When Reporters of Sexual Harassment Are Silenced By Advocacy Institutions the Harm is Far Worst

A few days ago, the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) concluded its annual conference in Anaheim, California, and the theme was “Leading Critical Conversations: Human Rights are Global Rights”. Since then, the conference has been the center of discussion on Social Work Twitter due to the unaddressed sexual harassment allegations reported to senior CSWE staff during the conference according to several Twitter threads.

As a result of not feeling heard or protected, these individuals took to social media to express their experience, their fears, and their disappointment in the institution that governs and holds accreditation for all schools of social work. Let’s get into it!

First, it is incredibly courageous to speak your truth especially when you are afraid of losing your job, losing funding, status, etc. all because you expressed concerns about your safety. After combing through social media posts by the social work community regarding the sexual harassment allegations at APM 2022, it appears these concerns were met with indifference or a sense of powerlessness on behalf of the institution to take any action. Many individuals believe there is no other place to seek accountability or redress outside of social media because many of the social work publishing platforms work hand-in-hand with the very institutions we may need to hold accountable.

As a publication, I have worked with CSWE and have partnered with them for many years on our annual virtual summit, and I have witnessed a lot of growth and investment in social justice and civil rights over the past decade. I agree it is difficult especially when you want to maintain these partnerships, and I would have reached out to CSWE if they had not already issued a public statement. However, when I read the CSWE statement on this matter, it does not address the questions of the social work community nor does it rise to the emotional intelligence level for an institution responsible for developing standardized pedagogy for dealing with victims.

Here is the CSWE’s statement in its entirety:

As we conclude the 2022 Annual Program Meeting (APM), I would like to address comments we have seen on social media regarding an incident at the event. We hear you, we see you, and we are grateful for your engagement in these critical conversations.

All registrants for APM are asked to abide by a code of conduct for the event. That code of contact specifically states:

“Meeting participants asked to stop unacceptable behavior are expected to comply immediately. If a participant engages in behavior that violates this policy, the meeting organizers may take any action they deem appropriate, including warning the offender, or expulsion from the meeting with no refund. CSWE also reserves the right to prohibit attendance at any future meeting.”

We are committed to this statement and want to ensure a safe, engaging, enjoyable, and equitable experience for each of our attendees.

Unfortunately, there was an incident in Anaheim that was brought to our attention that we will continue to investigate. And moving forward, we will refine our path to action for such matters.

We also want to take this time to thank everyone who have offered and given support to those who were affected by this incident. The theme of APM the past three years has been “Critical Conversations”; next year’s conference theme is “It’s Time to Act,” which is what we intend to do. – Published November 13th, 2022

This statement minimizes the concerns expressed on social media and then uses their pain as a marketing ploy for the next conference, but this is not where the institution’s failings on this matter begin. When the report was received from the first complainant, why not remove the alleged offender from the rest of the conference, refund their conference ticket price, order them to stay away from conference participants for the duration of the conference if they choose not to leave the city, and refer the matter to their institution for investigation?

If not this suggested action, some type of action should have been taken to provide reasonable accommodation to an alleged offender that protects the safety of the reporter/the potential harm to more victims until the matter could be investigated. Taking no action enabled the behavior to continue which creates further harm with the potential to trigger past trauma.  For an institution and conference this size, are there not any policies and protocols in place to address sexual harassment for attendees and staff?

One of the alleged victims known as Dr. Michelle FK using @mfktherapy Twitter handle created a thread to share their experience at APM 2022.

Dr. Michelle mentions an article from the Times Higher Education magazine which was born from a Twitter discussion between female academics about their experiences of sexual harassment at in-person conferences and academic meet-ups.

“What emerged in the responses was a disturbing collection of experiences of harassment and sexual assault that female academics have endured at these events. The responses are further evidence of the gender inequality that exists in academia and how, often, it can affect women’s confidence about attending future academic conferences, no doubt limiting their opportunities to present research and meet influential academics in their fields. Worse though, it can manifest as abuse that harms women for a lifetime. ”  Read Full Article

Several Deans, Professors, and students from Schools of Social Work across the country have expressed their support for the individuals who shared their experiences on social media. Dean Nina Heller from the University of Connecticut stated, “I am especially troubled by the fact that students and junior faculty would have to endure unwelcome conduct at a point in their careers where they may not feel empowered to speak up or resist.”

The University of Houston and School of Social Work Dean Alan Dettlaff posted this statement to their Twitter profile:

Currently, CSWE is acclimating to new leadership changes both on the board and with the installment of the new President and CEO Halaevalu F. O. Vakalahi Ph.D., MSW, MEd. and with the conflux of new staff maybe this was a contributing factor to how badly they fumbled the ball on this one. I am not familiar with the current leadership, but I do hope to reach out soon and follow up with CSWE on how they plan to address the current allegations and address policies and protocols around the potential for sexual harassment at future APMs.

Human Trafficking Case Manager and Research Analyst Focus Group

Survivors of Sex Trafficking: It’s Not as Simple as ‘Get a Job’

What happens to individuals in underserved communities who have survived sex trafficking and exploitation? According to the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, a great number of these individuals have been coerced, forced, or engaged in ‘The Life’ due to poverty and other conditions prevalent in marginalized communities. As such, they have not been brought up in a school system in which they were given opportunities to explore and pursue careers at a younger age, or even to develop employment readiness skills.

When they try to leave ‘The Life’ behind, survivors find themselves with no inner compass and no map. As a case in point, in a recent focus group with teens and educators in underserved communities, the consensus among both groups was that youth need positive relationships with adults who are willing to listen and provide mentorship and support for their dreams. In addition, they need their schools to provide practical opportunities for career-related learning experiences. Participants in the focus group felt that these qualities were lacking in their areas.

In association with Journey Out, an organization in the Los Angeles area that advocates for survivors of human trafficking, a panel of five survivors were invited to provide their recollections regarding their exposure to career exploration opportunities in middle school and high school. All of the participants had grown up in impoverished situations. The survivors were also asked to share their career dreams from childhood to the present time, as well as any obstacles they may have encountered in reaching their dreams (other than the period of exploitation itself). Their thought-provoking responses follow each question below.

When you were very young, was there any type of career that you really wanted to have when you grew up?

Survivor 1: I had two dreams. A chef and an artist.
Survivor 2: A scientist. Science is so fun.
Survivor 3: An animal doctor.
Survivor 4: An artist. I loved painting.
Survivor 5: A teacher. When I was real little, I liked school.

When you were in Middle School, were there any types of programs in your school that helped you think about a career you’d like to choose?

Survivor 1: No
Survivor 2: Nope.
Survivor 3: No, are you joking?
Survivor 4: Not at all.
Survivor 5: No.

When you were in High School, were there any types of programs in your school that helped you think about a career you’d like to choose?

Survivor 1: No.
Survivor 2: Nothing at all.
Survivor 3: Nothing.
Survivor 4: No.
Survivor 5: Only one thing I can think of. One time they told us about the military. That’s it.

What is your job now?

Survivor 1: Wine-pouring.
Survivor 2: I’m a drug/alcohol peer. I like it, but it don’t pay well.
Survivor 3: I’m doing repairs on ranches. Had to get out of the city.
Survivor 4: I’m dealing poker whenever I can. But sometimes I’m still in The Life if I’m broke.
Survivor 5: I’m not working.

What type of career path are you on today?

Survivor 1: I want to be a manager in the wine industry.
Survivor 2: Something in social services. Because I like to help people.
Survivor 3: I guess to co-own a repair business since I’m doing repairs these days.
Survivor 4: I want to be a licensed beautician.
Survivor 5: I have no idea.

What type of career path would you like to be on, if you had no obstacles?

Survivor 1: I’d be a successful artist.
Survivor 2: A scientist.
Survivor 3: I’d be a business owner – but something with animals instead.
Survivor 4: I’d own a beauty shop.
Survivor 5: Maybe I could be a 911 operator. But I probably can’t because I have a record.

What do you think are the most difficult things about finding a new job outside of The Life?

Survivor 1: Knowing what I am actually qualified to do. I wish someone would have taught
me how to write a resume a long time ago.
Survivor 2: I have a felony record because of (stuff) my pimp made me do. Also, no skills
mean no decent pay. And no one ever taught me how to write a resume.
Survivor 3: My felony record. Also my lack of skills, and stuff I carry around mentally because
of The Life.
Survivor 4: Getting paid enough to live on. Not having skills that would pay me more. And all my
psychological stuff because of The Life. Also, I don’t know how to write resumes.
Survivor 5: Competition with other people who have more skills and no criminal record. Also, my
age. It’s harder to start over, the later you get out of The Life.

What do you think is most challenging about continuing to work at a job outside of The Life?

Survivor 1: Motivation, if you don’t know what you want to be yet.
Survivor 2: Feeling undervalued at work – not being paid enough or treated well.
Survivor 3: Regular work hours, when I’m used to staying up late and sleeping in. Also not being
paid enough to live on without skills. It takes time to learn skills to get paid more. And
working with other people is hard when in The Life you did the work alone.
Survivor 4: Regular work hours are hard to get used to. Making less money than in The Life is
hard, too. And it takes a lot of time to learn work skills. Also, working with other
people is hard when I’m not used to it.
Survivor 5: Interactions with others are hard! And it’s also hard to stay if there’s a negative work
environment.

What would make you want to stay in a particular workplace?

Survivor 1: Loving the work.
Survivor 2: Liking the work. Because how do we know what’s even some choices if no one ever
helped us with that before? Also being respected and paid decent money.
Survivor 3: Fewer people to deal with, and good pay.
Survivor 4: Feeling fulfilled and making enough money.
Survivor 5: I’m still figuring that out.

These thought-provoking responses illustrate various struggles experienced by survivors of exploitation from underserved communities – not only in becoming financially stable but also, in feeling personally fulfilled within a career. There is a clear need for fairness of choice and opportunity for those in underserved communities, starting within the educational system. Such opportunity could reasonably lead to empowerment over coercion into sexual exploitation.

The Positive Impact Social Work Can Have on Public Education

Social workers aren’t always associated with public education. Their roles in social service delivery, legal arenas, and advocacy are often more readily recognized. However, social workers provide vital support within our education system and contribute meaningfully to helping countless children progress through primary and secondary education in the United States every year.

