Teaching Children Self-Advocacy in the Age of #BlackLivesMatter

Alaina Blog Post

Photo credit: Verta Ayanna

By Alaina Chipman, Fisher Fellow

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what’s happening in America with regards to race, class, and culture. From police brutality to racism on college campuses, these issues are gaining greater visibility through the work of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and others, as well as the rise of social media and cell phone cameras.

There are structures in society that we may deeply disagree with, but that we have to acknowledge exist—and that affect our students’ lives. If we’re going to prepare our students for lives of opportunity, we also have to acknowledge the challenges they may face along the way.

As an educator of color, with predominantly students of color, this fills me with questions. How do we create a school that helps actualize a child’s rights? How do we teach black and brown children to think and advocate for themselves, while at the same time protecting their innocence and their joy of learning? Here is how we plan to approach this challenge:

 

Committing to every single child

It starts with committing to every single child, every single day. I want our students to be liberated to take risks and learn from their mistakes, while being surrounded by joy and laughter. We have high standards and we also love our kids! This is what I think is so special about KIPP: our team and family is especially aware that kids are kids, and that they need love as well as structure in order to thrive.

 

Creating safe spaces to build curiosity and grit

Our school will provide a safe, nurturing environment for students to develop the critical thinking skills and character strengths they’ll need for lifelong self-advocacy. I envision classrooms with lots of different centers of activity. Caring teachers will guide students to tackle challenging tasks, letting them know it’s okay to struggle sometimes and not to give up if they do. There will be vibrant colors, joyful posters, students encouraging each other, and parent volunteers welcomed into the classroom. It truly takes a village to raise a confident child, and we’re not doing this alone.

 

Strengthening identity through history and culture

Another part of our approach is teaching students of color about their history while exposing them to other cultures. Through these lessons, our students will grow up with a strong sense of self-identity, so they can be confident to go out into the world and appreciate the perspective of others. Our kids are becoming the dream that their elders fought for 20 to 40 years ago, and we will make sure they know that.

 

Empowering students and families

Even beyond the classroom, I want to make sure our students and families know their rights and are empowered. My teaching background is in special education, where students and parents are often required to be their own advocates as they navigate a complicated system. I’ve seen the fallout that happens when families don’t know their rights and aren’t empowered to stand up for themselves and their children.

Keeping students and families informed about their rights is one thing, but our school must also be resilient and flexible enough to accommodate them exercising those rights. That shift includes both the structure of the school itself and the people working in it. It’s about partnering with parents to make sure their kids are getting the best education possible. And even beyond that, it’s showing students what they can accomplish when they stand up for themselves, and letting them know they won’t be punished for it.

 

We’re dedicated to preparing our students to be citizens who are successful beyond our classroom walls. By helping them build their self-advocacy skills, we can give them more than just preparation for college—we can give them the power to dream.

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