This post is part of Excellence and Equity, a dialogue among IB educators and school leaders around empowering underrepresented students for success in life-long learning. Subscribe to E2 updates or write to us directly to share your access success story.
Our project’s E2 (Excellence and Equity) Framework aims to provide an image of what an equitable school where underrepresented students would have access to the highest levels of achievement would look like. Colin Pierce’s important access story below provides a vivid example of an E2 Framework component on outreach: “Families and students are engaged by the school in discussions around preparation, planning and participation in academically challenging courses…”
By Colin Pierce
It’s a Saturday afternoon and 38 parents, community members, and teenagers are gathered around tables in the multipurpose room of the Rainier Beach Community Center. They’re here to participate in a lesson on text features and multimedia text analysis taken straight from the 11th grade IB Language and Literature curriculum at Rainier Beach High School.
The room contains a cross section of the highly diverse community that Rainier Beach serves: East African, Latino, African American, Southeast Asian, Pacific Islander. Groups of four are huddled around copies of the infamous “Falling Man” photograph taken on September 11th, 2001, writing and talking about its connection to the poem “Photograph from September 11th” by Wislawa Szymborska.
At the front of the room are a series of questions about the texts projected on a screen. It’s a heavy topic for a Saturday afternoon, but the conversations are animated, and adults and students alike are excited to share their ideas. This is a Community Cafe.
…we began to build an organization of community, alumni, parent, and student leaders committed to learning as much as they could about the Diploma Program, and sharing that knowledge with their peers.
When I first began work as Diploma Program Coordinator at Rainier Beach, I knew that community outreach was central to the task ahead of us: to use the IB Diploma Program as a tool for transformation and equity at one of the lowest-income, lowest-performing, and most under-resourced schools in Washington State’s largest school district.
Many students are excluded from participation in advanced programs simply because they and their parents don’t know enough about the opportunities available to them. Building a strong program meant building a strong network of outreach. I also knew that I would have to combat the perception among many of my students–those who knew anything about the program to begin with, at least–that the IB program was meant exclusively for white guys with glasses.
This meant that a guy like me–a far-sighted ginger with a fondness for cardigans–wouldn’t always be the best spokesperson. So we began to build an organization of community, alumni, parent, and student leaders committed to learning as much as they could about the Diploma Program, and sharing that knowledge with their peers.
We called them the “IB Ambassadors,” and while their ranks grew over the years, we also noticed our ambassadors were the same active parents, community members, and students who volunteered for everything. We weren’t really reaching the audience we wanted to, and no amount of emailing, calling, or flyering would bring that audience to our meetings at the school.
Inspired by an idea put forward by Carlina Brown, then head of our presidentially-recognized Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA), we came up with a solution to this problem that will be familiar to anyone who has tried to win the heart of an elusive person:
Well, food, and a change of scenery. Because as welcoming as food is, it is not enough to overcome the aversion that many of our most marginalized populations have to stepping foot in the school building. Schools are an intimidating place for parents who come from cultures where it is not encouraged for parents to engage with educators, or who had little education themselves, or whose own experiences with schooling were negative.
They didn’t have anything like this when I was in high school! This makes me wish I could go back!
– LaCretiah Claytor, Rainier Beach Parent Ambassador
So we found the places our parents and community members were already congregating and brought the food–and information–to them: places like the Filipino Community Center, the Vietnamese Friendship Association, El Centro de la Raza, Horn of Africa Services, East African Community Services, churches, and city-run community centers. All are places much more welcoming and familiar to many families than our school library.
In 2013 our PTSA partnered with a coalition of community-based organizations called SouthEast Seattle Education Coalition (SESEC) to secure a Seattle Office of Civil Rights grant that created funding for the Community Cafes. The grant also allowed us to hire an IB Outreach Coordinator.
This effort is now funded through a different grant in coordination with our long-time community partner, Urban Impact. Our current IB Outreach Coordinator, Cambrie Nelson, comes from a background of community organizing, and knows the students, families, and community groups around Rainier Beach well.
On the Saturday of our second Community Cafe of the year, as Cambrie helps wind the event down, she debriefs the crowd on their poetry and photo-literacy oriented sample lesson. She asks the crowd to brainstorm a list of supports that parents will need to help make their students successful with the kind of curriculum they had just experienced.
“More events like this!” comes the reply.
Good thing we have another one planned for next month…
For more information on the structure and content of Community Cafes, please contact RBHS IB Outreach Coordinator Cambrie Nelson or IB Diploma Programme Coordinator Colin Pierce. Additional information about Rainier Beach High School’s journey below.
Stunning surge in graduation rate as Rainier Beach gamble pays off
– The Seattle Times, March 2015
‘This Is A Silly Hat’: On First Day, High School Seniors Discuss Pursuit Of A Diploma
– KPLU Radio, September 2014
Warts-and-all: merging an elite program with a high-needs school
– Seattle Times, May 2014
How One Seattle School Will Use Millions In Turnaround Grant Money
– KPLU Radio, May 2014
Guest: Improvement at schools like Rainier Beach requires sustained funding
– Seattle Times, February 2014
Debating IB and other Big Questions at Rainier Beach High
– Seattle Times, January 2014
Prestigious program aims to clean up Seattle school’s image
– King 5 TV, August 2013
Reinventing Rainier Beach
– Nathan Hale Sentinel, May 2013
Rainier Beach High works to make elite IB program serve all students
– KPLU Radio, April 2013
The New Rainier Beach High School
– Seattle Times, September 2013
Can more rigorous academics help Rainier Beach?
– Seattle Times, April 2012