Bellevue School District’s Equity Department is working to address the unique needs of a diverse student body with a unique pair of conferences aimed at black, Hispanic and Native American students.
With support from Bellevue Schools Foundation, the department is expanding the BOOM (Break Out of the Margin) conference that last year served 175 middle and high school boys who identify as black, Hispanic and Native American.
This year, the department has added the SISTAH (Sisters in Strength, Tenacity and Hope) Experience, for middle and high school girls of color, and expects to serve up to 250 boys and 150 girls through the conferences and with follow-up mentoring sessions to be held at the schools.
Students of color often have difficulty feeling a sense of belonging in school, says the Equity Department’s Krischanna Roberson, who became interested in diversity and equity in education when her own children entered the Bellevue School District.
“The all-day conference allows them to take part in workshops on self-esteem, leadership, and empowerment delivered by facilitators and mentors who themselves are black, Latino or Native American,” Roberson says.
“Affinity is so important for student development, socially and emotionally,” she says, noting that for many of these students, they are one of less than a handful of students of the same race in all of their classes, all the way through school. Districtwide, about 2.6 percent of middle school students and 3 percent of high school students are black, between 10 and 11 percent are Hispanic and just 2 percent are Native American.
Keynote speakers and facilitators include Bellevue professionals who volunteer their time to participate. Speakers bring a message of self-empowerment, leadership, and self-esteem, along with nuts and bolts college and career skills, such as basic financial skills.
The day-long conferences are held on the Bellevue College campus, which Roberson says also helps marginalized students see themselves in a higher-education environment.
“We are providing an opportunity for those students who don’t make up the majority in their schools to experience being with others like them,” she said.
In addition to the events, organizers also will be reaching out to connect with the parents of the students involved. Students who participate also are surveyed and the department hopes to continue the program over the next five years to assess its longer term impact for participants.
Roberson said grant support from Bellevue Schools Foundation as well as from Bellevue College and other community partners, has helped the program expand for the upcoming school year. “The Foundation sees the connection between the district’s initiatives and getting students the opportunity to participate,” Roberson says.
BOOM is scheduled for Dec. 13, and SISTAH is scheduled March 28, 2017.