Students, families discuss a "culture of belonging" in Columbia Public Schools
COLUMBIA – Students and parents gathered Tuesday night to discuss the importance of a “culture of belonging” throughout Columbia Public Schools.
Two local organizations, Worley Street Roundtable and Faith Voices of Columbia, organized the forum between community members and school board candidates.
The forum came before the upcoming school board election on April 3.
The two groups wanted a platform for families and students to express their concerns to board candidates about the exclusion of racial, ethnic and religious minorities in CPS.
Rock Bridge High School sophomore Sadia Moumita said the forum's topic of inclusion was important because "going to school isn't just about education."
"Part of education and going to school is having the social aspect and being apart of something greater than oneself," Moumita said. "We need to make sure voices aren't silenced."
Moumita said CPS can do a better job of getting families of color and of different ethnic backgrounds involved in conversations with the school board.
"I think the changes I want to see are seeing more inclusion of those groups," Moumita said. She also is advocating for more students of color in gifted programs, which are currently, predominately white.
Worley Street Roundtable and Faith Voices of Columbia said they "have a deep concern for the safety and emotional health of our students and families of colors, including immigrant and refugee families."
According to a news release, 39.7 percent of CPS students identify as racial or ethnic minorities and 14 percent of educators identify as educators of color.
The release said CPS has “a significant discipline disparity between white and African-American students. African American students, who represent 20 percent of CPS, receive almost half of the district’s out-of-school suspensions last year.”
Worley Street and faith leaders said they believe these disparities create an environment of exclusion that “denies the dignity and worth of families of color, including immigrant families.”
The two groups, along with community members, asked school board candidates to focus this upcoming election on issues facing families of color.
Teacher recruitment and retention, parent communication, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement were also discussed at the forum.
One math teacher from Hickman High School said, “Teachers need students that look like them, otherwise there can be a feeling of isolation and lower retention rates among teachers.”
Many members at the forum are asking that the new school board implements strategies that make sure there is an equal amount of students and teachers of color.
School Board candidate Susan Blackburn said currently, only 8 percent of CPS teachers are of color and that as a community, "we can do better."
Faith Voices of Columbia said the event is part of a large effort to move issues of belonging to the center of public debate in Columbia.
The forum was held at The Islamic Center of Central Missouri.