Please describe how your project has been successful and how that success is measured
The African American Men and Boys Conference is a project hosted by The Michael Lofton Talk Show. The first conference was held on June 3, 2006. These conferences were designed to provide resources information and support to help develop a more self-sufficient African American Community. With African American Men and Boys working together, we believe this will help our young develop the mental tools and strategies to enable them to succeed better in life. Many of the kids do not have a male father figure in their homes, and this is a major problem.
A University of Texas-Austin Evaluation Analysis provided meaningful data regarding the impact and success of the Harvest Foundation conferences. A total of 1113 students that took the African American Men and Boys Conference‟s (AAMBC) Student Evaluation of the conference. Surveys were given to all student participants at the close of workshop sessions during the 2008-2009 academic school year. Surpisingly, African Americans made up only 53% of the respondents, Hispanics made up another 36%, Whites 7%, all other racial classifications combined for nearly 5%. High School students were 64% of the respondents, Middle School students made up 28% of the respondent, and primary and elementary school students made up 3%. The average age for students is nearly 15 years old (14.97) and the average grade is 9th. The AAMBC is in fact much more diverse than its name would suggest, as only 53 % of conference attendees were African American and 40% of attendees were female.
Four major themes emerged from the qualitative, open-ended student responses regarding the insights gained by hearing the conference‟s speaker(s). The four themes were 1) Value of education and encouragement of higher education; 2) Goal setting and planning; 3) Perseverance and 4) Inspiration and motivation. The student responses regarding insights gained through listening to various conference speakers was overwhelmingly positive.
Value of education
Nearly 20 percent of the respondents wrote of gaining insights pertaining to the value of education. Value of education is conceptualized as the student‟s finding of significance in schooling or in degree attainment. It is apparent in the student responses that the value of education for many of these students is the access that it allows one to better jobs and quality of life. One student wrote of the conference, “I am motivated to stay in school and continue, I don‟t want to skip classes anymore”. Another student wrote, “I‟ve learned that education is very important and that you can become anything you want if you believe in yourself”. The conference speaker has at least temporarily convinced the first student to stay in school and attend classes that he usually would skip. The second student‟s statement suggests an uncertainty regarding the value and importance of his schooling experience. The second student seems to be persuaded to dream of the possibilities of what he may become with hard work, studies and belief in himself. These comments are typical responses to the question, what insights have you gained from the conference‟s main speakers today?
Career information and guidance
The subcategory, career information and guidance, emerged under the major topic, value of education. Career information and guidance refers to knowledge and insights passed to students from the speakers pertaining to career options and educational credentials required for said careers. Students appeared to be interested in learning the educational requirements of various career fields as well as their salary ranges. One student indicated that he learned what accounting is and how it works through the conference. Other students reported learning similar information about the fields of engineering, law and pharmacy.
Goals and Planning
Goals and planning represent the second of four major themes that emerged from student‟s responses regarding insights learned from conference speakers. Goals and planning are conceptualized as having a long-term dream or aspiration to work toward. Long-term aspirations or goals require delayed gratification and strategic planning for successful attainment. Goals and planning also has three sub-categories of responses. The three subcategories are 1) finances, 2) peer influences and 3) sexual relations. Finances, peer influences and sex are three areas that often represent challenges for low income high school students and threaten to derail their educational pursuits.
A large percentage of the student responses tended toward goal setting and planning. Students made comments such as these: “I should find out what I want to do with my life”, “how to set goals and leave a legacy for my family”, “make a goal and go for it, set checkpoints to help you stay on track with the set goals” and one cited learning “how to set goals and find the purpose of schools”. Clearly, the speakers were aiming to awaken a sense of agency and control within students. Students were encouraged to use school for their own productive purposes rather than becoming passive victims of a schooling experience that may not be satisfactory to them or their communities.
Students received encouragement to attend college but finances continue to serve as a major concern for many of the conference‟s attendees. Students made mention of insights on obtaining financial aid and tuition being helpful. In Table 2 we saw that only 13 percent of conference attendees and 6%of Blacks, considered financial difficulty a significant concern of students from their school but contradict themselves regarding ability to pay for college. It stands to reason that if financial concerns were not a major issue, then paying for college wouldn't pose a problem. This discrepancy simply serves to underscore the fact that often students do not have a very clear sense of the family‟s financial situation unless it is particularly severe.
Students seemed to appreciate messages regarding peer influences. Messages consistently stressed choosing friends wisely, independent thinking and leadership as ways to avoid getting into trouble. One student summed the message up nicely by stating, “ I learned that I don‟t have to follow anybody to be successful”. Another student added, “ I learned that peer pressure can end a career”.
Conference attendees commented on messages about sex received from conference speakers. Speakers that made mention of sex consistently exhorted students to wait to have sex and have “safe” sex if you must engage in intercourse. One student summed up the conference‟s sentiment very well by stating, “I have learned that you should wait to have sex because it takes away a lot of time that you could use in making your dreams come true”.
The third major theme of insights gained from conference speakers was perseverance. Perseverance refers to the idea that hardships and difficulty will arise but the student must endure and the reward will be worthwhile. Student responses typically referred to overcoming obstacles and navigating roadblocks. For example, a student wrote, “ You don‟t give up on school just because you are having a hard time”. Another student added, “No matter if you go through rough times, you still have to move on”. Perseverance includes both sacrifice and hard work. The theme, perseverance had two subcategories, 1) decision making and 2) racial pride.
