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How a STEAM-Based Education Can Combat Inequity

More than 50 years ago, the Supreme Court struck down “separate but equal” in the U.S. public school system in the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education ruling.

But our public school system continues to fall terribly short of racial equity, with our black and Hispanic students generally faring the worst. The most recent Civil Rights Data Collection biennial survey paints a disheartening picture: black students are disciplined more often, supported by counseling less, and exposed to fewer advanced and gifted classes.

The study found black students in K-12 were 3.8 times more likely to suspend, and schools with large numbers of black and Latino students offered fewer calculus, algebra II, chemistry, and physics classes, as well as gifted classes. In addition, minority students were more likely to attend schools with a police presence – but no counselor, according to the report.

Education Unbound’s own Dallas Independent School District is no different.

A mere 24% of Hispanic students in the Dallas SID Class of 2018 were deemed ‘college ready’ in math and English, compared to 67% of white students, according to a 2019 Dallas Morning News report. The inequity starts early: just 32% of black children in Dallas ISD tested ‘kindergarten ready’ in the 2016-2017. And as black children grapple with playing catch up front the beginning, they also face a harsher experience overall, with black middle schools being an estimated 43 times more likely to be booked into a juvenile detention center compared to peers, according to the report.

All this points back to a “school to prison pipeline,” which funnels students from public school into juvenile detention and the justice system.

COVID-19: Widening the gap

At the start of this year, the inequity for minority students was appalling. Now, this inequity has been heightened as schools stopped in-classroom learning in March to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. For many students, a move to online learning only means:

· Limited or no internet access.

An estimated 7 million school-age children lived in households without home Internet service in 2017, according to data from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. And for those with Internet access, accessing a usable device poses a challenge as well. Katrina McCombs, the state superintendent of the Camden City School District, told CNN the district's poverty rate is nearly 96%. The population in Camden is 42.4% African American and 50.3% Latino, according to the US Census. And fewer than 30% of households have access to the Internet and connected devices.

· Food insecurity

For an estimated 20 million students, school also means food, according to the US Department of Agriculture. In some places, like McCombs’ district, 100% of students and families qualify for free or reduced lunch prices.

· Language barriers

Even native English speakers can attest to how complicated navigating the slew of apps and online learning tools can be. But for English learners, that’s an even more challenging task. A USA Today report estimates about 5 million students nationwide are still learning English, and falling behind could mean the difference between graduating or not.

Although the pandemic closures are temporary, researchers say they will have a serious, and lasting effect. By studying the summer slide (which is the ground students lose during the summer), Dr. Megan Kuhfeld and Dr. Beth Tarasawa predict a substantial slide: students will retain an estimated 70% of their reading learning gains when they return in the fall, and less than half of their math gains, according to the report. For students who are already struggling to keep up, this can be the difference between performing at grade level or not. And, one critical highlight from the report that shouldn’t be missed – the degree of gain is likely to be tied directly to economic status.

“Children from more affluent communities are more likely to come from families with financial resources, stable employment, and flexible work from home and childcare arrangements that allow them to weather this storm more easily than families who are renting their housing, working in low-pay fields that are hardest hit by the economic impacts, and experiencing higher rates of food insecurity, family instability, and other shocks from this disruption,” the report states.

STEAM-Powered Equality

Clearly, the current system and approach isn’t working. So why are we still trying the same approach to education and expecting a different result? That’s why we’re passionate about a STEAM-based approach to learning that isn’t stumped by language barriers or hampered by different backgrounds, and that engages students of all ages and all backgrounds to simply feel inspired, curious, and engaged.

Not only can a STEAM-based education build confidence, camaraderie, and essential skills for kids today, but it can equip them to refine essential skills for jobs of the 21st century, including problem-solving, creative thinking, and innovation.

This summer, together with The Community School, we’re taking STEAM to Dallas Elementary School for a camp program that encompasses social-emotional learning, literacy (in Spanish and English), yoga and mindfulness, and four STEAM-blocks provided by NuMinds Enrichment, and exposure to the Performing Arts.

In 2019, just 30% of Seagoville Elementary students scored at grade level on the 2019 STAAR Reading assessments, and only 19% of black students, and our camp is aimed at reducing the impacts of an unusually long summer.

Will you join us in the mission to curb inequality with STEAM-based camps this summer?

We need your support to provide an education for minority students that helps pave a path to equity and justice. Volunteer, donate, or connect us with a sponsor by reaching out to or visit our art store to purchase a painting and support our mission.


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