Education: Minority Students are the New Majority

Labels such as “low-income”, “immigrant”, and “single-parent household” once described only a small group of students at-risk of falling through the cracks of America's school system. However, as our country continues to change socially and economically, maximizing success in school and life requires that parents, educators, and decision-makers alike acknowledge that our minority student population is quickly becoming the majority of our learners.

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47% of students now qualify for free or reduced lunch--an  economic indicator for those living in households with incomes less than 200 times the poverty line. Additionally, 36% of U.S. citizens now identify as a race or ethnicity other than white. In fact,  for the first time ever, the majority of babies in the U.S. ages five years and younger are racial minorities.

As the number of low-income and racial minority students grows to become the majority, a light shines brighter on the systemic flaws of our educational system and the need for more inclusive educational models. Studies continue to find that low-income and minority students are the most likely to repeat grades, face disciplinary action, fail to graduate from high school and miss out on higher education. Alarmingly, as the data above regarding America's demographic change suggests, more students are susceptible to these outcomes than ever before.

Eliminating persistent educational attainment and life outcome gaps between underserved students and their peers will require schools to find new ways to meet the diversifying needs of students.

The circumstances of a child’s background can no longer be an excuse for continued failure in our schools.

Aundrea’s 3 Ways to Better Include Minorities in Education Policy

1. Raise expectations: The underachievement of low-income and minority students across generations has shaped low-expectations for the advancements these students can make in school. Case in point: my friend Jamil's account of his experience as an African American male in school. Despite being a bright student now on his way to law school, Jamil notes:

"I feel that the expectations for me are low, because not many expect me to get an education or care about my education."

We cannot miss opportunities to motivate and mentor this growing group of students to achieve in learning and then later in career and life. Much as I mention in Education Wednesday: "My Brother's Keeper" and Empowering Boys of Color, empowering underserved students begins with changing mindsets about who can succeed in school. Additionally, we must create policies and practices that help students become active agents in shaping their outcomes in life. 

2. Increase parental involvement: Studies prove that children from single-parent homes–which disproportionately characterize low-income and minority students–are less likely to graduate from high school. Where parental involvement is lacking at home, schools have either blamed absent parents for the shortcoming of students or assumed the role of paternal figures themselves. While the latter stance can be beneficial to students--especially as additional research demonstrates that interaction with even one adult who cares can greatly impact a child’s life--schools must still do more to reach out to parents and incentivize involvement in their student's education. Finding ways to include all parents is vital to creating a cohesive network of support that extends to all areas of a child's life.  

3. Promote personalized learning: A growing need for school models that provide flexibility to serve the unique strengths, challenges, and interests of individual students exists. One-size-fits-all learning models have continuously failed to help students meet academic benchmarks and prepare them for their adult lives. Whether by increasing school choice in states or by integrating innovative learning models into our traditional public schools, personalized learning could help maximize academic and life success for more students.

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Education is one of the most powerful tools for increasing economic upward mobility. Yet, access to high quality (or even adequate education) continues to be skewed across class and racial lines. This increasingly means that the  majority of our students are being underserved and overlooked. As minorities now constitute a large segment of our communities, tax base, workforce, and economy, there is even greater urgency to close once and for all persistent achievement gaps and ensure all students have a shot at academic success. By acknowledging our Minority-Majority student population and implementing sound policies to eliminate disparity-creating barriers, America's future will be brighter than ever.

Aundrea_Gregg-TheWiseLatinaClubAn education policy wonk at the Georgia Center of Opportunity, Aundrea Gregg holds a Master’s degree in Social Policy and Planning from the London School Of Economics and a Bachelor’s in Classical Civilizations and Political Science from Howard University. She also is a nail painting enthusiast and writer living in Atlanta, GA. Connect with Aundrea on Twitter or Google+.

Edited by: Viviana Hurtado, Ph.D.

What is your prescription to close the educational gap and help all our students achieve in school and later in life ?

Education Wednesday: A Case for Universal Preschool

This year there has been a strong national focus on expanding access to quality early childhood education for all students. Earlier this year in the State of the Union Address, President Obama placed more emphasis on pre-kindergarten programs, particularly as an intervention for closing persistent achievement gaps along socioeconomic lines. As more state and local leaders are waking up to the important role early childhood learning can play in changing the circumstances of a child’s life,  the case is being made for why America is ready for universal preschool.

