SANKOFA Black Student Achievement Classes Open
By Dianne Anderson
Parents are being welcomed with open arms to get their students involved in a new signature magnet program focused on Black student achievement, but not to worry about how the kids will get to school.
Dr. Wil Greer said busing is available from anywhere within the San Bernardino City Unified School district.
“We have a $250,000 busing budget to make sure that any kid from any part of San Bernardino can access SANKOFA (Students Accumulating New Knowledge, Optimizing Future Accomplishments) and participate,” he said. “We also have some really strong teachers. Some of our teachers came from other schools teaching other grades because they really wanted to be part of this.”
SANKOFA, meaning “going back to your past for knowledge and wisdom,” has its origins in Ghana, West Africa. The program is creating an environment and culture where African American students can climb to among the highest achievers in the state.
“That’s ultimately our goal, we want them to close gaps in math and reading. We want them to be well, as that they feel cared for, and belong,” said Greer, PhD, Director, Equity & Targeted Student Achievement with SBCUSD.
The program is currently accepting registration, and students can start immediately.
“We still have space in most of the classes, in our Kindergarten class we have about 10 kids, in sixth grade, about 20 kids, and the high school still only has 20. We certainly still have space,” he said.
Currently, the program offers Kindergarten and first-grade classes, are now enrolling at Hunt Elementary. In Sixth Grade, class is open at Del Vallejo Leadership & STEAM Academy and ninth grade at Pacific High School. He said they plan to add another grade level up at each location as they expand every year going forward.
Greer took the lead in creating the framework last year, meeting with teachers and principals on the best ways to foster success. He said the program started at the planning stage at the end of 2020, but then COVID hit, and they segued into distance learning.
This is the first year classes are rolling out. Eventually, the goal is to expand to K-12, also much like GATE or a dual immersion program.
As yet, Greer said there is no cut-off date for enrollment and they will consider admission even as far as year-end or Spring, but the process follows district protocol for transfers or inter-district transfers.
Last summer, Greer said they searched out Black parents districtwide via emails, phone calls to parents and guardians, and visited nearly 200 homes. They covered a lot of ground.
“Most of the kids in SANKOFA now are coming from other parts of the city because their parents specifically wanted them to be in this program,” he said, adding that Pacific High School also has an AVID component, and students can access a SANKOFA counselor.
Greer has been a teacher, administrator, high school principal, a professor for five years at Cal State San Bernardino, and also a district office testing coordinator. He said it’s given him a deeper view into the barriers facing Black students and teachers.
Under the new training model, the focus is on education and equity impact, including a brain-based component of the achievement gap, childhood adversity, wellness, sociocultural awareness, teacher disposition and mindsets, as well as instructional practices.
“All of these six pieces need to work in tandem for any classroom, teacher, school and district to have any chance at closing the gaps,” he said. “There’s not one way. We argue that there are multiple roots and factors that need to be understood.”
Other factors, such as family instability related to poverty, play into the obstacles that Black families suffer disproportionately. Parents without resources or reliable transportation tend to be disengaged, often not by choice.
“We have parents who are stressed, dealing with trauma, trying to figure out how they keep food on the table and a roof over their heads [or] how they are going to provide. Showing up at a school meeting is not a high priority,” he said.
In developing the program framework, he said character, wellness and high expectations, infused with African American history, are a priority. The children will learn the four pillars of character – resiliency, integrity, scholarly and empathy.
Kids will collaborate daily with high expectations. Coming into SANKOFA, they will recite a commitment to learn, to be on time for school and assignments, to master the standards, and hold themselves accountable. Parents and teachers will also sign off to be accountable and have students arrive on time, meet class expectations to check up on homework, and give the kids a good place to study.
Through the program, students will learn what it’s like to work hard, feel accomplished, not to mention, sure to get a good night’s sleep.
“There should be direct instruction but the onus should be on the kids. The kids should be tired when they leave the class,” he said.
To learn more about SANKOFA enrollment, call the Department of Equity & Targeted Student Achievement at (909) 473-2098