Stresses Need For Churches, Families To Help Bridge The Achievement Gap
June 3, 2007
By LARRY SMITH, Courant Staff Writer
BLOOMFIELD -- The black community needs to look to its church and families to help close achievement and education gaps, panelists in a forum said Saturday.
Stanley F. Battle, recently appointed chancellor of North Carolina A&T University, who moderated the discussion, said the achievement gap across the country is enormous, particularly in the African American community. He said anywhere in America black males can be seen at colleges dunking basketballs or scoring touchdowns, but they're not earning degrees, he said.
"Sometimes I scratch my head wondering why we have such a hard time capturing the minds of our young people, particularly males," Battle said.
The forum, "The Role of the Black Church in Bridging the Achievement Gap in the Black Community," was sponsored by the lay organization and steward board of Bethel AME Church in Bloomfield.
Besides Battle, the 12-person panel included E. Curtissa R. Cofield, presiding judge of Hartford Community Court; George Coleman, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Education; state Rep. Douglas McCrory, D-Hartford; Regina Hopkins, coordinator for the Hartford public schools magnet program; Lew Brown, former WVIT-TV, Channel 30, reporter and adviser to Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez; and the Rev. Michael Williams, area director of the Hartford area office of the Department of Children and Families.
About 60 people attended the forum and submitted questions on what can be done about problems such as high dropout rates in schools, low graduation rates for black males and the role of the black church in finding solutions.
Williams said the achievement gap is a problem of race, not geography, in Connecticut. Students of color experience achievement problems in suburban communities as well as the cities, he said.
McCrory, who is also a vice principal in the Hartford public school system, said that to be successful as an educator or a mentor of black males you have to go where they hang out and read what they read so you know what they're interested in.
"You have to reach them where they are and bring them to where you want them to be," McCrory said.
Hopkins said parents also need to be better advocates for their children in the schools. They should make their expectations clear with their children's teachers, she added.
"If they don't hold up their end of the bargain, you'll be in their face," Hopkins said. "We have to be the advocate, our children need to see it, our teachers need to see it, our administrators need to see it."
When asked how the judicial system can make sure that youths know that certain types of negative behavior won't be tolerated, Cofield said she gets out in the community to speak to groups about the court system. There also need to be more people of color in the ranks of judges because they can reach minority group members before they wind up on the wrong side of the criminal justice system, she said.
The Rev. Alvan N. Johnson Jr., who heads Bethel AME Church, said although there are many churches in Hartford, a lot of the clergy are themselves not well-educated. At Bethel, academic achievements of the children are celebrated, he said.
"I have an earned doctorate myself," Johnson said. "Know what I'm saying, can you feel me?"
In response to a question about what parents can do, Coleman said they should make sure their children are in school every day and see to it that they bring work home from school every day.
He also said that members of the community should "agitate, agitate, agitate" for improvement and change in education.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at