We open this school year by welcoming our students and reconnecting with colleagues. The three of us were fortunate to come together last spring for an experience that is all too rare: the chance to spend a day visiting three Boston high schools–one district, one charter, and one Catholic–to learn about and witness ways that we all can better support Black and Latino boys across our city.
In addition to seeing firsthand the challenges facing young men of color in our schools, hard data reflects the need for us to come together to make changes. According to the Boston Compact, which invited us to participate in the day of visits and cited the BPS’ 2014 study entitled Opportunity and Equity, Black and Latino male students in district schools complete the MassCore (a sequence of classes to prepare for college) at less than half the rate and are suspended at more than twice the rate of their white and Asian counterparts. The numbers vary from school to school within BPS as well as charter and Catholic schools. While our schools share a deep commitment to improving outcomes for our young men of color and are making progress, we all have work to do.
During our visits, we listened to a panel of seniors share their life-changing experience in a boys’ group; we heard how white educators need to take initiative to lead conversations around race, bias, and privilege with their white peers; and we learned how one school has eliminated tracking and now prepares all students for calculus by senior year.
These are all important, share-worthy, and real examples of things happening in classrooms and schools in Boston that ought to be accessible to more educators because these things are at the heart of our own day-to-day lives in schools. The chance to not only read about or hear about but to see and experience life in other schools opens our eyes to what is possible.
Listening to students share eloquent reflections on their definition of manhood was inspirational and pushed us each to commit to implement or revive boys’ groups in our respective settings.
Hearing a principal say: ‘Yes, it’s actually incredibly difficult to see this through and there are times we want to quit’ is humanizing and unites us in the messy and challenging nature of doing the best we can for our kids.
Seeing students engage in thoughtful conversation after watching Philadelphia reminds us all of the capacity students have to go deep and make connections from homophobia to racism to their own lives.
Indeed, if a picture is worth a thousand words, a school visit is worth a million. When we read about successful initiatives, they’re often presented as polished, in their finished form. But anyone who works in a school knows that the path to success is full of twists and turns. Good work is happening in many contexts; every educator has good work to share and ways they can and should improve.
Each of us left the visits with inspiration, ideas, and new convictions to ensure that we make improvements at our schools based on what we learned that day.
Some might ask: aren’t there fundamental differences across different schools?
Yes, there are sometimes differences in policies, budgets, and operations. However, we all commit our professional lives to the education of the children in front of us, children whose siblings, cousins, and neighbors attend other types of schools. The differences between our schools matter far less than the ability to share, learn, and grow together as colleagues.
We encourage our colleagues throughout the city to avail themselves of cross-sector school visits. We have much to learn from each other and we owe it to the students and families of Boston to do so.