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AAPI Initiative: Our Progress and Potential
This is the second of a two-part series. Read Sarah's initial post here.
In May 2014, I embarked upon a nationwide listening tour to meet with students, families, educators, and partners to better understand the challenges and assets of AAPI communities in our education system, and to explore how Teach For America can be a trusted and effective partner. What I learned from visiting these communities has allowed me to gain a better understanding of the educational experiences of our AAPI community, given me resources to support our teachers, and has profoundly shaped the work the AAPI Initiative has done since launching.
While there’s more work to be done, I’m proud of the progress that has been made this past year. We’ve focused on a multitude of issues, including advocating for data disaggregation for students and teachers; hosting summits for corps members, alumni, staff, and undergraduate students; and expanding the network of AAPI teachers to include individuals who are Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipients.
We’ve seen many among our TFA Family advocating for data disaggregation. The AAPI community is diverse, consisting of more than 48 ethnicities, over 300 spoken languages, varied socioeconomic status, and distinctions across immigration history, generational status, culture, and religion.. But too often, our AAPI students are faced with the limited option of bubbling in “Asian” on official documents, and not allowed to identify by their ethnic communities. Not only does this affect a student’s developing sense of self, it also contributes to a national data narrative which lumps all AAPI communities together, and ignores those who need the most help.
Teach For America supports Congressman Mike Honda’s “All Students Count Act,” which would require annual state report cards to use the same race categories as the decennial Census and provide additional cross-tabulations of student outcomes by gender, disability, and English language proficiency. Knowing that such disaggregation will also benefit the teaching workforce, Teach For America has also enhanced its corps member application to allow applicants to choose a primary ethnicity and have the option to choose up to 3 additional ethnicities (from a list of 103) to further define their identity – allowing for a more inclusive experience and improved ethnicity reporting for all of our teachers. Better data collection and governance could then be used for myriad purposes, including targeting resources to close achievement gaps and better support our teachers.
Strengthening Our Commmunity
We’ve also worked to strengthen the AAPI community within Teach For America. Last July, we held the inaugural AAPI corps member summit in Oakland, which brought together more than 100 second-year teachers and staff members to reflect on their identities as teachers, individuals, and leaders. We also brought together over 200 staff members from 35 regions to attend the second annual AAPI staff summit, and explored the unique role of AAPI communities in the fight for educational equity.
We know the great contributions that AAPI teachers bring to the field and to their students. Currently, six percent of Teach For America teachers identify as Asian American, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander, compared to less than the 1.5 percent of the national teaching workforce. This number is too low, and we want to work to strengthen the pipeline of AAPI educators. We hosted four undergraduate Asian American and Pacific Islander Leadership Summits (AAPILS), where we convened AAPI undergraduate students over one and a half days with participating regions.
This past year, the summits took place in four cities: New York City, Boston, Los Angeles, and Minnesota. AAPILS engaged undergraduate students in partnership with regional and national organizations that focus on working with and serving the AAPI community. Some of the goals of the Summit included having students reflect on their own AAPI identity, feel empowered to advocate for and with our community partners and their work, and fostering participants’ mindsets around actively advocating for educational equity.
The Role of Our DACAmented Teachers
This school year, we also welcomed two corps members who are recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival Status—legislation that allows undocumented young people who were brought to the United States as children, and who meet certain qualifications, the opportunity to stay in this country. Teach For America believes that individuals brought to the U.S. as children should be able to pursue an education and career without the threat of deportation, and that there should be a pathway to fully participate in American society through educational achievement—including contributing to the vision that every child will attain an excellent education.
We know there’s more work to be done to expand educational access to all communities. I am honored to continue to work with our partners, community members, and AAPI leaders to ensure that our students and their experiences do not continue to be left out of conversations around educational equity. I’m convicted to ensure that we are being mindful and purposeful of how Teach for America engages with and partners with our community leaders and organizations in order to accelerate our collective impact with and for our students, families, and communities.
Sarah Ha is the managing director of Teach For America’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Initiative.