Equity Fellows initiative seeks to make enduring difference for students
By Catherine Bornhorst

African American boys and girls are behind their white peers on too many measures of academic achievement. These distressing disparities also show up in students’ absenteeism and suspension rates. 

Those numbers matters because missing school has a negative effect on school performance regardless of how many days are missed or for what reason.

Pronounced and life-altering achievement gaps are not new.

They’ve been stubbornly apparent nationally and locally for too long.

Where progress has been made, it has been disappointingly slow, uneven and incomplete.

Children of color are just as capable and talented as white children.

The problem is not them.

We, as adults, must work to ensure they have equitable opportunities at home, in school and in their neighborhoods.

Education leaders and teachers are haunted by the numbers showing that their students of color are struggling so hard. They want to reach every child and ensure all children’s success. They know that gaps compound, meaning that if a child is behind in kindergarten, he or she likely will be even more disadvantaged in 3rd grade, 6th grade and every year thereafter.

This understanding — this passion — is why several school districts in Montgomery County are embracing the Equity Fellows initiative. Under the leadership of Learn to Earn Dayton and the Montgomery County Educational Service Center, this project is bringing together schools and community organizations to help close the disparity gap.

The approach is unabashed.

Participants are identifying, analyzing and eliminating barriers that, however unintentionally, discourage and limit students’ achievement.

They’re also honestly and thoughtfully reviewing rules, practices, curriculum and programming that can prevent children from excelling and that negatively and disproportionately affect African American, Appalachian and low-income students.

Importantly, Equity Fellows also are reflecting on and challenging their own mindsets — implicit biases that we all have about each other and people who are different from us.

Finally, Equity Fellows are participating in professional development around culturally responsive teaching and receiving coaching in their classrooms.

Now in its second year, the Equity Fellows initiative is funded with critical support from Strive- Together, a national non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring the educational success of all children. Thanks to StriveTogether, 20 school-based teams in Dayton Public Schools, Trotwood-Madison City Schools, Northmont City Schools and at Dayton Early College Academy are engaging in this work.

Community organizations working alongside school-based teams include Sinclair College, Premier Health, Dayton Metro Library and Dayton Public Schools Office of Males of Color.

The Equity Fellows’ work and impact will be enduring. The project is creating a critical mass of change agents who are steeped in data about the opportunity gaps in our community, for instance, around employment, health and housing — and how these disparities exacerbate the challenges teachers face.

If we want to eliminate stubborn and unacceptable achievement gaps for children, we need community partners to influence forces outside of our schools.

Closing the disparity gap will take time. But our Equity Fellows can accelerate this important work. They’re dedicated to making a lasting difference for children and to making our community more equitable.

Catherine Bornhorst is the program manager for Learn to Earn Dayton and the Montgomery County Educational Service Center’s Equity Fellows initiative.