The Social Worker’s Role within the Education System

Social workers can hold a number of responsibilities within a school setting. They might work one on one with students or work with groups and deliver programming. They may also work in home settings with said students outside school hours to help them with homework or learning. However, their interventions are delivered, social workers are primarily concerned with students from disadvantaged backgrounds or with heightened needs. Social workers support their learning processes and make sure they receive the attention they need to be able to succeed in school.

When underprivileged students face difficulties or danger in their home or personal lives, they are far less likely to perform well in the classroom. Social workers’ responsibilities when working with school children that live in tenuous or unstable circumstances can extend past academic support and include monitoring their safety, the provision of their basic needs, and wellbeing of their caretakers. Social workers that are based in schools or academic settings often tend to needs that extend beyond the classroom. They can help provide comprehensive support for school-aged children to give them the best chance of graduating and having success later in life.

The History of Social Work and Its Purpose

The development of the social worker, and of social work in its current form in the United States, can help inform how social work fits into public education and complements the academic endeavors of the educational system. Social work’s origin was brought about by the unintended side effects of industrialization that resulted in high levels of unemployment, abandoned children, poverty, and chronic physical and mental illnesses.

By the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, organized charitable bodies were beginning to oversee social welfare projects and the occupation we know as social work came into existence. Along with hospitals and settlement houses, public schools were one of the primary arenas in which social workers served. From the very beginning, children’s welfare and development has been a primary concern for the social work field.

Since its inception, the realm of social work and services provision has morphed and changed.  Various presidential administrations adjusted Federal funding and support. Large-scale cultural phenomena presented unique challenges at various points over the 20th and beginning of the 21st centuries. However, social work still adheres to one of its founding priorities – the support of children and especially those who are disadvantaged. Social workers’ role within the public education system is just as important as ever for providing support for countless children as they progress through their educational journeys.

How Social Work in Other Areas Can Also Benefit Public Education

Though some social workers work more directly with school children or within the academic setting than others, the effect of social work on society at large creates substantial benefits for public education. Social workers can be found in a wide variety of settings – from hospitals to homeless shelters, and from rehabilitation centers to nursing homes. Social workers impact people from all walks of life, and some may never come in contact with a school-aged child.

However, people don’t exist in a vacuum. The widespread nature of social work’s reach means that social workers impact individuals who are fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, teachers, and more for children within public education. Their influence helps make society as a whole operate more smoothly, and that includes public education.

The impact of social work on our school system is hugely significant. Social workers provide support to countless individuals across the country, whether students in school themselves or those that support, teach, or care for them. Social work is an integral part of making the public education system successful.

How Social Workers Can Practice Trauma-Informed Care

Over the past few decades, there has been increasing recognition of the widespread and profound impact of trauma on individuals and communities. The results of an international mental health survey suggest that traumatic events have affected over 70 percent of the population, and can lead to prolonged physical and psychological harm.

These findings have transformed the field of social work, shifting the focus of education and training onto practices that recognize, support, and empower survivors of trauma. Referred to as “trauma-informed care,” this framework is especially important for social work professionals who have a high likelihood of encountering people with a history of trauma in practice settings.

Expanding the Definition of Trauma

Trauma-informed care starts with an understanding of the intricacies of trauma, and how it impacts individuals and communities. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.”

For most people, the concept of trauma conjures up images of soldiers who have survived violent combat. Others may think about people who have been exposed to physical abuse, sexual assault or natural disasters. While these are some of the most distressing experiences that an individual can endure, trauma isn’t defined by an extreme event—it’s what the event means to the individual.

Trauma-informed social workers must take the time to understand a person’s unique perception and response to an event, taking into account the complex layers of identity, power, and oppression that contribute to trauma. Adopting this framework, researchers have expanded the definition of trauma to include the following categories:

  • Complex trauma: The result of being exposed to repeated, ongoing, or simultaneous traumatic events, such as chronic neglect from a caregiver or long-term exposure to war conflict.
  • Intergenerational trauma: This type of trauma is passed from those who directly experience trauma onto subsequent generations.
  • Historical trauma: A type of intergenerational trauma that is experienced by specific racial, ethnic or cultural groups that accumulates across generations. Some experiences most commonly associated with historical trauma include the colonization and forced migration of Native Americans and the enslavement of African Americans.
  • Institutional trauma: This is a type of trauma that occurs when institutions take actions that worsen the impact of traumatic experiences; for example, when a university covers up a sexual assault violation.
  • Secondary trauma: Many helping professionals experience this type of indirect trauma, through hearing or witnessing the aftermath of a traumatic event experienced by a survivor. In addition to expanding the definition of trauma, the social work field has begun to outline some essential components of trauma-informed care.

Promoting a Sense of Safety

Trauma-informed social workers recognize that clients may have a history of trauma and prioritize creating an environment that feels physically and psychologically safe. Physical safety can be ensured by keeping areas well lit, monitoring who is entering and exiting the building and providing clear access to exits. Psychological safety involves a client’s feelings of trust in their relationship with the social worker, and can be ensured by modeling respect, consistency, acceptance and transparency.

Acknowledging and Reinforcing Patients’ Strengths

Many social service and healthcare professionals focus on diagnoses and interventions, framing symptoms as problems or weaknesses. Trauma-informed social workers, on the other hand, recognize that these symptoms are coping strategies in response to trauma. These practitioners highlight resilience and acknowledge strengths, cultivating hope for recovery and change.

Creating Opportunities for Choice

Trauma survivors often feel a sense of powerlessness, resulting from a loss of control and predictability in their experience of trauma. Trauma-informed social workers attempt to return the client’s sense of control by offering them choices and actively involving them in goal-setting and decision-making. As clients practice making decisions in the social work setting, they develop coping strategies and self-advocacy skills that support their functioning in the outside world.

Applying Your Knowledge

To maximize your impact as a social work professional, you need an extensive understanding of the latest theoretical perspectives, including trauma-informed care. An online master of social work program can help you acquire the conceptual knowledge and hands-on field instruction that you can apply to improve clients’ lives and achieve your professional objectives.

The Adelphi University Online Master of Social Work program brings decades of expertise and a legacy as a leading social work school to a flexible curriculum designed for working professionals. As a graduate student in the program, you’ll have the opportunity to engage with faculty members at the forefront of research on trauma-informed practices. Our graduates complete the program prepared to become Licensed Master Social Workers and fill the need for a skilled trauma workforce.

Project-Based Learning for the Virtual Classroom

Project-based learning (PBL) may not be the first thing that teachers consider when planning for remote or hybrid lessons. However, with a little creativity and an organized approach, project-based learning can engage students in a way that may be lacking during typical virtual instruction. So what is it, exactly? PBL, simply put, is an approach to learning through exploration of a real-world problem or question. Ideally, students choose to investigate a problem or challenge that means something to them – something that impacts their daily lives. Then, through research, collaboration, and exploration, students gain a deeper understanding of the issue or challenge and how they can contribute to a solution. Even more important is the fact that, through project-based learning, students gain a better understanding of who they are as learners and critical thinkers. With being said, let’s look at how instructors can utilize PBL in virtual settings.

How to Organize PBL for Remote Learning

“Embrace the chaos of now” by asking students to discuss what is currently troubling them. When students have a vested interest in their classwork, they will obviously be more inclined to engage in the work and follow through on the assignment. Ask about challenges or problems they’ve been having, such as:

  • What has been your biggest struggle with adapting to virtual/remote learning?
  • What needs are not being met in this “new normal?”
  • How has your daily routine changed since the start of the pandemic?
  • What is a problem that you see your peers, neighbors, teachers, community struggling with?

After students have identified an issue or challenge that they personally recognize in their day-to-day lives, ask them to do a little preliminary brainstorming about the problem using a standard KWL chart. The KWL chart is an old favorite in the classroom for any sort of introduction to a new topic, concept, or unit. For project-based learning, the KWL chart provides students with a visual starting point and a trajectory for where their research is headed. The graphic organizer, for those who have not used it before acts as a simple t-chart to organize what students already know (K) about the topic, what they want (W) to know about the topic, and what they learn (L) throughout their research process. This simple visual aid acts as the foundation for critical thinking by visually, yet simply, organizing a student’s thoughts.

Next, you can help students with backward design or backward mapping by outlining objectives first. Again, project-based learning is all about allowing students to explore a challenge and identify a resolution or fix for the problem. In order to adequately lay out the groundwork, students must have a clear and definitive end goal. Therefore, in planning for success, teachers need to help students employ backward mapping strategies by beginning with something like a S.M.A.R.T. (Specific. Measurable. Attainable. Relevant. Timely.) goal—then working backward from there to achieve that goal.

Instructors can also utilize haptic engagement or hands–on learning by encouraging students to physically try out or experiment with their ideas. Teachers can model this experiential learning by choosing their own PBL to focus on while kids are working. Show students that, in order to truly solve a problem, people must occasionally get their hands dirty. It is also important for teachers to note that success stories are almost always trial and error—a sound solution will not come right away. By testing hypotheses and modifying approaches, students truly understand the value of hands–on, experiential learning. Not only are these demonstrations helpful for getting closer to a solution, but haptic engagement also teaches students about grit, perseverance, and strategies around error analysis.

Another great skill set that students may develop while participating in PBL classroom activities involves retrieval practice. Since students are focusing their work on one primary challenge, they are able to hone their focus and truly absorb new information as they learn. Teachers can help foster retrieval strategies with activities such as Cornell note-taking, peer teaching, and Socratic seminars, in which students take the lead in delivering information to one another.

Try some of these PBL strategies out in your next lesson, whether it be virtual or in-person, and see the results for yourself.

New Preschool Program in Oregon is a Model for the Nation—But Challenges Remain

By Mary King and Lisa Dodson

In November 2020, voters in Multnomah County, home to the city of Portland, resoundingly approved the creation of a new, universal preschool program—a program that could serve as a model for desperately needed preschool and childcare investments for the entire country. All three- and four-year-olds in Multnomah county will be able to attend a free, year-round, universal, high quality preschool program that meets their needs as well as those of most families, providers and staff, and local businesses. Key elements include a wide range of choices for families as well as living wages and professional supports for providers and workers. The program is slated to be equitably funded by a local income tax on the highest income households.

Two big challenges remain: ensuring that families with “non-traditional” work schedules are included, and significantly increasing public investment in facilities to allow preschools to expand well beyond church basements and providers’ homes. Those working non-traditional hours are disproportionately low-income, women, people of color, and often “essential workers” without whom our society and economy would not function. Federal childcare initiatives must address the needs of families with such work schedules, or the families that most need public child care will be left out.

