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Stepping into Tough Conversations | 24th Annual Africentric Conference

Wed, Dec 12, 2018 @ 01:42 PM

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What are educators and community leaders saying about black students in the public education system in 2018?

This year Halifax Learning was pleased to attend the 24th Annual Africentric Conference held in honor of the No.4 Construction Battalion and the 100th Anniversary of WWI at Cole Harbour High School.

In upholding their theme of the inequality of oppression, this year the conference narrowed in on culturally relevant pedagogical approaches to supporting Black Nova Scotian students in the public education system.


About the Speakers

Dr. Marlene Ruck Simmonds | BA (UCCB); BCS, B.Ed., MA, M.Ed. (MSVU) EdD Candidate
Dr. Marlene Ruck Simmonds is an education professor at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, as well as the Director of the African Canadian Services Division in Nova Scotia. She is known for her expertise in counseling, assessment and the development of literacy programs that foster culturally proficient practice.

“There is so much work to be done…”.

Dr. Simmonds proclaims that children and youth are counting on us to create and reinforce positive and supportive pathways towards success, and those same children are running out of time for us to continue jumping through phases of conversation about change and initiative.

“They are too much at risk, and too valuable for us not to get it right, right now.”

Dean Simmonds | Halifax Regional Police Department, Inspector 
Former resident of North Preston, the oldest and largest black community in Canada, Inspector Dean Simmonds started his career in law enforcement in 1997. Working his way up within the Police force, Inspector Simmonds has maintained a major leadership role in developing and implementing a variety of workshops and training programs geared towards improving diversity, workplace equity, human rights and leadership skills. In particular, Inspector Simmonds has served as a member of the Halifax Regional Police Department’s Strategic Planning Team, HRP/RCMP Integrated Cultural Diversity Committee, and Race Relation Advisory Committee for the past eight years.

Ms. Karen Dumay | Teacher
Ms. Dumay is a Languages and Resource teacher at Graham Creighton Junior High School in Cherrybrook, Nova Scotia. Ms. Dumay spoke about the messages we teach Black students about what they are capable of. In doing so, she puts emphasis on the lack of representation of famous Black Canadians with learning disabilities in the media to encourage success and resilience.

Ms. Doreen Mallett | Department of Education 
Mr. Mallet is a member of the African Canadian Services Division within the Public Schools Branch of the Nova Scotia Department of Education.

Dr. Beverly-Jean Daniel | Professor
Dr. Daniel is a member of the Diversity Management Consultant & Assistant Professor at Humber College and Ryerson University. Dr. Daniel is the founder and developer of The Bridge, a student engagement and retention program that aims to increase the rates of engagement, retention and graduation amongst African, Black, and/or Caribbean students at Humber College in Ontario.

What are we working with now?

Many speakers at the conference hold the opinion that Individualized Program Plans (IPP’s) in the public school system, as they relate to Black Nova Scotian students, are:

  • sold to parents “like a used car”.
  • a sneaky way to marginalize - some parents not knowing their children were put on IPP
  • attaching incredible labels to the students that they are never able to shake. These labels hinder their academic, social, and professional development for the rest of their lives, because this modified education program targets them, making IPP, or “special ed.” their identities.

One speaker suggests:

“Putting black children in this program is the simple way for the teacher to get around the fact that they do not have the criteria to support these students in the classroom, in social education”.

 

 

What do our black students need more of?

  1. Motivation → During the conference Dr. Simmonds states that motivation needs to come from somewhere internal, to be driven by something that forces you to act even when no one is looking. This is meant as a push for those in education to step beyond their comfort zones to achieve real results, because it is in the difficult conversations that lead to open doors.

  2. Mentorship → Inspector Simmonds speaks to the exceptional push from within to do more, to make a real change in race relations in the city,  especially because of the community he is from. He credits the “tough” and “uncomfortable” conversations he had in his youth with his mentor Mr. Kenneth M. Fells for this. Remembering these critical moments in his youth, Inspector Simmonds feels they gave him the opportunity to truly realize his own potential, and gave him the power to be great. Mr. Fells’ took the time to appreciate Simmonds’ situations in order to understand his needs, Mr. Fells taught Simmonds something he will hold onto forever. That mentoring in such a way is essential to making a real differences in the outcomes of children's social and academic success in life, especially for Black children and youth.

  3. Courage → Mentors need to step out of their comfort zones to have the difficult conversation about cultural diversity, in order to make a real difference in the lives of youth, and student results.


How can we change the system?

Ms. Dumay speaks on the messages we teach Black students. about what they are capable of. She puts emphasis on the lack of representation of famous Black Canadians with learning disabilities in the media to encourage success and resilience.

In terms of making real changes to their experience, Ms. Dumay encourages:

Change Teaching Patterns
She sheds light on the importance of aspects of IPP which could make it effective that are often overlooked. One of these aspects includes ensuring IPP students are still engaging with the other students in their class and social setting, rather than isolated with their EPA “in the back of the classroom”, for instance. Ms. Damay believes breaking the stigmas associated with student on IPP will improve the overall effectiveness of the programs.

Create Culturally Relevant Classrooms

  • Relatable lesson plans.
  • Welcoming environment.
  • A relationship built on, without the assumption of, mutual respect.
  • Always considering ones unconscious bias.

Furthermore, Ms. Doreen suggests, curriculum alignment by incorporating a variety of cultural representations in the lessons and classroom materials, especially books, available to students!

 

“Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.” - Maya Angelou

halifax learning spellread

Where do teachers go for support?

Identifying culturally relevant resources can sometimes be tricky if you do not know where to look. Luckily, Ms. Doreen provides a search engine for the Department of Education’s resource list on  the Nova Scotia School Book Bureau website.

Halifax Learning is pleased to offer training and professional development to educators. Do you know students who struggle to read? Do you wish you could do more for your students? You can with the evidence-based programs. 

If you are an educator with resources to share send us a note and we'll spread the word! Email media@halifaxlearning.com


What happens to these student once they leave high school?

Dr. Daniel emphasizes the importance of teaching black students self worth.

“The lack of understanding throughout society of the cultural pains and successes we encounter as a people should not minimize black students’ visions of themselves.”

She encourage students about the importance of breaking through the lens of failure that “blackness” is framed in and tasks educators to create environments for students to thrive. Dr. Daniel believes  such environments enables a sense of empowerment and appreciation for oneself.

So what can we do as Educators, and especially Black Educators?

Accept the responsibility of:

  • To be a motivating force! 
  • To be a mentor and accept the task of replicating one’s own success onto the younger, vulnerable generation before us. 
  • To be a courageous by stepping into tough conversations and making real change. 

Where does Halifax Learning fit in? 

The science is clear. All children can read well. 

“I first started at Halifax Learning, as an office administrator,” says Shakisha. “But we are now shifting my role to take on more outreach, to create more partnerships with communities who may not have access to such literacy programs and see what we can do together to encourage everyone, of all ages and backgrounds to get serious about their journey to literacy. I can relate personally to these kids on a lot of levels. Now we have an opportunity to build positive programs to support these youth in academic success.”

From Recent Grad's Career Journey Comes Full Circle. Read the full article here

We are very proud of our clinic student results and our growing list of community outreach work. Breaking down the barriers and challenges families have to access our programs is key to making sure no one gets left behind.  

If you have a student that you feel would benefit by SpellRead’s evidence-driven programming, please contact us

Shakisha Downey

Written by Shakisha Downey