By CARLOS GALLEGO
AAP staff writer
ST. PAUL (Feb. 14, 2014) — Several hundred business and community leaders gathered at the Annual UNCF (United Negro College Fund Luncheon held at Travellers Corporate headquarters in downtown St. Paul.
General Mills and on of the sponsors spoke of the work happening in such places as the Promise Neighborhood in St. Paul and the NAZ (Neighborhood Achievement Zone) in North Minneapolis.
“There is nothing more important than the future of our kids…but there are too many kids that are not graduating today.” They went on to not that 5 percent of Target’s profits go to support non-profits and work in the community. They noted that by 2015 Target will have given 1 billion dollars toward education. The contribute 4 million dollars per week toward education.
Travellers Kenneth F. Spence III, EVP & General Counsel noted that 50 percent of their education is in educational giving and that they try to take a stand and are committed to that which makes a difference in the community.
“This is a discussion I know we have had but need to continue to discuss until we are satisfied,” said UNCF speaker Sharon Smith-Akinsanya, referring to the education attainment gaps of students of color.
According to 40 percent of African Americans attending college graduate within six years compared to 59 percent of Whites. She highlighted since UNCF’s inception in seventy years ago 400,000 have received support and currently 13,000 students per year financially assistance totally 100 million dollars per year in contributions.
UNCF President and CEO Dr. Michael Lomax is all too aware of the incredible disparities between minority and non-minority students stating.
“Today, a college education is what a high school diploma used to be: the minimum requirement for most well-paying, fast-growing careers,” Lomax said. “Yet at a time when African Americans and other people of color will soon make up a majority of the workforce, there is a crisis in education. Nearly half of all black children who begin kindergarten do not graduate from high school.”
Former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and current Executive Director of Generation Next opened the conversation noting that the role of Mayors with regard to education varies greatly from city to city. He for example noted that as Mayor he did not have any direct authority over the public school.
However, he said the mayor has the unique opportunity to have a bully pulpit and address the educational needs of their city and you have an obligation to use it. He pointed out that are some initiatives and programs striving to get the children on the right track include; Sprockets and the work being done in the NAZ and Achievement Zone neighborhoods.
Rybak also mentioned about how all city employees that interact and spend time with children are better prepared to have a positive impact of the children’s lives and educational attainment. The role of a park board worker has evolved from merely teaching a kid how to handle a basketball to supporting the child’s academic future as they are aligning the school curriculums with what is happening in the parks programs.
Mayor Betsy Hodges hired Diane Hawlsey to help lead the Minneapolis’ efforts in support the children of their city. She noted how critical the first few years in a child’s brain development is and that the Minneapolis Health Department is working to support these young residents.
“We have a moral obligation all day long and all year long” and that the commitment to the children’s education success has an impact on the economic future of our city, region and state.”
Mayor Hodges closed by stating, “It is not just the smart thing to do but the right thing to do.”
St. Paul Public Schools CEO Michelle Walker stated that racial disparities in achievement is what defines that achievement gap and that approach in effectively meeting needs of the learners needs to be a model that focuses on equity rather than equality.
The approach cannot be to give every child the same approach and strategy and that teacher need to understand racial influences and how they impact the learner.
“If it is not relevant for that child then learning will not occur,” she said. adding the importance of understanding the unique needs of each learner.
Minneapolis Public Schools CEO Micheal Goar noted that we need to tackle rigor and relevance head-on and that it is time to redefine the partnerships. He also noted that there often has existed a soft form of bigotry of expectations that implies students of color cannot succeed with a rigorous curriculum.
This is one of the reasons why they have moved to standardize the curriculum across the district as opposed to having each building have its own curriculum, he said. This will help ensure that all students have access to the same high quality education.
Goar also talked about the district’s obligation to better support those teachers who are struggling and reward those teachers who excel.
Bo Thao-Urabe, Senior Director, Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy, one of the leaders in attendance, noted that there is really an invisibility of AAPIs when it comes to addressing higher education achievement when compared to other minority communities.
”Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are often overlooked in the conversation about education,” Thao-Urabe said. “This invisibility perpetuates the notion that AAPIs are all succeeding and don’t need help to achieve higher education. However, when we disaggregate the data we know this is not the case. For example, only 13 percent of Cambodia, 15 percent of Hmong, and 15 percent of Lao adults over the age of 25 have a Bachelor’s degree. That means there’s a great opportunity for all of us in Minnesota to make sure young people from all communities are supported to attain higher education. When they are educated we all benefit.”
Thao-Urabe mentioned that the Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund is UNCF’s counterpart in the AAPI community and that it is an important resource to support AAPI student aspirations.
Elsa Battica, Chair of the Minnesota Council on Asian Minnesotans, and a long-time community champion also was excited to attend the event.
“I’m glad that we as a community are talking about the achievement gap,” Battica said. “It was rightly so that UNCF will focus on the African American. However, as member of the Asian community, I am very concern that the larger community tend to overlook the Asian community because our data show we are doing alright. What they don’t know, or don’t recognize is that the Asian community is a community of extremes. On one hand, we have highly educated parents and on the other hand, new arrivals, refugees who are still struggling with acculturation and resettlement. We need to dis-aggregate the data and pay attention to those failing the ‘model minority myth.’As a community we should invest our resources to make sure all students succeed in school. We should look at “individualized” teaching and learning instead of one size fits all model.”