A Universal Model that Serves Diverse Needs

Universal preschool programs benefit all children and lead to better outcomes than means-tested programs for the most disadvantaged children. Means-tested programs such as Head Start seek to deliver services only to households with low incomes. Although means-tested programs “target the poor,” universal programs bring children and families from across the socioeconomic spectrum together, challenging ongoing race, ethnic and class segregation that erodes democracy. Universality also inspires broad support to maintain adequate funding. After fifty well-regarded years, Head Start is still available—but only for a fraction of eligible families, and even then, often only part-time and part-year. High quality preschool and child care is out of reach for the large majority of families who already face the high cost of housing, health care, and student debt with stagnating wages. Importantly, universal preschool is both a two-generation anti-poverty program and a powerful boost to economic development, because it returns $9.45 to the community for every dollar spent.

Families raising young children are diverse and need a wide range of options. Multnomah County’s new Preschool for All program will offer choices of:

  • language and cultural contexts, including Afro-centric and other alternatives,
  • types of setting, including family childcare providers, public schools and free-standing centers, and
  • schedules, including school year and year-round, full and part-time, weekend days as well as week days, with up to 50 hours a week for families that need or want longer days

Children with disabilities will be included, facilitating earlier identification of health issues and treatment. Expulsions, now too common in preschool settings particularly for children of color, will be prohibited, requiring that the system provide supportive interventions to meet all children’s needs.

Fair Pay and Professional Support for Providers and Workers

Currently, U.S. family childcare providers, preschool teachers, and childcare workers earn poverty wages with few benefits and often cope with difficult working conditions. The result is high turnover; the loss of skilled, experienced and dedicated workers to jobs that better support their families; and damage to the quality of care. High quality child care depends on the ongoing relationships caregivers develop with families, children, and co-workers.

Multnomah County’s new Preschool for All program will pay teachers comparably with kindergarten teachers, doubling their current salaries. The wage floor for assistant teachers and other classroom staff will be set at nearly $20 an hour when the program starts in Fall 2022, with pay levels adjusted to reward increasing skills, training and experience. Continuing professional development will be geared to the schedules of the low-income working parents who are over-represented among preschool workers. Should workers wish to join a union, employers will be required to remain neutral.

Funding universal high quality child care is within reach. Over the past 40 years, U.S. economic gains have been concentrated on an ever smaller group of the wealthy, while responsibility for paying for our infrastructure and public services has been shifted from the affluent to the working and middle classes. Reversing such trends, Multnomah County’s preschool program is to be funded by a county income tax on approximately eight percent of households at the top. Combined federal, state, and local income tax rates for such households will still fall far below the top tax federal income tax rates in place for the much of the 20th century, from the 1930s through the 1970s.

Unmet Challenges

Multnomah County intends to offer preschool up to ten hours a day and on weekend days, but has not committed to other “non-traditional” hours. Employers demand “non-traditional” work schedules for the three occupations expected to add the most jobs between 2019 and 2029: home health and personal care aides, fast food and counter workers, and restaurant cooks. Many retail and hospitality positions also entail low wages and employer insistence that workers maintain “open availability,” and healthcare, construction, and gig workers struggle with work schedules that make it very difficult to find child care.

Multnomah County will pay fair wages to everyone working in the classroom, but will not supplement the pay of people working in Head Start and other public preschool and childcare programs that pay too little to retain skilled people in the face of a more attractive alternative. The county plans to support some infant and toddler programs, but won’t be able to overcome the severe shortage of affordable, quality care for these age groups, likely to be exacerbated by competition from a preschool system offering better compensation. Finally, preschool and child care is now crowded into inexpensive or public spaces; serving all children well will require a significant investment in physical facilities.

Despite such continuing challenges, Multnomah County’s Preschool for All offers a national model, with its variety of choices to families, living wages for all classroom staff, and an equitable approach to public funding. Each of these aspects needs to be included in any new federal program. In addition, a new federal program should aspire to offer high quality child care to families struggling with difficult work schedules, until labor legislation is revised to place limits on such unpredictable schedules. Strategies will also need to be implemented to improve the wages of workers in Head Start and other public preschool and childcare programs.

Why Political Science Can and Should Lead Diversity Efforts in Higher Education

Diversity is big business in the academy. Foundations such as Ford, Carnegie, and Robert Wood Johnson support academic efforts to diversify the professoriate; and colleges and universities across the country are investing significant resources in diversity efforts. Furthermore, the academy has begun hiring chief diversity officers, following corporate sector trends — 60% of Fortune 500 companies have chief diversity officers among their top-executives.

Although the numbers of women in political science have shown modest growth over the last two decades, the number of women of color in the field has largely remained flat. Political science scholarship on minority representation in U.S. legislatures sheds light on this professional conundrum, too. This literature shows how organized women, racial and ethnic minorities, and their allies can promote diversity and inclusive practices to bring about lasting change in political science, other disciplines and higher education more broadly.

An Opportune Moment for Political Science

Research on social movements shows that, when windows of opportunity arise, activists must have the resources to change the status quo and push for policy breakthroughs. I suggest that heightened attention to institutional diversity across academia presents an opportunity that political scientists can and should seize by presenting themselves as credible stakeholders who are well-equipped to: steward institutions’ newly available resources, run innovative pilot programs, and produce returns on institutional diversity investments for both students and faculty.

Student demands will be a key resource in these efforts, but administrators can often “wait students out” — stalling student diversity efforts until a new cohort must begin afresh. Political Science is uniquely positioned to lead institutional change by using research from the discipline to encourage student activists to investigate the issues, formulate long- and short-term goals, determine the scope of their influence, identify allies and opponents, construct informed arguments, and make specific demands with measurable outcomes. This informed activism can help students leverage their status over time as students, alumni, and donors to move towards shared goals for departmental, disciplinary, and institutional change.

Political Science is attracting many undergraduate women majors. Women are faring as well as men on the discipline’s job market. They are approaching pay equity with male colleagues and increasing their presence in the ranks of full professors. In 2010, women of color comprised 13.5% of female political science faculty, more than double their share in 1980. Although this improvement remains relatively modest compared to the nearly 300% increase in women faculty over that span, the progress for women of color is promising and can act as a foundation for future diversity efforts. Nevertheless, many challenges must still be addressed — including burdens of balancing tenure-track and family responsibilities, “inhospitable” institutional climates, and research norms that discount women’s contributions to collaborative work.

Building a Diversity Infrastructure

Sheer numbers are the first requirement for building diversity infrastructure. With sufficient numbers, members of gender and racial caucuses can promote further change and build organizational capacities. Research on the impact of diversity in Congress shows that the Congressional Black, Hispanic, and Asian Pacific American caucuses encourage information and resource sharing, enhanced communication, and collective action on behalf of racial and ethnic minorities. Through caucuses, task forces, and organized voting blocs, minority legislators have kept low-salience civil rights issues on the congressional agenda despite waning public interest. Women’s and racial and ethnic caucuses in national and regional political science associations show that female political scientists can capitalize on their numbers to act as disruptive-insiders to further diversify faculties and challenge discrimination.

Buy-in from political science department heads who name search committees and from faculty making influential recommendations will be indispensable for furthering these efforts. Departmental objectives can be linked to university diversity efforts. Male faculty members should be encouraged to serve on diversity committees and act as change agents.

Thinking beyond individual departments, women’s caucuses and ethnic caucuses in political science associations could share resources and knowledge and coordinate agendas. If increasing the racial and ethnic diversity of the discipline is to be achieved, then women’s caucuses will need to work closely with race and ethnic caucuses in the discipline. Although universal sisterhood may be a worthy ideal, faculty women of color cannot be cast as handmaidens rather than full partners in the work of transforming the discipline.

Mentorship is Not Enough

The number of women of color entering political science faculties has stagnated, and many minority faculty members leave political science departments for more hospitable interdisciplinary centers. Recruitment and retention should therefore be top priorities — and that is going to take more than just mentoring programs.

Mentorship is a common answer to the challenge of recruiting, supporting, and retaining minority faculty. Mentoring, however, only teaches people how to survive in institutions. It does not necessarily attract more people to enter institutions, and it does not help them change institutions. Although the very presence of black women on academic faculties and in front of classrooms changes the academy, that is not enough. Despite widely shared good intentions, the discipline cannot rely on mentoring alone to help women of color overcome racism, sexism, and other systematic obstacles to their advancement. At best, mentoring will help women faculty of color expand their social networks, establish important professional relationships, and better navigate minefields. At worst, mentoring will help some individuals survive and advance, while maintaining longstanding power disparities in the discipline. Mentoring obviously cannot ameliorate the impediments that routinely challenge and undermine women of color at all ranks of the professoriate. Political science must lead the way in identifying and deploying all of the strategies that can bring broader progress in universities and disciplines.

Zoom Differentiation and Accommodations

Though virtual learning is seemingly becoming less commonplace across the country, it’s still certainly around and likely will be for some time. And we all know that virtual learning has its challenges. Especially when it comes to differentiating in the virtual classroom. For students with special education accommodations, teachers will need to get creative in order to account for every student’s unique needs and optimize learning opportunities. Thankfully, there are strategies and methods for providing special education accommodations in Zoom—we just need to think outside the box and modify what each accommodation looks like in the virtual realm. Let’s take a look.

Zoom Chat

Since some are no longer physically in the classroom, proximity, prompting, and cueing accommodations pose a bit of a challenge for instructors. Yet, nothing has changed in terms of the student’s needs. In fact, students who struggle to focus and/or stay on task may need the prompting and proximity accommodations even more now that they are sitting in front of a screen. Online learning does not allow for physical proximity; however, teachers can utilize the chat function to maximize student engagement and provide an alternative form of proximity, prompting, and cueing.

Reaching out: The Zoom chat can be used to individually reach out to specific students with prompting accommodations to spur participation and to rephrase a question when necessary.

Clarifying: The chat also allows teachers to check for understanding by providing a platform for asking clarifying questions, follow-up questions, etc.

Advocating: Teachers should remind students of their chatting capabilities so that students with accommodations can advocate for themselves and speak up when they need assistance.

Tracking: The chat also acts as a data tracker; teachers can modify their settings in Zoom so that chats are saved. This allows for teachers to review correspondence with students and share questions and check-ins with parents. Teachers can also use saved chats to track the number of times a student initiates a task, asks clarifying questions, responds to polls or exit responses, etc.