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America is ready for universal preschool because as a country, we are currently missing a huge opportunity to put more students on the path to later academic achievement. As I mention in Education Wednesday: Why Early Childhood Education Matters to Niños, high-quality early childhood education can yield benefits such as lower tendencies to repeat grades and less need for special education. Studies find that participating in preschool programs can even decrease the future likelihood of teen pregnancy and run-ins with the law, which disproportionately affect low-income and minority students

Far too many low-income and minority students still struggle to access vital early learning programs at the same rate as their peers. In 2012 a staggering 40% of kids in the U.S. ages 3 to 5 years old were not enrolled in a certified preschool program. African American and Latino students were among the least likely to be enrolled. Currently, a whopping 10 states or 1/5 of the country do not offer any sort of state-funded program, and many more only offer spaces to our most low-income families. As the cost of quality preschool programs can be a burden to even well-off middle-class families, state-funded programs would improve accessibility for all students.

While critics still question the long term benefits of early childhood education, there is no denying that quality education can level the playing field for all students to succeed in life.

Aundrea's 3 Reasons Why A Universal Preschool Program is Necessary 

  1. Mandatory teacher certifications: As preschool is one of the most formative times in a child's life, it is important to have certified teacher who have been trained to actively engage our young ones. Currently, no national mandate exists to regulate whether or not a child care provider has the proper credentials to work with students. Any private early learning center could potentially just be an expensive babysitter. A universal program would offer a chance for an even distribution of qualified teachers.

  2. Streamlined learning curriculums: Unfortunately, not all early learning programs are created equal. Just because your student attends a form of preschool does not mean she is developing the skills she needs to thrive later in her education. Effective early learning programs focus on developing kids' social and cognitive abilities. Where no curricula exists, a high-quality state-backed program would boost learning for students.

  3. States Save Money: Critics argue that states will have to shoulder too much financially if they take on the responsibility of providing widespread access. Yet, as students who participate in preschool programs are less likely to utilize welfare benefits and, as I mentioned above, have legal troubles, states save in the long-run when they make the hefty upfront investment in pre-kindergarten programs. In fact, as PBS News reports, states see more return on their investment as students become engaged parents, working adults, and tax-paying citizens.

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Mayor Bill De Blasio recently announced a multi-million dollar initiative to roll-out a free universal pre-kindergarten program in New York City. This initiative will bring new early learning opportunities to families across the Big Apple and serve as an important example to other states. Despite the initial defeat of his 2015 budget proposal, President Obama and Democratic party leaders are also continuing to push hard for an additional billion dollars in funding to improve access to early childhood education programs across the county.

Universal access to high-quality early childhood education is vital to giving every student an equal start in life and eliminating persistent educational deficiencies.

No child should be left behind before beginning.

As states across the country continue to work out how they will facilitate better access to quality preschool programs, we as parents teachers, and  mentors, must continue to advocate for the education our students deserve.

Aundrea_Gregg-TheWiseLatinaClubAn education policy wonk at the Georgia Center of Opportunity, Aundrea Gregg holds a Master’s degree in Social Policy and Planning from the London School Of Economics and a Bachelor’s in Classical Civilizations and Political Science from Howard University. She also is a nail painting enthusiast and writer living in Atlanta, GA. Connect with Aundrea on Twitter or Google+.

Edited by: Viviana Hurtado, Ph.D.

Is your state expanding access to early childhood education?

Homegrown: The Benefits of Teaching Children How to Grow Food

Growing fresh food at home can be just as much an educational tool as it is a component of the pantry. The process of planting and harvesting fresh produce teaches children about food and the importance of healthy eating habits. Today the homegrown movement has caught fire: more people are growing their own food than ever before including the White House led by First Lady Michelle Obama who this month welcomed students to her Annual White House Garden Planting. With FoodCorps and the National Gardening Association, Mrs. Obama is encouraging children to get out and garden as part of her mission to establish healthy eating and lifestyle habits.

FLOTUS gardening with students.

Currently 1 in 3 households grow food. Over the last five years, the number of families food gardening increased from 12 million to 15 million. Food gardening provides families with fresh produce. But more importantly, it is a resource for education since children learn the skills needed and lifelong benefits of growing food.

3 Lessons Children Learn from Growing Produce at Home

  1. Responsibility and Commitment: For families, tending to a garden can be much like caring for a pet. The garden needs attention. It has to be watered and protected from pests. This is no easy task. For children to see the (literal) fruits of their labor, they must commit themselves to taking care of the garden and wait patiently for it to harvest.

  2. Importance of Local Food: Eating produce from a home garden is about as local as you can get. Many Americans are disconnected from where and how their food is produced. Teaching our children to grow and buy local food can lead to a cleaner food supply and shrink our carbon footprint. 

  3. One Aspect of a Healthy Lifestyle: Childhood obesity is a concerning epidemic. Teaching children the importance of a healthy lifestyle starts at home. Growing and eating fruits and vegetables encourages healthy habits for children to carry with them into their adult life.

