Make Schools a Catalyst for Change.

AuthorYanar, Omar

Now that students are returning to in-person classes, schools have an opportunity to reimagine how they prepare young people for the complex world that awaits them after high school graduation. My proposal: Turn schools inside out and create civil rights organizations that use education as a catalyst for positive social change.

After earning a master's degree in education from Stanford and another in public policy from Harvard, I founded a public charter school in Texas that challenges assumptions about how to deliver education to our nations most underserved population--Black and brown youth. The El Paso Leadership Academy, with a staff of thirty and student body of more than 200, teaches grades six through eight. We are opening our first high school this fall.

Our goal from the start was not to run a school. Rather, we set out to form a civil rights organization.

It sounds like a radical idea because it is. Our critics predicted that our bold pedagogical approach would sidetrack students from the core academic curriculum. Instead, the opposite has happened.

In 2018 and 2019, the academy ranked first and second, respectively, in academic gains in the state of Texas, even though our student body is composed of 64 percent English Language Learners--more than six times the national average. Students often come to us three or four years behind their grade level in math and English and are mostly up to speed in two to three years.

How do we do this? First, we reject the traditional model of education, which is historically rooted in the subjugation and assimilation of people of color.

We embed honest conversations about racial equity and systemic racism into all of our curriculums. If students understand how their families have been targeted by predatory lenders of subprime loans, discriminated against in housing and business lending, and exploited by an economic system rigged against them, youd better believe they'll take their math classes seriously.

Starting in eighth grade, our students are taught to be responsible consumers of news. We study the use of propaganda, news as entertainment, and responsible sourcing. The goal is to empower young people to transform the world by understanding our history. When coursework is relevant to peoples lives, it sticks.

We are committed to rethinking every element of school design and structure. Class...

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