Reminding: Teachers can use the Zoom chat as a method for reminding students of their extended time or reduced workload accommodations as well. This allows teachers to discreetly remind a certain student that his due date is extended without drawing attention to the student’s accommodations in front of the whole class. **Just be certain that, when chatting with specific students about these accommodations, you have selected the student’s name from the dropdown so that the chat remains a private, 1:1 conversation.

Breakout Rooms

The grouping function in Zoom can also be beneficial when ensuring certain special education accommodations are offered. Teachers have the option to manually assign groups, which means that students with special education services can be grouped with a para-educator or with other students who have the same accommodations.

Variance: Teachers should try to avoid always grouping special education students together, however, as to avoid drawing attention to certain small groups or stigmatizing students who need additional support.

Oversight: Teachers can randomly assign groups using the “automatic” option when creating breakout rooms. Then, while students work, the “host” can pop in and out of groups to act as a “check-in” for students with that accommodation.

Mobility: Teachers can also move the para-educator from group to group during breakout room sessions so that every student receives supports throughout the collaborative activity.

Discretion: Breakout rooms also offer opportunities for differentiation. Teachers can modify assignments and link adapted materials in the chat to send to specific breakout rooms. From the chat link, students can click on the shared Google doc to access the modified material. This function can provide students with resources such as word banks, sentence starters, outlines, graphic organizers, glossaries, etc. The key is that each student who receives these accommodations will have access in a discreet manner and can choose to use the materials as needed.

In short, there are many steps educators can take to ensure virtual learning provides differentiation and accommodation on a platform like Zoom. Though virtual learning may not be around forever, it still remains for some, and with that, educators must ensure they enhance the learning experience as much as possible.

Why State Spending on Higher Education May Not Improve the Economy in Many States

In recent years, the idea of tuition-free colleges and universities in the United States has made its way into mainstream political debates. In many ways, this idea makes good economic sense. Federal subsidies that help state governments eliminate undergraduate tuition and fees at public universities shift tax burdens to the federal government. This, in turn, levels burdens across states in both taxes and the cost of higher education.

However, federally subsidized free college tuition would risk worsening economic inequality among states. Although states should take steps to enlarge access to higher education, state investments in higher education must be accompanied by — or preceded by — policies to improve job opportunities and living standards in low-income states. Otherwise, only those states that are already ahead will reap the economic benefits of greater federal investments in higher education. Inequalities across states would get worse. This brief explains the contradictory imperatives at work.

Why Investing in Higher Education is Beneficial

Higher education is a good that society should provide on the basis of need rather than allocating only according to people’s ability or willingness to pay. This should not need to be justified on economic grounds. Although there are a number of good reasons for state governments to invest in higher education, some are economic while others cannot be reduced to fiscal considerations. Broader social benefits include lower crime rates, improved public health, and stronger familial and social relationships. Furthermore, in addition to providing such quality of life and societal benefits, higher education prepares students for active citizenship and community leadership.

Compelling economic benefits also come from investment in higher education. Such state spending increases human capital – the combination of knowledge, productivity, and creativity that produces economic value. This in turn improves state economies and productivity. Research shows that state economic performances rise with the proportion of residents holding bachelor’s degrees. And the stronger the state’s economy, the more it spends on higher education.

When Investing in Higher Education is Not Economically Beneficial

However, not all states enjoy the same benefits when they increase access to higher education. The economic returns from investment in higher education are not felt right away; they tend to take at least four years to show up. And long-term investments like those required for higher education are often harder to implement in low-budget states with lagging economies. Such states are doubly disadvantaged, because their less robust economies often offer poorer job prospects and living standards to graduates. Troubled economies are often on the losing end of the “brain drain,” in which many graduates from colleges in states with poor job markets move to other — usually more prosperous — states after graduation.

In the short term, state economies can benefit more from efforts to increase the number of college graduates who move into the state, or stay after graduation, than from policies that subsidize increased enrollments at in-state universities. Such enlarged enrollments will only improve a state’s economy if the number of new enrollees at in-state institutions far outweighs the number of graduates who leave the state, or if the graduates who remain become so productive that they more than compensate for those who leave.

Validating this logic, data from the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association and the U.S. Census do reveal that states that spend more on higher education do attract and enroll more students in their colleges and universities, but do not necessarily enjoy the economic benefits of a well-educated workforce and general population. Regardless of spending on higher education, states with the most employment opportunities and highest expected earnings generally enjoy the greatest returns on human capital. No matter where people go to college, those “good jobs” states are the ones that will reap the economic benefits.

Implications for Investments in Higher Education

Although these findings are good news for already prosperous states, they do not bode well for states with lagging economies. These states are not only likely to miss the economic benefits of ramping up investments in higher education; their current investments likely benefit the already better-off states that attract their graduates. What is more, when states with lagging economies invest in higher education and cannot retain graduates or attract them from other states, they are often unable to attract other forms of private or public investments necessary to spur economic regeneration. In short, they cannot catch up.

There are, however, reforms that could alleviate economic burdens on poor states while still lowering financial barriers to higher education.

  • States with less robust economies can provide incentives for graduates to stay, such as programs that link tuition remissions to commitments to work in-state for some number of years. Other useful steps include housing incentives for graduates who remain and university-sponsored internships that pair undergraduates with possible future employers.

  • Instead of subsidizing enrollments, national-level subsidies could help low-income states invest in higher education and reduce the disparities of higher education costs and tax burdens across states. Moving the tax burden to the national level makes sense, given state-to-state migration of college graduates. State-funded higher education systems, however, offer protections against federal overreach about what gets taught at universities. Steps to shift the tax burden must also include protections for local and state educational control to ensure federal funding does not narrow the range of ideas deemed acceptable for debate and discussion on campus.

Few debate the value of higher education. Yet as policymakers work to reduce inequality across the country, they must be sure to craft policy solutions that truly keep poor states from falling further behind. By shifting investments in higher education to the national level and making greater efforts to reduce inequalities among states, policymakers can help ensure a more equitable future and a stronger democracy for the United States as a whole.

UAlbany Receives $1M for Program to Prevent HIV and Substance Abuse

The University at Albany has been awarded nearly $1 million for the creation of a five-year, comprehensive program aimed at preventing HIV infections and substance use disorders among students.

The Achieving College Completion through Engaged Support Services program (Project ACCESS) will provide timely and responsive HIV prevention services to students, particularly those from the LGBTQ+ community and racial and ethnic backgrounds that are historically at higher risk for HIV and substance use disorders associated with health disparities.

Young adults under age 24 comprise more than one-fifth of all new HIV diagnoses in the United States, according to Dolores Cimini, director of the Center for Behavioral Health Promotion and Applied Research. Compounding the issue is that young people between the ages of 16 and 25 years of age are also at risk for substance use-related negative effects, making it important for researchers and service providers to address both concerns using a comprehensive prevention approach.

As part of Project ACCESS, trained students who have experienced substance abuse disorders or HIV firsthand will assist their fellow students by linking them to specialized behavioral health services and vital medical services. In addition, Project ACCESS will hire a “prevention navigator” to support BIPOC and LGBTQ+ students in accessing these behavioral and medical services in a timely and responsive manner, thus supporting students in accessing broader higher education opportunities, completing college and continuing progress towards advanced study and entry into the workforce.

“This funding comes at a very timely juncture at UAlbany,” said Cimini, who is leading the project with associate professor Jessica L. Martin of the School of Education. “Our BIPOC and LGBTQ+ students are voicing the need for specialized services across areas that align with this grant, and it is also responsive to the current focus on health disparities by the University at Albany and New York State,” Cimini continued.

Martin, who also serves as counseling psychology division director, added, “We believe that this is the first grant under this funding mechanism that is housed within a higher education institution, uniquely positioning UAlbany to advance innovation aimed to support both health and well-being and diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

Albany Medical Center, the Alliance for Positive Health and the Damien Center will partner on the project, which began on August 31, 2021 and is expected to continue through 2026. Those interested in the learning more about Project ACCESS should contact Dolores Cimini at dcimini@albany.edu.

The new program joins the growing list of comprehensive and innovative initiatives at UAlbany. In September, the University officially became a Health Promoting University, a designation bestowed on only nine universities in the country.

Why Performance-Based Funding Fails to Improve College Graduation Rates – and How States Can Do Better

The number of students who enroll in college and take on debt without receiving a college degree is striking. Of all students enrolled in America’s public four-year universities, less than 60 percent will graduate with a degree within six years. Even fewer enrollees graduate from two-year colleges, where only about 30 percent earn a credential within three years. To put this in perspective, over the past 20 years, more than 30 million students have enrolled in U.S. colleges only to drop out without receiving a degree or certificate.

What can be done? In response to what many call the “completion crisis,” lawmakers in more than 30 states have implemented performance-based policies that fund universities based on how many students they graduate instead of, or in addition to, how many they enroll. The underlying logic is simple: if colleges have an incentive to graduate more of the students they enroll, they will invest more to help their students actually earn degrees.

The Weak Performance of Performance-Based Funding

Despite the intuitive appeal of performance-based funding, research evidence suggests these policies do not produce intended boosts in student graduation rates. In fact, after gathering all of the published, peer-reviewed research on the topic and combining it into one model, my colleagues and I have demonstrated that performance-based funding has, on average, zero impact on the number of students making it to graduation. Even more concerning, we find that the average performance-based funding policy reduces college access for underrepresented groups of potential students. This happens because college administrators raise admissions standards in hopes of narrowing admitted enrollees to only those most likely to make it to graduation.

Our results do not say that every kind of performance-based funding is bound to fail at improving college graduation rates, only that current policy designs in the vast majority of states are not accomplishing the intended policy goals. To make improvements in the future, we need to understand why such an intuitive and well-intentioned type of program so clearly fails to help more students graduate from college.

Oversights in Current Policies

My research pinpoints three areas where performance-funding policies fail to align with reality and thus prove ineffective.

