By Karen Stokes
A group of 60 high school students that are members of the African American Youth Initiative (AAYI) from southeast Wisconsin, traveled to Washington D.C. last week.
Nominated by their schools, these students visited our nation’s capital to gain knowledge and perspective of Black history, culture and experiences outside the classroom.
“The overall experience has been awesome,” said Randee Drew, Student Equity and Engagement Coordinator. “The kids had a blast! We’ve had great talks, and we’ve seen so many historical sites. We went to Howard University and had a great tour there and had a mini tour at University of Maryland and now we’re here at Six Flags.”
The students also visited the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, as well as the Freedom’s Fight in Alexandria walking tour.
Students were selected to attend as a result of their involvement in the AAYI which is an effort of the Closing the Achievement Gap Consortium (CAGC).
The purpose of the AAYI is to support young men and women of African descent toward higher levels of academic performance in a K-12 setting. A main objective of the Initiative is to assist African American students in their persistence toward college readiness and completion.
Many past AAYI students are in college and Drew mentioned that a lot of their first students have graduated from college.
“I think the goal is to push influence in front of these kids. We go on field trips to predominately Black businesses or companies with Black executives so they can see Black excellence, where they can see individuals that are from the same neighborhood, the same streets, the same schools as they can see how successful they are,” Drew said.
The AAYI started out as the African American Male Initiative. There were 40 students participating and there were 10 school districts.
“Now we are at 40 districts and for the past seven years we’ve had over 100 participating schools from various districts,” Drew said. “This year we call it AAYI because we combined male and female students.”
Closing the Achievement Gap Consortium (CAGC) is a collection of over 35 public and private school systems in southeastern Wisconsin who work together to create greater equity in their schools.
Wisconsin has the widest achievement gap between Black and White students of any state based on results of a test known as the Nation’s Report Card.
In closing the academic achievement gap, teachers and parents have important roles to play.
According to Drew, teachers, especially those in Predominantly White Institutions need to be culturally aware.
“There’s no manual for a white teacher trying to handle a Black student. I do think it’s important that they stress equity. Equity is not equality. Understand the students’ backgrounds, understand the complexities of their lives,” said Drew.
“What parents can do is be active at the school. Join the PTA, attend school meetings and be visible so your child’s teacher knows you. The students need their parents’ support and need their parents to advocate for them,” he said.
Drew encourages anyone interested in learning more about AAYI or CAGC to contact him at Whitefish Bay School District, wfbschools.com or call 414-963-3971