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COMMENTARY: Equity education encourages all children

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Note: Dr. Laurel Blackmon delivered these remarks Monday to the Culpeper County School Board on behalf of the NAACP-Culpeper Education Committee, comprised of herself, Jason Ford, Nicole Harmon, Simone Kiere, Robert Legge, Bettie Mahan-Berry, Nancy Peacock, Michelle Powell and Fred Sapp. She chairs the committee.

As a civil rights organization, the Culpeper Branch of the NAACP speaks on behalf of all families who send children to Culpeper County schools.

It is from this perspective that we urge the Culpeper County School Board to develop and make public a plan for working toward greater equity in our schools, including support for equitable teaching practices in our classrooms.

There are so many misconceptions about equity education. Many have mislabeled this as Critical Race Theory. Others claim that it is intended to make white children feel guilty. Others see it as “fluffy,” non-serious work. All of these are absurd.

Equity education supports all children. It is just good teaching. Equity education creates communities of learners who are critical thinkers, who are highly engaged in school, and who are invested in the success of their communities.

Children learn about one another because cultures are celebrated and welcomed into the classroom. They learn about worlds beyond their own through literature and current events and more. They learn about themselves and their identities and how they can positively shape their communities. They learn to be citizens who take meaningful action against inequity in their own circles of influence. They learn to work across differences to solve problems in productive ways.

Leaving hard history unexamined perpetuates bigotry. Avoiding controversy makes classrooms inauthentic and irrelevant to students’ realities. Equity education is empowering and serious, but also joyful and affirming. It’s what we know works for deep, lasting learning in classrooms.

We are here to advocate for good schools that reflect best teaching practices because we want that for all our kids; they are entitled to that.

But this is also urgent for students of color. That opportunity gap between White students and Black students? Equity education can help close it.

In 2019, 80 percent of White students in Culpeper County Public Schools met the reading SOL standard. Only 59 percent of Black students did. That same year, 87 percent of White students passed the Math SOL; 73 percent of Black students did. Black students, on average, are 1.7 grade levels behind their White peers in Culpeper. These are appalling statistics, and merely a sample of the data.

Classrooms and school communities that value critical thinking, that welcome a multiplicity of cultures and perspectives, and that have equitable practices can narrow these startling gaps. Research is unequivocal on this.

For example, one study showed that when teachers received professional development on not just instructional, but also cultural strategies for teaching English Language Learners, their ELL students’ academic achievement increased. It makes sense that when students feel valued and when they are known and understood by their teachers and their classmates, they are more available for deep and lasting learning.

Apathy and commitment to the status quo are unacceptable. Something must change. Now is an opportunity for Culpeper County School Board members to exhibit strong, visionary leadership that changes students’ experiences and challenges all of us to be better and do better for our community, to connect us so that we can all truly and authentically thrive.

The state of Virginia has provided ample support for comprehensive change, including supporting teaching practices that promote equity. There are robust professional development programs, model policies from which to work, and even an equity audit that can help school districts identify where to start and how to proceed.

You, the members of the School Board, have been compelled by the state to do this work well. And you can always call on us, the NAACP, your community’s NAACP, to provide resources. We will collaborate to find action steps, to draft a road map, to find some ways forward. We are always here to work with you for our community.

A pre-K-8 educator for over 20 years who has been a school administrator, an instructional coach and a curriculum designer,

Laurel Blackmon lives in Jeffersonton with her husband and three sons.

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