The Black Excellence Project – Publishing Program For Young Authors

Teacher Development Grant

 2020-2021 Project Summary

Dr. Cassandra St. Vil

Bard Early College DC • Baltimore, MD

The Black Excellence Project will train participating teachers to respond to endemic issues confronting Washington, D.C. students, including literacy development and commitment to racial justice. In the most recent school year (2018-2019), fewer than three out of ten African-American students in our nation’s capital were able to read proficiently, measured by scoring a 4 or higher on the standardized, PARCC assessment. In D.C., the Black/African-American subgroup has the lowest PARCC ELA performance across racial groups, followed only by students with disabilities, English learners, and at-risk student subgroups which also contain representation of Black students within them. Nearly half of D.C. residents are African-American (47%), yet they comprise less than 26% of D.C.’s college graduates and 26% of those living below the poverty rate. The Black Excellence Project (BEP) trains teachers to promote literacy while affirming Black identities through their teaching and curriculum. BEP incorporates academic material which celebrates Black professionals from local communities, exposing students to Black narratives as examples of college and career success and commitment to racial equity. The narratives of Black professionals centered within BEP are not only from the local area, but exemplify how they used their chosen careers to remove barriers confronting Black communities. In the greater Washington, D.C. area, these Black local exemplars range from Thurgood Marshall’s advocacy for Black students in law to the Harlem Renaissance period’s Duke Ellington in jazz, and more recently Marvin Gaye, Dave Chappelle and Taraji P. Henson in the arts. Students and classrooms participating in the project are exposed to historical and contemporary figures from a variety of professions who model pursuit of racial justice in diverse careers. In School Year 2018-2019, a workshop was held with middle school students to gauge interest in the initiative. In SY 2019-2020, BEP has been initiated successfully at one local D.C. high school. With the support of this grant, at least three teachers, annually, can be selected and supported to replicate BEP at their respective schools, beginning SY 2020-2021. The project provides coaching and teacher development in literacy instruction and racial equity curriculum centering local Black narratives with grade-level reading. Participating teachers receive curricular materials, access to instructional coaching about racial justice and literacy strategies, as well as, stipend to implement the project at their schools. The ten-week project culminates in students writing and revising creative pieces, and recognizing models of Black excellence from their own communities. Student work is then compiled into a publishable book representing the voices of students and their recognition of Black excellence throughout their city. Once published (having contributed a writing piece demonstrating college and career-readiness per the PARCC writing rubric) students are convened in a graduation ceremony to read their writings about Black excellence for a wider audience as published authors. BEP will continue its work in middle and high schools in the D.C. area as the initiative expands. A book celebrating student perspectives about Black excellence is published each year the project is offered.

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