By Kenneil Mitchell
Carolina Reporter & News
LaSonya Stewart, third grade teacher at William S. Sandel Elementary School, follows one rule to connect with her students.
“You have to build that relationship, that role modeling,” she said. “Let them see, hey, I’m here today. You can be here tomorrow.”
Stewart is aware of the impact her presence has on her African-American students and how her presence encourages them to learn.
“Just allowing them to see an African-American teacher stand in front of them,” she said. “Just my presence being here. It’s very impactful (in the way) I carry myself.”
A recent study from Johns Hopkins University titled, “With Just One Black Teacher, Black Students More Likely to Graduate,” analyzed the impact black teachers have on black students.
The study showed that having at least one black teacher in third through fifth grade reduced a black student’s probability of dropping out of school by 29 percent.
It also showed that 18 percent of low income black students were more likely to express interest in college if they had a black elementary teacher. Thirty nine percent were less likely to drop out of high school.
“The numbers are astounding,” Stewart said of the study’s findings. “I will say that, it’s a little low.”
On a recent Monday, Stewart’s class gathered on the carpet in front of the smart board to learn multiplication and division skills.
The children raised their hands, spoke clearly and nodded their heads as Stewart called on each of them to answer the math problems.
Stewart reflected on the role she plays when she speaks to African-American students.
“We’re able to understand our culture,” she said. “We kind of know what it takes to get them going. Because, in a real school setting, sometimes, African-Americans can get away with saying something to an African-American child versus a Caucasian teacher.”
William S. Sandel Elementary School is a Title One school in the Richland One school district. W.S. Sandel has predominately African-American students that come from low-income families.
According to the South Carolina Department of Education, out of 654 students enrolled at W.S. Sandel, 100 percent of students are eligible for the free lunch program.
Claudia Brooks, William S. Sandel’s principal, finds the study interesting. But when it comes to hiring teachers, she doesn’t base it on race, but on the character of the educator.
“Truly you want a caring educator,” she said. “That comes in different forms and fashions of ethnicities and races and backgrounds. So, if you’re generally looking for those characteristics, it’s kind of like, the traits of a leader, the traits of an educator.”
Although she recognizes the impact her presence has on black students, Stewart said she teaches for everybody.
“I don’t see color,” she said. “We’re all the same. ‘Cause guess what? At the end of the day, I let all of them know, you all are my babies.”