Yamilée Toussaint (New York ’08) is the founder of STEM From Dance and also works on Teach For America’s Growth, Development, Partnerships team. She is a 2013 Winner of Teach For America’s Social Innovation Award.
Nearly 80% of future careers will require awareness of and facility with STEM. But with a mere 2% (approx.) of STEM workers being Black/Hispanic women (U.S. Department of Commerce), low STEM engagement has become an enormous barrier to access to the economic freedom and empowerment offered by STEM careers.
I wasn’t awakened to this problem until I got to college. I was one of two black female students in the mechanical engineering department of my graduating class at MIT.
When you look around your college classroom and only see a few people who look like you, doubt starts to creep in. That doubt can make you hesitate to ask questions, give up when confused, and shy away from exploration.
At MIT, I witnessed an alarming number of fellow black female students leave the program, under the grip of these self-doubts. When I reflect on what made me stay and thrive, and I believe that it was mainly my mindset. I truly felt “I belong here” and it was this confidence that enabled me to stick it out.
I’ve learned through my own experience as an engineering student and later as a corps member that confidence is one of the main barriers that keep underrepresented minority girls from entering (and staying in) STEM.
Kelly Amis (Los Angeles ‘90) is the founder of Loudspeaker Films, an independent production company focused on social justice issues. She is a 2013 Winner of Teach For America’s Social Innovation Award.
A few years ago, when I started filming what I thought would be a feature-length film about education inequality in America, my goal was to share all that I had learned and witnessed working in urban schools and education reform over twenty-plus years.
My Teach For America experience had opened my eyes to the way some of our schools treat lower-income, urban, minority students—everything from lowering expectations and allocating fewer resources in the classroom, to allowing abusive or inept teachers to remain on the job.
I learned through teaching—and then research and policy work—that not all schools prioritize children’s learning in a safe, joyful environment. There may be many individuals in a school that are highly capable and committed to their students’ success. But too often the overall culture—at least as I and many teachers I’ve known have experienced it—seems to be one where failure is abided, adult interests dominate and blaming the students, parents and their communities for lower academic achievement is a routine and acceptable practice.
When I tracked down some former students from the school where I taught in South Central, Los Angeles, the consequences of our failure to provide every child with a high-quality education moved into high relief. Two young men I interviewed, Jerone and Korey, went through a photo album from my teaching days that I had brought with me and pointed at student picture after student picture: dead, dead, prison, dead.
Steven Farr is Teach For America's Chief Knowledge Officer and an alum of the 1993 Rio Grande Valley corps. This post was originally published on withGanas and has been reprinted with permission.
Soon after returning to Teach For America to oversee training and support programs in the early 2000′s, I had the privilege of working with Nicole Baker Fulgham, a thoughtful and calm-in-the-storm leader who grew her insights and sharpened her convictions as a teacher in Compton. On staff at Teach For America, Nicole was a central influence in helping reorganize some of the ways that we developed new teachers.
I’m so excited and proud that Nicole, as founder and leader of the Expectations Project, has just published her first book reflecting on the connections between her deep Christian faith and her commitment to educational equity. In her book Educating All God’s Children, Nicole is exploring “how and why Christians have a collective responsibility to ensure that kids from low-income communities have the same opportunities for educational success that wealthier children experience.”
I myself am not a religious person in any traditional sense. And yet, since my days as a Philosophy major in college spending sleepless nights worrying about why, if I question God, do I feel any sense of commitment to other human beings, I have wrestled with many people would call “questions of faith.” What are my most foundational values and beliefs? Where do they come from? How should they inform my daily actions?
This post marks the end of the Week of the Young Child.
My first day on the job I walked in the building and heard children wailing and children laughing, just like any other preschool teacher. Then, I heard, “Hey, Mr. Handsome.” I knew my mom wasn’t in the room, so I didn’t turn around. Then I remembered I was the only male at Young Scholars Developmental Institute. So I turned around, and saw the call came from a fellow teacher.
One and a half years later, we are happily engaged. Sike! This is not a romantic blog entry. My colleague was not hitting on me. She was simply caught off-guard by the presence of my gender—I was the first male employee in the 15 years since Young Scholars first opened its doors.
My situation is not uncommon in the early childhood education (ECE) field where just 3% of teachers are males. The few men who have pursued careers in ECE are relished simply for choosing to be there. Why is it such a big deal?
