RCSD Newsletter Supports Ebonics

www.13wham.com, March 19, 2007

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In a newsletter to staff, Rochester City School District officials say it is OK for students and teachers to speak Ebonics in class.

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“We need to embrace the diversity they bring into our schools,” said the district’s Chief of Diversity and Leadership, Michele Hancock.

Hancock and Tyra Webb-Johnson, Director of Coaching and Leadership, wrote the newsletter. They are both former elementary school principals.

“We want (teachers) to have a better understanding of what BEV is so they can incorporate it into their teaching. That way, they’re not alienating the students who are speaking the vernacular and degrading them,” Webb-Johnson said.

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Hancock says many people, including her own son, who graduated from college, know how to “code switch” between Standard English and Ebonics. She said students must learn to be proficient in Standard English.

“Many African-Americans are bi-dialectic in their speech patterns. I think it’s critical teachers understand those speech patterns so they can effectively, visually show children how they are speaking, but not to denigrate it, but to celebrate it,” Hancock said.

13WHAM News showed the newsletter to several black leaders in the community.

“Anybody who suggests that these kids will lose their identity because they cannot be, should not be encouraged to speak Ebonics is wrong,” said school board member Van White, who is pushing to create an African-American studies department in the district. “We are not African-Americans because of how we speak, but who we are as a people.”

“I understand there’s a need for teachers and students to meet on some common plane, but I’m not sure expressing that as Ebonics as that plane is a way to go,” said City Councilman Adam McFadden.

“It’s acceptable in hip hop culture, but I don’t think anyone would suggest the way forward for students already coming to school with severe educational deficiencies is to maintain a deficient language pattern,” said former Mayor William Johnson.

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“I just think that’s outrageous. Ebonics, that’s something that kids speak out in the street with their friends, it’s not something to be encouraged in the classroom,” said Maxine Humphrey, a high school senior.

“I think it’s not a good idea,” said senior Candice Scott. “If we learn to speak Ebonics and we get into the real world, I don’t think it’s going to be of any help to us.”

“I don’t think it’s a very good idea. I think it’s more important for the kids to reach up to the school standards, instead of the school coming down to the kid’s level,” said parent Melynda Scott.

[Editor’s Note: The issue of Diversity Dialogue referred to in the article can be read on the Rochester City School District’s website (www.rcsdk12.org) here.]

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