During the First Lady's annual garden planting, Washington, D.C.-area students helped the First Lady plant the new pollinator garden where bees can gather pollen and spread it between the plants.

Students gardening in the White House Garden.

The garden which grows a multitude of fruits and vegetables was already sprouting leafy greens. That's where White House Executive Chef Cristita Comerford goes for fresh ingredients to cook meals including a kid favorite--pizza. I grabbed the recipe while at the event to try at home! 

White House Grilled Garden Pizza 

Serves 4

1 12 inch pizza dough, can use freezer dough

2 tbsp olive oil

1 eggplant, sliced, ½ inch thick

1 sweet potato, peeled, sliced thinly

1 red pepper, sliced, ¼ inch thick

Salt and pepper to taste

6 oz. tomato sauce, your favorite brand... or homemade!

6 oz. shredded mozzarella, lowfat

Chopped fresh basil, for garnish.

Toss the vegetables in olive oil and salt and pepper. Grill until softened but still a bit crunchy. Set aside.

Flatten the pizza dough until about 1/8 inch thick. Brush with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Grill on both sides for about 2 minutes on each side. Top with the tomato sauce, mozzarella, and grilled veggies. Garnish with basil. Serve immediately.

White House Executive Chef, Cristeta Comerford

Teaching our children the importance of growing food from an early age is necessary for promoting a healthy future. Gardening and cooking with children is not only beneficial for their education, but they also reap the benefits of the lesson. Brush the dust off of your gardening tools and get out and grow! 

HaleyFulford-TheWiseLatinaClub A food enthusiast and native Georgia Peach, Haley recently graduated from Appalachian State University with a Bachelors of Science in Sustainable Development. Currently interning at the United States House of Representatives, she is passionate about the outdoors, improved access to quality education for all, public policy, and documenting “from stress to success in the city.” Click here to read more about and connect with Haley.

Edited by Viviana Hurtado, Ph.D.

Are fruits and vegetables a regular part of your diet?

Education Wednesday: Why You Secretly Love Math

For centuries, I am sure, students have groaned and questioned the real use of mathematics outside of school. However, long before modern technological advances, math concepts have shaped our world and been pivotal in our daily lives. Math is secretly our favorite subject because it allows us to question, prove, construct, dismantle, divide, and conquer the world around us. This April for Math Education Month, help spark interest with activities at home and in the community that take the mundane out of this fundamental subject.

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Despite the headache-causing bad rap34% adults name math as the most useful subject in their daily lives. We secretly love math because it helps us arrive to meetings on time, bake perfect cakes, and complete our taxes. The key to fostering an appreciation of mathematics is helping students connect textbook concepts with real world applications. In fact, I fell in love with math in 7th grade when my teacher related our study of percentages to shopping for retail bargains.**  

It is never too early to spark an interest in math. However, studies find that during middle and high school, students are more likely to fall behind in math and less likely to ever regain momentum. During this time it is particularly important to keep students excited by increasing their hands-on interaction with math.

Aundrea's 3 Ways to Spark Interest in Math

  1. Math Applications: My youngest brother recently tipped me off to the exciting world of math computer apps. I was amazed one evening as he sat glued to his tablet, playing Math Ninja. He was ecstatic because this was homework. I was ecstatic because he was engrossed in multiplication tables--groan-free! To spark an interest, try  playing fun and educational games at home. Math Ninja, Elevated Math, and Operation Math Code Squad are all little brother-approved.
  2. Hands-on activities at home: Lessons about math do not have to be confined to the classroom. Start at home by discussing how math functions in everyday life.  This is important for making math approachable and building students' confidence with its use. Try activities such as a family Do It Yourself building or sewing projects, gardening, or cooking is a great way to relate the uses of math. For more hands-on activity ideas, click here.
  3. Summer Camps: With STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), becoming an educational focal point, many new summer programs are emerging across the county. As these camps combine abstract thinking, problem solving, and hands-on learning, students gain much more depth to their understanding and use of math. For math summer camps near you, click here.

We continue to love math because we love a good challenge. As adults, math is good for our brains and also for keeping problem solving-skills sharp too. It is never too late to develop your own love of math. 

2 Ways to Indulge Your Inner Math Lover

  1. Ask Dr. Math: I recently stumbled upon Drexel University’s Math Forum. The site provides explanations and resources for topics such as geometry. In addition, math enthusiasts can even send their burning questions to Dr. Math, a resident math professor. I eagerly read an article where Dr. Math answered one student’s question about “truth in mathematics” and her interest in studying number theory. To the latter, Dr. Math offered this great advice:

"If you read the biographies of great mathematicians (and I think you should), you'll find that one thing they all had in common is that they didn't wait around for other people to teach them mathematics. They went out and learned it from books, or made it up as they went along."