  • Failure to recognize competing stakeholders. For changes in state funding of colleges and universities to shift the priorities of university administrators, state legislatures would have to be the most important source of support. But this does not reflect current realities in higher education, because most institutions have multiple competing stakeholders ranging from donors and state regents to accreditation agencies and prominent politicians, all of whom can introduce competing pressures.
  • Colleges and universities have unequal capacities to improve graduation rates. Research has shown that institutional capacities and student populations at community colleges are vastly different from those found at well-resourced research universities. Some colleges may be able to provide expanded student support, but others cannot. Indeed, many public two-year colleges are already underfunded and serve predominantly disadvantaged students. If the goal is to increase the quality of educational services, slashing appropriations to already struggling institutions could make the situation even worse for their students and teachers.
  • Financial incentives may have limited and unintended impacts. Financial incentives may not be enough to impact complex outcomes and can lead to unintended consequences, such as reducing access to college for minorities and low-income people. In many fields of social policy, scholars have documented such patterns. For example, when hospitals have implemented performance-based funding models, health outcomes were not improved, instead surgeons and physicians misdiagnosed more patients and tried to avoid those with the greatest needs. Similarly, when policymakers tied funding for school teachers to standardized test results for their students, teachers narrowed instruction to tested areas rather than helping students learn to become critical thinkers.

How To Improve College Completion Rates

Taken together, real-world challenges make improving graduation rates much more complicated than many performance-based funding policies presume. So what should concerned policymakers do? There are two main ways forward.

  • If a state is determined to use performance-based funding formulas for its public institutions, policymakers should design the formulas to encourage colleges and university leaders to target enhanced supports on the most vulnerable student populations. Recent research shows that performance-based funding can direct financial bonuses to institutions that provide access and extra supports to underserved student groups. Carefully designed policies can alleviate some of the negative side-effects of performance-based funding, by ensuring access to less privileged students as overall graduation rates are improved.
  • More fundamentally, policymakers should address the root cause of the problem, not the symptoms. The number one reason so many students drop out is that college has become less affordable for many lower and middle-class families.

Indeed, instead of pursuing policies that manipulate incentives for institutions, state legislatures and others would be well advised to invest in need-based financial aid and other programs to help needy students stay in college until they graduate. Addressing the underlying issue of college affordability for low-income and middle-class families will not only improve completion rates, but also strengthen state and local economies. In turn, more students earning degrees will swell the ranks of skilled workers, boost economic growth and business profits, and generate more tax dollars to invest in education and other public necessities in the future.

Why America Needs More African American Teachers – and How to Recruit and Retain Them

Calls to increase the number of teachers of color, specifically African American teachers, have intensified over the past decade. Educators and their organizations, school administrators, and policymakers increasingly agree that a lack of diversity among teachers hurts U.S. students. But this is not the first time this problem has been highlighted, so we must learn from past mistakes to do a better job of recruiting teachers of color in the future.

America’s Lack of Diverse Educators

Serious appeals to increase the number of African American teachers were first issued back in the 1980s. The shortfall was, ironically, spurred decades earlier by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 decision, Brown vs Board Education that declared the racial segregation of U.S. public schools unconstitutional. After this decision, many all-black schools were closed in southern states (and in border states such as Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, and West Virginia). Because newly desegregated districts did not need as many teachers, they laid off teachers and principals in large numbers. By the late 1960s, when courts and policy makers finally noticed, upwards of 35,000 African American teachers had lost their jobs.

In northern cities where de facto segregation prevailed, the number of African American teachers was always considerably smaller. As the number of black teachers in southern and border states dwindled, courts demanded that northern school districts hire greater numbers of African American teachers. For example, in Boston (where I taught before court-ordered desegregation in 1974) the public school system scrambled to hire African Americans. During this period, however, teacher testing and certification took root – and African American teachers passed the certification tests at lower rates than their white counterparts.

By the 1990s across the United States, the typical teacher candidate was a white, middle class suburban or rural woman, a trend that continues today. Yet in the same era, the public-school population was becoming more diverse. To address the mismatch between teachers and their students, schools and colleges of education modified their curricula – in most cases to address teachers’ beliefs and behavior on matters of diversity. Efforts to recruit, train, and retain teachers of color were, ironically, sidelined. By now, schools and programs that create and train America’s teachers stress “educating” prospective teachers mainly on providing new teachers with information to counter stereotypical thinking, racial and cultural biases, and a sense of white racial privilege. These efforts do not actually diversify educational workforces.

Even more troubling – when small numbers of teachers of color are hired, they are often assigned to the most challenging schools that have the fewest resources and the highest rates of poverty. They are expected to be disciplinarians charged with handling the most intractable students. Stress and burnout lead many to quit teaching.

Why It Matters

Research has shown for some time that African American pupils benefit in a variety of ways when they have African American teachers. Black students with such teachers are less likely to be expelled or suspended, are more likely to graduate, and are more likely to be recommended for participation in “gifted and talented” programs. Black students with black teachers are also less likely to be mistakenly referred to special education programs for those with “behavioral disorders.”

African American students are not the only ones who benefit when classrooms have more black teachers. Students of every background benefit from encountering and interacting with African Americans in the educational system and among authority figures. Unfortunately, many Americans do not fully understand the benefits that accrue to students of all backgrounds when they are taught by a diverse group of educators.

What Can be Done to Create a More Diverse Teaching Force

If policymakers, principals, teacher educators, and state legislators are serious about increasing the number of African American teachers, they need to consider the following steps:

  • Hiring more African American educators for faculty positions at universities – especially in colleges of education.
  • Creating pathways for African Americans to enter teaching – by developing programs with community colleges to recruit and prepare underrepresented teachers, establishing programs that encourage teacher aides to pursue the education required to become certified teachers, and identifying excellent public schools that could serve professional development sites for underrepresented teachers.
  • Modifying the curriculum and teaching tactics. Coursework should build on student and community strengths. Teacher candidates should receive training on how to draw on the resources actually available to specific sets of students’ and their local communities – a tactic that has been shown to create positive learning outcomes students.
  • Developing and funding programs that provide forgivable loans to teachers who work for a specified period in minority or high-poverty schools.
  • Ending the practices that isolate African American teachers and treat them as tokens of diversity. Teachers from underrepresented backgrounds should be encouraged with good assignments and extra resources, not given the most difficult teaching assignments, assigned the least prestigious courses, and sent to the least-resourced classrooms and schools.

Current research offers ample evidence that African American teachers are one critical component of improving the learning outcomes for all of America’s students, including students of color. Given all that scholars and practitioners have learned, we know that the value of recruiting and retaining African American teachers goes beyond the simple idea that such teachers are good role models. Their greater presence offers many advantages to students, schools, and communities. They are vital contributors to effective and democratic schools.

How Racial and Ethnic Diversity in Schools Prepares Young People to Thrive in a Multiracial Society

Debates about the value and meaning of public education are not just about report cards and standardized test scores. The hope is that public education will equip youth with what they need to reach their full potential and flourish as the next generation of citizens. To achieve this goal, most people realize that public schools need to teach students to navigate their social environments, contribute positively to their communities, and live and work cooperatively with others in the increasingly complex and diverse society.

But there is growing evidence that the United States is falling far short of this goal. Segregation and racial isolation mark most U.S. public schools. Nationally, most White students attend schools that are more than 70 percent White; and in some regions, nearly half of Black and Latino students attend schools that are more than 90 percent minority and overwhelmingly poor.

The promise of diverse, integrated schools was asserted in the landmark 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. Since then the social science supporting school integration has only become stronger, revealing the many ways in which contact between young people from different racial and ethnic groups can transform attitudes and prepare them to thrive in a multiracial society.

Building Relationships Across Groups Promotes Inclusion & Social Cohesion

Researchers have found many ways to foster inclusive schools:

  • Cross-race friendships are especially powerful because emotional bonds form that transform people’s understandings of social relations and make them more motivated to treat members of their friends’ groups as they would treat people in their own group.
  • Cooperative learning strategies promote both academic success and positive intergroup attitudes. These involve having youth from different groups work together and learn from each other, with support from teachers and school staff.
  • Norms provide youth with important values about cross-group relations. Students often become more willing to engage in contact with other racial groups when they observe others doing so in their classrooms, schools, and communities, as well as in the media.

Why Contact With Other Racial & Ethnic Groups is Important for Youth

Children’s early life experiences can have long-term consequences. Once formed, attitudes and beliefs about other groups may become harder to change as youth grow older.

Of course, youth must have opportunities to get to know and interact with members of other racial groups for such meaningful cross-race bonds to develop – and diverse schools offer more of these opportunities. Studies of youth in integrated school environments show that those who learn in such schools report greater interest in living and working in racially and ethnically diverse environments when they become adults, and are more likely actually to do so as adults. By contrast, racially isolated schools may limit opportunities for youth to challenge skewed perceptions and assumptions about people from other racial groups.

Connecting Intergroup Relations to Education Policy

Providing opportunities for interracial contact in integrated schools and classrooms is critical for youth development and efforts to foster a just and vibrant nation. With insights from social science, racially integrated schools and classrooms have important roles to play, if the following principles are followed:

  • Ensure that practices make integrated classrooms and high-quality intergroup contact easier to achieve. Many structures reinforce segregation between communities, schools, and classrooms, limiting both the frequency and quality of intergroup contact students can experience. At the federal, state and district levels, these structures can include school zone and district boundaries, narrow definitions of school quality, and limited interventions to support racial integration. Inside schools, practices like tracking that separate students into different classes based on test performance can lead to racial isolation. Viewing education policies and practices through the lens of maximizing intergroup contact may lead to reforms in how school enrollments and class assignments are designed.
  • Prioritize racially integrated classrooms and high-quality intergroup contact. Clearly, dismantling the effects of segregation cannot be solely the purview of schools. Yet by recognizing the value of racially integrated classrooms as part of the learning environment, schools can support cross-racial contact and engage families and communities as active partners in building inclusive educational environments. Educators, communities, and students can work together to develop a shared vision of racially integrated schools and advocate for the resources and school conditions needed to support that vision.

As the nation faces rapidly shifting demographics amid rising social tensions, public schools remain one of the few social institutions that have the potential to bring young people together across racial and ethnic lines. Guided by scientific research and civic imperatives, policymakers and other civic leaders can make use the public education system to build bridges and knock down barriers that divide youth from diverse backgrounds in classrooms and schools across the country. By helping children and youth from diverse backgrounds build positive ties with one another, diverse schools can lead the way toward a more successful national future.

The Push for Healthy Communities

As COVID-19 took its toll on the U.S. in 2020, the numbers began to show that not everyone was equally affected by the virus. Data from the CDC and National Center for Health Statistics showed Black and Latinx populations were almost three times more likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19 than white populations, and it was two times more likely that their cases resulted in death.

But COVID-19 only revealed the health disparities that were already rampant in the nation. And, these underlying disparities did not only affect people of color, but also occurred based on other factors such as socioeconomic status, gender, sexual orientation, geography and age.

