At-risk youth, especially minority youth, are often faced with a very different set of out-of-school circumstances than their more privileged counterparts, such as poverty and lack of access to healthcare, which often negatively impact their in-school experiences. Oftentimes a response to these circumstances is more positive in-school and after-school experiences to address the challenges that students face outside of schools.
Why does this matter? Researchers have argued that black and brown kids face a stigma that equates academic achievement with “acting white.” This theory has since been debunked, with more recent research pointing to racialized practices in schools that lead to damaging effects like racially-biased academic tracking, misdiagnosis of behavioral and developmental disabilities, and disproportionate use of negative disciplinary practices. These practices are not limited to schools in impoverished neighborhoods; they can be seen even in some of the “best” schools. They also work to exacerbate the out-of-school factors faced by at-risk minority youth, further hurting their academic outcomes.
How do we combat it? Students need more staff and community support along with other strategic tools and resources. And while we know that’s no easy fix, it’s important to know that’s where the issues start. There is something to be said for the unequal distribution of wealth and how it impacts students on a day-to-day basis. This impact is particularly seen in the lack of support personnel, such as college counselors and guidance counselors, who are crucial in responding to the out-of-school needs that create in-school issues, and to ensure that students are able to plan ahead for the future.
Project Inspire responds to these out-of-school factors through programming such as its Youth Empowerment and the Arts Program. The YEA program takes place in under-resourced schools and organizations and focuses on college and career preparation; life skills; the arts; and self and community empowerment. In addition to supporting youth creativity and arts, we work to create positive educational and social experiences for students to make school feel like a safe space for them.
We must continue to explore what options exist to make up for the lack of access to resources that a disproportionate section of our population faces and then work to implement those options. Our students are counting on us.
Post by Project Inspire guest blogger, Jazmyne Owens
Photo credit: City of Seattle Community Tech (Flickr)