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IL Teachers Join Campaign to Improve Outcomes for Black Students

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Educators are kicking off Black History Month with a week dedicated to sharing educational resources to fight racial bias and injustice in curricula and schools. (Bits and Splits/Adobe Stock)
Educators are kicking off Black History Month with a week dedicated to sharing educational resources to fight racial bias and injustice in curricula and schools. (Bits and Splits/Adobe Stock)
 By Lily Bohlke, Public News Service - IL - Producer, Contact
February 1, 2021

CHICAGO -- Many Illinois teachers are joining a national campaign this week, called Black Lives Matter At School, to raise awareness about structural racism in the U.S. that's often not included in standard curricula.

They're advancing an agenda for schools, from including more Black and ethnic studies in the curriculum to hiring more Black teachers.

They also want to end 'zero tolerance' discipline policies and fund more counselors and social workers rather than school police officers.

Dr. Monique Redeaux-Smith, director of union professional issues for the Illinois Federation of Teachers, is curating race and racism lesson plans and Black History Month ideas.

"Not just during this week, not just during this month, but year-round," Redeaux-Smith explained. "And not just in schools that serve Black students or that serve students of color. We need to ensure that curricula is really a mirror and also a window."

Research shows Black students who have at least one Black teacher early in life, in kindergarten through third grade, are more likely to graduate from high school and attend college.

Redeaux-Smith maintained white students benefit from learning from diverse teachers as well. She describes it as "healing" when Black, Brown and Indigenous students can see themselves in the curriculum, and get opportunities to think about the issues that affect them and their communities.

"And that allows for you to be more engaged in that curriculum," Redeaux-Smith argued. "Which means it's going to be less likely that you engage in behavior that might be deemed as disruptive, right? That could lead to police being called, security being called, you being pushed out of school."

Redeaux-Smith added police are more likely to be present in schools serving high minority populations, and pointed out more police violence is focused on people of color. She noted there's been a consistent increase of police presence in schools.

"But we have seen a defunding of public schools in general," Redeaux-Smith lamented. "We've seen a lack of counselors, a lack of school nurses, a lack of social workers, and just staff who are educated in issues of trauma."

She hopes the campaign and others like it encourage policy changes, so students get the message that their needs are worth the investment.

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