Decision-making refers to making intelligent choices, choices that will allow one to continue toward their goals as well as effective problem solving behavior. Typical responses stressed the importance of thinking prior to acting. A student wrote, for example, “Today I learned a lot of things, like taking responsibility and knowing what you going to do and what the consequences are”. Students indicate that the conference encourages students to understand that they are responsible for their own actions and therefore need to develop strong practical problem solving and decision making skills.
The racial pride category refers to assurances that students can achieve high levels of success despite their racial categories and that race should be a source of dignity and self-esteem rather than an albatross around one‟s neck. Typical student responses were as follows: “No matter what race, whether male or female, you can do anything you set your mind to even become president ” and “I am strong because I come from strong ancestors”. Many of the conference‟s speakers encouraged students by defiantly insisting, “black people are more than society tells us we are”. Messages of racial pride hearken to a long tradition of racial uplift though dedication, hard work and perseverance within the African American community.
Inspiration and Motivation
The fourth and final category is inspiration and motivation. Inspiration and motivation are conceptualized as the speakers‟ messages of affirmation and encouragement, which are intended to give confidence to students regarding their schooling, educational and career goals. One student stated, “ I learned to feel more confident about myself”, others stated learning basic but essential lessons such as “to always try” and “I can do something with my life”. Despite their young ages, it is apparent that many of the students do not get the amount of emotional support and mentorship that students typically need to be academically successful. A number of the student responses indicate that students are longing to have intellectual affirmation. Students need inspiration and motivation regarding their educational experiences it appears that some are having this particular need met in the Monthly Men and Boys Conferences. Two sub-categories emerged within the inspiration and motivation category. Those two sub-units are 1) manhood and leadership, 2) authentic care.
Manhood and leadership
Manhood and leadership encompass notions of what responsible, stable male should be as well as the notion of leadership through independent thinking and respect for others. Responsibility and respect was key in student responses within this sub-category. Common responses were that respect is to be given and received. This attention to manhood and leadership is a component of the African American Men and Boys conferences that is of particular interest and need within the African American community.
Students expressed the belief that Lofton and conference speakers genuinely believe in them and want to see them reach their highest potential. One student summed it up perfectly by stating, “They truly care and want to see a change in our generation and are willing to fight for us”. One of the key issues effecting student-teacher relationships is Valenzuela‟s (1999) notion of authentic caring. Students want teachers to have a sincere concern for their personal and academic well-being. However, many teachers have an aesthetic care, one that is concerned with a “commitment to ideas or practices that purportedly lead to achievement” (Valenzuela, 1999).
Because of the magnificent success of the Men and Boys Conferences, in February 2007 we hosted the first African American Women and Girls Conference geared toward the unique life experiences of African American girls. The response was overwhelming. Four African American Women and Girls conferences have been held since February.
In addition, we have created a foundation, "The African American Men and Boys Harvest Foundation, Inc.", to continue this effort. Changing Expectations Corp was developed as a 501 c(3) tax exempt non-profit to provide educational programs for the Harvest Foundation.
Changing Expectations Corp provides small-group STEM presentations at the African-American Men and Boys Harvest Foundation conferences. STEM professionals provide 55 minute small-group learning activities and resources to purchase materials to send students home with individual project kits on related STEM topics. Digital and face-to-face follow-up mentoring of under-served students is provided.
Expected Impact and Outcomes
Other anticipated results of the online mentoring and assessment intervention include:
• The intervention provides a variety of collaborative mechanisms for teachers designed to support their effective exploration of teaching STEM curriculum and deepen their understanding STEM content.
• Online mentoring will support experienced as well as novice teachers to improve instructional practices for K-12 STEM teaching and learning. It will incorporate Changing Expectations’ expertise in addressing educator needs for continued professional growth, reflection, and collaboration. Even the best teachers need instructional materials and resource specialist to assist them (National Science Board, 2009).
• Online content-focused mentoring and assessment can be a cost-effective, efficient way to support the needs of both the district and its staff members. Teachers are able to work on it when time permits, at their own pace, and to receive individualized support through online mentoring. This online mentoring project is likely to be more effective than the current face-to-face mentoring because educators often have very limited time to commit to face-to-face interactions with their colleagues. Upon demonstration of feasibility, the online mentoring program should be easier to scale up for national distribution than traditional modalities and in a variety of settings.
Specific criteria will be used in the selection of participants that will include the socioeconomic need of their students, the number of years of teaching experience, and the number of African-American and bilingual, Hispanic students taught. The project has the potential to impact approximately 2,600 African-American and Hispanic students in a single school year.
STEM sessions during the 2010-2011 school year were held on November 13, 2010 at Connally High School (Pflugerville ISD), December 11, 2010 at Garcia Middle School (Austin ISD), January 29, 2011 at Dailey Middle School (Del-Valle ISD), and April 30, 2011 at Dobie Middle School (Austin ISD).
Broad Dissemination of Results
In an effort to more broadly disseminate the results of the Dilemmas and Inquiries, an online searchable archive (perhaps using a Wiki) and email listserv (such as created for the original Eisenhower Online Mentoring Project) will be created for Internet access by any educators and researchers not participating in the online mentoring project. Information about the new and repurposed (adapted) STEM curriculum enhancement activities developed by the cross-school level teams will also be disseminated electronically. Database usage by visiting educators will be tracked, together with characteristics of website visitors who access the online mentoring results. Annually, archive visitors will be requested to complete an on-line survey to provide feedback regarding their implementation of the information presented (e.g., providing evidence for how the mentoring information was used, observed indicators of student-related outcomes). Annual presentations by the PIs on research findings will also be made to the STEM network and at multi- and interdisciplinary activities and institutions that serve underrepresented groups and where diversity is a priority, and results will be shared with the National Lab Day network.