Engagement: Black Student Initiative
By Dianne Anderson
Good grades are almost everything, and it all starts with parent engagement, student summer programs, and HBCU tours that are now in full force through the Long Beach Unified School District’s Black Student Achievement Initiative.
For Elyssa Taylor-Stewart, testing is on the periphery of successful outcomes for one of her jobs as administrator of Sankofa Parent Village where she provides a continuum of care and a boost of morale.
“I’m not involved in test scores – tangentially I am,” said Tayor-Stewart, one of the district leads for the Black Student Achievement Initiative advisory committee.
But the program’s greatest impact is that it infuses academic achievement with students’ social and emotional growth, along with community and family engagement.
“That’s why we do what we do,” said Taylor-Stewart, also an administrator with LBUSD Office of Equity, Engagement, and Partnerships that leads the effort for parent engagement.
Last year, the initiative was created through the Learning Acceleration and Support Plan when a group of parents and staff members came together to discuss the data and ways to support Black students and Black parents.
Her group also meets to engage parents with free childcare to ensure that there are no barriers. They bring in speakers and collaborate with UCLA Center X, a group of over 100 educators working to address education equality.
“We eat together, we share stories together. There might be issues within the village we make sure that parents have all the support they need. From there we are trying to build the Sankofa parent villages so our parents have collaboration and support at individual sites,” she said.
The project, similar to a parent empowerment framework, recently featured Dr. Tonikiaa Orange, director for the Culture and Equity Project and Director for the Principal leadership Institute at UCLA Center X, who spoke with Black parents about the journey of parenting and education.
They also take exciting faraway trips so students can see successful Black college campuses in action. For Thanksgiving, she took a group of 37 students on an HBCU tour for an academic adventure from Texas to Louisiana, topped off with the Bayou Classic football between Southern University and Grambling State in New Orleans.
“We flew into Dallas, and we did some schools in the western area, Baton Rouge and New Orleans. It was awesome, a very powerful experience,” she said.
Last spring, the program held its first-ever Black Student Achievement Symposium in the district, focused on the voices of Black students and parents with a full day of culturally responsive activities, breakout sessions, and speakers.
“We are doing things like that that are very impactful, but not necessarily linked directly to test scores, but we also know that students are not one-dimensional cognitive or academic bodies,” she said.
As importantly, academic excellence is bolstered by positive relationships between teachers and students. She said they need to be seen as valued and heard.
About 75 parents participate monthly, which she said is a good showing considering that Black parents have been historically marginalized in society, and often not accustomed to being at the table.
Support for families is the goal, and they are in discussions about broadening the curriculum and books, and how the program can make recommendations.
Taylor-Stewart, who is a member of the National Association of Black School Educators, wants to see more Black teachers in the district, something that the assistant superintendent of human resources, David Zaid, has also supported.
Recently, she attended a NABSE conference in Washington, D.C., and said the district had a representative from Human Resources who met with potential recruits and candidates.
Long Beach is one of the largest districts serving one of the largest populations of Black students in Southern California, and she is excited about the potential for more recruits with their soon-to-launch local affiliate of the NABSE.
Hiring more Black educators is her priority.
“We are definitely engaging in active recruitment,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons why we were at the conference. There are about five HBCUs in the D.C. area. Hopefully, some of the teachers might want to move out here,” she said.
She is also extremely excited about their second Black Student Achievement Initiative Symposium in April with a full day of breakout workshops, motivational speakers, parent engagement, learning opportunities for parents.
Through their Sankofa Summer Academy, the first summer school program for Black students in the district, she is seeing a lot of interest with 100 students participating. Black teachers led classes, along with African studies curriculum with a strong focus on social-emotional wellness.
Sankofa, which has Ghanaian origins, means “going back to your past for knowledge and wisdom.”
“I’d love for parents to get involved with our Sankofa Parent Village because it’s for parents to support and get to know one another, find out what’s going on in the district. We have parent advocacy, we empower our parents to support their students, it’s mutual support.”
She said it provides a safe space to thrive and be encouraged.
“It’s to make sure they have the same opportunities that other students and that they have what they need to be successful, that is what equity is about,” she said.
To learn more about Black Student Excellence, see http://bit.ly/3GOqBfe