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Mel Gravely

An Introduction to the “Supporting the School Readiness and Success of African American Boys Project”

I’m always surprised at the breadth and depth of information available at the Office of Head Start’s (OHS) Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center (ECKLC). If you have a question or a problem, chances are there’s a document or resource available that can help. I came across one such document in an email from ECKLC just this week…

The Office of Head Start’s National Center for Cultural and Linguistic Responsiveness (OHS NCCLR) was a branch of OHS’s Training/Technical System from 2010-2015. Now encompassed in ECKLC’s Culture & Language resources, the goal of the OHS NCCLR was to “[provide] the Head Start community with research-based information, practices, and strategies to ensure optimal academic and social progress for linguistically and culturally diverse children and their families.”

While a lot of their work focused on dual language learners, they engaged in many different trainings for Head Start agencies on how to provide culturally-sensitive curriculum for a variety of demographics. The Supporting School Readiness and Success of Young African American Boys Project is one such project.

OHS writes that it believes that African American boys “have not benefited from what is known about the connection between culturally responsive programming and child development.” The Young African American Boys project and subsequent resource document (available on ECKLC) is an attempt to help Head Start agencies address that disparity.

“Quality programming in Head Start and other early childhood programs incorporates knowledge of and respect for families’ cultures and implementation of best practices including quality learning environments, intentional teaching,
and family engagement strategies,” the guide writes in its introduction. “However, these program pieces are not always in place for… African American boys.”

The guide mentions high suspension and expulsion rates for African American boys from preschool, as well as negative comments made by educators and policy makers about the school readiness of young African American boys, as two examples of how the system might be failing these children.

In this four-part blog series, we’re going to dive more into the African American Boys project and uncover some key ways that Head Start programs can increase the quality of their programming for this demographic through a culturally-responsive approach, in turn promoting development, school readiness, and hopefully better long-term outcomes for black boys throughout their lives.

Introduction & Purpose

While not a formal training guide with a set curriculum, the African American Boys project was designed as a training tool to help Head Start teachers, administrators, and policy makers to understand why some disparities exist for African American boys in early childhood education and how culturally-responsive programming could help mitigate those disparities.

Much of the OHS NCCLR’s work on this project centered around what they called the “Culturally Responsive Strength-Based (CRSB) Framework.” They write that the CRSB begins with the “Head Start Multicultural Principle 1 — every individual is rooted in culture — as the foundation, the soil that nourishes all else.”

“At the OHS NCCLR, we believed that the CRSB Framework could be used to improve the early educational experiences of young African American boys, and thus, our project was launched,” the resource explains.

We’ll dive more into the CRSB in the next blog. For now, we’ll briefly mention how the resource was developed and it’s intended audience.

The project first started in 2013 as the OHS NCCLR recognized the above-mentioned disparities for African American boys, and began to brainstorm ways that they could help support Head Start in their mission to serve ALL children in their program.

Over the next couple years, they engaged with experts in the field as well as staff and families from Head Start and other early childhood programs to “share their expertise and experiences, identified relevant research, and recommended promising practices from the field.”

As the group began to collaborate, “materials were developed and professional development was conducted.” That included 51 trainings with 1,300 participants. With each training, the project evolved to include ideas and opinions from project participants. The resource was fluid and dynamic from the start, meant to promote self-assessment and reflection of anyone who utilized it.

“Early childhood programs can use this resource as a jumping off point,” the authors explain, “to take a look at the challenges they face and the approaches they might use to support the school readiness and success of young African American boys.”

As for its intended audience? If you work in or with Head Start or in any early childhood education setting, then this resource could be valuable to you.

“Whether you are a program manager, a classroom teacher or home visitor, family advocate or another specialist, you can take this opportunity to think about how you can best support young African American boys in early learning settings,” they write.

In our next blogs, we’ll talk about the three sections of the African American Boys project, which is organized similarly to the Reflective Questions/Activities in the Head Start Multicultural Principles guide.

  • The Culturally Responsive Lens
  • Understanding Young African American Boys
  • Implementing Culturally-Responsive Strength-Based Practices

Stay tuned!

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  1. Leah Davies says:

    My experience reading the Kelly Bear books to hundreds of young, black boys, as well as girls, is that they relate to Kelly Bear as a friend. They want to answer the questions on each page and tell their teacher about their feelings and behavior. When the teacher repeats what they each say WITHOUT JUDGEMENT, they feel valued and accepted, the keys to having a positive attitude at Head Start. For more information see:

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