Males in this field have the opportunity to play the part of much-needed role models in low-income communities. Fifty percent of my students do not have fathers active in their lives. To be clear, that number is better than the area average A mile east of where my school is located, it’s more like 90%. Those fathers who are involved, largely play the role of disciplinarian. Male ECE professionals can change that perspective by accepting their masculine role and giving back mountains and mountains of love and nurture.
Several years ago, former D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty and Chancellor Michelle Rhee sparked a national referendum on the educational status quo. Like most visionaries, their approach either engendered adoration or disdain.
What I found most fascinating about the fallout from their respective tenures was the racial divide it left behind in the Washington, DC. An overwhelming percentage of African American residents voted against Mayor Fenty during the 2010 mayoral race, while the District’s white residents largely voted in favor of the incumbent mayor. In the end, Fenty lost the election, and both he and Rhee left DC.
After the election the postmortem began. I found myself in numerous discussions with colleagues and friends about the election results. There was general groaning about the future of education reform in the nation’s capitol (which, by the way, is still going strong largely due to Rhee’s successor, Kaya Henderson).
But the more troubling subtext in these conversations was the lament I heard on continual loop: numerous folks asserted that by ousting Fenty/Rhee, many African American parents had “voted against their own interests.” More than once I heard the statement: “These parents just don’t know what’s best for their kids.”
This post marks the Week of the Young Child.
In second grade, I got detention because I attempted to stab a fourth grader with a pencil. He had taken my red four-square ball and I wanted it back. I didn’t have the nerve to actually use the pencil, but I wanted him to know that he shouldn’t pick on me just because I was littler.
Yard duty caught me and I was thrown into detention. I would serve my one hour sentence by writing “I will respect the school rules” 100 times. The sentence was to be written in cursive. I raised my hand for the detention teacher and said, “I don’t know cursive. I’m in second grade.” The detention teacher flipped over the paper to reveal the printed version of the same sentence. “There! Write that one!” he yelled.
The term “early childhood education” recently flooded American homes as news broadcasters recapped President Obama’s second inaugural address. Weeks after the fanfare has subsided, our country is left with an immense challenge: how can we provide our neediest children and families the high-quality educational start they need?
This exact question kept us up at night for the past collective decade that we have been working in education. Late last summer we decided to try our hand at an answer by building a high-quality early childhood center for children ages birth to five in Chicago. To begin this journey, we knew we must first understand the community we would serve—a community that we aren’t ourselves from, but have worked in and grown to love.
We started by listening.
This post originally appeared on TeacherPop. We have reblogged it with permission.
Emily Southerton (Delta '10) is a teacher and poet who created and runs The Poet Warriors Project.
When we read the lines, “Between Walls/the back wings/of the/hospital where/nothing/will grow lie/cinders/in which shine/the broken/pieces of a green/bottle,” on the last day of my poetry unit, I ask my middle schoolers to discuss in groups what it means to them.
“Even when others are negative around us, we can stand out and be different,”
“Even if we are dealing with something hard in life, we can smile,”
“Even if we come from a bad area/family/school, even if we are broken, we can be successful; we can shine.”
Two years ago, I had the chance to hear Wendy Kopp speak to an education entrepreneurship incubator. She wowed the audience, but faced a tough question in the Q&A—what was her biggest regret? Wendy answered that, after 20 years, TFA still had not moved the needle nationally on student achievement.
“So how will you change that?” was the next question. Although Wendy freely admitted that she did not have the answer in hand, her response stayed with me: “I don’t know how we get this done unless we leverage technology in a way we have not done for the last 20 years.”
Two years go by. I conducted a search in TFA’s online community for corps members and alumni, TFANet, to see an index of all the TFA alums working in district or charter management organization (CMO) leadership. There are 500 of them. But just 13 have jobs related to technology. Eight of the 13 work for a district. Six of the 13 have a senior position (district or charter). Two have a senior technology role in a district. And only one has a senior technology role in a large district.
Although by the time I was 11 my grandmother had Alzheimer’s and could no longer speak full sentences, I loved and remember her presence.
It was my ritual to grab her hand and ask her all sorts of silly questions she had no cognitive ability to answer. Like, “Grandma, what’s your favorite football team? Is it the CowBOYS or……or (then I’d whisper really lowly) the Packers?” Occasionally, she’d repeat, “boys,” well, err, more like, “bo,” and I was set! I’d dash into the living room yelling, “See Dad!! Gramma’s a COWBOYS fan like me, not a Packers fan like you! Told ya so!!”
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