By AJ O’Leary
What to do about the potential widening of the achievement gap between black students and white students due to the coronavirus pandemic? The Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP has an idea.
The civil rights organization is starting a learning bridge program to help African American students attending Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools. The program pairs African American students with bridge builders, or community members who were selected by the local chapter of the NAACP, who will help the students navigate online resources, provide advice and encouragement and possibly serve as tutors for particularly difficult subjects.
Anna Richards, president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP, said the program will initially seek to help students in the Elliott Woods and Chase Park public housing communities, with the potential to expand to families who request to participate or students who are recommended to them by the district.
“We’re going to try to give whatever that student needs, and the secondary part of it is to connect students to culturally competent learning opportunities,” Richards said.
The program is scheduled to begin within a week of the start of summer break. It will feature enrichment opportunities such as speakers or movies for the program’s participants. Bridge builders also will meet regularly with their students and students’ families to help them with subjects they may be struggling in and serve as a bridge between students and resources they otherwise may have difficulty accessing — due to a digital divide, for instance.
Gloria Thomas, co-chair of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP’s education committee and director of the Carolina Women’s Center, said she hopes the program will give students extra drive and encouragement.
“If we add this extra level of support from the community, the students will then know that they have more folks to turn to, more people looking at them and holding them up and expecting great things from them,” Thomas said.
Jessica O’Donovan, assistant superintendent of instructional services of Chapel Hill- Carrboro City Schools, said the district supports the program and plans to provide resources to help it succeed. The district already has held training events for the bridge builders, to ensure they understand state curricula and learning objectives so they are best able to help their students.
“We want there to be a collaborative relationship that supports this program,” O’Donovan said.
Dianne Jackson, member-at-large of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP, who came up with the original idea for the program in March, said she hopes bridge builders will be able to help students better understand their own history and view themselves in a positive light.
“These kids can soar, because somebody is believing that they can,” Jackson said.
The bridge builders program is expected to last until the end of the calendar year, though both NAACP and district officials have said they hope it will continue into the future.
“We would ideally love for this to evolve into a Saturday school,” Thomas said. “We’re having conversations with some churches about hosting it on a weekly basis. That’s down the road, but that’s the goal.”