To the Editor:
Although my job title is “custodian” in Wayzata Public Schools, I am also a counselor, a friend and an advocate. Students call me “Mentor Mike,” and many students who are having problems at school talk to me. Because of that, I see firsthand the much discussed achievement gap between students of color and white students every day. To me, it’s not a statistic. It’s real kids who are failing while watching their peers succeed.
I work hard to try to reduce that gap and support these kids, but there are barriers to success. One barrier is the many stress factors from their environment and home life, while another is institutionalized racism in our school system.
There are a few proposals that have been put forward this legislative session that actually address the problems I see.
The “full service community schools” would address the nonacademic barriers by bringing parents and community members to the table to support our kids. It’s a proven model in helping schools beat the odds for students of color and students in poverty.
Another proposal would help people of color become teachers by offsetting some of the costs. This has been a problem in Minnesota, and kids would benefit from seeing people who look like them in front of the classroom.
In Minnesota, we don’t like to talk much about race. But the more the legislature brings in teachers, staff, parents, and community members to address it together, the more they will change.
There are a lot of proposals flying around the Capitol, but if the legislature is serious about reducing the achievement gap, I hope they listen to Mentor Mike and take these seriously.