Florida Education Plan Lacking in Both Promise and Practice

Florida Education Plan Lacking in Both Promise and Practice

By Dr. Elizabeth Primas, NNPA ESSA Awareness Campaign Program Manager

How is Florida addressing the needs of its lowest-performing schools under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)? Last year, the Collaborative for Student Success an independent non-profit education advocacy organization, sought to find out. They did so by convening a group of education experts from around the country to take an in-depth look at the way 17 states were supporting and encouraging local school improvement efforts.

The experts, both from the federal and district level, provided education officials and state lawmakers with independent information on how each state could improve their plans and implementation. However, what they discovered in Florida’s ESSA plan was not encouraging.

In September 2018, Florida received final approval from the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) for its ESSA State Plan. Florida was the last state in the nation to receive such approval, as state and federal education officials squabbled for months over the state’s proposed plan.

The Florida plan was originally submitted to the DOEin September 2017, but officials failed to include the waiver requests for the specific portions of the law to which it objected.

Federal officials sent the plan back to Florida Department of Education, saying they couldn’t pick and choose which aspects of the law to follow, and that they needed to submit waivers for the areas where they would like to be granted exceptions.

Florida submitted a revised ESSA plan to the DOE in April 2018 in an effort to comply with their requests and included a separate federal school rating system—one that factors in English-language learner proficiency and subgroup performance—which would work alongside the state’s existing A-F grading methodology to target struggling schools.

The primary areas of difference between Florida’s education officials and those within the DOE had to do with the Florida’s proposed approach to provisions regarding English-language learners and demographic-based subgroups — and federal officials weren’t the only ones saying that Florida’s plan left a lot to be desired. Civil rights groups repeatedly raised the alarmas well, asking Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to rejectFlorida’s ESSA plan.

In a November 2017 letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, more than a dozen civil rights groups said they had “significant concerns” regarding the plan, which they believed failed “to serve the interests of marginalized students in the state” and “to comply with the requirements of the law.”

According to Dr. Rosa Castro Feinberg, who serves on the committee for LULAC Florida, an advocacy group serving all Hispanic nationality groups, Florida’s “current plan includes features that contradict common sense, expert opinion, popular will, and the intent of the ESSA. Contrary to the purposes of the ESSA, the Florida plan denies attention to struggling subgroups of students. Without attention, there can be no correction.”

A year later, with Florida now implementing a revised state accountability plan, the peer reviewers convened by the Collaborative had similar (and additional) concerns.

While noting that “empowering local leaders is a core component of successful school turnaround,” the peer reviewers worried that “too much autonomy, without sufficient state supports, may not help the students and schools in most need.”

This, the peer reviewers believe, reflects a “lack of commitment to closing achievement gaps by not addressing subgroup performance or English learner proficiency in the state’s accountability system,” meaning “districts and schools are less likely to focus on these populations as they plan and implement school improvement strategies.” The same concern and fear raised by civil rights groups a year earlier.

The peer reviewers did applaud Florida for its “overall clear, student-focused vision around high standards, college and career readiness, and rigorous accountability and improvement,” and “clearly defined and easy-to-understand A-F grading system, which places a strong emphasis on academic growth and accelerated coursework.”

However, the peer reviewers recommended that the state rework its accountability system to incorporate student subgroups and English-language learner proficiency. They also noted that Florida’s use of dual accountability systems “raises issues with school improvement implementation as it can cause confusion about which schools are being identified and how to prioritize efforts.”

Read the full report here.

Elizabeth Primas is an educator who spent more than 40 years working to improve education for children. She is the program manager for the NNPA’s Every Student Succeeds Act Public Awareness Campaign. Follow her on Twitter @elizabethprimas.

Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson’s Statement on Kamilah Campbell’s SAT Score Challenge

Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson’s Statement on Kamilah Campbell’s SAT Score Challenge

Washington, D.C. – Congresswoman Wilson issued the following statement in response to the College Board:

“As a mother and a former educator, I was extremely disappointed to learn that Kamilah Campbell’s SAT score is being challenged after she showed marked improvement in the second exam. It is my understanding that the first test that she took was a practice round for which she had not prepared. Before taking the second test, however, she spent a significant amount of time studying and took an SAT prep course. Her hard work and diligence paid off and she increased her score by about 300 points.

