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Nehemiah staff members Ozanne Anderson (Director of Youth Development and Education) and Lindsey Johnson (Director of Youth, Family, and Community Wellness), have had to be innovative in how they serve youth and families in our community in the uncertain times of the last few years. For the last school year, they have had the opportunity to serve in new roles that are helping transform the Madison Metropolitan School District from the inside out.
Their purpose has been to support children, families, and staff of color in the public school system and in the process enrich the whole school community. There are some big challenges in our school systems for the youth of color, but Ozanne and Lindsey bring their Nehemiah experience to the table to create new relationships and possibilities. Their insights and efforts are enlightening and offer some practical steps for anyone that wants to support the health of their education systems.
Lindsey Johnson’s role as a Family Liaison in the school is to build relationships with staff and faculty as well as the students and their families. A lot of Lindsey’s time is spent advocating for students and parents so that needs are being met but also that the relationship between faculty, parents, and students are beneficial for everyone involved. This work is needed now more than ever because the pandemic didn’t allow people of all ages to socialize the way we need to. Relationships have suffered due to the pandemic, so there needs to be someone who can build relationships within and outside of the community. A Liaison is especially needed with the younger children who are coming into a school environment for the first time. As these children navigate the school system, they also have to deal with changes in everyday life because of the pandemic on top of everything else. Lindsey is the person who helps insure these children’s needs and circumstances are being taken care of.
Ozanne spent the last school year in the role of a classroom assistant. This means that she helps out around the classroom in whatever way that is needed and connects with the students in the classroom. Her role has allowed her to observe the school environment, the education system, and how it all affects those within the school. Her role has also given her some insight into the needs of the students and how there is a division in communication between students of color and staff. Having a person of color in the classroom allows problems unique to students of color to be addressed and students to be advocated for by someone who understands what they’re going through.
Because of their roles inside the school, both Lindsey and Ozanne have learned much about the community and district. One thing that Ozanne has learned is that there are cultural nuances and behaviors that some staff (particularly white staff) don’t know how to address or even identify. So having someone who can identify and appropriately address these behaviors and support the teachers while doing so is very much needed. Along with these cultural behaviors and nuances is the expectation that high school students be treated as young adults, whereas in cultures other than Eurocentric (specifically African American culture in this case) they are seen as older children. Because of this, staff are discouraged from communicating with parents and families. So by the time parents and families see the report on the student’s behavior, grades, etc., there have been many times where the parent or family could have or should have been communicated with. And when the school does reach out, it is with a “robo call” or email that is easily overlooked because of the parent’s job or other commitments. This is culturally unacceptable but encouraged because of the eurocentric standards the school/district is held to. Another thing that Ozanne and Lindsey learned was that there is often already strong and long lasting comradery between white families, while families of color are at the same events but individually. There is an apparent need for better relationships between students and staff as well as families and staff.
In the current system, there is little to no investment in students and their families and because of this both student and family can be unaware of the students progress or current academic situation. In the current system, everyone suffers. Teachers and students alike aren’t given what they need to thrive and be nourished.
Next steps you can take to make schools better for everyone:
- Support Liaison roles in schools
- Support staff of color and the hiring of staff of color
- Provide resources to schools
- Support third party groups that support students and their families
- Support Black parent groups (even if you are white and not involved in the groups)
- Elevate students’ talents and give resources if possible
This article was written by Harry J. Hawkins, compiled from information in the Nehemiah Community Transformation Podcast with Ozanne Anderson and Lindsey Johnson.