Black Suburbia: Panacea for Urban Education?
Teacher Quality inMajority Minority Suburbs:Project PROMISE
This emerging area of inquiry led me, along with another colleague, Dr. Roberto Joseph, to seek grant opportunities directed toward providing students in majority black suburbs with highly qualified teachers. We are recent recipients of a grant from the New York State EducationDepartment. The grant programTeacher Opportunity Corps(TOC) at Hofstra University aims to increase the number of historically underrepresented,economically disadvantaged, and all other individuals interested and committed to working with students in underperforming school districts. These school districts are unique because,although they are located on suburban Long Island, they are segregated minority communities where the public education mimics the challenges faced in urban/inner city communities. Research suggests that schools in these areas are twice as likely as their white counterparts to have underqualified and inexperienced teachers, and these teachers are more likely to leave the profession or move to a school whose students are “easier” to teach, causing a constant revolving door of novices serving high-need schools(Education Trust, 2005). Recent research also suggests that these teacher transitions are strongly related to student characteristics such as achievement levels, race and ethnicity(Hanushek, Kain, Rivikin, 2004).
The TOC at Hofstra University will address this persistent problem in teacher quality in underperforming districts through the development of one-on-one tutoring between TOCparticipants and students in high-need districts. The TOC at Hofstra will be driven by our theme, Project PROMISE(Promoting Responsive, Optimistic andMeaningful Interactions in SecondaryEducation). Our goal is to implement are search and development initiative framed by a sociocultural perspective on the teaching and learning process,emphasizing the relationship between student and teacher. We will have an overarching research and practice focus on how the identities of both teacher and student are linked to the practices found in their social cultural communities and negotiated in the context of the school and classroom culture. The program will enable both prospective and in-service teachers to examine the interactions between student and teacher and how these interactions influence instruction, with the goal of promoting sociocultural consciousness as the departing point of effective teaching. At the core of our framework is the notion that learning is embedded in the social relation that exists between teacher and student and how both simultaneously interpret and represent each other and the content in the classroom (Nasir and Hand, 2006).
Educational Enrichment:Hofstra Saturday Program
I have also been fortunate to assume responsibility for another grant program funded by Planned Parenthood ofNassau County. This is a social activist intervention program designed to provide safe and educationally rich opportunities for adolescent girls and boys from communities and school districts surrounding Hofstra University. Our goal is to foster the achievement motivation and enhance the performance trajectory of minority students.
The Saturday program, in effect since 2001, has engaged students in a variety of activities, all of which are designed to help pre-teens and teens stay healthy by using a holistic approach that instills values and pride in themselves and their capabilities. The program also works closely with parents and encourages them to be active participants in supporting their children. The program consists of three key initiatives for adolescents, consisting of workshops in music, technology, and healthy sexuality. Additionally, it includes a parent component to encourage positive and supportive interaction among parents and adolescents and to support parent understanding of issues affecting their children, including sexuality and pregnancy prevention.
The Music Mentoring program draws on the volunteer services of high school students with skill in music. Working with these high school peer mentors from Wheatley High School, EastWilliston School District, program participants learn to play instruments and more generally develop their understanding and appreciation of music. Mentors provide private technical guidance/instruction in musical instrument/NYSSMApreparation, support and encourage students, share the positive effects of creating music that mentors have experienced personally, and are an overall positive role model. The program culminates in a concert at the end of the school year. We are very excited that this year the NassauCounty District Attorney’s Office has provided funds to further enhance this segment of the Saturday program.
Additionally, twice a month, the students meet to learn technology skills.With the supervision of the program coordinator, Lisa Collet Rodriguez,students work with visual editing and creation programs and HTML editing software, which allows them opportunities for developing a Web site,using Photoshop and other programs for visual displays, and editing and linking video clips. As part of the technology initiative, students use technology to conduct research with their peers and participate in discussions about themselves, their communities, selfexpression and self-image.
Educational Enrichment:Increasing Mathematical andTechnological Literacy
A third project that I have been working toward, in collaboration with Drs. Roberto Joseph and BlidiStemn, is submitting proposals to fund the creation of socially relevant curriculum in the areas of math and technology. Specifically,our effort is focused on providing enrichment in math and technology for minority girls. While math and technological literacy are of critical significance in our advancing information age, especially as an indicator of college eligibility,research has documented that low income minority girls (AfricanAmerican, Caribbean and Latina)are, as a group, the least likely to engage in course work in these areas that promote higher-level thinking during their K-12 school experience (Cooper, Cooper Jr.,Azmitia, Chavira and Gullatt, 2002).
Research in the area of mathematical and technology proficiency among low income racial minority girls has also noted that gender disparities are generally found as students move toward more advanced levels of study.Indeed, Leder (1992) reported that low income and racial minority girls begin to lag behind in mathematics in the late elementary years. So despite the gains that the National Assessment ofEducational Progress (NAEP) – which is a basic skills examination – has reported from the period from 1973 to 1992 for racial minority girls, there still continues to be a significant gap in mathematics proficiency as compared to their white counterparts.
In conclusion, my goal is to provide transformative experiences for minority youngsters that can improve both their academic and personal developmental trajectories. It is my intention to continue to build upon these projects by connecting with various partners who share a commitment to the improvement of the lives of minority youngsters.