Terrance Stevenson will visit just about anywhere trying to help Black students do better in school.
Even the boys room.
Stevenson, a mentor with the Student Success Center at Evanston Township High School, told the school board earlier this week that he’s been meeting Black boys “where they are,” in the hallway, and even in the restroom, to find out what the young men need.
“Why are you here?”, Stevenson recalled some students saying when he walked into the bathroom.
But after a few awkward moments, the students “started sharing things,” such as “they don’t eat before school,” or they “feel targeted by safety staff.”
In order to help those students feel more comfortable in school, and improve their grades and skill acquisition, Stevenson said it’s first necessary to “gain trust with them.”
Only by learning some of the underlying problems, he indicated, can efforts to build achievement pay off.
There’s no doubt those efforts are needed. There is a huge test score gap between white and Black students at ETHS.
The most recent State School Report Card showed 72.7% of white students — but only 17.1% of Blacks — were proficient in English Language Arts.
There are similar gaps in math and science.
Stevenson is trying to work with young Black men, as an add-on to a number of other programs that already exist at the high school.
Board Vice-President Monique Parsons said that too often, Black male students feel “invisible.”
“I’m concerned that those who are off the radar are slipping” academically, she stated, to the point that there are some students who, “if we don’t intervene, it’s a matter of life or death.”
As for Black girls, a new program called SHADES got under way in November, created by black female educators at the school.
The mentorship program, with 23 participants as of now, aims to prepare the young women for life after high school, socially, professionally, and academically.
Board members and administration officials stressed that many Black students do extremely well, and it’s wrong and hurtful to stereotype a group as universally low-achieving.
But the racial gap does exist , and has done so for decades.
There is also a gap, not quite as large, but still significant, between white and Hispanic student performance.
More programs aimed at Hispanic youngsters are also under way or in development.
Ganae McAlpin-Toney, the ETHS Equity Director, said for example that the SHADES program will be expanded in the future from just “SHADES of Black to SHADES of Brown.”
Board Vice-President Parsons did voice some optimism about improving school performance for students of color, and said the implications would be significant beyond the ETHS campus.
“I have the audacity,” she said, “to think that what we do at ETHS can be replicated in the community.”