KC Considers Extending African-Centered Schools

Joe Robertson, Kansas City Star, Feb. 6, 2006

Supporters of African-centered education in Kansas City think the time is finally right to extend the program all the way through high school.

A task force of parents and educators is pushing to open a district-sponsored African-centered charter school or campus for grades six through 12 by the 2007-08 school year, if not sooner. The school would extend the district’s African-centered education (ACE) program, which now consists of two elementary schools and a middle school.

The effort is drawing national interest.

“People want to see a test,” said Wade Nobles, a San Francisco State University social psychologist. “Kansas City is the test.”

For most of the past decade, the concept has struggled against significant opposition and skepticism. Various combinations of administrators, board members and officials in the now-ended federal desegregation case stood against expansion.

But faces have changed, program advocate Ajamu Webster said, and the proponents appear to be gaining wider acceptance of their arguments that expanding the program through the 12th grade would not prove racially divisive, that the high school curriculum would be rigorous and college preparatory and that a white person such as Thomas Jefferson would still have his place in history.

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ACE supporters want to inspire more students like eighth-grader Zakiya Anderson, who came through Chick Elementary and now finds herself missing a strong African-centered program in middle school and wishing she had a choice of an African-centered high school.

“You feel like you’re part of something,” she said.

She remembered the traditional African songs the children sang at Monday morning assemblies, “feeling stronger, feeling like you wanted to learn more.”

Throughout history, program coordinator Kevin Bullard said, African-American children have learned from texts that look at African culture from the outside, as cultures discovered by Europeans.

The new model gives students a chance to learn from the inside looking out. Their culture is validated as the one doing the studying, rather than being the studied.

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Q&A

Q: What is African-centered education?

A: Advocates describe it is an academic and character-building program guided by African and African-American cultural and intellectual traditions. Students who otherwise might think the culture is inferior are immersed in it and presented with role models. They don’t have to overcome anything, but can expect to excel as who they are.

Q: What about critics who say African-centered education can distort history?

A: Advocates say the program looks at all history—the same history—from an African center rather than a European center. For instance, African-American history doesn’t begin with the European slave traders, but explores African achievements and traditions alongside other cultures before and after slavery.

Q: Does the curriculum compromise the state’s academic standards?

A: African-centered education expects to meet and exceed the same state standards in math, language and science and prepare students for college, district ACE leaders say. The program uses the district’s core curriculum. One ACE school, J.S. Chick Elementary, has been one of the district’s top-performing schools on the Missouri Assessment Program tests.

Q: Could the program cultivate hostility toward the white population?

A: Advocates say the African-centered program values diversity and is grounded in the belief that different cultures can and should thrive together. The program wants all students to be comfortable embracing who they are, to embrace others as they are and to be open to all cultures.

Q: Is it exclusively for African-American children?

A: No, although virtually all the children at the district’s three ACE schools are African-American.

Program leaders think African-centered education would be enriching for any student, the same as other themed immersion programs, such as a foreign language academy or an Asian studies school.

In an ACE classroom

Teachers try to use African-American themes to enhance the same curriculum standards required of all district schools. Here are samples of fourth—and fifth-grade lesson plans from December for J.S. Chick Elementary School students.

—Assembly: Students gather for harambee, where they sing traditional African songs and recognize students for good citizenship, leadership and academic success by awarding either rosette beads or Kente’ cloths that are shoulder sashes.

—Communication arts: Write daily journal entries. Read the story “Almost Home,” an account of the Underground Railroad, and summarize it in their writer’s notebooks. Study weekly vocabulary with a partner.

—Reading workshop: Hold small group to read about Kwanzaa and discuss why it is a unique celebration. Write a summary paragraph. Hold round one of spelling bee. Work on placemats for parents in preparation for school Kwanzaa feast.

—Science: Investigate what happens to rubbed balloons, and make hypotheses. Discuss as a group. Continue research on African-American inventor.

—Geography: Practice kujichagulia, or self-determination, to use the Internet to find information about climate, water, land formations, people and characteristics of a country in Africa. Begin work on written reports. Discuss use of bibliography in research.

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