2. Work through famous math problems: If you really enjoy a challenge, try retracing the steps of famous mathematicians. Formulas such as Euler's Identitythe Fibonacci Sequence, or even the Pythagorean Theorem will have your inner math nerd jumping for joy. Or, if you are looking for slightly less challenging fun, try cracking the  world's hardest sudoku!

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Math is our favorite subject because it is both a tool to express ideas and a building block of innovation. Famous physicist, Albert Einstein, (despite being rumored to have failed math in school) noted that math was in fact the only tool powerful enough to help him study the universe. By helping more students foster a love of math, we are really sharing with them endless possibilities in learning and life. 

**By the way, this lesson still proves useful, particularly as I continue my debt and savings plan, Project Debt Down

Aundrea_Gregg-TheWiseLatinaClubAn education policy wonk at the Georgia Center of Opportunity, Aundrea Gregg holds a Master’s degree in Social Policy and Planning from the London School Of Economics and a Bachelor’s in Classical Civilizations and Political Science from Howard University. She also is a nail painting enthusiast and writer living in Atlanta, GA. Connect with Aundrea on Twitter or Google+.

 Edited by: Viviana Hurtado, Ph.D.

What do you love most about math?

Education Wednesday: How to be an Education Advocate

Anyone can be an advocate for great education! Yet as parents, mentors, and friends we are not always sure of what we can do to support our students' learning needs. National reforms such as Common Core State Standards and local issues such as school choice affect students' educational experiences and life outcomes. Speaking up for what is working (or not working at all) in our schools is vital to improving the quality of education all students receive.

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I recently had the opportunity to visit the Georgia State Capitol while the legislative session was being held. My purpose for attending was to support legislation that would better help former offenders successfully reintegrate into communities across the state. Calling on officials, leaving messages and even getting to speak personally with a Representative, I appreciated how relatively easy it was to access an elected decision-maker.

My experience at the state capitol was empowering because I was able to directly engage the people passing laws in my state. This experience also emphasized to me that showing a face for your cause can make a significant difference in initiating change in your neighborhood. Being an effective advocate is something anyone can do, and it does not have to be a full-time job.

 Aundrea's 4 Tips to be an Effective Advocate

  1. Participate in Issue Forums: As new educational policies are proposed or implemented, community members can share their experiences, successes, and failures at open discussions such as town hall and PTA meetings. Participating in these open discussions (whether physically or through online conversations) is a good way to find out more about the issue, as well as who the influential stakeholders involved are. Through issue forums, advocates are able to build resources and support networks to have a wider impact of change.

  2. Write an Opinion-Editorial (Op-ed): As advocates, our mission is to bring a real face to issues, policies, and programs impacting our lives. Taking pen to paper (or fingers to keys) is a great way to bring attention to what is going on in your school or community. Writing about personal experiences can not only  be cathartic or empowering, it can also highlight how outcomes can  be improved. Trying submitting an Op-ed to a local newspaper or online journal.

  3. Personally Meet with Elected Officials: Much like my day at the capitol, constituents can arrange to meet their local, state, and potentially even national representatives to inform about issues personally impacting you, your family, or community. Meeting with officials is an opportunity to bring attention to current legislation that you think could be a positive solution.

  4. Vote! From PTA Secretary all the way to the President of the United States, it is absolutely vital to vote for the officials you want representing your family's educational needs. My grandmother always used to say:

"If you don't vote, you don't have a say."

It is important to utilize every "say" we have as action that can improve educational access and opportunity for our students.

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Social media has made it easier than ever to interact with elected leaders and policymakers, stay current on issues, and share ideas. Try following decision-makers on Twitter, Facebook, and subscribing to issue-related blogs like The Wise Latina Club :).

While sometimes we never see the change at all, as policies reach our schools, communities, and homes the outcomes of these reforms affect us and our students personally. Our experiences, successes, and failures are ultimately what matters in education reform. To ensure students receive the resources they need, speaking up and being engaged is the only way to guarantee the education our nation promises.

 Aundrea_Gregg-TheWiseLatinaClubAn education policy wonk at the Georgia Center of Opportunity, Aundrea Gregg holds a Master’s degree in Social Policy and Planning from the London School Of Economics and a Bachelor’s in Classical Civilizations and Political Science from Howard University. She also is a nail painting enthusiast and writer living in Atlanta, GA. Connect with Aundrea on Twitter or Google+.

Edited by: Viviana Hurtado, Ph.D.

How do you support education in your community?

