Tag: San Francisco

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By Ashley M. Blanco

Brilliance comes in all shades, can be found in all zip codes, and is displayed in all children regardless of disability. So why is Black Brilliance in the title of this article? Because many people are discussing the statistics around Black preschoolers being suspended from school at alarming rates, but little has been said of how we perpetuate oppression with our words and what we can do to change that. Sure the systems are severely fractured. But at the end of the day, we are all part of the system be it at the macro-level or micro-level.  Instead of merely reiterating that our earliest learners are experiencing injustice at the entry level of their educational experience, I would like to provide some insight on how we as educators and influencers can close the achievement gap with reflecting on our words and our perspectives.

In my professional work with families and our earliest learners, I see the correlation between two factors: the manner in which adults respond to the abilities and behaviors of Black children and the number of instructional minutes that are lost for these students in particular. My work with program coordinating and case managing the interests and needs of Black girls ages 8 to 18 in the Bay View revealed that the achievement gap also has a debilitating effect on Black learners. Psychologically, they have to overcome a disproportionate amount of barriers when asking for help and trying to avoid negative attention, be it from adults or peers. We have indeed come to a critical point in education as a civil rights issue.

Recognizing that the blame we put on their inability to learn is often our unwillingness and incapacity to support their multiple intelligences and learning styles is one of the first steps. I strongly recommend Dr. Debra Ren-Etta Sullivan’s book titled Cultivating the Genius of Black Children. It, along with my work as a Family Support Specialist, has inspired the writing of this article.   

My goal in writing this article is to remind us what we already know and may forget in times of trouble as we all do this equity work together. Our power to close the gap power rests in our language when approaching Black children. Here are five tips I offer in improving our language and approach to Black children, youth, and their families.

  1. See the humanity of Black students. 

    Find out what their interests are, their needs, their expectations for themselves and the challenges in meeting those expectations. Black children are often seen as a problem or a set of points along a line of data. If we don’t see their humanity and their ability to think, create, discover, inquire, and construct, we are setting ourselves at a distance from helping them become agents in their academic journeys.

  2. Check your heart when speaking to Black children and youth

    We all need to make sure our hearts in the position of kindness and generosity when working with any group of humans. When working with Black children in the academic or social setting, be it before, during, or after school, our hearts have to be in alignment with the mission of the work we’ve entered. If you’ve entered education with the hope of fixing Black children or simply closing the achievement gap, you’re in the wrong line of work. Also, if you plan to work with children but you are afraid to build a relationship with their families as chief facilitators in the educational experiences of their children, you have to interrogate your reason for working with Black children and youth. Black children progress and thrive in the context of their families – not outside of it. Approaching Black families beyond our perception of their struggle and engaging Black families at the level of their strengths are critical to closing the achievement gap.

  3. Speak to children and youth with words that affirm their growth mindsets. 

    I share Superintendent Dr. Vincent Matthew’s belief that all children can learn, want to learn, and our job as educators is to make that happened.  In order for us to speak to the growth mindset of a child or youth, we have to believe that each child has a mindset that can grow and excel for the rigor of any project or task. I have heard teachers (Black ones included) talk to Black children like they’re not moving their trays fast enough down the counters in penitentiary cafeterias. “Stop. Get over here. What are you doing? Why did you do that? Keep moving.” It really saddens me. I encourage all of us to speak in a way that says I see you. I hear you. I see that you are growing. I hear that you are working through this process and I can tell because of the words you’re using. I appreciate you thinking aloud; now let’s take it a little further. What do you think about this? We are already creating the world we want to see. Let’s expand it and outdo one another in doing good.

  4. Model the learner you want our Black children to be even when you’re agitated. 

    Choose to model the cognitive, social, and emotional skills that children need to succeed academically. Our modeling and our consistency along with partnering with families can close the academic achievement gap. Imagine the power of adults using words that scaffold the brilliance of children and youth in their presence when they’re frustrated? That’s called changing the world under pressure, one life at a time. Too often we break others down in our moment of frustration or disappointment. Yes, we can repair. The more we change our response, the more we can change our reality.

  5. Ask yourself what type of identity you want to nurture in this child. 

    When I speak of identity in this context, I am referring to a set of internal characteristics that express themselves outwardly and help the child be an agent in his or her academic journey. These internal characteristics include the socioemotional qualities, cognitive abilities, approaches to learning, and communication styles of the child or youth. Ask families to share what they have observed in their children regarding approaches to learning, socioemotional qualities, and cognitive abilities. Some families may not know these exact terms but if you ask them in a way they understand, you can get your answer and be delightfully surprised by what you learn. Choosing to nurture a secure, confident learner means you ask the child or youth questions that affirms their growth mindset. These questions give them insight into their ability to persist in identifying solutions and seeing themselves as keys to their development. With your words, you create opportunities for them to grow.

