The One Story: HBCUs And The Gatekeeping Of Black Culture
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The connection between parents, teachers, and the community has been severed for far too long. It’s time to rediscover the synergy that successfully educated generations of African-American children.

University of Phoenix Chief Financial Officer Byron Jones announced a partnership that will focus on repairing that breach.

The announcement came on April 15 at the National Action Network convention. On that morning, dozens of parents, teachers, and activists crowded into a large conference room in Midtown Manhattan, while scores of others tuned into a livestream online.

Jones said the university is working with NAN and the National Network of State Teachers of the Year to address the educational failures among Black students. The Rev. Al Sharpton, the founder of NAN, stepped to the podium to express his support and commitment to the effort.

“This is for us, one of the most fundamental issues. It should be at the top of our agenda. … This is about actual, practical solutions that you can walk out of here with and begin to employ when it comes to education in this country,” stated the session’s moderator and host of NewsOne NowRoland Martin.

Jones said there was a time when communities and schools worked hand-in-hand to educate children. He reminisced about his mother and aunt knowing what happened at school before he made it home in the afternoon.

“This is very uncomfortable, but we have to hold ourselves accountable,” he said. “So, parents have a responsibility. Back in the day, there was a community effort. Somehow, we got away from community schools.”

Lamar Grant, University of Phoenix national director of community partnerships, explained to NewsOne that the university is spearheading this effort because its College of Education’s mission is to “make sure every single classroom has a powerful, effective teacher.”

He added: “There’s no mystery or denying that we don’t see other higher education providers stepping in to fill the gap between teachers, students and parents. And so, the University of Phoenix is compelled to do so.”

Several educators served as panelists, discussing not just the challenges, but more importantly, the solutions. How can individuals in the community reconnect with schools? Dr. Christopher Emdin, associate professor in the department of mathematics, science, and technology at Columbia University, recommends “occupying” schools.

“Even if you don’t have a child in the local school, you probably pay taxes to support that school. So, you own a stake in that space, so you must make a home in that space. Once we understand and own that, it’s powerful,” said Emdin.

That means getting involved in the local school but “staying in your lane,” he added. If your expertise is fundraising, then help your local school acquire resources. At the same time, leave decisions about the curriculum to those who have experience in that area, Emdin advised.

Along with community involvement, the panelists said parental involvement is essential. Martin noted that many Black parents, even college graduates, often feel ill-equipped to help their children with assignments and too intimidated to ask questions of school administrators.

Jones said that should not be an excuse. He pointed out that his wife was one of nine girls in her family. Her parents didn’t finish high school, yet all the girls are college graduates.

“Parents don’t need to be content experts, but they do need to know what resources are available and how to connect students to those resources,” added Dr. Charles Davis III, director of Higher Education Research and Initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education. Davis called on schools to “reach parents where they are.”

He said that means teachers should use technology to reach parents who must work multiple jobs and can’t visit their child’s classroom. That also means teachers should make themselves available in the communities where they teach.

“You can’t just come into the Bronx when it’s convenient for you to pick up your paycheck,” Davis stated. “You need to live in that area. So many teachers are working in communities that they don’t know.”

Teachers also have a huge responsibility toward solving the education crisis in the Black community. Texas Teacher of the Year for 2014, Monica Washington, said schools have to figure out how to keep parents engaged. Washington shared the example of her inviting parents to come in after school with their child to figure out financial aid for college. She lamented that parental involvement is relatively high in elementary school, but reduces significantly at the higher grades.

Pat Jordan, the 1993 New York Teacher of the Year, talked about the need for teachers to hold each other accountable and find creative ways to make an otherwise boring curriculum engaging to students. “We have an education system that is not equitable, that’s not serving the needs of all our children. We know that system has to change,” stated Katherine Bassett, president of NNSTOY.

“Teachers, parents and the community have to be one,” Bassett added. “We need to work together to ensure that every child has access to a great teacher, and to an education that will enable them to be successful, contributing citizens.”

Jones said the partners have planned a four-city tour: Atlanta, Baltimore, Columbia – Orangeburg South Carolina, and Richmond, Virginia. It starts after the Democratic Convention in July.

NewsOne will keep you updated on their progress.