Education Wednesday: Preparing Students for Technical Careers

To help more students reach lucrative and stable jobs upon graduation, many new educational models are emerging to provide young people with early vocational training. However, beyond familiar positions such as plumbers and electricians, early career-focused programs can give students a head-start towards advanced technical careers. As America's economy becomes more rooted in specialized industries, the time has come to familiarize ourselves with the alternative pathways that bypass traditional four year college degrees and lead straight to the careers of the future.

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Business Insider recently posted a list of 40 jobs that do not require a bachelor's degree. Careers such as web developer, aerospace engineer, and registered nurse all boasted $60k salaries, yet required at most an associate's degree. Disheartening however, is the notion that in 2013 millions of jobs similar to these went unfilled do to a lack of candidates with adequate training. Sparking an interest early and creating prestige around postsecondary education options such as 2-year technical colleges could easily change this trend.

Middle and high schools can focus on key areas to help students prepare for future careers. In addition to academic knowledge, increasingly employers are discussing the necessary traits such as punctuality, accountability, and resilience that applicants are lacking, yet need to get the job. These qualities, which are often referred to as employability or "soft" skills, may seem like common sense. However, such skills are often left underdeveloped as schools focus more heavily on meeting academic benchmarks. On top of these traits, students must develop heightened problem-solving skills and participate in specialized training in areas such as healthcare science or information technology (IT) to prepare for careers

For students who desire to work in a specialized field, particularly one with a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math)-focus, these new options cater to a variety of interests and learning strengths.

3 Ways to Prepare Students for Specialized Technical Careers

  1. Specialized Charter Schools: Career-oriented charter schools help students hone professional skills and many even grade on the employability skills mentioned above. These career academies offer an intensive learning environment as they divide students' time between traditional classroom settings and training in specific career courses such as business, law, or engineering. As local public schools may not offer such specialized courses, these charter schools are great alternatives for students to prepare for their desired career. Other charter school models to consider include Early College Academies which often allow students to finish high school with an Associate's degree--one step closer to an advanced technical career.
  2. Youth Apprenticeships: I recently spoke with Dr. Bob Lerman, creator of the American Institute for Innovative Apprenticeships and a leading consultant for a new Obama Administration initiative. As we spoke about the benefits of youth apprenticeships, Dr. Lerman noted that these work-based training programs allow students to study alongside senior professionals in an industry setting. He also highlighted that students gain a tremendous amount of confidence while working in real world settings and mastering career-specific skills. As apprenticeships have long been commonplace in countries such as Germany and England, Dr. Lerman hopes to see the popularity of these programs continue to grow in America.
  3. Internships and Fellowships: For students already in college, internships can provide great perks such as access to thought leaders, executives, and potential employers for hands-on training. Unlike apprenticeships, internships are offered in virtually every professional field. Much as I mention in Education Wednesday: How to Secure Internships, students who participate in well-structured internship programs are twice as likely to be recruited for full-time employment as students who do not. Likewise, for recent graduates, fellowship programs can serve as a bridge between college studies and work in a desired professional field. Often fellowships offer more mentorship and opportunities to hone professional skills than the average entry-level position.

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Pairing hands-on training with academic knowledge, many technical training models have had great success placing graduates in careers. Programs such as Praxis and YearUp are two career training programs that provide real world work connections as an alternative to college attendance,\. They are quickly becoming popular options and even attracting top applicants out of high school.

As parents, teachers and mentors, we must do more to expose students to new career possibilities in addition to linking them with the training they need to succeed. Helping students become career ready sooner with vocational training is vital to sustaining prosperity for more young people and our country. Likewise, emphasizing alternative postsecondary options beyond traditional college attendance can quickly help us meet future needs.  

Aundrea_Gregg-TheWiseLatinaClub

An education policy wonk at the Georgia Center of Opportunity, Aundrea Gregg holds a Master’s degree in Social Policy and Planning from the London School Of Economics and a Bachelor’s in Classical Civilizations and Political Science from Howard University. She also is a nail painting enthusiast and writer living in Atlanta, GA. Connect with Aundrea on Twitter or Google+.

Edited by: Viviana Hurtado, Ph.D.

How do you help students prepare for technical careers?

Education Wednesday: "My Brother's Keeper" and Empowering Boys of Color

Looking around our communities and even to the White House, we find many examples in our fathers, brothers, and friends of the potential our boys of color possess to be influential leaders. Concerned with ensuring more young boys succeed, President Obama recently introduced a new initiative, My Brother's Keeper, to do just this. As My Brother's Keeper challenges the disparities which separate boys of color from their peers, we are all challenged to consider what works in improving educational outcomes for African-American and Latino boys.

