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A New School Year Must Avoid Old Labels for African American Students

As students prepare to go back to school, educators and others also must prepare for the many challenges that lie ahead.

And for students of color, discrimination remains a primary obstacle to navigate.

Records have shown that African American students are disproportionately labeled “troubled” as a matter of behavior, rather than their ability to learn. Health experts said teachers and administrators must address any behavioral expectations and issues before anything occurs.

“Building relationships and showing respect to every child in the classroom from the very beginning decreases behavior issues,” said Kathyrn Starke, an urban literacy consultant. “Children like and need routine, structure, motivation, and positivity. Therefore, teachers need to adhere to these components daily.”

When children are motivated and engaged in collaboration, critical thinking, and differentiated learning experiences, behavior issues also decrease, she said.

“Teachers should constantly model good behavior and recognize the positive behavior of students. Communication with students and parents of expectations from the very beginning and throughout the school year is imperative,” Starke said. “That should be done not just to report negative behavior, but there should be one-on-one conversations about steps to improving behavior issues. That makes the biggest difference in a successful emotional and academic school year.”

Teachers should ask questions and don’t assume the worse about their students, said Dr. April J. Lisbon, a veteran school psychologist.

“Sometimes, behaviors may reflect a lack of sleep or not having breakfast in the morning. If this is the case, ensure that the student gets something from the cafeteria or have approved snacks available in the classroom,” Lisbon said.

In an email that reiterates a blog she posted, Dr. Cora Causey of the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Education said social and emotional development are vital for students.

Executive function, relationship development, coping, and self-regulation play essential roles in a child’s overall development. Most importantly it plays a role in their social-emotional development so that they can handle a collaborative environment, like kindergarten, Causey said.

This includes sharing, taking turns, and learning when to speak and listen, and to do this respectfully, she said.

“Everyday situations provide a platform for parents to work with their children in executive function,” Causey said. “Asking open-ended questions fosters the natural curiosity and wonder with which kids are born. You can do this as you are riding in the car, going to the grocery store or any other activity throughout the day.”

Find ways to have positive child and adult interactions that consist of back and forth conversational loops, she said.

“Parents should not throw words at children, but create more of a narrative by asking questions,” Causey said. “Our goal should be to have more face-to-face interaction, rather than pixel-to-pixel interaction.”

Children’s books author, Dr. Cherrye S. Vasquez, said teachers should not view students of color as troubled. Instead, teachers should spend quality time in determining the students’ likes and dislikes.

“They should do this while incorporating culturally responsive teaching practices into the student’s academic program,” Vasquez said.

“When students sense that teachers want to get to know them, their culture, lifestyles and family life, students shine and excel,” she said.

Finally, if a student requires more behavioral assistance than others, teachers should be able to discover the antecedents and observe and then analyze patterns, Vasquez said.

“The teacher must investigate what prompted the unwanted behaviors. Negative behaviors may be due to many variables stemming from a multitude of areas like home life, environmental and other factors,” Vasquez said.

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Stacy M. Brown

I’ve worked for the Daily News of Los Angeles, the L.A. Times, Gannet and the Times-Tribune and have contributed to the Pocono Record, the New York Post and the New York Times. Television news opportunities have included: NBC, MSNBC, Scarborough Country, the Abrams Report, Today, Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News, Imus in the Morning and Anderson Cooper 360. Radio programs like the Wendy Williams Experience, Tom Joyner Morning Show and the Howard Stern Show have also provided me the chance to share my views.

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