A Focus on African Culture Yields Literacy Gains for Black Kids in the Twin Cities

Posted December 3, 2019
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog howafricancultureisboosting 2019

Based in Min­neapo­lis, Min­neso­ta, The Net­work for the Devel­op­ment of Chil­dren of African Descent (NdCAD) is draw­ing on the African her­itage of local fam­i­lies to help boost stu­dent per­for­mance and parental engagement.

The non­prof­it — which receives sup­port from the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion — offers sev­er­al aca­d­e­m­ic enrich­ment and lead­er­ship pro­grams for the region’s stu­dents and par­ents. NdCAD’s Imhotep Sci­ence Acad­e­my encour­ages stu­dents to emu­late Sene­galese anthro­pol­o­gist, Cheikh Anta Diop. The Uhu­ru Youth Schol­ars pro­gram teach­es high school upper­class­men ancient African research tech­niques. And an after­school Sanko­fa Read­ing Pro­gram has seen near­ly all of its stu­dents raise their lit­er­a­cy skills.

The programming’s cul­tur­al frame­work is inten­tion­al. Devel­op­ing more evi­dence-based prac­tices with cul­tur­al­ly root­ed approach­es was a key rec­om­men­da­tion of the Foundation’s 2014 Race for Results, which iden­ti­fies strate­gies to improve out­comes for chil­dren of color.

The Min­neapo­lis and St. Paul region has a high­er con­cen­tra­tion of black fam­i­lies — includ­ing many from east and cen­tral Africa — com­pared with the rest of the state, which makes the fusion of Afro­cen­tric his­to­ry and tra­di­tion into NdCAD’s cur­ricu­lum espe­cial­ly rel­e­vant,” says Gevonee Ford, the nonprofit’s exec­u­tive direc­tor and one of its founders.

Stu­dents in the Sanko­fa Read­ing Pro­gram advanced their read­ing abil­i­ty by two to five lev­els while improv­ing their atten­dance record, accord­ing to a 2018 eval­u­a­tion by the Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta. A sep­a­rate eval­u­a­tion by Ram­sey Coun­ty, home to St. Paul, com­pared two sets of par­ents who received state wel­fare ben­e­fits: those who were enrolled in NdCAD pro­gram­ming and those who weren’t. The eval­u­a­tion found that the NdCAD-engaged par­ents were more like­ly to be involved in job skills train­ing, work­ing sta­ble jobs, or enrolled in GED com­ple­tion or col­lege prep programs.

Con­nec­tion to com­mu­ni­ty and cul­ture affirms iden­ti­ty and pro­vides a sense of belong­ing, some­thing youth of col­or and indige­nous youth are gen­er­al­ly not afford­ed in our soci­ety. The impor­tance of this is clear in the results NdCAD’s approach deliv­ers,” says Angelique Kedem, a senior asso­ciate for equi­ty and inclu­sion at the Foundation.

Ford iden­ti­fies sev­en key prin­ci­ples used to build NdCAD’s edu­ca­tion­al pro­grams. These are:

  1. Lit­er­a­cy and iden­ti­ty con­nec­tions: Use lit­er­a­cy as the means to devel­op and form strong cul­tur­al iden­ti­ty, which trans­lates to learn­ing, achieve­ment, and engagement.
  2. Root issues: Diag­nose root issues and caus­es and adopt strate­gies that address and cor­rect them.
  3. Action research: Use research meth­ods that engage fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties as full partners.
  4. Val­ues-dri­ven approach: Adopt a val­ues-dri­ven stance to take an aspi­ra­tional view and under­stand­ing of chil­dren and fam­i­lies, help­ing them build self-effi­ca­cy and agency.
  5. Par­ent and com­mu­ni­ty engage­ment: Dif­fer­en­ti­ate involve­ment from engage­ment and adopt strate­gies that engage par­ents in pro­vid­ing cul­tur­al edu­ca­tion and com­mu­ni­ty-build­ing, for them­selves and their children.
  6. Cul­tur­al-learn­ing space: Inte­grate learn­ing con­tent, learn­ing struc­tures, mood and set­ting in the learn­ing space – and peo­ple in the space – to impact and deep­en learning.
  7. Self-deter­mi­na­tion: Sup­port chil­dren and fam­i­lies to become com­pe­tent in their own cul­ture and his­to­ry while build­ing con­scious­ness in and of heritage.

It’s vital that we uncov­er more aca­d­e­m­ic pro­grams and approach­es that instill a sense of belong­ing for youth of col­or and indige­nous youth and build these char­ac­ter­is­tics into our pub­lic sys­tems, pro­grams, and poli­cies,” says Kedem.

Read more about cul­tur­al­ly rel­e­vant evi­dence-based practices

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