“The College Board, however, is challenging her score and has suggested that Kamilah may have cheated. It claims to “celebrate when students work hard and improve their scores on the SAT,” yet instead of celebrating Kamilah, it is creating a perception that perhaps she’s done something wrong, which is preventing her from pursuing scholarship opportunities.

“I fully intend to look into this matter, but I am very concerned that this incident may send the wrong message to young people, especially those who need more incentive and support than Kamilah to push themselves to excel in school and pursue higher education.”

Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson is a fourth-term Congresswoman from Florida representing parts of Northern Miami-Dade and Southeast Broward counties. A former state legislator and school principal, she is the founder of the 5000 Role Models for Excellence Project, a mentoring program for young males at risk of dropping out of school. Congresswoman Wilson also founded and chairs the Florida Ports Caucus, a bipartisan taskforce that coordinates federal action in support of Florida’s harbors and waterways. The Florida lawmaker sits on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Education and the Workforce Committee.

Kids in foster care need a consistent, caring adult—for the long-term

Kids in foster care need a consistent, caring adult—for the long-term

BY NITA SMITH, Executive Director, Friends of the Children

Josh, a salaried, professional mentor through the Friends of the Children program, has been William’s friend since he was in kindergarten. When he first met William, his biological mother had substance abuse issues and had not been present since his birth. His father’s whereabouts were unknown.

William lived with his aunt and uncle for a short time, where he struggled continuously with behavioral issues.

After about a year, William was removed from his aunt’s care and placed back into foster care where he would then experience multiple placements and school changes, which had a profound, noticeable effect on his behavior and school performance.

Throughout all of the transition and trauma in William’s life, his friend Josh remained a consistent presence, always locating him and ensuring that he maintained regular weekly outings and school visits.

William is now in the third grade, and Josh remains a consistent presence in his life. He has been adopted and now attends a new school – his fourth school since starting kindergarten.

Early on, Josh and the adoptive mother formulated a plan to ensure stability and consistency in William’s life as well as continued academic and behavioral progress. William is now actively involved in sports, and his behavior in and out of school continues to show significant improvement.

Josh’s consistency, quality and caring investment in William has resulted in a network of diverse support for his social-emotional development and educational success.

We are facing many challenges with our foster care system in Tampa Bay. Children—particularly older youth—in foster care are slipping through the cracks and not getting the support they need to move beyond their foster care experience. We are now part of the solution.

Friends of the Children—a national network with 14 other locations across the country—has been so successful in Tampa Bay that we are investing in the launch of a new chapter that can now serve more children in foster care in Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

Friends of the Children—Tampa Bay selects the most vulnerable children ages four to six from high-poverty schools and the foster care system. Youth are then paired with a long-term, salaried, professional mentor (a friend) who stays with them from kindergarten through graduation – 12 and a half years, no matter what.

Research has shown that the most important factor for building resiliency in children who face the highest risks is a long-term, consistent relationship with a caring adult. Evaluations on youth who complete the Friends of the Children program, compared to youth in foster care without a Friend show that:

  • Eighty-five percent graduate high school, whereas only 55 percent of youth in foster care graduate high school or obtain a GED diploma.
  • Ninety-three percent avoid the juvenile justice system, but only 63 percent of youth in foster care avoid incarceration.
  • Ninety-eight percent avoid early parenting, whereas only 86 percent of youth in foster care avoid early parenting.

This model also makes economic sense. A Harvard Business School Association of Oregon return on investment study found that for every $1 invested in Friends of the Children, the community benefits more than $7 in saved social costs. Helping one child saves the community $900,000.

Separation from a parent is considered an adverse childhood experience which causes childhood trauma. The toxic stress they experience can lead to short-term and long-term mental and physical health problems, academic delays and social-emotional development delays that are hard to counteract.

As a result, children struggle to gain the social-emotional skills needed to thrive and build positive relationships, let alone do well in school. We empower our youth through social-emotional learning to ensure they are equipped with skills to persist in achieving their goals. We also help them build healthy relationships that will serve them well in school and into adulthood.

