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Commentary: School takes on more than academics

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 20, 2012 - 'Tis the season for school. Classes are starting. Supplies have been purchased. It’s time to restart the business of formal learning. However, some schools are taking on tasks beyond basic curriculum and test preparation.

City Garden Montessori has recently been acknowledged for its impressive scores as a young charter school. Yet, the school excels in large part, because it is not focused on test scores. It is focused on educating the whole child, and it does not shy away from the fact that such lofty goals include taking a look at its own institution.

City Garden has decided to live into its mission of being socio-economically and racially diverse. Rather than simply appearing diverse numerically, it is committing itself to fostering interactional diversity. This goal is no small feat for any institution, let alone a school within the city of St. Louis. It doesn’t claim to have any magic answers, but it is committed to connecting with local and national resources to transform itself. In fact, administrators are committing 2.5 professional development days to the topic of being an anti-biased institution.

City Garden recognizes that the answer to Missouri’s 27 point gap between White and Black children and 17 point gap between White and Hispanic children in readings scores are not solely about children’s ability, nor does the burden rest solely with the teachers or parents. Perhaps the mixture of accountability of all parties involved with the addition of a bias-free environment would be the formula to unlock the potential of all children. They are willing to giving it a try, and perhaps the school’s test scores are a byproduct of it being on the right track.

Fostering integrated schools and neighborhoods is a hot topic to the tune of millions of dollars in grants from the government. Despite our distance in time from 1954, we are not far in effect. Segregation has not disappeared, and achievement gaps have increased.

In particular, the work of systematically evaluating best practices of integrating schools was defunded in the early 1980s and has been reinvigorated in the past decade on the heels of diversity being noted as a compelling interest in the Michigan affirmative action case. Therefore, while many feel, “This again? Aren’t we beyond that? Why are we still talking about race?” the reality is that we have just begun … again. In particular, the inequity in education has shone a bright light on the shifting demographics in our country. As we fail to educate black and brown young children, we fail to educate the numerical majority of our future.

It’s exciting to see a neighborhood school committed to acknowledging the dynamics of race and class rather than asserting to be blind to them, and I am lucky to have my two children in attendance. City Garden Montessori is a school to watch as a possible model for supporting and launching students from diverse backgrounds.

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