Center on Culture, Race & Equity Helps Transform School Culture in Washington, D.C.

Research shows educational disparities between Black and White students are widespread and begin as early as preschool. In fact, Black preschoolers are 3.6 times as likely to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions than their White peers.

In 2014, the Center on Culture, Race & Equity (CCRE), a Bank Street program dedicated to working with practitioners and communities to establish a culturally responsive, strengths-based approach to teaching and learning, engaged an expert working group of researchers, early childhood educators, policy leaders, and academics to garner information and ideas to frame the work of a new initiative designed to support the field in addressing educational disparities between Black and White students. To launch this initiative, CCRE partnered with District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS).

“Our partnership with DCPS was established to help create meaningful, positive change in the school experience for the district’s African American boys. Bias, whether implicit or explicit, affects all of our interactions, assumptions, and judgements and, as the data shows, has a far reaching effect on the trajectories of underserved students, particularly around disciplinary action in schools,” said Lisa Gordon, Associate Director of Early Childhood Programs, Center on Culture, Race & Equity. “Our approach, however, was not about fixing the kids. Instead, we focused on working with the adults—in changing the attitudes, mindsets, skills, and practices of teachers, school administrators, and families so they can hold an empathetic lens as they engage with students and student policy.”

To kick off its work, CCRE and DCPS co-created and executed a pilot program at three elementary schools during the 2014-15 school year. The goal of the program was to shift the school community from a deficit mindset to a strengths-based, culturally responsive mindset to help improve the school experiences of its Black male students and support system level change.

The collaboration included 15 hours of professional development for teachers with a focus on addressing teacher attitudes and beliefs around issues of culture and race, how to recognize implicit bias, and how to identify and build on boys’ strengths through culturally responsive strengths-based practices in the classroom.

In addition, school leaders and administrative staff received six hours of professional development with a special focus on school climate and culture and the task of identifying and applying their learnings to a specific school goal, policy, or practice. Two two-hour focus groups were also held for families, including a focus group exclusively for male family members. These sessions focused on sharing personal experiences and exploring strategies to support school success for their children.

All trainings were led by Bank Street facilitators and incorporated strengths-based and trauma informed practices to help support relationships among teachers, students, and their families.

According to administrators at Turner Elementary School, one of the pilot sites, the program has contributed to positive change within the school community. Students are happy to walk into the school and their classrooms, parents are more present and involved in school, and teachers are reaching out for more support and collaboration regarding strength-based behavior interventions.

To build on the success of the program, DSPS and CCRE launched the Empowering Males of Color: Supporting the School Success of Young African American Boys Project in the 2017-18 school year. A cohort of five DCPS schools participated in the project.

“Prior to participation in the program, we really had a deficit approach to providing intervention and being responsive to students,” said Eric Bethel, Principal, Turner Elementary School. “Since we launched the program, we’ve reduced suspensions in our school by 60% and decreased discipline referrals by no less than 20% every school year since 2015.”

In addition, the program also succeeded in helping Turner Elementary School create a positive shift in school culture, including a:

  • 30% drop in profanity;
  • 64% drop in classroom disruptions;
  • 74% drop in skipping class; and
  • 90% drop in bullying.

The CCRE team works with schools, school systems, and communities to help build capacity in creating safe, culturally responsive environments grounded in student-centered practices and policies that embrace each child’s unique cultural strengths. Current projects are occurring in community-based organizations, school districts, and independent schools across New York City, Utica, and Liberia.

“Our approach is tailored to meet the unique needs of each program partner and designed to equip schools and communities with the skills, concepts, and tools needed to create meaningful change,” said Veronica Benavides, Director, Center on Culture, Race & Equity. “We are proud and encouraged by the results of our partnerships with Turner Elementary School and look forward to future partnerships in Washington, D.C. and across the country.”

To learn more about the work conducted at Turner Elementary School, visit the new “A Case Study on Systemic Change” video featuring interviews with faculty, staff, and parents, as well as information on the impact of biases and how the program helped transform the school’s culture.

For more information on CCRE, please visit bankstreet.edu/ccre or contact Veronica Bevavides, Director, Center on Culture, Race & Equity, at vbenavides@bankstreet.edu.