Photo by @dre0316 from nappy.co

When we partner with families to reinforce the greatness of their children, to see their children’s greatness especially when disabilities, for some, may block their view, we can close the achievement gap.  We are not helping children and youth by talking to them in ways that “prepare them for the real world.” We are also not helping families when we put our goals for their child before their goals for their child. We have to find out what their goals are, look for overlaps between theirs and ours as educators and support specialist, and start the journey from there.

Closing the achievement gap amongst Black and Brown children is possible. It starts with interrogating our own hearts as we do this work. When we reflect on our attitudes and approaches to Black and Brown children, youth, and families, we will view them in light of the good they capable of doing and experiencing. Trauma is real. Post-traumatic transformation is also real. To close the academic achievement gap is to open true economic opportunities for the Black and Brown communities. When we are comfortable with the plight of a group of people and/or we are threatened by the success of a group of people who happen to be Black or Brown, we are simply gratifying ourselves with benevolent conversations around closing the gap. At the end of another 50 years, nothing would have changed for the better.

Happy living and happy giving as you do your heart’s work!

 

 

The days of accessing the Internet with an AOL CD-ROM are long-gone yet connecting to the web for many American’s in rural and low-income communities has yet to come.

According to the Pew Research Center, 33 percent of people in America are not connected to the Internet at home.

Politicians, advocates, and technologists alike are taking initiatives to put policy and systems in place to bridge what is identified as the digital divide with programming, digital literacy workshops and free Broadband Internet services.

According to the FCC, 16 million people in do not have access to broadband Internet. Broadband is defined high-speed Internet access but for those living without it is hard to define let alone attain. Broadband includes several high-speed transmission technologies and is always on and faster than the traditional dial-up access. The federal standard for broadband is 25Mbps downstream and 3Mbps upstream.

In New York alone, 36 percent of people living below the poverty line do not have Internet access at home. That means over 3 million New Yorkers are digitally disconnected.

While access to the Internet seems to be a social norm, as more social and educational services become available exclusively online more and more people a digital wedge is being placed in between the haves and have-nots.

After years of rallying for Internet equality by Internet advocates and community members, In July of 2015, Mayor Bill de Blasio made the decision to invest $10 million in Broadband Internet access for 16,000 New Yorkers living in public housing and $200 million into a statewide effort to connected millions of people called LinkNYC.

The initiative is simple to explain, free gigabit Wi-Fi, but the technology behind the service is more technical than that. Dozens of touch screen kiosks have been popping up around New York City that looks like 9-foot display monitors with digital advertisements, USB outlets that are good for charging portable devices and a digital phone screen to make free phone calls.

William Colegrove, Senior Technologist and Director of Technology and Transparency for the Manhattan Borough Presidents office says that LinkNYC is a great resource but is it not the only solution to bridging the divide in New York City.

“Much of the focus is on free broadband initiatives so we have the LinkNYC network, which is providing a great service to the city. What we’re seeing is that we’re turning payphone infrastructure that no one was using into a 21st century amenity that brings free broadband Wi-Fi internet access to New Yorkers” said Colegrove

The kiosks, which seem to be randomly placed for people passing by and recognizing them, are powered by fiber optic cables that makes the Wi-Fi 100 times faster than spotty public Wi-Fi you can connect to at a local café. The network is encrypted and the data of users in protected by a customer-first privacy policy that forbids the allowance of personal data to be solicited to third parties.

Tiffani Lopez, 19, a resident of East Harlem noticed the newly installed kiosk on East 116th Street and 3rd Avenue in front of Duane Reed drug store for the first time while coming out of the store.

“I didn’t know what this thing was but I appreciate it being in my neighborhood because I don’t have the Internet at home,” said Lopez.

New York has invested $200 million dollars into LinkNYC to benefit people like Lopez and others who want to connect to the web while exploring the city.

“I think it’s cool that I can come to this block and get on the Internet so that I don’t have to use all of my data,” said Lopez.

The goal of LinkNYC is to install over 500 Link kiosks throughout the five boroughs by July 2016. So far there are 92 active Links throughout Manhattan. 89 of them are located along the East side starting at 14th up to 116th Street with three located on the upper west side.

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Photo Courtesy of LinkNYC

While LinkNYC is a resource to the community it is also an advertising model.

