scored proficient or advanced in reading on last year’s PSSAs, compared with 60 percent of white students and 42 percent of all students. Math scores were even worse, with just 27 percent of black pupils scoring proficient or advanced. {PSSA is the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment.}

Research has shown, Tilghman said, that grouping black students by gender with a strong role model can help boost their academic achievement and self-esteem. She and fellow instructional coach Rhauni Gregory volunteered to mentor the African-American girls, and Michael Mitchell and Willie Thedford each took a homeroom of black males. No other students were divided by race, Jimanez said, although pupils enrolled in the school’s English language learners program were paired with ELL teachers.

Initially, some McCaskey East students and staff objected to separating out black students. Some juniors asked to go back to their old homerooms. Others complained that the experiment ran counter to the culture of McCaskey, long a melting pot of students and staff from many diverse backgrounds. But Jimanez said the academic data dictated the school take a different approach with its black students.

“One of the things we said when we did this was, ‘Let’s look at the data, let’s not run from it,’ ” he said. “Let’s confront it and see what we can do about it.” In all homerooms, teachers are tracking their students’ grades, test scores and attendance and encouraging them to engage in discussions around “goal setting and self-actualization,” Jimanez said.

Tilghman and Gregory’s homeroom, dubbed the Black Diamonds, has discussed books and movies that emphasize strong relationships between black women. Last week, the students hosted a group of female black professionals who talked about the importance of getting a good education. “This isn’t something we’re just trying to preach to you about,” Tilghman told the class. “This is the reality. Black women today need education.”

The mentors also have talked about common stereotypes about black girls — that they’re aggressive, combative, “cackling and confrontational” and more interested in pursuing relationships than academics, Tilghman said. According to research, black students tend to feel disengaged and alienated in school and “act out behaviorally because they don’t perform,” she said.

“Our first theme was sisterhood so we can get them to see that we’re here for each other and they have people they can rely on,” Tilghman said. The mentors also shared with students a detailed analysis of their test scores and grades.

Mitchell doesn’t agree with those who criticize grouping black students together. “I would have a problem if every class period was like that, but it’s six minutes most days and 20 minutes other days,” he said.

He has discussed with his students how the city’s unemployment rate is higher for African-Americans than for other ethnic groups, and Tilghman has talked about how statistics indicate that black males are three times as likely to spend time in jail as to earn a college degree.

“I see all too often when students give up far too easily these days, and parents will allow this to perpetuate itself, and then students think they don’t have to complete anything.”

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

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