Moving mentorship out of the volunteer realm is a crucial component to getting the quality, consistency and commitment that children are facing the highest risks need, and it has been remarkably effective with youth in foster care. We also intervene at an early age—and stay for the longhaul—so that we’re able to change a child’s life trajectory, which is much harder to do as they get older.

Friends of the Children has already positively impacted the youth we serve in Tampa Bay, as well as their families. From the grandmother who can be a better parent to her grandson because of behavioral improvements, to the mother who was able to keep her seven children together because a Friend helped the family find housing, we open the door to upward social mobility.

Imagine if we could give every child in the Tampa Bay foster care system a consistent, caring adult who walked alongside them for 12 and a half years, no matter what. It would change the face of our foster care system.

Go to friendstampabay.org to learn more and support our work.

William’s name has been changed to protect his privacy.

Twin-boys shine to become valedictorians in their graduating class, headed to MIT

Twin-boys shine to become valedictorians in their graduating class, headed to MIT

By Victor Ochieng

It is no secret that the Black man in American society must work harder than his counter-parts. And at the height of all the racial discrimination, Black males have lived with fear affecting their academic performance directly. However, during all these, there are those who are rising above the current and are proving to society that “yes we can.” One good example is the story of two Black boys- twins who have been named Valedictorians at their high school graduation.

The two brothers who were born 11 minutes apart, Malik and Miles George, went to Woodbridge High. They both scored excellently on their SATs and were both named valedictorians of their graduating class. Because of their good work, they will both be attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on scholarship. They had a choice between scholarships from five prestigious schools, and they chose MIT as their preferred school.

And Thursday at their graduation, they shared the stage, crediting their success to their parents. They also shared their love for science and the fact that they dedicated their time and effort to school work. Speaking to ABC7, Malik said of their parents, “Seeing them always doing their best to care for us has definitely made a good imprint on us,” Malik told the news station. “Whether it’s academics, athletics, some form of art, whatever passion someone has, my best advice would be just to explore it and do your best, and the success will come.”

Miles also talked of their efforts and one of the reasons they excelled so well. He said, “We worked hard, every course, studying, paying attention in class, asking questions is one of the most important things, being an active student in our own education, because that’s what the teachers are there for.”

The two boys have excelled not only in class but also beyond academics. The two have for a long time been science research fans and were also named first doubles tennis partners.  This just goes to show that if you really give it your all, then you can achieve your goals.

The Woodbridge High School principal, Glenn Lottmann, spoke to ABC7, bragging of how wonderful the two boys were. She said, “I don’t know how long this segment is before I talk about what they’ve done right. I don’t think I have enough time… But I could tell you what they’ve done wrong, nothing!”

It is very encouraging to see young boys overcome the adversities that face the African American communities, and aim for their goals without fear. Malik also encouraged others not to fear ideas, he said, “Whether its academics, athletics, some form of art, whatever passion someone has, my best advice would be just to explore it and do your best and the success will come.”

This article originally appeared in the Westside Gazette.

Thirty-Two  Summer STEM campers explore science and engineering, aeronautics, coding and competitive math  games utilizing smart technology

Thirty-Two Summer STEM campers explore science and engineering, aeronautics, coding and competitive math games utilizing smart technology

Thirty-two outstanding young people in grades 6 through 10, from the Big Bend area, assembled at Bethel Family Life Center at 406 Bronough St. in Tallahassee for a variety of challenging, but interesting projects.

The 2018 Summer STEM Camp was sponsored by BUC Technologies, LLC of Tallahassee. Major student sponsors were “Take Stock in Children Program”, Margo Thomas, Director and “Distinguished Young Gentlemen Program”, LaRhonda Larkins, Director.

 STEM Camp Staff:

  • Mark Thompson, Instructor-retired NASA engineer, former middle school science teacher and current high school teacher for AP computer science.
  • Chris Weider, Instructor-middle/high school science teacher.
  • Rachelle Dierestil, Instructional Support and Activities Coordinator

The camp activities were divided into four rotating blocks of 90 minutes each. The activity blocks included science/engineering projects, science online modules and computer math games (Scratch and Sumdog), art/drama activities, and science lab lectures and experiments.