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Recently, I spoke with a good friend, Jamil about his educational experience as a young African-American man. Knowing him as a humble and focused individual (soon to be attending Law School at the University of Pennsylvania!), I was touched to hear Jamil credit his mother and a dedicated teacher for guidance that helped him reach important milestones in his life.

While speaking with Jamil emphasized that not all men of color are falling through the cracks, it was a comment about expectations that stuck with me the most:

"I feel that the expectations for me are low, because not many expect me to get an education or care about my education."

Many statistics highlight that African-American and Latino boys are the least likely to graduate from high school and find employment. However, it is low expectations in and unequal access to education that create barriers for our students. Empowering more young men of color begins with looking beyond the figures and changing mindsets about who can succeed.

As I talked with my friend, I gained new insight into what can be done to encourage more boys of color to accomplish their goals.

3 Ways to Encourage Success Amongst Boys of Color

  1. Early childhood education: During a recent speech, President Obama emphasized the need to engage students at key times in their lives, including their most formatives years. Though studies find that students of color benefit substantially when they participate in early childhood education, access to these programs remain significantly limited in urban and low income areas. Much as I mention in Education Wednesday: Why Early Childhood Education Matters for Niños, the start we give students in life can yield benefits such as lower tendencies to repeat grades, less need for special education, future educational and professional achievement, and even decreased chances of future legal troubles. Ultimately, missing opportunities to educate students early can perpetuate attainment gaps that affect future generations.

  2. Parental involvement: Expanding on expectations, I could identify with Jamil when he said going to college was mandatory in his mother's eyes. Often success starts at home with the conversations we have with our students. Again, statistics find that children from single parent homes--which disproportionately characterizes minorities--are less likely to graduate from high school. Yet, additional research finds that interaction with even one adult who cares can greatly impact a child's life. Much as I mention in Education Wednesday: 2 College ‘Conversation’ Starters to have with Yunior, regularly talking to boys about their interests as well as academics, lays a great foundation for support at home that reinforces the exposure they receive at school.

  3. Establish ties within the community: Participating in after-school programs and summer camps can bridge expectations at home with mentorship in the community that instills values in our boys. Charged with creating well-rounded leaders, such programs tailored specifically for young men of color are emerging across the country. Organizations such as Atlanta Technical College’s Institute for Males, Becoming A Man (B.A.M.), and Boys of BELL, are already leading efforts to increase direct engagement with African-American and Latino boys.

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Increasing the number of positive role models in the community and sharing more resources to schools in urban and low income areas is vital to widespread positive impact in the lives of boys of color. At the end of my conversation with Jamil, he offered this advice which he often shares with the young men he mentors: 

"Never give up and remember that the decisions you make today, shape your tomorrow."

When I think of “My Brother’s Keeper,” I think of my little brothers, my cousins, my friends, those who have had wonderful educational experiences, and others who still struggle within the current system. As the nation continues to become more diverse, we cannot ignore the disadvantages students face along economic, racial, and gendered lines. Embracing initiatives that empower our boys is not only an opportunity to improve education, employment, and decrease crime rates. Most importantly, finding ways to better engage African-American and Latino boys is an opportunity to rethink equality in education and bring new possibilities to future generations.

Aundrea_Gregg-TheWiseLatinaClubAn education policy wonk at the Georgia Center of Opportunity, Aundrea Gregg holds a Master’s degree in Social Policy and Planning from the London School Of Economics and a Bachelor’s in Classical Civilizations and Political Science from Howard University. She also is a nail painting enthusiast and writer living in Atlanta, GA. Connect with Aundrea on Twitter or Google+.

Edited by: Viviana Hurtado, Ph.D.

Who are the men of color who inspire you?

Education Wednesday: Preparing Girls to Lead in STEM

Pioneers such as Ellen Ochoa, who became the first Latina astronaut in 1991, set the bar high for all that women can achieve in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).  Grooming more girls to follow in these footsteps is now more important than ever, particularly as America's economy continues to become more STEM-focused. This March (and all through the year) we can celebrate Women’s History Month by mentoring our niñas to be the future leaders of innovation.

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It is now estimated that job growth in STEM fields will outpace growth in all other fields by 2018. Women, however, continue to lag behind their male counterparts in terms of entrance into these areas. A report released by the U.S. Department of Commerce found that women have not seen employment growth in STEM jobs since 2000. Even more disheartening, only 13% of girls currently plan to work in STEM-related careers.

Positively transforming these trends starts with changing mindsets about who belongs in STEM. While many girls show interest in science and math, often this does not translate into career aspirations due to gendered notions that "these are boys jobs." Recognizing that we as a nation are missing an important opportunity, initiatives such as  Million Women Mentors are emerging to show girls they too can be engineers, coders, doctors, and work in other STEM professions. Beyond encouraging more girls to take advantage of the many resources now available to increase diversity in STEM, we must also provide guidance that boosts their confidence to be leaders in these fields.