As the most economically and ethnically diverse university in the nation, the CSU is committed to ensuring all community members are served equally, including access to health care. Here are a few ways campuses are pushing for that access.​

A Little Motivation

The Stanislaus Recovery Center (SRC), which provides addiction recovery treatment for patients on Medicaid or Medi-Cal who are often unemployed or unhoused, is the site of a pilot study led by Shrinidhi Subramaniam, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at California State University, Stanislaus.

Working together since 2018, Dr. Subramaniam and the SRC team noticed when patients were transferring from residential to outpatient care, their participation in treatment dropped off. To address the issue, Subramaniam, her students and the SRC launched the project—funded by a Research, Scholarships and Creative Activities grant—to study whether monetary incentives, paid on reloadable credit cards, increased patient participation in outpatient services as well as improved abstinence and treatment outcomes.

“I expect the participants in our study to all be in the category of socioeconomic disadvantage, and hopefully the little bit of money that we can give them with the incentives will also encourage them to access other recovery resources through continuing care,” Subramaniam says.

This pilot study is based off research she conducted during her post-doc at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine on motivational incentives in health care, including encouraging HIV patients to take their medication and chronically unemployed individuals recovering from substance use disorder to abstain from drug use. Another study also looked at the efficacy of incentivizing patients to do other important tasks like sign up for health insurance, complete job training or acquire identification like a Social Security card or ID.

Subramaniam hopes her work can expand to incentivize patients to use other services at SRC, includin​g its existing resources that link clients to training or local job opportunities—with the ultimate goal of setting up her own “therapeutic workplace” where individuals can receive treatment as well as help securing education, employment and housing.

“We have to deal with a lot of stigmas working with this population; both the stigma of addiction and the stigma that comes along with poverty,” Subramaniam says. “So, one of the major goals of my research program is to figure out what it takes to help people with that combination of addiction, unemployment and poverty to get out of their situation to the best of our ability. Of course, there are structural changes that need to be made to help people in that position, but there are also things psychology can do on an individual basis to help people access resources that are available. And incentives are a great way to help motivate people to do those difficult tasks.”​

The Next Generation

Named in honor of the unsung medical personnel dubbed heroes during the COVID-19 pandemic, the proposed Regional Healthcare Initiative Health Education, Research, and Clinical Outcomes (HEROs) Institute at San Diego State University would seek to improve health care services and reduce disparities in its community by addressing issues in health education.

“We can’t address access to health care if we don’t address access to health care education,” says Harsimran Baweja, Ph.D., associate professor in exercise and nutritional sciences. “Our idea is to make a grassroots-up change to health care delivery, so that these students who go out now, our alumni, will be the changemakers.”

Specifically, the goal is to implement interprofessional education, in which classrooms would bring together students from different health care programs, reflecting the interdisciplinary teams they will experience in the workforce. By introducing this type of learning, their training times would be significantly shortened, and they could independently serve patients more quickly. In addition, the institute will form clinical partnerships with community health care providers, who will likewise provide instruction and training in the classroom and likely employ the students post-graduation.

Specifically, the goal is to implement interprofessional education, in which classrooms would bring together students from different health care programs, reflecting the interdisciplinary teams they will experience in the workforce. By introducing this type of learning, their training times would be significantly shortened, and they could independently serve patients more quickly. In addition, the institute will form clinical partnerships with community health care providers, who will likewise provide instruction and training in the classroom and likely employ the students post-graduation.

“We will be accelerating the delivery [of health care] from bench to bedside or to the community, because the problem in health care access and delivery is the pace at which it’s given,” Dr. Baweja explains. “We need to reduce the burden on the health care system and reduce the burden on the money that is spent. Our trainees who will go out will know how to run the system more efficiently. We really have to create a better and more efficient work system and workflow.”

Spearheaded by Baweja, María Luisa Zúñiga, Ph.D., campus director of the Joint Doctoral Program in Interdisciplinary Research in Substance Abuse, and other faculty in research and innovation, public health and physical therapy, the HEROs Institute will also consolidate efforts currently occurring separately in the colleges. For example, the NIH-funded Addiction Scientists Strengthened Through Education and Training (ASSET) Program aims to increase the number of Black and Latinx scientists in substance abuse addiction and education, while the California Outreach Challenge, which SDSU participates in, has physical therapy programs compete for the most community service hours. Under the institute, similar programs could be implemented that extend across SDSU’s health care disciplines.

Lastly, professors in the participating programs would imbue students with the values, cultural competence and community understanding that would prepare them to drive health care policy changes in the future.

“If we not just prep students to be ready for whatever is coming in the future, but we guide them with the value system that you have to serve your community before they graduate, then the health care system is going to be better prepared for itself than it was in the past 12 months,” Baweja says. “These are going to be the people who are going to be not only informing the workforce, but will be informing the policies in the future.”

The team is currently seeking public, private and industry partnerships to jumpstart the HEROs Institute, which is part of the​ SDSU Big Ideas Initiative​.

A Health Care Transformation

Building on the campus’s Mi Gente, Nuestra Salud (My People, Our Health) effort, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo is piloting a new institute that facilitates community-led initiatives to address health equity around the cities of Santa Maria and Guadalupe on California’s Central Coast.

“Our solution is a people’s movement for health ownership,” says Suzanne Phelan, Ph.D., professor of kinesiology and public health and co-principal investigator of Mi Gente, Nuestra Salud. “The Mi Gente, Nuestra Salud initiative flips our current system upside down, empowering people—and especially those who are currently minoritized in America—to identify and address their most pressing health concerns. We aim to transform health care into health ownership.”

To meet this goal, the Cal Poly Institute for Community Health Training and Research will largely provide resources that enable existing groups to better serve all members of the community with the help of collaborators from all six of the school’s colleges. These resources will include training in health equity principles, data on the community, funding opportunities and strategies for community partnerships, health advocacy and program evaluation.

“We see this effort as collaborative and, ultimately, community-driven,” says Marilyn Tseng, Ph.D., assistant professor of kinesiology and public health and co-principal investigator of Mi Gente, Nuestra Salud. “We see the institute as providing resources that will help the process along; we are only one piece in the complex health ecosystem in Santa Maria. If we can help generate ripples that will produce larger beneficial impacts on community mobilization, health ownership and health equity, we will consider the effort to be completely worthwhile.”

To secure support for the project, the team has already forged partnerships with the city of Santa Maria, nonprofits and University of California, Santa Barbara. It also recently received funding from the California Breast Cancer Research Program to study breast cancer risk disparities in the Latinx and immigrant communities of Santa Maria.

These efforts will also be bolstered by Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s Women and Infants Mobile Health Unit, which, in addition to supporting local health workers and providing free medical care to uninsured women and infants, will serve as a connection point between the institute and the community.

Finally, the team hopes to introduce health advocacy and ambassadorship training into the classroom, preparing Cal Poly San Luis Obispo students to effectively care and advocate for these communities.

Inspiration for these efforts grew out of a program in Jamkhed, India, called the Jamkhed Comprehensive Rural Health Project (CRHP), aimed at empowering people to address health disparities in their communities by first addressing the social, cultural and economic challenges that exacerbate those inequities.

“All of us conduct research and teach courses in which we confront issues of health inequities rooted in systemwide, structural inequities in access to healthy environments, opportunities and resources,” Dr. Tseng says. “The Jamkhed CRHP has been successful and cost-effective in India, but more importantly, its principles resonated with all of us. We felt that health ownership was something we would like to see here given the stark disparities in health, even in our region.”

Social Emotional Learning Skills by Grade Level: Part III

As discussed in parts one and two, social emotional learning (SEL) skills have become an even greater focus now that students are limited in their opportunities to socialize, collaborate, and communicate with peers in person at school. By the time students reach middle school, the basic foundational skills for social-emotional intelligence are in place. Preteens and teenagers are now ready to face greater obstacles and challenges, especially with regard to peer relationships, stress, and self-motivation. To meet new benchmarks, students in middle and high school must learn to deal with more significant academic struggles, greater peer influences, ever-changing teenage social dynamics, and their own personal growth and development at the same time. Below is our continued list of specific grade-level SEL standards for middle schoolers and high schoolers.

Middle School

Students should begin to recognize circumstances and situations that cause extra or unnecessary stress; they should begin to adopt strategies to help with motivation, stress management, and task completion. Middle schoolers should begin to recognize the benefits of strong self-advocacy skills and how to best utilize the resources and supports that are at their disposal. For instance, if schools offer after–school homework help, students who know that they struggle to complete assignments on their own should take initiative by signing up for the club/program and making a point to attend.

Since learning to set goals in elementary school, middle schoolers should now be equipped to assess the validity of their goals so that they may make more informed, realistic, and specific goals moving forward. They should also be able to determine why they were able to reach success or not, i.e., What helped them to reach their goal? If they didn’t reach it, then why not? What prohibited them from finding success? By middle school, students should not only be able to recognize other people’s emotions, feelings, or perspectives, but they should be able to surmise why they feel or think that way. In this sense, they’re activating the ability to take another’s perspective that they learned in elementary school, then further expanding on that by making inferences.

Preteens not only recognize cultural differences, but they should begin to acknowledge how certain cultural differences can result in some peers being ostracized or bullied. They should then be able to begin to find ways to combat or address the bullying and/or to make others feel included and recognized. Middle schoolers should be well-aware of group dynamics and what it takes to ensure the success of the group. This includes assigning roles, taking responsibility, sharing the workload, cooperating with others, etc.

Students in the middle school grades should be aware of negative peer pressure, what it looks like, sounds like, and feels like. They should also be able to come up with ways to combat negative peer pressure in non– confrontational ways and under various circumstances. Preteens should be considering their decision-making in terms of others. Before making an important decision, they should consider not only how they will benefit from their choice, but how it could impact others as well.

High School

High schoolers should begin to understand how expressing one’s own emotions/feelings can have both positive and negative impacts on others. For example, as young adults, they need to know that positivity begets positivity, especially when emotions are running high. High schoolers will also have developed the ability to multitask by this point. However, more than multitasking, HS students should be able to shift back and forth between various tasks and under wavering conditions or circumstances. For instance, if completing a chapter review for English, a high schooler may need to answer a phone call or walk the dog to then return to the chapter questions later. Perhaps they need to maintain focus on several different homework assignments while working from a bustling coffee shop.

