Free Math and Tutoring for Black Students
By Dianne Anderson
For years, local educator Dr. Kirk Kirkwood has been watching the data points, worrying that the needle for Black student achievement has hardly budged for the better, specifically around mathematics.
It’s almost as alarming as the academic apathy around the numbers that keep showing deep disparities in education between Black and white students.
“We’ve come to a place where people are sounding the alarm to say Black kids are failing miserably in math settings, and why aren’t we doing anything strategically to address these matters?” said Kirkwood, Ed.D., Principal Consultant with Village Life Education.
It is a personal mission he wants to address head-on.
Tutoring is a big part of the solution, but one problem he sees in K-12 classes is that many teachers come in with the notion that Black students are starting at a deficit, but he feels the real problem is that their teachers are not equipped to teach math.
He said that Black learners are more likely to have a teacher without a math background.
“They’re more likely to have substitute teachers, and less likely to see themselves in math textbooks and math curriculum, less likely to experience high expectations. They are more likely to experience racism and microaggressions in math settings,” he said.
Kirkwood works with LBUSD Sankofa Village in their Saturday program. Once a week, his team at Village Life Education provides free math literacy for students in third through sixth grades. They go in with affirmations that Black students are brilliant, and account for some of the highest achieving inventors and mathematicians since the dawn of history.
The program serves about 500 Black students, is taught by Black teachers, and run Black administrators. He is also reaching other districts as far out as the Inland Empire to see if they are interested in running similar spaces for Black learners.
For all the academic limitations, he is optimistic about reaching the students, and thinking outside the box. There is a way to come out of the dire circumstances, and thrive.
“We’re behind the eight ball, but it’s starting to happen. I met with students at CSULB National Society of Black Engineers, each campus has a chapter or affiliate and telling them that there are opportunities to support and provide tutoring if they need with mathematics,” he said.
School districts have buses, fueled by funding from the Local Control Accountability Plan, with dollars allocated to Sankofa villages, which allows math tutoring at either local school sites or parks and recreation locations on Wednesday and Saturday.
“They can walk if they live in the neighborhood, drive and drop off on Wednesday or after school Sankofa programs and the kids are already at school,” he said. “LBUSD has their Sankofa parent meeting at Houghton Park in Long Beach. On Saturdays, we are at Adams Elementary School.”
At CSULB, Ayesha Hopson-Birks said the campus has academic interventions with tailored tutoring in reading and basic math, strategies and counseling. They also meet one on one with parents for recommendations once students complete the program.
As yet, transportation is not available to and from their location. The cost is $250 for tutoring, but she said there is a sliding scale and scholarships for qualifying families at $10 a week, which is manageable.
But at this time, only about 5% of their students are Black. She is reaching out and encouraging more Black organizations and Black parent groups to connect with her to get more children into the program.
“It is low, there is always room for improvement, I’m working to reach out to promote our services to the African American community, we want to broaden our reach. I’m always seeking new opportunities to share with the clinic,” said Hopson-Birks, Clinic Coordinator for Community Clinic for Counseling and Educational Services.
Dr. Lance Robert also continues to see success with their 100 Black Men of Long Beach programs. Part of the success of “the 100” has been that they tackle problems on all fronts, not just academics.
“We all have mental health first aid certifications, we all work with the boys. We’re not judgmental, we help them, not ask them why they have a problem, but we are able to spot the signs of trauma,” said Dr. Lance Robert, president of the 100 Black Men of Long Beach,
It’s also been important to not fall into the trap of smart versus stupid, he said, but to rather show students how to be involved in the process of education, to pursue their own gifts, passions, and talents.
In their last two sessions, students showcased their own favorite projects. One student is working on stock market game gains, another is making a good profit off his art-customized notebooks selling online. Robert’s son is working on a short story, and another young man loves to cook. One young man is a basketball whiz, and yet another has over one million YouTube views on his gaming program.
“This are what the young men are doing, it’s not something that’s happening in school, but them in their own time,” said Dr. Robert, who is also a political science professor at Southwest College.
Robert said the research shows that Black boys earning 3.0 and above have access to the kinds of services and encouragement “the 100” provides. Adults talk with them about college goals, provide financial access, and point them to the importance of keeping the faith and having self-confidence.
The program also pushes the necessity of goals and work, entrepreneurship and community. They give scholarships for those who complete their program, held on the CSULB campus.
“We normalize going to college for them. They’re already in the classroom, doing presentations, already using technology. Our students are very comfortable in that environment of the college campus,” he said.
But the real secret sauce may be their organization has so many successful professional Black male role models and graduate students who come out to mentor, guide and encourage. Students learn to walk the walk, chin up, shoulders back and pay attention.
“With our learning strategies, we master the Black growth mindset, draw inspiration from others that you’re not afraid of challenges, that more effort will activate abilities and you will have success,” he said.
For more CSULB information, see https://www.csulb.edu/college-of-education/community-clinic-for-counseling-and-educational-services
For Village Life Education, https://www.villagelife.education/
For LBUSD Black Student Achievement Initiative (Sankofa Village), see https://www.lbschools.net/departments/equity-engagement-partnerships/bsai/bsai-home
For 100BMLB, see http://www.100blackmenlbc.com/