Beyond the classroom: Bridging schools and communities for Black youth

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By HEATHER L. SAVAGE

In our pursuit of educational equity, it is important to recognize that the success of African American students hinges not only on what happens inside the classroom but also on how schools engage with families and community organizations. Too often, schools operate in isolation, missing out on the resources and support that local groups and parents can offer.

It’s time for a change, where schools no longer see themselves as islands but as integral parts of a broader community network.

The disparity in disciplinary actions in schools, where African American students often face harsher penalties than their white counterparts, has consistently been an issue that needs to be rectified. These practices not only perpetuate a cycle of mistrust and alienation but also rob these students of the supportive, nurturing environment they need to thrive. Schools must adopt more restorative approaches to discipline that affirm students’ dignity rather than diminish it.

Additionally, the role of parental involvement cannot be overstressed. Currently, there is a significant disconnect between schools and the home environments of many students. Parents are often seen as absent from their children’s education, not because they lack interest, but because schools have not made the effort to engage them effectively. Attendance at parent-teacher conferences is dwindling, not out of disinterest but often due to the lack of flexible scheduling or the absence of a welcoming atmosphere at these meetings.

Community programs are stepping up to bridge these gaps. These organizations often operate at the grassroots level, directly addressing the needs of the community and providing tailored support that schools on their own may not be equipped to offer. They provide not just academic support but also mentorship, life skills and mental health support, and serve as a link between the student’s school life and home environment.

For schools to truly serve the best interests of all students, they must actively seek partnerships with these community organizations. By doing so, they can create a holistic support system that extends beyond the traditional boundaries of education. Schools need to open their doors and policies to allow for a more integrated, collaborative approach to student welfare, one that values the insights and contributions of all stakeholders in the community.

It is time for educational institutions to embrace a model of cooperation and partnership. We need schools to be more than just places of learning; they should also be community centers that reflect and serve the needs of their diverse populations. This change will not only improve the educational outcomes for African American and other students of color but will also foster an environment where every student, regardless of background, is allowed to succeed. As we look to the future, let’s envision schools that are deeply connected with their communities, where the line between school and community is blurred, and both work in tandem to uplift every student.

We must hold both schools and parents accountable, encouraging a community-wide commitment to the education and well-being of our youth. This is not just a complaint or a dream but a necessity for a just and equitable society.

Heather L. Savage is a doctoral student of social work at the University of Louisville. She works as a social worker, community leader and nonprofit consultant and is the co-founder of Let Them Talk and the CEO of Savvy Consulting Services.