This Black History Month, CSBA spotlights programs helping to close opportunity and achievement gaps.
In Bakersfield City School District, a program for African American students is empowering young people to challenge common notions and media portrayals of what it is to be a Black youth today. The PROUD Academy, which stands for “Powerful, Resilient, Outstanding, Unique and Determined,” was created during the 2017–18 school year. The work began with a committee focused on closing achievement gaps in the district and the development of an educational equity board policy.
“In 2018, the Bakersfield City School District took direct action to develop an Educational Equity Board Policy to identify and address all disparities in educational outcomes for the purpose of targeting areas for action, intervention and investment for disadvantaged students,” said BCSD Superintendent Mark Luque. “The PROUD Academy reflects the purpose and intent of the policy through intentional and direct access to programs and services for African American students. These intentional and direct actions provide students a launching point to engage and succeed in educational opportunities that were not previously available to them. Through these supports, students are engaged, motivated and supported to reach academic success.”
The PROUD Academy aims to provide an equity-based program that helps African American students in the fourth through eighth grades thrive in school and empowers students to “change the narrative.” The program is integrated into the school day and uses a culturally relevant curriculum that helps students relate to content and improve learning. Activities include exploration of science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM); guest speakers, conferences encouraging youth leadership, “Cultural Capital Field Trips,” such as a visit to Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park, a town originally founded, financed and governed by African Americans. Another important pillar of the program is mentoring
“Once students feel better about themselves, they do better,” said Dr. Tim Fulenwider, BCSD executive director of instructional support services. “The program focuses on empowering and building self-efficacy in students to allow them to thrive in spite of challenges. Students are provided mentors who work to identify barriers to thriving, be they social-emotional, environmental or academic, and then connect students to appropriate supports and interventions. Additionally, there is an added emphasis on transformative mentoring with families to help them engage and buy into the educational system.”
The academy uses the Khepera curriculum to address the unequal distribution of resources in schools attended primarily by students of color and low-income students, which leads to “inequity in access to positive identities as learners, [which] is critical to the learning and development outcomes of African American and Latino youth,” according to the curriculum website. Studies have found that “successful students not only defined themselves in relation to their academics, but they also defined their racial identity in relation to their academics,” meaning that a positive sense of self contributed to improved academic outcomes. The Khepera curriculum focuses on creating opportunities that allow students of color to make conscious, positive identity choices, thus better supporting academic trajectories and school engagement.
The PROUD Summer Learning Academy is a three-week program that focuses on topics such as self-actualization, social-emotional learning, and self-efficacy while exploring the historical significance of Brown v. Board of Education and leaders in the civil rights movement.
The PROUD Academy is not only building up the self-efficacy and pride of its African American students, but showing improvements in everything from attendance to academic outcomes. While districtwide attendance for African American students in 2019–20 (using pre-pandemic data) was 94 percent and chronic absenteeism rates were 22.9 percent, students in the PROUD Academy had an attendance and chronic absenteeism rate of 97.23 percent and 5.94 percent, respectively. Suspension rates for African American students in the PROUD Academy were 1.98 percent, compared with 4 percent districtwide. And while there is still work to do, PROUD Academy students are beginning to close the achievement gap — while Smarter Balanced English language arts results for African American students districtwide show the group is 74.9 points below meeting the standard and 105.6 points below the standard in math, PROUD Academy student scores show the participants are 53 points below the standard in ELA and 87 points below in math.
While in-person activities had to be paused during school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program has returned full force to help ease the transition back to campuses.
“The program already is based on relationships and providing the assistance students need through the Check and Connect framework,” said Fulenwider. “In order to ease the transition back to an in-person environment, a special summer learning program was held to help students reacclimate to school, be given a voice to share the challenges they felt they were facing, and to process with their mentors many of the frustrations and social-emotional concerns they felt. Fortunately, heavy social-emotional and mental health resource investments by the Bakersfield City School District provide easier access to services and supports than many other districts experience.”