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Mel Gravely

The African American Boys Project: The Culturally Responsive Lens

This is the second blog in our four-part series on the training document, Supporting School Readiness and Success in African American Boys Project.

In our first blog of the series, “An Introduction to the “Supporting the School Readiness and Success of African American Boys Project,” we mentioned the Culturally Responsive Strength-Based (CRSB) Framework. It’s this framework that the Office of Head Start says can help us restructure the conversation on African American boys in early childhood education, and develop programming that supports these children and families and gives them the best chance of success.

The authors of the project define the CRSB Framework as “a conceptual model… [that] integrates culture and child and family outcomes through positive and goal-oriented relationships that are supported by systems, services, and family engagement.” By utilizing this principles of this framework in interactions with families who have young African American boys, they write that we can improve the early educational experience for those children and families, ultimately leading to better school readiness and possibly even better long-term life outcomes.

In this blog, we’ll talk more about the elements of the CRSB Framework and what it means to view the world through a culturally-responsive lens, as well as what it means to utilize a strength-based approach.

Culturally-Responsive Lens

“Culture permeates all aspects of a young child’s life, including eating, sleeping, playing, and communicating.”

Supporting School Readiness and Success of African American Boys Project

Represented by the flower, the Culturally Responsive Strength-Based (CRSB) Framework is rooted in Culture and Language, out of which grows Positive & Goal-Oriented Relationships as the sturdy stalk, with Services, Systems, & Family Engagement as the leaves that branch out from the stalk, and finally Child & Family Outcomes as the blooming flower.

We won’t go into each of these elements one by one. You can read those for yourself in the project’s resource document. I do want to mention, however, that the roots of the entire framework is Culture & Language. We encourage you to also read the guide “Revisiting and Updating the Multicultural Principles for Head Start Programs Serving Children Ages Birth to Five (MCP).” Before you can fully understand the CRSB Framework, you need to understand the reasoning behind Head Start’s philosophy that “every individual is rooted in culture.” The MCP is the foundational document from which the entire CRSB Framework grows.

Strength-Based Approach

The second part to the CRSB Framework is the Strength-Based Approach. Here, the authors write that “the focus [of the framework] is on what children know and can do as opposed to what they cannot do or what they do not know.”

The authors complain that much of the existing research has focused on finding problems, instead of understanding the existing strengths of African American boys in particular, including their culture and their community. If you look for problems, you’ll likely find them, they argue. If you look for successes, you’ll likely find those too. Instead, they implore the research community in future research to “learn more about the strengths of African American boys and how these strengths connect to school readiness.”

Lastly, they touch on two “themes” as they call them that inform the CRSB Framework and help explain why its necessary to focus on African American boys in the first place: The educational opportunity gap, and the bioecological systems model.

The Educational Opportunity Gap

“The project is anchored in a firm belief, backed by research, that all young children deserve equal opportunity, no matter their background or community.”

Supporting School Readiness and Success of African American Boys Project

Here, the authors stress the importance of using “opportunity gap” as opposed to “achievement gap” when speaking about the disparities in outcomes among African American boys. In other words, we as educators are failing them, they are not failing us.

The Bioecological Systems Model

The bioecological systems model was first proposed by Urie Bronfenbrenner, a noted developmental psychologist and one of the founding fathers of Head Start. The project document doesn’t go into depth about the model, which you can read for yourself from Bronfenbrenner’s work. However, it does talk about the special importance of his theory of microsystems on a child’s development. Microsystems, in this case, refers to the classroom setting and the home setting, as opposed to macrosystems, which refers to an individual’s “wider culture,” like class, poverty, and ethnicity.

The authors feel that positive interactions through the child’s microsystems will eventually reverberate to the outer rings of the child’s overall culture. As other groups look to impact a child from the outside-in, for example on initiatives to reduce poverty, the African American Boys Project hopes to impact a child and his bioecological system from the inside-out, through day-to-day interactions that are culturally-responsive and strength-based.

In our next blog in our series on the Supporting School Readiness and Success in African American Boys Project, we’ll talk about understanding African American boys and why this project focused specifically on them.

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