Students in high school should be able to capitalize on their strengths and think creatively when facing a challenge. This ability connects with problem-solving skills and ingenuity. We can’t all be great at everything, but in what way can we use our personal/individual strengths to make challenging tasks easier? This is key for college and career readiness. High schoolers should also be thinking about setting goals for the future after graduation. College is not the “end all be all.” But if college isn’t their plan, then what is? Young adults need to recognize how important it is to find a path, take steps to follow that path, and evaluate their progress, preferences, and goals as they go. If they want to take a gap year, what do they hope to accomplish during that year? If they are going to study abroad, how will they decide on a program and pay for it? What skill set do they plan to use for supplementary income while in or out of college?

High schoolers should be capable of showing respect for those with opposing or differing viewpoints, even if the opposing side is argumentative, dismissive, rude, etc. It is important to maintain a level of self-control even when others are not. Just because someone has a different opinion doesn’t mean they are wrong or right in their convictions. As young adults soon to be out on their own in the adult world, it is critical that high schoolers recognize how we must all be concerned about the well-being of all people; we may all be different races, but we’re all part of the human race. Therefore, we can positively contribute to our communities by advocating for human rights.

High schoolers should be able to assess their ability to actively listen and explain how active listening helps with conflict resolution. They should also be able to demonstrate leadership abilities within group contexts without dominating or overtaking the goal of the group. Young adults should also be prepared to demonstrate knowledge of social norms and appropriate behaviors between and among various cultural groups. They should recognize certain expectations and norms when interacting with authority figures, children, elders, etc.

Thus, we have completed our three-part series on SEL skills by grade level. The following series will serve best as a helpful resource rather than a scare-tactic of sorts. We all develop in our own ways, but it’s important we be mindful of these skills by grade level. If your child or student seems behind on any of these, consider the ways in which you can empower them.

Social Emotional Skills by Grade Level, Part II

As discussed in part one, social emotional learning (SEL) skills have become an even greater focus now that students are limited in their opportunities to socialize, collaborate, and communicate with peers in person at school. We all know that academics are just one facet of education; the SEL skills that students learn and develop when in school are just as critical. Some might even argue that these “street smarts” are more important or beneficial than the “book smarts” we acquire in school. That said, distance learning and virtual schooling have certainly created various obstacles for students when it comes to developing and growing their SEL skills. Below is our continued list of specific grade-level SEL standards.

Later Elementary Grades (4-5)

Students in 4th and 5th grade should be able to assess a range of feelings and emotions connected to specific scenarios, circumstances, and situations. In other words, they should be able to thoroughly describe how they feel and precisely what made them feel this way. Students should also be able to maintain control of certain behaviors and/or emotions that might interfere with their focus. For example, if they are feeling stressed about their homework, they should choose to turn off the television and put the phone away until they finish their assignments. Students should be able to articulate interests, goals, and the ways in which to develop the necessary skills to achieve those goals.

Students in the later elementary grades should be able to list the necessary steps for goal setting and future achievement while monitoring personal progress throughout the process. In other words, they should be able to take an active role by tracking growth and taking steps to improve along the way. Students should also begin to understand social cues that demonstrate how others are feeling during certain situations. Students should be able to not only recognize others’ perspectives, but specifically describe another’s perspective or stance as well. They should be using phrases like, I understand what you’re feeling and why you’re feeling that way. I might disagree with you, but I appreciate your point of view. That’s not how I interpreted it, but I can see how you may have experienced it differently.

Students should be able to engage in positive interactions with people from different backgrounds and those with different opinions and beliefs. In the late elementary grades, students should begin to understand various cultural differences between groups, i.e., they should acknowledge that not everyone celebrates Christmas. 4th and 5th graders should be able to describe various approaches to meeting new people and maintaining friendships while forging new friendships with peers in different social circles.

Students should begin to demonstrate self-respect and how to show respect to others, even during conflicts or disagreements; they choose their words wisely as to not offend others in the heat of the moment. Elementary schoolers should begin to understand different social cues and behaviors of others and how they might impact one’s decision making. Once reaching the late elementary grades, children should be able to brainstorm various options for solving a problem and anticipating the different outcomes depending on the situation. Finally, 4th and 5th grade students should be able to identify needs in their school/local environment and perform duties to contribute to these communities. For example, if the cafeteria floor is covered in trash, they will take it upon themselves to help clean up after others.

As said in the last piece, if your child or student falls short in any area mentioned above, don’t panic. Consider how you can help and empower them. In our final part of this series, we’ll cover middle school and high school benchmarks.

Social Emotional Learning Skills by Grade Level, Part I

Social and emotional (SEL) skills involve more than just the concepts surrounding educational buzzwords like growth mindset, grit, and self-advocacy. SEL skills are being emphasized at an even greater extent now that students are limited in their opportunities to socialize, collaborate, and communicate with peers in person. Distance learning and virtual schooling created various obstacles for students when it comes to developing and growing their SEL skills. For this reason, SEL has become an even greater focus for school districts, parents, and educators. Besides providing resources for building SEL skills at home, it is equally important for families to be able to determine if children are reaching specific grade-level SEL standards. In the following series, we’ll discuss each of the SEL skills students should have by grade level to provide a helpful resource for parents and educators alike.

Early Elementary Grades (K-3)

As expected, the SEL skills required for student success change or evolve as students progress through the grade levels. In elementary school, much of the SEL emphasis is on positive interactions with the world. Children are obviously highly dependent on adults during these years, yet they are beginning to enter their own social spheres with their peers as well. Here are some of the notable SEL skills children should have developed or are developing during this time:

Students should be able to recognize and articulate their feelings/emotions; they should be beginning to understand how feelings and reactions are connected to behaviors. Students should also be beginning to exhibit impulse control and regulating their emotions. Early learners should be able to describe their preferences: What do they like/dislike? What are their strengths/weaknesses? Students will also begin to articulate personal opinions and needs during this time.

Elementary schoolers should be able to identify when they need help and who is in a position to help them in certain situations, i.e., peers, family members, educators, etc. Children should be able to roughly explain how learning is connected to personal growth and success. Elementary–aged students should also be able to set personal goals regarding behavior and academics. Students will be beginning to understand that other people have different perspectives or ways of looking at a situation; they’ll recognize that others may share the same experience, but have varying opinions and viewpoints at the same time. Students will also be able to describe peoples’ similarities and differences.

Early learners should be able to actively listen to others’ viewpoints and recognize their feelings while listening. Elementary–aged students should be able to recognize and describe positive traits in others; they’ll be able to give genuine compliments. Students will also begin to develop collaborative skills such as how to work/play with peers in constructive ways, how to solve and resolve problems and/or conflicts, and how to receive constructive criticism from others. Young children should be able exhibit the ability to adapt to new or changing situations or environments.

By the time children reach elementary school, they should be able to understand why hurting others is wrong, whether that be physical or emotional hurt. Students should be starting to read social cues and adjust behavior accordingly. Students should also be exhibiting sound decision making and weighing right vs. wrong. Elementary schoolers should be able to positively contribute to their classroom environment, including cleaning up after themselves and others, sharing, demonstrating kindness/understanding, and taking responsibility for themselves.

If your child or student perhaps falls short with some of these skills, that doesn’t mean it’s time to panic. However, it’s certainly worth being mindful of and considering ways you may be able to help them out. In the next piece, we’ll cover the later elementary grades (4-5).

Executive Functioning and Distance Learning: Part II

Distance learning has been hard on everyone, but even more so for families dealing with the challenges associated with executive dysfunction. In part one, we discussed the basic background of executive functioning skills, the effects of having executive dysfunction, and the way in which educators can implement strategies even during hybrid or distance learning. Now it is time to look at executive dysfunction from the parent perspective. What does it look like at home, outside of the classroom or separate from academic tasks? What are some strategies and methods parents can implement at home to help children who struggle with executive functioning?

Executive Dysfunction in the Everyday

Deficits in executive functioning are sometimes more subtle when children are at home or not engaged in a learning task. This is why executive dysfunction is easier to spot from an educational or clinical perspective. For parents, it may seem like your child is constantly interrupting you or trying to talk over others. This might not indicate a lack of manners. It could, in fact, be associated with a lack of executive functioning skills. Impulse control, thinking before acting, and processing someone else’s words before responding are all skills attributed to executive functioning.

Similarly, if you notice that your child has difficulty retaining one or two instructions at a time, or if she cannot follow directions that she has just heard or read, then she may be experiencing some form of executive dysfunction. What seems like a disregard for rules or instructions could actually be an attentive issue and/or an issue involving working memory, both of which are associated with executive functioning.

A child may also struggle with following processes, even after repetition or reminders. Furthermore, metacognitive skills, such as learning how to study, learning how to take notes, and knowing how to synthesize new information with prior knowledge, can also be a struggle for children with executive dysfunction. However, there are methods that parents can use at home to help strengthen these necessary skills.

Strategies to Use at Home

Model certain processes for your child and provide him with visual reminders. For example, if you are encouraging your middle schooler to start doing his/her own laundry, help him/her through the process by doing it together the first few times. Talk and walk them through the steps very specifically and consider using labeled and categorized sorting bins to remind them to separate whites from darks. Put a sticker or little post-in note in the laundry room as a reference for how to set the machine for certain loads. Use specific, ordered language when walking them through the process, such as “first, next, finally or last.” Any process, whether it’s laundry, getting ready for bed, or getting dressed in the morning should be modeled, specific, and consistent.

The level of support that you need to provide to your child with the above-mentioned processes should be tapered over time. You may need to actually do the laundry while they watch, initially. Then, slowly withdraw your level of support as they get comfortable completing the task independently. 

When your child makes a mistake, use it as a teachable moment. Without scolding, talk through their thought process—or lack thereof—and ask them specifically how they could have gone about things differently. Consider providing your own example of a time you did something similar and how you fixed the problem. Children with executive dysfunction should see that everyone struggles and faces challenges, but that growth involves using those errors as learning experiences. Ask metacognitive questions like: What made you do that? What did you think was going to happen? Why did you react that way? How could you have done it or reacted differently? What did you learn or realize from this? Give him time to process and ponder these questions.

Inject some fun into the challenge of developing or strengthening executive functioning by incorporating age-appropriate games, activities, or challenges. Matching games are great for developing working memory. Other card games help children practice impulse control, rule following, strategizing, organizing, and quick-response. Parents can also use music to help foster executive functioning skills. Use songs that have repetitive sections or songs that can be sung in rounds to practice coordination on a more complex level. Singing in rounds also prompts children to practice listening and using working memory. I Spy and word searches help children work on selective attention and practice reducing visual distractions.

