With March being Women’s History Month, it seems only fitting to preface our work towards racial equity in education by looking back on Black Women in Galveston’s history who laid the foundation for the future we know is possible. It is these women who in many ways give us permission to believe in something, and mean it.
Izola Ethel Fedford Collins writes of many of these women in her book Island of Color: Where Juneteenth Started. Izola writes of Clara E. Scull, one of the first Galveston-born African American teachers in Galveston’s public schools, and of Central High School, the first Black high-school in Texas. She also writes of Jessie McGuire Dent, who worked with other leaders in Galveston to fight for Black teachers in Galveston ISD to have equal pay.
Although there has been extensive work to achieve equity in Galveston’s history, there exists still vast opportunities for us to narrow the gaps of inequity in education. Last year in Galveston ISD, data from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) showed that Black youth in Galveston were suspended three to six times more often than their non-Black peers. In 2014 the U.S. Department of Education published that elementary students who experience even one suspension are ten times more likely to drop out of school. School discipline practices that remove students from the education setting play a major role in the school-to-prison pipeline and disproportionately youth of color and youth from lower socioeconomic demographics.
Of course, these issues are not new and are by no means unique to Galveston or even Texas. We have seen these trends for decades all over the country. Thankfully, in recent years we have seen a trend in decreasing suspensions in Galveston ISD, though our suspension rates are still much higher than the state-wide rates of Texas. We have a lot of hope that our community can work together to continue to push for change in our schools.
The ACEs to Assets Collaborative, co-founded in 2015 by Family Service Center of Galveston County and UTMB Center for Violence Prevention, addresses adverse childhood and community experiences through evidence-based and trauma-informed research, awareness, policy, prevention, and intervention. The Future is US project “fight[s] for Galveston youth through community voice so future generations can meet their full potential” and was one of ten collaboratives to receive funding from the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health’s Communities of Care Initiative. The $800,000 funding for this five-year project will serve to address the disproportionate rate of suspension, expulsion, and District Alternative Education Placement (DAEP) referrals for youth of color in Galveston. Because data from previous years in Galveston ISD reflects Black youth as having the highest rates of these disciplinary referrals, these youth and families are the population of focus for this project.
The first year of this project is focused on community assessment and engagement. Two major goals of our first year are to engage historically excluded groups and identify social determinants of health within our community that we can address to prevent the removal of youth from the education setting.
Often times major decisions from a student, family, school, city, or even state have the greatest impact on groups who were afforded the least opportunity to provide input. The Future is US project depends on the leadership of youth and parents most directly affected by discrimination or barriers to influence including youth and families of color, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and individuals with physical, mental, and emotional disabilities.
During our community assessment of social determinants of health, we are working to identify community strengths, and protective factors as well as community needs and risk factors. We do this through a framework provided by the Prevention Institute called T.H.R.I.V.E. or Tool for Health Resilience in Vulnerable Environments. This framework looks at twelve community factors organized into three categories. Our community assessment includes reports and quantitative data from Galveston ISD, the TEA, other local reports from Vision Galveston and UTMB, and current policies as well as qualitative data from community stories and experiences.
Throughout this project, community assessment and community engagement go hand in hand. Ultimately we hope to spread knowledge of the impact exclusionary discipline practices have on our youth and our community. We are committed to working together with youth, parents, teachers, district administrators, and all community members to brainstorm solutions that promote equity and resilience in Galveston.
Some community members have already plugged in to this project through our Community Engagement Team, Assessment Team, Evaluation Team, Youth Advisory Council, Parent Advisory Council, and Policy Task Force Team. There are a number of opportunities for others to get involved by joining our monthly Leadership Team Meetings or attending our ACEs to Assets Collaborative meetings.
More than anything we want our youth to know they belong to a community that believes in them because they matter to us. Our youth are valuable not only because they hold our future in their hands, but right now, today, and every day, they matter. And they deserve to know that when we say we believe in them, we mean it.
To find out more about this project visit www.ACEstoAssets.org/the-future-is-us . All of our upcoming meetings and events as well as project updates can be found on Facebook at The Future is US Galveston, and Instagram @TheFutureIsUSGalveston. Questions about this project can be submitted via email at Info@ACEstoAssets.org .