“The pandemic has brought to light many of the structural racial and income inequalities in the Boston Public Schools that BUILD.org has been working for years to address. BUILD Boston launched two initiatives recently amid coronavirus. The first initiative is a virtual design project where students can continue to be creative and build businesses to solve issues that people are facing during the pandemic. The second initiative is a campus without walls that will allow some students to have access to great teachers online, and thus hopefully breaking down silos. This initiative hopes to reimagine schools so students are not bound to education based on their ZIP codes.
Ayele Shakur, CEO of BUILD.org and former BPS teacher, recently talked to the Boston Business Journal about what her organization is doing to help students, her concerns about the systematic issues at BPS and how the school system can change to help students from lower-income and less-resourced families.”
You’ve talked about the racial and income inequalities and Boston Public Schools. How can BUILD Boston dismantle that?
“When you look at the achievement gap between low-income students of color and their more resourced white peers, you can see a 30-point gap in reading scores and math scores, in terms of achievement. But if you pull back those layers, what you’ll see is that there’s really an opportunity gap. Historically, educators talk about it as an achievement gap, but you really have to look at the opportunities that more resourced students have compared to their under-resourced peers. The ZIP code that you’re born into really should not be dictating the opportunities that are available to you, but too often it does. And so at BUILD, we specifically target the under-resourced schools and we go into the lowest-performing schools in the district where the resources are not always there in the way that they need to be…”
If you had a magic wand, what’s one thing you would change about the Boston Public School system?
“If we can take down those walls and take down those silos and give students full access to equal opportunity across the district, you would see incredible increases in achievement because the opportunities would be equal for students…”
What are some silos that you see?
“There are economic silos and racial silos. If you’re going to school and 90% of your students are all Black and Latinx, and we’ve definitely had a lot of white flight from most of our urban school systems — where white families are educating their kids in private schools and then come back around and take a test to get into the exam schools and go to Boston Latin. So you have a lot of places where students are trapped in high poverty, high need. And it’s really hard for students to excel when the needs are so high and the resources are so low…”
It’s said that the best entrepreneurs are independent thinkers and strong-willed. How does BUILD manage a roomful of these entrepreneurs?
“We want to create young people who are the CEOs of their own lives. And that entrepreneurs experience of running a business really puts you in the driver’s seat. And when you’re 14 and 16 years old and you can say you’re the CEO of a company, that completely changes what that young person sees as possible in their life…”
You voiced that you wanted to suspend the exam school tests during the pandemic. Can you explain why?
“I serve on the opportunity and achievement gap task force fo the Boston Public Schools, and we recently voted unanimously on a resolution to suspend the exam schools’ admissions test for one year during Covid. And the point was, that when so many young people are in trauma, dealing with the realities of Covid, schools are closed, learning is completely disrupted, some students are dealing with sickness in their families, some students don’t have a quiet place to work, that it would really be inequitable to administer a test in those conditions that would determine the future of a young person’s life…”
How has Covid-19 impacted or even worsened the racial and income inequalities at Boston Public Schools?
“In a number of ways. I think that in many of the school districts we work in, there was a major digital divide. So when schools closed overnight in March, there are some households — more resourced households — where the parents and students had computers. In Boston, the first thing the district had to do was make sure students had meals because so many of our young people get their meals at school, breakfast and lunch, are served at school. And then they had to get Chromebooks into the hands of every student in the district as well as the internet. But that took time. And there was a lot of learning loss while that was happening, and that’s a disparity….”