Essential Building Blocks for Reading Comprehension

Many of us don’t actually remember learning how to read. We may remember sitting on our kindergarten carpet squares, picking out new picture books at the school book fair, or feeling the excitement of turning the final page of a book read independently for the first time. Those fond memories are certainly associated with the skills one must acquire in order to first learn to read; however, we cannot necessarily remember the actual process of learning how to comprehend the words on the page. Thinking about it now, reading almost seems like an innate skill, as though reading just happens. If only that were the case…

Struggles of Reading Comprehension

Sadly, reading comprehension can be a labor intensive task for many young learners. Some children can fool us on the surface; they may learn to read fluently, briskly, and accurately, as though they are natural-born readers. However, reading fluency and comprehension do not always go hand in hand. Children may acquire the necessary skills to read clearly and accurately, but, try as they might, these same kids may simultaneously struggle with the ability to digest or comprehend a text. So, if it is not a natural or innate skill, what goes into reading comprehension anyway?

Part of the reason why reading comprehension can be a struggle for many learners is the fact that the process involves a compilation of other complex skills. Such foundational skills necessary for children to begin to master reading comprehension include: fluency, phonemic awareness, accessing prior knowledge/making connections, vocabulary, syntactical rules/conventions, working memory, and attentiveness. With that being said, let’s look at strategies for how to build each of these foundational skills.

Fluency Strategies

Review sight words and high frequency words regularly. Turn fluency practice into a game by setting timed records, racing against the clock, and matching spoken sight words with word cards. Practice pronunciation by modeling and rehearsing. Use clap period stops and snap comma pauses to improve punctuation recognition.

You can also repeat readings to help with word recognition. Be sure to always read aloud to and with your child. Model and practice reading with expression. Give your different characters a “voice” while reading aloud to your child. Preview or expose children to the new or unfamiliar words before giving them the reading passage. And finally, utilize poetry, nursery rhymes, and songs to practice fluency

Phonics Strategies

Use photos/images to match objects with corresponding beginning sounds. Practice sorting words into “like” sound piles using word cards. Create a word wall in your child’s bedroom or playroom. Play “blend bingo” using bingo cards and corresponding images of words that include each consonant blend.

You can also use Scrabble tiles to “build” sounds. Or even use rhyming strategies to group/categorize words. Try playing “which one of these is not like the others?” using word cards. And finally, use tapping, clapping, or any other kinesthetic method for sounding out words.

Background Knowledge Strategies

Expose your child to a variety of text types and different genres to create a repertoire of background information. Incorporate alternate media, such as movies, art, news, television, etc. Teach new words in categories to help solidify new terms with prior knowledge. Practice word mapping to build connections.

Also consider comparing and contrasting words and concepts while reading. Preview new texts or frontload unfamiliar information using references or just casually discussing the topic. Use KWL charts to track knowledge of new concepts/topics. Utilize picture books, regardless of age, to pair images with new words. And finally, take virtual field trips.

Vocabulary Strategies

Instruct children about specific vocabulary terms, but make sure that the new words are connected to something they are currently reading, seeing, hearing, or learning about. It is important to avoid teaching vocabulary “in a vacuum.” Vocabulary words taught at random or with little context or connectivity to prior knowledge is not likely to make it into a child’s lexicon.

Pre–teach new vocabulary terms by relating them to concepts and terms that your child already knows. Then, when she encounters the word in a text, she will have prior exposure to the word and some sense of understanding.

Utilize root word instruction and practices. This might include creating root word charts with examples, opposite T-charts, visual word tree trunks with various prefixes and suffixes. Practice making new or nonexistent words using roots as a silly way to grasp root word meanings. Also consider using synonyms casually when speaking to your child.

Create a word web wall and add to the web as you make connections between new words. And finally, emphasize context clues while reading aloud; model how to actively engage with new words by making comments like, “I wonder what this might mean in the sentence given the surrounding information…”

Syntax Rules and Conventions

Ask your child to rearrange the words in the sentence, but maintain the same meaning. For example, given the sentence “You can watch a show after you have finished your homework.” Your child should rephrase by saying something like, “You must finish your homework before you can watch a show.”

Demonstrate different ways in which sentences can be combined, separated, or punctuated. The key is to show them that, even with variations in sentence structure, the phrases mean the same thing. Try modeling the process of summarizing a short excerpt or sentence. Then explain how paraphrasing is slightly different. Practice this process aloud together.

Exaggerate the purpose of punctuation while reading aloud to emphasize each punctuation mark’s function. Provide examples of how punctuation can drastically change the underlying meaning of a sentence. One favorite example is, “Let’s eat, Grandma!” vs. “Let’s eat Grandma!” And finally, find fill-in-the-blank reading options, where children are provided with word banks or suggestions on each page, but must use the context of the story to correctly complete each missing word.

Working Memory and Attention Strategies

Purposefully chunk down larger sections of text while reading aloud. Then ask clarifying questions or practice summarizing the section before moving to the next passage or chunk. Ask your child to make predictions while reading to practice recalling and utilizing details that have already been mentioned in the text.

Plan for engaging questions while reading. Parents should preview the text and think about ways in which to connect the details to other aspects of a child’s life. Ask critical thinking questions as well, such as, “Why do you think the character did that?” “What do you think she meant when she said…?” “How would you have reacted differently if you were in the story?”

Sketch a visual timeline of events while reading. This doesn’t have to be a detailed, moment-by-moment recollection; you can use bullet points on sticky notes, a small white board, or index cards with events 1-3 on them. Be sure to deliberately emphasize the use of transition words, especially when focusing on chronological summaries.

Listen to an audio version of the text while following along with the physical book. When reading together, once you reach the bottom of a page, ask your child which detail stands out to her the most. If she’s unable to recall a significant detail, encourage rereading. And finally, remove all distractions while reading, including background noise, cell phones/screens, etc. You can also find texts with larger print, reduced text per page, and print with extra space between paragraphs to help children visually focus on one aspect of the text at a time.

On the Inherent Ableism in Thinking You’re a Good Teacher

I taught special education in a sub-separate classroom for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. I’ve also worked as a paraprofessional in inclusion classrooms with students with learning disabilities, health disabilities, and mental health disabilities. I’ve planned lessons and units and activities. While I’m far from the most experienced teacher in the world (and far from the best, as well), I think I’ve gained a few insights along the way that I hope will shape how I see the world and how I approach practice as a social worker in the years to come. In my time as a teacher, I came to see that myself and other teachers had a tendency to engage in Ableism, and that needs to change. Allow me to explain what I mean:

There’s a point in a lesson, when you’re looking out at a group of tiny faces (or not so tiny faces, depending who you teach) and it becomes obvious that they’re just not getting it. But, you think, I wrote a good plan. I broke everything down three times over. I had all my materials prepped. We’ve covered all of the necessary background information in class.

They should be getting it, you think. You did everything right. You’re a good teacher.

So. You’re in the middle of the lesson and the kids aren’t getting it, or a few kids aren’t getting it, or one kid isn’t getting it, and maybe you decide I’m a good teacher, and if I follow my carefully thought-out plan, they will get it. This is ableism.

What is Ableism?

According to Disability: A Diversity Model Approach in  Human Service PracticeAbleism is the systemic devaluation, marginalization, and oppression of people with disabilities. The sort of ableism that I’m talking about here is cagey. It’s not explicit. If you asked me, when I was in the previously described scenario, whether I thought I was being ableist in deciding to continue with a lesson when I knew my students weren’t getting it, I would have been outraged. I would have argued that I loved my students, that I embraced their differences, and that I would never engage in any form of ableism.

But in the scenario above, I am deciding that I am superior in two ways.

How I Was Wrong

First, I am assuming that the way I understand, conceive and learn things is the ‘correct’ way to do so. My plan for a lesson is always, at least in part, based on my understanding of how learning progresses and on ‘best practice’ for a generalized population. Often my students learn in very different ways than I do, though. Some of them need music. Some of them need to see it all written down. Some of them need pictures. These ways of learning are not more or less ‘correct’ than the way I learn, or the way ‘best practice’ assumes that students learn. When my lesson isn’t reaching them, it’s because there’s a mismatch between how I am teaching and how they learn. It’s my job to teach, and therefore it is my responsibility to address this mismatch.

The second way that I am deciding I am superior is that I am choosing to believe that my ability to understand what the students need is better than their ability to understand what they need. This sort of paternalism, of thinking I know best is a hallmark of ableism.

Maybe you’re thinking but it’s a teacher’s job to know better, to instruct. It’s not, though. A teacher doesn’t know a child better than they know themselves, and when it comes to working with students with disabilities, the students are the experts, regardless of their age. My students typically had challenges with communication — they couldn’t always tell me, hey, you’re explaining this wrong or I don’t get it. They couldn’t always tell me what they specifically needed in order to do well, or what would help them understand better, so it was my job to pay attention to what they were communicating in non-standard ways.

If we as teachers always assume we know how to teach, then we’re inevitably going to fail to teach well. But, if we approach each student and lesson with flexibility and the willingness to say I messed up or this isn’t working then all of us will learn more. Teaching isn’t a set path and plan that we should always follow, rather it’s a tool box. It’s our job to invite the student to rummage around the tool box with us until we find the tools that work for them. Not to push this metaphor too far, but our specialized training doesn’t give us permission to build anything we want, it just teaches us to use a wide variety of tools. Some of those tools have the capability to do harm, especially in our hands.

Moving Forward

I’m not a social worker yet. I haven’t even had my first field placement, and I don’t have very much experience of the social work field at all. But I think there’s a lesson here for anyone who works in a ‘helping profession’ that places them in a position of authority in other people’s lives. This lesson is: it doesn’t matter how many letters you have after your name, or what you have studied, read, or experienced. You’re an expert only until you meet the next student, client, patient, and then you have to start from scratch. The worst teaching I have ever done is when I assume I know how to teach something. The best moments of teaching I have ever done have been guided by the students in my class — once they have shown me how they learn, then I can teach meaningfully. Each student is different. Each client is different. Each person is different.

When I start seeing clients, I think this will also hold: the best help I will ever offer will be guided by a person showing or telling me how they can be helped. I am not the expert, I will never be the expert — I’m just a person with a box of tools and a willingness to help.

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