“LinkNYC is a major part of New York City’s plan to close the digital divide by providing fast, free Wi-Fi as no cost to taxpayers. The Link tablets and future public gigabit centers also provide an access point for those without home Internet service to use the web. And by generating over $500 million in revenue for the City, LinkNYC can help fund other city digital divide initiatives, like providing free Wi-Fi in public housing,” said CJ Macklin of Berlin Rosen Public Relations who is communications associate working on the LinkNYC team.

“Because it is an advertising model the priorities of the franchisee is to place these kiosks in areas that are going to have a high advertising revenue. So, surprise, surprise-that’s in Midtown and lower Manhattan where we don’t have the same needs in terms of Internet access,” explained Colegrove.

While Colegrove thinks the LinkNYC is a step in the right direction in the case of these kiosks location is everything.

“The kiosks are on the streets so that’s really not going to be really getting into your bedroom unless you’re sort of perfectly situated. Honestly, it is just an amenity for a short-term thing.”

The digital divide impacts people of all backgrounds nationally and internationally.

 

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Just a few hours away in Baltimore, Maryland, Bernie Smith founder of E-Club Digital Project, advocates to end what he calls the “digital apartheid” by providing community trainings, online resources and through partnering with other advocates.

Smith says the divide goes beyond race and demographics and for members of his community it is also a tech literacy issue.

“It’s more than the digital divide. We’ve got a literacy problem where people don’t know how to use the computers. Older people don’t even know where to start,” said Smith.

For the past 10 years Smith has been advocating to close the digital divide and in 2013 launched his website eclubdigitalproject.com.

Smith says that partnering with other organizations has been key because of how many people are impacted.

“I work with the Boys and Girl Club, United Way and the recreation centers in Baltimore. I am also trying to come up with a computer sharing program where people can have access to computers,” said Smith.

For many low-income American’s not having access to computers makes connecting to the Internet more difficult because mobile-only access becomes too expensive due of data overages.

Smith says that everyday things like paying bills and applying for jobs is challenging for those who are digitally illiterate.

“A person in Baltimore that’s low-income has to keep kicking out two dollars every time they pay a bill,” said smith.

Here are three things Smith says impact people in his community:

  1. People cannot seek employment online
  2. Students cannot do their homework at home
  3. People are not connected to what is happening around the world

“Everything is moving online and it’s taking away from everyday life for a lot of people. Most poor people spend their money on housing and after eating, gas and utilities it’s nearly impossible to afford the Internet,” said Smith.

In a recent article, Charlotte Residents Shouldn’t Have to Buy a Burger for Wi-Ficovering the divide by Sherrell Dorsey, she breaks down the cost of being disconnected for North Carolina residents who dine at fast-food restaurants like McDonald’s to connect to the Internet.

For many, the alternative to “fast food connections” is to connect at the public library.

Jeremiah Rushing, 23, sophomore sociology major at City College of San Francisco, says that the public library is his hot spot for accessing the Internet. Rushing is someone who would be classified as a mobile-only user being that he does not have broadband Internet access where he lives.

“I go to the public library every day because they have the Internet and study rooms. It’s hard trying to type a paper on my phone. I’ve tried doing it on the train but it’s really distracting because there are a lot of ads that pop up,” said rushing.

For students across the nation public libraries are an access point for the Internet and digital literacy workshops. In New York City alone there are 92 Libraries throughout the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island.

“We serve a vast and diverse population and each of our branches offers programs and services that help and support local communities. As centers for education and learning, NYPL has made a commitment to provide our users with the resources they need to succeed in New York City,” said Amy Geduldig, Senior Publicist for the New York Public Library.

“I don’t know what I would do”, responded Rushing when asked what would he do if could not access wireless Internet at the library.

“In regard to technology this includes our most recent pilot program – the Library Hotspot, which are Wi-Fi devices that are checked out like a Library book and enables users to access the Internet at home; workshops on technology for the beginner (Basic computer operation) to the more advanced (Coding classes); offering desktop computers and/or laptops for patron use for those who are not able to access a computer at home; free Wi-Fi at all Library locations for those who may not be able to access the internet at home,” said Geduldig.

“It’s super important that working with people at the public library and talking to institutions around the city and community groups…we have to make an effort to develop programming and infrastructure around these kiosks. There is great potential to connect folks with access to computer and other sorts of digital literacy to help bridge the digital divide but it’s going to take the efforts of working with stakeholders across the city to make this possible,” Colegrove emphasized.

Although thousands are people are connecting to the Internet for free in the city there are thousands who still are not.

“This [LinkNYC] is not a silver bullet but I think shows that the city is committed to this effort and I think it’s a really good thing that secured franchises are providing a service at no cost to tax payers…so hopefully it’ll be something that we consider in our future franchise deals,” said Colegrove.