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The blockbuster films that typically light up the movie screen in Theater 8 at the Rialto Cinema Bar & Grill on Monday night were replaced with statistics depicting the challenges students face in San Antonio’s schools.
At a community forum hosted by 100 Black Men of San Antonio, the big screen displayed concerning figures: 23.9 percent of San Antonio students are kindergarten ready, 45.1 percent of students enroll in college, and less than 25 percent of students in San Antonio’s urban-core districts graduate high school college-ready.
The challenges are clear, event organizers said, so the question becomes what the community can do to support students and improve schools.
“There are pockets of really great educators and students that are doing great work,” 100 Black Men Executive Director Milton Harris said, referencing some innovative schools in San Antonio Independent School District as models for delivering positive educational outcomes. “When you start criticizing the institution [because of these statistics], you alienate certain aspects of the system…So how can we get involved as the village, as the community?”
Discussion focused on the obstacles students face outside the classroom. Several speakers acknowledged that even when students attend schools that succeed in helping pupils achieve academically, oftentimes extenuating factors at home negatively influence children’s performances.
One attendee who said he worked as a school counselor told the audience that he works with children who have seen their siblings murdered and have parents in prison. It is hard to not bring those experiences into the classroom, he said.
100 Black Men of San Antonio is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving quality of life and enhancing education and economic opportunities within San Antonio. The group emphasizes mentoring opportunities, and on Monday encouraged attendees to get involved by becoming advocates for students.
Anita O’Neal, principal of SAISD’s Bowden Academy, said mentors make a big difference in her school on the city’s East Side. Bowden has a partnership with a professional sorority that mentors students through a monthly reading club. The mentorship program also engages with parents through workshops that help them develop parenting skills and a reading showcase where students show what they have learned.
O’Neal said this relationship with parents is key, because having an engaged parent can make a big difference in a child’s life. She said involved parents become the loudest advocates for their children, often pushing for a better education.
Chawanna Chambers, who works with Single Seed Enrichment School, a nonprofit that offers free tutoring services to San Antonio students, shared with attendees her experience teaching locally and abroad. Having worked in education systems in Brazil and Switzerland, she agreed with O’Neal on the universal importance of involved parents.
“If people think no one is looking or no one is watching, sometimes things happen,” Chambers said. “We want parents to be in [their school’s] face, on campus…Campuses need to make sure parents feel like they are included.”
After discussing the state of San Antonio schools and the role of parents and mentors, attendees broke into two groups to tackle how they could advocate for better education in the future.
One group comprised of mentors decided it would continue to meet following the community forum, and in the meantime would educate itself on issues impacting students, so members could be the best voices for their community.
“Part of this is an education of us in finding out what is going on, what are the resources we can help connect students with,” said Charles Hasberry, who led the discussion group. “We may not get all the answers tonight or figure out what our first push will be, but you being here tonight shows you are interested.”