Equal Opportunity Schools

Students at B. F. Terry High School in the Lamar Consolidated Independent School District outside Houston, TX | Photograph by Equal Opportunity Schools
Students at B. F. Terry High School in the Lamar Consolidated Independent School District outside Houston, TX | Photograph by Equal Opportunity Schools

Centering well-being on the road to educational equity

What does it take to address educational disparities? For Equal Opportunity Schools (EOS), a Seattle-based nonprofit that works with school districts across the country to put equity into action and support student well-being and belonging, it starts with finding “missing” students–those who are ready and willing, but not given access to challenging classes. “We help schools recruit and support students of color and low-income students–those furthest from educational justice–into AP, IB, Cambridge, dual enrollment and other advanced courses,” said Kia Franklin, chief program officer at EOS.

Participation in these programs is often a gateway to college, but many students miss out because they are never encouraged to enroll. They don’t get to experience the rigor of a college-level class, and they don’t have the opportunity to earn college credit while in high school. EOS helps schools analyze data to uncover students with the potential to succeed in advanced coursework, design outreach plans to get them engaged, and develop a support system to make sure they succeed.The results are dramatic. Over the past decade, EOS has collaborated with 650 schools to enroll more than 43,000 students of color and low-income students in AP or IB courses.

Increasing enrollment is important, but Franklin stressed that getting underrepresented students into advanced courses is often just the beginning of a school’s equity journey. That’s why EOS takes schools through a four-phase Action for Equity approach that includes a focus on boosting student well-being–and on developing an equity culture focused on continuous improvement.

When school buildings closed due to COVID-19 in early 2020, it became clear that student well-being had to be at the forefront of any initiative to improve student outcomes. EOS conducted a student survey in the spring and found widespread disengagement. Students felt that the curriculum wasn’t relevant to their experiences or to the crises facing the nation.

As part of a commitment to accelerating a whole child approach to learning, CZI supports EOS in working with school districts to prioritize educational equity during COVID-19. In addition, a CZI grant is allowing EOS to partner with a handful of schools to design plans that prioritize the needs of Black male students and support relationship and community building.

This fall, EOS hosted virtual meetings for Black male students, their teachers, and school staff in six schools to discuss what students need and how educators and school staff can design responsive plans to support them. Instead of diving into student data and discussions about why underrepresented students aren’t being enrolled in advanced classes, these meetings were focused on what students need to process the events of 2020 in ways that facilitate their healing and successful engagement in school.

According to Marquise Roberson, EOS partnership director and team lead for the initiative, “the most exciting part is creating a space where students have equal agency as adults and get the opportunity to engage with experts that look like them, come from the places they come from, and have a familiarity with the experiences that they are going through.”

Roberson believes that engaging students in this way can have long-term impacts. “This will not only serve as an opportunity to learn from the work experts are doing in the field, but maybe allow them to reimagine themselves in a broader light, expand possibilities for their future, and heal some of the traumas they have experienced. This work will allow us to hear, reaffirm, and creatively respond to the needs and dreams of the students, all the while executing in partnership.”

Nov 20, 2020