The first of the three primary goals the school board set for our district is: “Ensure all students have equitable opportunities.” As many of you know, I am deeply invested in this goal.
Now I am calling on community members to serve as mentors for some of our most at-risk students: black males in our middle schools.
I chair our district’s Equity Design Team, involving teachers, school directors, principals, students and community leaders. For the past two years, this group has dug into our district data to identify inequities and set priorities. We are concerned about the data we see involving our black middle school students, especially boys in sixth grade.
- a black male student in our middle schools is four times more likely to be suspended than a white student; and
- black male students in our middle schools have the lowest achievement on PSSAs compared to other racial groups.
Both of these trends are most pronounced beginning in sixth grade. That is why the School District of Lancaster is launching a mentoring program for black boys in sixth grade.
We know our students are not broken. We are not here to fix them. We know we need to address the systemic biases in the system and are committed to that work. We have started Deep Equity work across all levels of the school organization, and we have adopted a restorative practices approach to discipline. Still, we believe a mentoring program of an affinity group can disrupt the cycle of failure to improve academic and social outcomes for boys and young men of color.
Some have asked me, Why start with such a small group of students to achieve such a broad goal? The answer is targeted universalism, or using targeted strategies to reach universal goals. We believe a strategy that benefits black male middle school students by improving their achievement and reducing their suspensions will benefit all students.
Targeted universalism is not just a fancy title for a pilot program. Other student groups may benefit from a similar mentoring program; many may not. We want to implement targeted strategies that are inclusive of the needs of both the dominant and the marginalized groups, but that pay particular attention to the situation of the marginal group. We will collect data and determine how mentoring impacts students’ approaches to school.
We already have identified several mentors, but we need additional members of the African American community, males in particular, to support this work. For more information, contact Erin Conahan, coordinator of school, family and community partnerships at 717.396.6501 or EKConahan@SDLancaster.org.