Empowering Students of Color

The “Black Lives Matter” protests this past summer have been some of the biggest and most widespread in recent years. Across the United States and around the world, people are raising their voices in favor of equality and taking a firm anti-racist stance.

Certiport, and our parent company, Pearson, are committed to keep the momentum going. We are determined to help students of color rise to new levels of success and education, while listening and learning from others on the best ways to become true anti-racist advocates. Earlier this summer, Pearson hosted a company-wide global conversation in response to the protests, discussing issues of systemic racism, learning from our colleagues’ experiences, and identifying areas for positive change. The conversation has continued with the “Unwritten: Authors and Students in Conversation” webinar series, highlighting Pearson authors who discuss African American history and the origins of systemic racism in America. This learning is an ongoing pursuit for both Pearson and Certiport. 

Understanding the history and statistics associated with racial injustice is a crucial step. For example, one study from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that Black students are much more likely to stay in the bottom quintile of income distribution and much less likely to move up the income distribution over a generation than their white counterparts. For our efforts to succeed, we will need supportive teachers to help empower students of color around the world.

One place to start correcting racial and economic inequities is in the classroom, and Abner Soto-Henry knows that very well. Read on for advice from Abner on how you can empower your students of color to succeed.

Understand Their Background and Lifestyle

True education happens when students feel safe and understood. Many students face difficulties outside the classroom that can make educational success incredibly difficult. Keep in mind that many of your students of color may live challenging lives to varying degrees. Try to find ways to learn about and understand their individual situation.

Abner commented, “Some of the things I try to keep in mind as I teach students of color are: what social issues are impacting my students? How is the environment where they live contributing to their attendance and ability to learn? Is the environment an actual barrier? In many cases, having a holistic approach as a school has been the most successful way to support students.” A holistic approach will mean that you’ll need to connect with other resources, teachers, and administrators to set students up to succeed.

Abner continued, “At the Career Academy where I teach, we treat each student as a whole person. In many cases, they benefit from case management and socioemotional support, which lead to better academic performance. For this reason, I work closely with our Student Support Department (SSD), so that students are connected to more practical resources (health insurance registration, free transportation, food pantry items) while learning.”

This information may be difficult for students to share, so work to be a supportive resource and engender trust with each interaction. Helping students with the basics of life will make academic success much more likely.

Give a Personalized Experience

Educators wear multiple hats: Curriculum developer, proctor, lesson planner, lecturer… We could go on. Managing so many different roles can make it tough to spend much-needed one-on-one time with students. However, helping students of color thrive will likely require personalized attention. Abner continued, “I think we can empower students by building a good educational system with curriculum and training that allow for personalized learning goals. This can help students work at their own pace.” Customizing curriculum and goals to suit different skill levels can help students who thrive reach beyond the base-standard, allowing you to focus on those who may need additional time and assistance.

This additional assistance can take many forms. “I emphasize motivational speech and make sure that the one-on-one time I spend with each student reflects who I am as a teacher, a mentor, and a person of color,” said Abner. “As teachers, we must give students the tools to build skills that will lead them to a successful and fulfilling life. This means helping students love themselves, helping them celebrate their unique identity and cultural heritage, and creating an environment where they can share their wins and victories. We must create a strong class culture, emphasizing participation, openness, willingness, and empathy. This culture will create better opportunities for communication, which in turn deepens our relationships with our students, both inside and outside school.”

Increase Employability

One of the best ways to boost confidence is to empower students of color with skills and knowledge. Not only will they feel proud of their new talents, but they’ll also increase their likelihood of finding a well-paid job. Find ways to help your students get certified and practice those skills in real-life work situations. Abner agrees. “We should introduce more work-based learning and training for students earlier so they can acquire the skills and self-confidence they need to compete in the real world.”

A recent survey discussing the value of IT certification found that those with a certification were 90% more productive and 60% more efficient compared to those without. Employers value certifications, as they show expertise, especially for young students who may not have extensive job experience.

Jobs like information security analyst and software developer are among the fastest growing jobs over the next eight years. Helping students earn valuable technology certifications from big names like Microsoft and Adobe will give all students a leg-up when they enter the workforce. And if you want to show your students what’s possible with certification, just check out some of the amazing stories from past students here.

Provide Successful Mentors of Color

While stories from some of our past students posted online can be inspiring, connections with successful mentors of color are even better. If students don’t see someone like them in a job they aspire to have, they are much less likely to believe that they can make that jump.

Reach out to people of color to come and inspire your students. They may be fellow coworkers, connections in a specific job role, or professionals from your community. Bringing these types of people into your classroom not only provides students with a chance to network, but also shows them just how much they can achieve.

Make Them the Teachers

Our last, but certainly not least, piece of advice is to turn the tables: Make your students the teachers. Whether they’re teaching fellow students in class or conducting a class to teach members of their community, teaching a concept to others solidifies understanding, positions the student as an expert, and builds confidence in their knowledge and skills. Abner gives his students a few outlets to teach. “I ask more experienced students to teach and help those who are just getting started. Through these peer interactions, students become each other’s mentors. Plus, a few of my students have also taught classes for the community here in D.C. They put their IT skills to work, plus it’s a great way for them to give back.”

Ultimately, our collective goal must be to create a more just and equal society that provides the same opportunities for students of color. Together we must become empowered against historic systems, and ultimately, lift as we climb, a motto started by the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs that is just as relevant today.

Do you have other ideas on how to empower students of color in your community? Make sure to join our discussion in our CERTIFIED Educator Community!