Village of Wisdom Transforms Classrooms into Equitable Learning Spaces

Posted May 4, 2020
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Grandfather and young grandson

Chil­dren aren’t like­ly to thrive in class­rooms and oth­er learn­ing envi­ron­ments that aren’t designed to sup­port them. Vil­lage of Wis­dom, a grantee of the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, is build­ing evi­dence that bring­ing cul­tur­al rel­e­vance to learn­ing set­tings for chil­dren of col­or leads to bet­ter aca­d­e­m­ic achieve­ment and stronger rela­tion­ships among teach­ers and parents.

In most states, there is a large gap between the per­cent­age of stu­dents of col­or and the per­cent­age of teach­ers of col­or. The Amer­i­can edu­ca­tion sys­tem is built on white cul­ture, says William Jack­son, founder and leader of Vil­lage of Wis­dom, based in Durham, North Car­oli­na. By cre­at­ing vir­tu­al tools and con­duct­ing research with par­ents, Vil­lage of Wis­dom is striv­ing to cre­ate equi­ty and a sense of belong­ing wher­ev­er stu­dents learn.

Pro­grams designed by and for peo­ple of col­or are sig­nif­i­cant­ly under­fund­ed. Yet these pro­grams often are best posi­tioned to gain trust in com­mu­ni­ties and address the struc­tur­al bar­ri­ers that can keep chil­dren of col­or from reach­ing their poten­tial,” says Ayo Atter­ber­ry, a senior asso­ciate with Casey’s Evi­dence-Based Prac­tice Group. Vil­lage of Wis­dom is demon­strat­ing and doc­u­ment­ing what is pos­si­ble when par­ents, teach­ers and stu­dents work togeth­er to cre­ate a new con­text for learning.”

Shin­ing a light on class­room discrimination

Launched in 2014, Vil­lage of Wis­dom has served about 400 chil­dren and fam­i­lies in Durham and neigh­bor­ing com­mu­ni­ties in Chapel Hill and Wake For­est. In addi­tion to its in-per­son pres­ence, the pro­gram has a social media net­work of thou­sands of par­ents of col­or, and its vir­tu­al tools have been used by more than 25 schools across North Car­oli­na, Illi­nois, Col­orado and Geor­gia. Casey’s fund­ing includes tech­ni­cal assis­tance to help the orga­ni­za­tion hone its strate­gic direction.

Casey has helped us refine our mis­sion and focus only on what Vil­lage of Wis­dom can unique­ly do,” Jack­son says. We’re tran­si­tion­ing from a pro­gram that tried to pre­pare black stu­dents and par­ents for expe­ri­enc­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion in the class­room into a pro­gram that’s trans­form­ing class­rooms into spaces where they don’t expe­ri­ence dis­crim­i­na­tion at all.”

White teach­ers work­ing with Vil­lage of Wis­dom report that their rela­tion­ships with black par­ents are bet­ter than they have been at any point in their careers, and ear­ly evi­dence sug­gests that in class­rooms where teach­ers use Vil­lage of Wis­dom’s tools, black stu­dents are more engaged, have greater trust in their teach­ers and are more like­ly to per­sist through dif­fi­cult learn­ing chal­lenges, Jack­son says.

Estab­lish­ing the mea­sures for cul­tur­al affirmation

Using Vil­lage of Wis­dom tools, black and brown par­ents and chil­dren are help­ing to estab­lish the cri­te­ria for equi­table, cul­tur­al­ly rel­e­vant learn­ing environments:

  • Cul­tur­al­ly Affirm­ing School Cli­mate Sur­vey. Builds on the pro­to­typ­i­cal school cli­mate sur­vey by adding ques­tions that extract the racial­ized expe­ri­ences of stu­dents of col­or to help gauge whether they are expe­ri­enc­ing cul­tur­al­ly affirm­ing instruc­tion and learn­ing envi­ron­ments. Using these mea­sures, edu­ca­tion pro­fes­sion­als can iden­ti­fy strate­gies to mit­i­gate racial bias and dis­crim­i­na­tion in their schools, improv­ing the well-being and engage­ment of stu­dents of color.
  • Black Genius Pro­file and Plan­ning. Doc­u­ments par­tic­i­pants’ aca­d­e­m­ic, emo­tion­al and cul­tur­al strengths — empow­er­ing black stu­dents to rec­og­nize their own genius and enabling teach­ers to bet­ter con­nect with them.
  • Con­quer­ing Racial Stress: Black Fam­i­ly Toolk­it. Sup­ports black par­ents and care­givers in help­ing their chil­dren cope with racial­ly charged expe­ri­ences. The work­book builds from sec­tion to sec­tion, ulti­mate­ly strength­en­ing famil­ial relationships.

We all ben­e­fit when we see each oth­er and the genius that we bring to the table,” says Jack­son. Hope­ful­ly these tools and solu­tions can trans­form our edu­ca­tion sys­tem into one that lib­er­ates black genius instead of oppress­ing it.”

Lever­ag­ing vir­tu­al tools in the face of COVID-19

Vil­lage of Wisdom’s vir­tu­al tools offer a remote cur­ricu­lum that Jack­son expects to become even more rel­e­vant in the face of the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic. The prin­ci­pal of one of (the schools we work with) explained that they need our work now more than ever,” says Jack­son. His teach­ers aren’t intro­duc­ing any new mate­r­i­al, and are instead focus­ing on Vil­lage of Wisdom’s core prin­ci­ples: strength­en­ing foun­da­tion­al knowl­edge and build­ing relationships.”

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