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Retreat focuses on school diversity

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BY AMELIA HARPER
Staff Writer

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Teach for America is hosting its first regional Corp Members of Color Retreat this weekend in Edgecombe County.

The Eastern North Carolina regional event began Thursday and was held at Franklinton at Bricks, a reclaimed slavery plantation that was transformed into one of the first accredited schools for emancipated African-Americans in the South and now serves as an educational facility that focuses on justice, advocacy and leadership and development, Maaso Kalema, manager of local leadership and development for the Nash-Rocky Mount division of Teach for America said Thursday. The retreat is being held Saturday and today at North Edgecombe High School, where Teach for America alumnus Donnell Cannon serves as principal.

“This four-day-long event will engage teachers of color, those specifically identifying as North African/Middle Eastern, Asian American/Pacific Islander, LatinX, African-American and Native/Indigenous, in learning opportunities that will provide meaningful reflection about their own identity as educators of color,” Kalema said.

In Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools and nationally, educators of color are disproportionately represented in classrooms, Kalema said, and that gap in teacher diversity and talent is growing. Though 50.6 percent of students in the American public education system are students of color, only 13 percent of teachers nationwide are of color, Kalema said. In areas such as rural North Carolina, that gap is even wider.

Research shows that alignment in racial identity, socio-economic background and shared experience between educators and students leads to increased proficiency, graduation rates and overall student success.

Keiyonna Dubashi, director of classroom culture and community for the Eastern North Carolina region of Teach for America, organized and implemented the retreat in the Twin Counties. Dubashi has experience with similar events as she works nationally as a co-chairwoman of the annual national conference on this issue.

Dubashi said she feels it is important for teachers of color to learn strategies to help students who are struggling to learn in a school system that was originally created for white students. She also said teachers of color need to learn strategies to address the school-to-prison pipeline.

“I think one of the best ways to correct this issue is for teachers to learn to interrogate themselves about their own biases as it applies to teaching, discipline and school policies,” Dubashi said.

Kalema said she hopes this conference will help teachers connect with their communities.

“Part of this experience will push and challenge participants to explore what they can do as part of their own communities specific to their identities, and then collectively as people of color, to leverage their own personal dedication to fulfill the promise of equal educational opportunities for all children. During the retreat, teachers will be provided coaching and an experience that will put them on the path to excellent leadership through their future endeavors and build a solid movement to fulfill our promise through an anti-oppression and liberatory consciousness lens.” Kalema said.

In Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools, Teach for America has a long history of attracting and retaining teachers of all backgrounds and of color who are committed to educational equity in the district, Kalema said.

“In Nash-Rocky Mount and Eastern North Carolina, Teach for America is working to address this disparity through quality programming which is working to cultivate and retain educators who reflect the students, families and communities we serve such as this event, the conference being held. At Teach For America, we are committed to realizing the diversity, equity and inclusiveness we envision for the United States and its Indigenous Nations. ...This understanding guides our strategy — how we allocate resources to recruit, support and engage corps members, alumni, and staff — as we pursue our mission,” Kamela said.

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