Aundrea’s Tips for Preparing Girls for STEM Careers

  1. Participate in STEM-focused extracurriculars: Beyond chess club and debate team, many schools now offer STEM-focused extracurricular such as robotics teams. As retention of girls remains low in these in-school activities, we must encourage more girls to take up these pastimes and spark interest early in STEM. Much as I mention in Education Wednesday: Community STEM Programs for Girls, after-school and community-based programs such as ThinkersmithGirls Who Code, and Girlstart can bridge hands-on fun with advanced learning and skill development.
  2. Attend Pre-college Summer Camps: Much like advance placement (AP) classes, pre-college summer camps are a vital way to get a head start on college course work. I was tipped off to the relevance of these camps after speaking with a younger cousin who has been accepted into a pre-engineering program at the University of Alabama. Now a sophomore in high school, my cousin beamed as he informed me about the 2 month intensive program he will attend this summer. Not only do pre-college programs provide students the opportunity to experience "college life" ahead of time, they also allow students to earn early college credit in rigorous courses.

  3. Find a 'STEM Sponsor': Often finding a job is about who you know in addition to what you know. It is important to link girls who express interest in these areas with a STEM professional who can share resources and knowledge about how to access desired careers. Even if you are not in a STEM profession yourself, tap your network to find someone who can write a college recommendation or job referral to help students get their foot in the door.

For more tips to help your student foster a love of STEM, check out my discussion in Education Wednesday: Why You Should Know More About STEM.

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In a recent Huffington post Op-ed, a 16 year old African-American student discusses why she was drawn to STEM, and why she hopes more minorities will take interest:

"I can confidently say exploring STEM is one of the best decisions I have made in my life. I do not want my fellow classmates, who are mostly minorities, to view STEM as having too many barriers for success. I want them to see and use STEM as a vessel to make their contributions to our world.”

These words must resonate with us all as we encourage more girls of color to become leaders in STEM. For the sake of our students' and our economy's future prosperity, we cannot miss opportunities to expose them to the possibilities of all that they can accomplish. We must continue to share guidance and ensure our girls that a thriving career in STEM is absolutely attainable if they study hard enough and stay committed to their goals.

Aundrea_Gregg-TheWiseLatinaClub

An education policy wonk at the Georgia Center of Opportunity, Aundrea Gregg holds a Master’s degree in Social Policy and Planning from the London School Of Economics and a Bachelor’s in Classical Civilizations and Political Science from Howard University. She also is a nail painting enthusiast and writer living in Atlanta, GA. Connect with Aundrea on Twitter or Google+.

Which Women in STEM inspire you?

 

Education Wednesday: Aundrea's Project Debt Down Student Loan Repayment Update

At the beginning of the year I resolved to reduce my student loan debt. Three months later, Project Debt Down (as I named my loan repayment effort) is in full effect! With a totally new mindset about money management, I am excited to share the tricks that are helping me pay down my student loan debt.

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You might be waiting for that rainbow that leads to a pot of gold. However, eliminating your student loan debt requires a realistic plan and steadfast commitment to reach your goal. The average student now owes as much as $29,400 coming out of college. What's more, the national loan default rate has skyrocketed to 14.7%.

While my debt reduction plan has not been without its setbacks (this lady loves to shop!), cutting back my spending has helped me lay a solid foundation of savings. For me, creating an air-tight budget and integrating fiscal responsibility into my lifestyle has been an intricate first step in Project Debt Down.

Aundrea's Tips From Project Debt Down Phase One

  1. Cut the emotional ties to spending: Coincidentally as I started Project Debt Down I was connected with a fellow Howard University alum who now works as a financial advisor. After helping me craft a budget based on my income and spending habits, he asked me about my life goals. As I considered my plans for the future, suddenly a closet of new shoes did not seem so important. Becoming debt-free is as much about self-discipline as it is about money. I cut down my impulsive spending and prioritized saving.
  1. Find money-saving alternatives for the things you love: As I mentioned, I love to shop. This was one of my initial pitfalls while starting my savings routine--and going cold-turkey was not working. Browsing online, I found great alternatives to department store shopping such as hosting clothing swap parties with friends (which I tried and loved!). I let this trend of money-saving alternatives trickle into other areas of my life. I started cooking more meals at home and even eating meatless a few days of the week. As The Wise Latina Club documents in our Meatless Monday series, this has allowed me to not only save money, but also amp-up my healthy eating. Saving money does not have to end your social life. For more tips on how to save and still have fun check here.

