By Jazlyn Moock
Education, undoubtedly, is the most essential force for each individual’s success and for the world as a whole. Allowing for the development of children’s knowledge, confidence, and personal growth, this empowering foundation of society is the key to a better life. Though, education is not equal and many American children still find themselves year after year struggling to open their doors to fortune and freedom because of faulty keys, broken by generations of systematic inequity and discrimination.
From slavery to Jim Crow to today’s insufferable lack of economic and social mobility in minority communities, the nation’s discrepancies in opportunity and proper support have remained unrelenting and highly prevalent, especially in education. Subsequently, the academic achievement gaps between children of color and their caucasian counterparts have persisted, placing even more struggle to succeed on those whose lives are already burdened by endless roadblocks and racism in its innumerable forms. Progression in schooling is needed now more than ever, as these gaps in achievement—ultimately caused by gaps in opportunity—expand over time and add fuel to the fire that is America’s immobile cycle of inequity and poverty. However, when the energy and funds are directed toward low-income minority students while young, they are more likely to graduate from high school, more likely to graduate from college, and, above all, more likely to achieve a prosperous, healthy life in adulthood, something which every American deserves.
So, what are the steps to attaining equity in education and enhancing childrens’ potential to thrive? And, most importantly, how is Heritage shaping up to these daunting challenges?
Needless to say, the problem behind achievement gaps is multilayered; therefore, it requires a multilayered solution, addressing all of the economic, social, and even psychological pressures that factor into a student’s educational experience. To fully bring balance and justness into education, not only do school-related issues such as low rigor and lack of representation in curriculum need to be resolved, but external elements as well. Instructors must question if the students have access to the necessary technology and resources to thrive, and if family involvement has a hand in students’ ability to succeed. Though, the deciding factor of a student’s success is actually the simplest, whether they are believed in and supported emotionally. One of the most detrimental actions against a minority student is for educators to set low expectations for them, depreciating their potential. After the impressionable mind of a child hears or infers from others lack of confidence in them that they are inferior, they will start to believe it and surrender to the false conceptions and destinies placed upon them. In a society that has constantly attempted to minimize diverse Americans’ aptitudes and belittle their accomplishments, minority youth need role models and authority figures assuring them that they do have value and are capable of achieving all that they desire. Often not, in an uplifting environment—that strays away from the reinforcement of damaging superiority complexes—students will take more pride in themselves and have the confidence to flourish academically, socially, physically, and emotionally.
This strive to encourage, inspire, and instill self-regard within students is certainly a strong point for Heritage. Even during the tumultuous times of a pandemic, the school has shown tremendous effort to provide support and opportunity for all of its diverse students. A few examples include the countless home deliveries for various technology and other material needs, consistent contact and support given to parents, peer tutoring offered four times a day, and one-on-one faculty mentorship. Meeting with students during lunch, after school, and on asynchronous days, these mentors offer help with academic and personal matters, such as time management and social-emotional management. The head of the Intervention Team at Heritage, Erica Davis, describes these meetings as “the true definition of Huskies helping Huskies.”
There have also been ample efforts in aiding Huskies who speak English as a second language. Heritage provides ESL tutoring afterschool on Tuesdays and Thursdays, bi-weekly fun Friday days where students check in with the ESL team and their peers, parent nights, and a Facebook page that presents parents with videos and tips to help their students thrive. Some of the ESL lunch sessions even have featured guest speakers from the Office of Equity Affairs.
Not to mention the weekly check-ins for the members of Ladies of Distinction and Male Leadership Summit, in which students are able to develop bonds and leadership skills together, uplifting each other along the way.
Initiatives such as these make an immense impact, as they place personalization, care, and connection into schooling—values that the Student Equity Team is also working to achieve at Heritage. Their mission is to bring forth change by shedding light to the struggles every diverse sub-group at Heritage endures, as well as creating viable, proactive solutions for them. Acknowledging the daily challenges of African and Latin American students, LGBTQ+ students, and students with disabilities, the Equity Team emphasizes the importance of every unique person’s needs, every unique person’s worth. Currently, the members are organizing a Hate-Free Campaign in the hopes of erasing negative stigmas, embracing differences, and creating a safe, inviting school community which feels more like a home than a school. While the 2020 co-coordinators are still pinpointing the most effective solutions to feelings of disconnection and inequity during COVID, they have brainstormed ideas of launching a series of educational videos on equity and self-care, surveys that gather student experiences, and interviews that encourage interaction and conversations in diversity.
“At the end of the day, we are all just human beings, and no matter what labels people may project onto us, everyone at Heritage deserves to feel affirmed, respected, and valued—staff and students alike,” Janice Hodges, co-advisor of the Equity Team, states, explaining what the group truly stands for and what equity truly means at Heritage.
While the Student Equity Team is focused on empowering student voices and building a nurturing community, the School Improvement Team has been covering the administrative side of the fight for equal opportunity. In charge of assessing school-wide procedure and academic progresses, the team each year works diligently to improve achievement and outcomes for every student—with the ultimate goal of eliminating the ability to predict achievement based on socioeconomic status, race, and ethnicity. At monthly meetings, the SIP team collaboratively analyzes school data and makes decisions in the hopes of decreasing disparities and aiding students in reaching their fullest academic potential. While the past school year has proved to be more of a challenge in regards to collection of data, the team is now in the process of gathering new data from virtual learning and is working to develop a plan to close any achievement gaps discovered.
Though, both the Student Equity Team and School Improvement Team have both agreed that there is more work to be done, and the pursuit of equality at Heritage is far from over.
As Racial Equity Coordinator and student at Heritage, Adrian Rogers, exclaims, “It’s a long road until we get to real progress, but we are going to get there if enough people will stand up with us and make their voice heard—because their input matters more than anything.”
If interested in joining the Student Equity Team in their efforts of equity at Heritage contact: