“There’s more to black success than ghetto stories!” – Matthew Ryder
Stereotypes are often at the heart of equity issues and equal access of students and parents within the education system. Low income doesn’t equal low achieving, nor does low income automatically mean black. We have to stop treating children as if they are the problem and actually fix the problems that cause students to gain more failures than successes. The stigma, myths and stereotypes placed on students because of socioeconomic and race factors into their level of achievement in school. This is why it’s not only important for Educators to change the stigma of student success from lower income families and communities but school Districts should also drive this need for change. I’m more frequently hearing non profits, school districts and leaders refer to black, brown and mixed race children as “Title I, low income, disadvantaged, misguided, troubled students or special cases” as opposed to simply being “students.” Parents and students have said they feel that there’s a need to distinguish what “type” of student is being taught as opposed to simply embracing the students that enter the school doors. Although, Black students aren’t the only students who face this issue, they often times feel it the most especially if they are from a low income community, have a special need, learning disability, etc.
Here are five things typically assumed about students who come from lower economic backgrounds.
- They are Black
- Their parents are incarcerated
- They have severe behavior/discipline problems
- They are “Ghetto”
- They are low achievers
These assumptions about students, as well as their parents, is reflected in how faculty and staff engage with them. The challenge with stereotypes is that Educators often target entire groups of people, categorizing them based off the effects of epidemics. In a Student & Family Town Hall meeting held last evening by SNAPPS, an advocacy group in Atlanta for the South and Westside communities, attendees had the opportunity to hear from students and parents around grave concerns about equity, academic rigor, access to resources, being adequately prepared for college and careers, how schools add to the school to prison pipeline by fueling suspensions over counseling support and most importantly the poor connection and relationship between the District and South/Westside parents. The students believe that teachers play a huge role in changing this dynamic.
Long time Advocate, Shawnna Hayes Tavares was asked to host this event so that students would have a seat at the table with State Board of Education 5th Congressional representative, Kenneth Mason. Both Mr. Mason and Ms. Hayes Tavares wanted to ensure that students from all across the City of Atlanta were represented. Several students spoke to the audience about their successes, showing that low income doesn’t equal low achieving. The shared experiences from students also displayed that many Atlanta educators treat them as a “stereotype or success story.” One of the Carver High School students discussed the stereotypes of not only students but their parents based off their zip-code and community. “We are more than what our communities look like”, stated students who are in the top 3% of their class and have been high performing since elementary school. Several of the Black male students discussed stories involving support from their parents and families, mostly going against what they say many teachers believe them to have based off of where they live. “I’m not a success story because I’m black or where I come from, I’m a success story because I worked hard to obtain success”, stated one Mays High School student.
Hearing the voices of students about the challenges and stereotypes they face in school was refreshing. I was proud of how the students were able to articulate the issues and point out how they plan to change these stereotypes. Whether through music, art, education, leadership and furthering their academic careers, these students displayed hope for the future in dispelling the ugly myths and stereotypes of people based on their socioeconomic status or race in Education.
Here are some ways the students believe we can change the negative stereotypes in Education:
- Build genuine relationships with all students, parents and communities. Not just the ones who may be perceived to succeed.
- Know the communities holistically, not just for the data collected around negative things.
- Meet families and communities where they are. Create engaging and innovative outlets for stakeholders to stay connected.
- Be change agents for the children, families and communities outside of school hours.