  2. Avoid additional debt: While whittling away at your student loan debt, it is important not to take on any extra baggage. Credit cards, car loans, and other debt with interest can make paying down your student loans even more difficult. As an example of good debt-reducing behavior, recently, a colleague saved and paid for her new car in cash--all to avoid burdensome monthly payments. Like my friend, make the commitment to save up for the big-ticket items you need and stick with only necessary recurring bills such as groceries and utilities.

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For students not yet in college, the best way to reduce student loan debt after school is to have a solid and realistic financial plan before starting. Many resources exist to help students avoid debt, much as I mention in Education Wednesday: Funding College with Grants and Scholarships.

Only an estimated 8% of people are successful in achieving their New Year's resolution. However, I plan to beat the odds by staying committed to my plan to reduce my student loan debt. As I enter phase two of Project Debt Down, look for more updates on my progress!

Aundrea_Gregg-TheWiseLatinaClubAn education policy wonk at the Georgia Center of Opportunity, Aundrea Gregg holds a Master’s degree in Social Policy and Planning from the London School Of Economics and a Bachelor’s in Classical Civilizations and Political Science from Howard University. She also is a nail painting enthusiast and writer living in Atlanta, GA. Connect with Aundrea on Twitter or Google+.

Edited by: Viviana Hurtado, Ph.D.

 How are you reducing your debt?

Education Wednesday: Mentoring Towards Academic Achievement

In education policy, metrics such as academic benchmarks and graduation rates define student success. Raising academic standards and implementing new learning models are indeed important to improving education for students and closing achievement gaps. However, mentoring, being a positive role model, and providing support that builds strong relationships with students is paramount to achieving better academic outcomes.

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Last week, I attended a conference focused on college access for disconnected youth including African American and Latino males, homeless, and foster students. Many of the presenters concluded that students need at least one person in their life committed to providing encouragement and guidance through personal and academic challenges.

This notion became more concrete as one Latina shared how a supportive mentor kept her on track to obtain her goals. She was proud to be graduating high school first in her class rather than dropping out to start a family as her friends expected.  From this speaker and many others with challenging backgrounds, I gained 2 important take-aways:

  1. Personal experiences with adversity can build non-cognitive “soft-skills” such as resilience, self-perception, and grit (the ability to persevere past challenges to reach long-term goals). Much as I mention In Education Wednesday: Cultivating Non-cognitive Skills, these variables connect testable knowledge with academic success. However, adverse situations can also create barriers that hinder these skills from being used for academic progress.

  2. Actively working to connect with students on an individual level, in some cases weeding through the traumas of a student’s life, can change the context through which students utilize these necessary traits and focus their application towards success in school.

The relationships we foster with students and the positive perception we encourage them to have of themselves can transform academic deficits into stories of success.

Aundrea’s Tips for Building Positive Relationships with Students

  • Demonstrate empathy for a student’s background: When we engage students we must be as open to learn from them as we are to teach them. Understanding the unique space every student operates within (their background, family experience, or culture), as well as the talents they bring to the table, is key to motivating young people to succeed.

  • Be consistent in intentions as well as actions: To help students succeed clear expectations for their achievement must be set. Apart from this, maintaining a student’s trust requires educators keep their promises. We as adults must demonstrate the character we wish students to possess until it is eternally felt and outwardly expressed.

  • Create a relationship plan: Relationships do not always form organically, especially for students with challenging backgrounds--or even backgrounds different from our own. Drawing from business models that use systematic approaches to strengthen interactions with key contributors can enlighten the way educators engage students. It is helpful for mentors to map-out how they will breakthrough to students. Whether through trust exercises, weekly individual conferences, or intentional daily small-talk, planning is vital to stronger relationships with students. For more tips on how to build a relationship plan check here.

Ruby K. Payne, Ph.D notes in her acclaimed book A Framework for Understanding Poverty:

“Support systems are simply networks of relationships.”

Positive relationships between students and mentors, teachers, and parents alike can change mindsets that hinder learning and boost academic success. As we work to raise educational outcomes for students, we must provide a supportive foundation to help them to reach higher academic outcomes and navigate their journey through life.

Aundrea_Gregg-TheWiseLatinaClubAn education policy wonk at the Georgia Center of Opportunity, Aundrea Gregg holds a Master’s degree in Social Policy and Planning from the London School Of Economics and a Bachelor’s in Classical Civilizations and Political Science from Howard University. She also is a nail painting enthusiast and writer living in Atlanta, GA. Connect with Aundrea on Twitter or Google+.

Edited by: Viviana Hurtado, Ph.D.

How do you build positive relationships with students?