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Racism and classism in Berkeley streets and schools

October 20, 2012

Support Berkeley homeless and low income kids at School Board meeting Wednesday, Oct. 24, 7:30 p.m.

by Leo Stegman, Poor News Network

Poor News Network poverty skola, superbabydaddy and reporter Leo Stegman speaks on PNN’s Deep East TV at POOR Magazine’s Street Newsroom held every Thursday 1-3 p.m. on the street in front of the Homefulness Project, 8032 MacArthur Blvd in Deep East Oakland. Come by for healthy vegan food and/or a hot dog from the BBQ!
I am a poor, African-American single parent, who did not graduate from a four-year college. Neither of my parents obtained a college degree. Not one person in my family has attended a four-year college. A quality education can give racial minorities, low-income individuals and women an opportunity they may not otherwise have.

When my daughter started out at Berkeley High School, I was scared. BHS is the largest high school in the Bay Area, and it was known for its racial achievement gap at the time, which is the largest in California.

Now she’s in her senior year, and she has performed at an exceptional level at the Berkeley High International School. She will have the opportunity to attend the college of her choice. A quick analysis her high school performance: She sits well within the top quartile of all students in the country with her SAT scores, she is a three-year varsity wrestler, and she has a high GPA and a list of extracurricular activities. So she has done well, but she has had a zealous and vigilant advocate in me, offering her the guidance that she would not have received from Berkeley High School staff.

During her education, she was eligible for the free lunch program and received assistance under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Educational Act. I know my daughter’s performance is hers, but I wonder where she would have been without the assistance she received under the McKinney-Vento Act. Many students at BHS owe their graduation and success to the assistance under this law.

I know my daughter’s performance is hers, but I wonder where she would have been without the assistance she received under the McKinney-Vento Act. Many students at Berkeley High School owe their graduation and success to the assistance under this law.

The federal government enacted a statute over 30 years ago to assist homeless families and students in obtaining an education. The McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Act, more formally known as Title 42 § 11341 et seq., mandates that states and local school districts break down and eliminate all barriers to homeless students enrollment, success and participation. In addition, local school districts must do outreach at shelters and wherever there are homeless students and families.

Is Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) performing its duty? An example of their failures is when we were having habitability issues at our home, and my daughter was hospitalized because was ill. She turned in an assignment late, her teacher refused to credit her for that assignment, causing her a B grade instead of an A. So I don’t think the staff at BHS has an understanding of what poor students go through, and I believe many of them don’t care.

At a time when homelessness has increased in the nation, BUSD is slashing funds to implement programs that assist its McKinney-Vento families. The “Berkeley High School Self Study” for the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) illustrates tales of two high schools, one for the African-American and Latino students and another for Asian and Caucasian students.

I don’t think the staff at BHS has an understanding of what poor students go through, and I believe many of them don’t care. At a time when homelessness has increased in the nation, BUSD is slashing funds to implement programs that assist its McKinney-Vento families.

In America you can speak about racism without speaking about race. Income does play a role in the Berkeley High racial achievement gap. Berkeley leads the state in the gap. Not all Black and Brown students are eligible for services under the McKinney-Vento Act. However, the majority of the students receiving assistance under the act are Black and Brown. Mathematical examples of these disparities are: The GPAs of African-American and Latino students are one full point less than White students at BHS, and SAT scores for African-American and Latino students are nearly 500 points less than their White counterparts.

They never look through the lens of struggling students who may lack material needs. For example, I have seen many students enrolled math classes in which graphing calculators are necessary. Those cost 90 bucks, and they failed the class because they can’t afford to purchase one. Or how about when some teacher mandates the class homework be performed on the internet? Some students lack consistent housing, let alone access to a computer or the internet. Many low-income and homeless students lack the material resources to perform the most rudimentary assignments in many of their classes.

If BHS were in compliance with the McKinney-Vento Act and keeping track of its homeless students as they are required to do by the act, they would have data on who is homeless. The numbers in their own reports show that the economically disadvantaged are suffering. What does the district do? They cut funds that are meant to assist homeless students.

The numbers in their own reports show that the economically disadvantaged are suffering. What does the district do? They cut funds that are meant to assist homeless students.

Does BUSD understand the struggles of low-income students? Does BHS attempt to guide our children through the maze of Berkeley High School? According to the BHS WASC report, my people are struggling. The achievement gap shows how the BUSD in general and BHS specifically are crushing the economically weak. They perpetuate the racial and income inequalities of America. Only when threatened by WASC with possible loss of accreditation has Berkeley High explored the possibility of assisting some of its most needy students.

On Sept. 19, 2012, at the BUSD board meeting, I spoke on how I have seen many kids who have benefited from receiving assistance under the McKinney-Vento Act, but by no means was the implementation of this law funded adequately. Reducing the funding will have drastic and dramatic effects on students in BUSD eligible to receive services under the act.

Many of these same kids are the homeless kids on the streets in Berkeley – the ones the City Council wants to stop from sitting on the streets. When we have city schools that are fulfilling their legal responsibility to their most needy students, and when these students fail to graduate, they find legal mechanisms to attempt to purge the streets of Berkeley. The street kids are the result of failed social and economic policies. The passage of Measure S would make the result of these economic policies invisible.

Leo’s story is part of the “Voices in Poverty Resist” series, a series edited and launched by Tiny aka Lisa Gray Garcia as part of a Marguerite Casey Foundation Fellowship on Poverty in Journalism. Tiny’s goal is to make sure that all of us youth, adults and elders in poverty are heard, telling our own stories and in our own voices, valuing, honoring and respecting something Tiny has coined The Scholarship of Poverty. Read more about issues of poverty and race written by the people who face them daily at POOR Magazine/POOR News Network, www.poormagazine.org.

 

3 thoughts on “Racism and classism in Berkeley streets and schools

  1. Erika

    Thank you so much for writing this. Your story is so powerful. I am a Berkeley High parent and I wonder about these inequities but have never heard real stories. I will be there in support on Wednesday.

    Reply

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