Wishing for Wakanda: Building Bridges in Education
March 28, 2018
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Amanda Arnold

``In times of crisis, the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another as if we were one single tribe.”

-T’Challa, Black Panther

Bridges or barriers to educational opportunity? In every state inequity between privileged and underprivileged districts exists. Many times this is because education is provided depending on the amount of money available in a district. This doesn’t always equal the amount of money required to adequately teach students. In the movie Black Panther, the major difference between Killmonger and T’Challa was where they grew up. Killmonger was a very bright and capable young man who grew up in a neighborhood in crisis. How would his character have changed if he had grown up with the opportunities that T’Challa had? What if those bridges for educational opportunity had been built?

According to Children International, one child out of every seven is born into poverty in the US. This seems staggering to think about until one steps into a community in crisis. Impoverished students, communities, and schools need bridges.   

What we know:

  1. Poverty is a cycle. If someone grows up in poverty, their kids will most likely grow up in poverty. Cycles do not change unless there are consciously implemented, well-practiced, well-informed, collaborative efforts to change them.
  2. Education can break the cycle of poverty.

Why does it matter?

  1. Students growing up in poverty are more likely to drop out of school.
  2. According to Feeding America, impoverished students are more likely to experience food shortages and hunger. This has a lifelong effect: lower reading and math scores, increased physical, emotional, mental health, and behavioral problems, and a greater chance of obesity.
  3. Impoverished students are less likely to have medical insurance and miss more school due to illness
  4. According to the Urban Institute, students who are poor for at least one year before their 18th birthday are less successful in school and careers than students who never experience poverty. Impoverished students also are more likely to have a baby in their teens and be incarcerated.

Now, remember that education breaks the cycle of poverty. What happens when the schools are impoverished? As a nation there are students, communities, and schools in crisis. If strengthening education can help break the cycle, how? How do we bridge the gaps of equitable educational opportunity?

What this looks like across the nation:

  1. Educational opportunity is not equitable. Different communities have different needs. Demonstrated needs should be addressed with equitable resources, not equal resources.
  2. Needs are not met in high poverty communities and schools, which only helps the cycle gain momentum.
  3. Poverty has created separate, but not equal, educational opportunity where success is often determined by zip codes rather than drive, determination, and ability.

As a country we must stop isolating schools and communities because of the stigma associated with them. We need to have some tough conversations about education teacher to teacher, teacher to school, school to community, community to community, and community to state. Communities in crisis deserve opportunities to:

  1. Increase access to high quality early learning. BUT do not stop there – advocate for the usage of these opportunities. Community leaders must go out into these communities and advocate why this is important. Families that have spent generations in the generational poverty cycle must be educated on how this changes the cycle. No parent wants his or her child to struggle.
  2. Have access to rigorous, engaging teaching in supportive and safe schools. You cannot teach children that do not have their basic needs met, feel safe, or do not feel like they belong.  
  3. Have engaged community leaders who acknowledge and advocate that equal does not mean equitable. All districts do not have the same needs. Schools in the same district do not have the same needs. If communities want to close gaps, they must start the conversations about the demonstrated needs from each school.  
  4. Have educational policy that has been created around problem solving, data-based input directly from those it affects. A blanket policy is not always the answer to a common need. What may be needed and appropriate in a rural district may not be appropriate in an urban district. Policy makers need to be educated in each environment that it affects. Don’t build a bridge for a stream when you are trying to cross a river.

Let’s start talking about how impoverished schools can turn around and how can successful communities and schools can build bridges to help. Let’s problem solve about how obstacles like teacher shortages, student readiness, community stressors, funding, and resources can be overcome in impoverished communities. Let’s start a phenomena. Let’s build bridges and never stop improving those bridges. Let’s be problem solvers that address the issues and have hard conversations instead of letting what always has been become what always will be.

By the conclusion of Black Panther, T’Challa realized the impact that bridges to opportunity can have on communities. Our education system basically works, but what if it worked at the optimal level for every student regardless of their zip code? What if every student got exactly what they needed instead of what was left to offer? Let’s not forget: 

“Just because something works doesn’t mean it can’t be improved,” Princess Shuri, Black Panther

Amanda has taught English at Dobyns­ Bennett High School for the past five years. In that time, Amanda has served as the English 9 Co­Taught Team Leader, English 10 Co­Taught Team Leader, Co­President of the Alpha Zeta Chapter of Alpha Delta Kappa International Honor Society for Women Educators and on the Tennessee Digital Learning Team. Throughout her career she has served as a school­-wide Title I coordinator, school-­level testing coordinator and 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant coordinator. She holds a Bachelors and Masters degree from East Tennessee State University. In 2010, she earned an Educational Specialist degree in Instruction and Curriculum Leadership from Lincoln Memorial University. She also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.

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