As a result of the problems of distance learning and other factors, over 200 Black students did not graduate from Minneapolis Public Schools this year. Some students failed to graduate because they are missing one class credit and others as many as three.
Stepping into the gap this summer is the WE WIN “When Black Students Graduate” program, a Black culturally sustaining effort designed to help at least 70 students receive their diplomas who are just a few credits away from graduating.
The idea for the program sprang from a brainstorm by MPS teacher Nafeesah Muhammad. She said she was disturbed by the effort on the part of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers to allow students to participate in graduation ceremonies who were only credits short of the requirements for their high school degree.
“I got upset. I thought what’s the point of having them walk if they are not going to actually graduate? Why not help them graduate?” said Muhammad. “To me they were normalizing low expectations. They [students] can’t use the picture of them walking across the stage to get a job or to get into college.”
Muhammad said she decided to do what she could to help those students who were just credits short of graduation. She met with the Racial Justice Network and Titilayo Bediako of We Win Institute and others to see if an Afrocentric graduation program could be established to help these students who were so close to obtaining high school diplomas.
According to Muhammad, when a plan was initially presented to the MPS administration to help the students who were short of graduating by only a few credits, “They acted like what’s the point.” But the administration after several meetings agreed to work with the coalition of individuals and community groups, deciding to use WE WIN Institute as a conduit to establish the summer program since they already had a contract with the school district.
In cooperation with MPS’s Office of Black Student Achievement, the summer program will be housed in Edison High School. MPS has agreed to allow the office of Black Student Achievement to use district resources to contact students and families.
The curriculum will be inquiry- and project-based, it will also center identity and critical thinking and include standards-based interdisciplinary lessons.
According to Muhammad, project-based learning could satisfy social studies, English, and science requirements depending on the learning objectives of the particular course. “It’s a way to mirror real-life learning. It’s interdisciplinary.”
The program plans to employ a majority of Black licensed teachers, counselors, and other staff. They are recruiting tutors from within the community as well as enlisting community partners and organizations to help meet the students’ academic learning needs and to emphasize and center Black culture and the Black experience in their education.
“The WE WIN When Black Students Graduate pilot, is an opportunity for Black people to show what is possible when our children are taught in ways that respect and honor their history and culture, and the needed support and love from their community,” said Bediako.
The project will also provide tutoring, college applications, scholarships, and FAFSA support for students who still plan to attend college, in addition to other future planning. “We want to inspire kids to attend college who had not considered it an option before,” said Muhammad.
The summer program will begin at Minneapolis Edison High School on July 19 and end on August 12 beginning at 8:30 am and ending at 1:35 daily. The program will conclude with a graduation on August 27 where the students will be celebrated and awarded their high school diplomas.