For years, young Black boys have scored lower on standardized tests, dropped out of high school at a higher rate, and are less likely to complete college than their White counterparts. Juanita Ridge, a paraeducator at Stucky middle school, strives to close this long-standing racial achievement gap through the Award-Winning Classroom Program she introduced in the Wichita Public Schools.
The racial achievement gap refers to disparities in educational achievement between different racial groups. According to a Stanford study, the results of such disparities show up in test scores. On average, White students score 1.5 to two grade levels higher than Black students, and in the nation’s most segregated districts, the gaps are much larger.
While efforts to close racial achievement gaps have increased over the years with varying success, studies have shown that racial disparities still exist despite the efforts.
For her Award-Winning Classroom program, Ridge identifies with the administration at Stuckey Middle School classrooms that would most benefit from the program. As a paraeducator, Ridge works alongside several teachers helping with one-on-one tutoring and assisting with explaining instructional materials and behavioral management, especially for the school’s Black boys.
Each AWC student is required to complete a weekly self-evaluation, with the potential to gain 400 points in a week. Students earn points for staying on task and practicing good behavior upon entering the classroom. Every two weeks, points are totaled, and students who score high have the first pick at various treats, badges, and a class pizza party.
“Having Mrs. Ridge and AWC in the classroom has been a benefit that our African American students have gained [from] because the positivity and responsibility this program provides and teaches builds confidence,” said Angelas Thomas, a 6th-grade history teacher at Stucky. “This program has added so much fun and excitement for everyone. I have a great reward/consequences plan that I use each year, but adding the AWC has made our classroom atmosphere simply amazing,”
Ridge stated that teaching students good classroom conduct and holding them accountable for their behavior will keep them out of the principal’s office, out of detention, and out of the harsh school-to-prison pipeline.
“Every student deserves to have a learning environment where they can reach their fullest potential because when behaviors are in check, learning is magical,” said Ridge. “The AWC program helps our Black boys stay in the classroom while striving to dismantle the school to prison pipeline. A pipeline that has had a devastating impact on families of color.”
The “school-to-prison pipeline” refers to the national trend of isolating, punishing, and pushing students out of schools and into the juvenile andcriminal justice systems. “Zerotolerance” policies criminalize minor infractions of school rules and Black students in particular face harsher punishments than White students in public schools. According to the ACLU, While Black students account for 16% of public school enrollment, they make up for 42% of all students who have been suspended multiple times and represent nearly a third of all in-school arrests.
Ridge believes many of these children have learning challenges or have a history of impoverishment or neglect and would benefit from additional educational and psychological programs.
“It is difficult to overstate the current predicament of African-American boys and young men in the educational system today. Our Black youth are in crisis, and they urgently need our help,” said Ridge.
In USD 259 high schools, Black males have the lowest graduation rate across all races and genders, with only 74.2% graduating in four years, versus 86.1% for White males and 84.5% for Black females. Programs like AWC can help reach young Black boys before they enter high school, teaching them self-control techniques and self-empowerment while stressing the value of obtaining a high-school diploma.
Ridge has worked as a community advocate and educator in Wichita’s USD 259 school district for over 25 years and believes in the power of making Black students feel included and appreciated in the classroom.
For more information or to support the Award-Winning Classroom program, visit https:// AwardWinningClassrooms. VistaPrintDigital.com