Science projects implemented during the four-block rotation by Mr. Thompson included the following:

  • Growing Crystals by creating two saturated solutions of water and dissolved chemicals. 
  • Students learned about the different elements of the Solar System. They built models of the eight planets and Pluto. Finally, the students demonstrated their knowledge through quizzes to compete for the right to take a solar system model home.
  • Students discovered the three states of matter through hands-on chemistry activities. They learned about non-Newtonian fluids by mixing liquid polymer with a reagent to produce silly putty. They also made slimy ooze and glow ooze.
  • Campers engaged in a discovery of states of matter. The students learned about turning liquid to solid by making butter from heavy cream. They could eat the butter afterwards. Finally, they made ice cream from milk, learning about the properties of freezing point and how we can change the properties of a substance by adding salt.
  • Campers learned about gas pressures (Ideal Gas Law). We used acetic acid (vinegar) and baking soda to produce carbon dioxide (CO2) gas. Students learned about the difference in density of different gasses by weighing the CO2 vs air.

STEM activities by Mr. James included the following:

  • Administer Pre-test covering middle and high school science facts (prize given for highest score by grade level)
  • Convene discussions about current NASA and space science news
  • Monitor “Scratch” (project building game) and “Sumdog” math game where campers can accumulate points (award given for highest points).
  • View relevant videos on STEM topics (prize given for best essay summary)
  • Creation of pictorial project boards for viewing on the last day by parents, visitors and stakeholders.

STEM activities implemented by Ms. Cotterell through the inclusion of the Arts:

  • Support activities where students would create an arts project from previous science and technology experiences that included one or more components of music, art and dramatization.
  • Administer post-camp activities until 5:30 p.m.

Science Labs implemented during the final rotation block by Mr. Weider included the following:

  • Dry Ice Lab and Experiment
  • Physical and Chemical Changes
  • Balloon Rocket Experiment and Competition
  • Extraction of DNA from Strawberries

Field Trips During Weeks 1 & 2:

  • Field trip to the FAMU Viticulture Center. Students learned about small fruit growing and extracted DNA from bananas and strawberries.
  • Field trip to Lake Jackson
Florida is Last State Awaiting ESSA Plan Approval

Florida is Last State Awaiting ESSA Plan Approval

What to do?

President Donald Trump’s administration has in many ways held up Florida’s education system as a model for the nation. It’s hired many former Florida education officials to top jobs in its own education department.

Yet Florida’s proposed plan to meet federal Every Student Succeeds Act standards is now the only one that remains unapproved by Secretary Betsy DeVos.

As Education Week noted, DeVos approved the plans for California and Utah late last week. She did not, however, act on Florida’s submission, which commissioner Pam Stewart sent in late April

Read the full article here.

Democrats grill DeVos on school shooting response, transgender students

Democrats grill DeVos on school shooting response, transgender students

By Juana Summers, CNN

Washington (CNN) Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday addressed the deadly shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas, telling House lawmakers the shooting “was only the most recent, devastating reminder that our nation must come together to address the underlying issues that create a culture of violence.”

“Our commitment to every student’s success is one we must renew every day, but first we must ensure our children are safe at school,” she said.

DeVos also said the school safety commission she oversees, which was created in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, shooting earlier this year, “looks forward to delivering best practices and findings by year’s end” and gave lawmakers some details of the group’s most recent meeting last week. She described that meeting as “one of the first broader listening sessions” and said members heard from parents of students that had been killed in school shootings.

She stressed that the “primary responsibility for the physical security of schools rests with states and local communities, and made no mention of gun measures or reforms.

Betsy DeVos pushes back against criticism over “60 Minutes” interview, March 12, 2018

DeVos’s Capitol Hill testimony Tuesday marked her fifth time testifying before congressional lawmakers and comes on the heels of a trip to New York in which she was criticized for not visiting any public schools. Instead, DeVos toured two Orthodox Jewish schools and spoke in support of public funding for religious schools.

While DeVos was questioned by several lawmakers about school safety in the wake of another deadly shooting, the issue was not the overwhelming focus of the broad hearing. DeVos took questions on a wide variety of topics including her response to teacher walkouts across the nation, the agency’s Office for Civil Rights and her commitment to the rights of LGBTQ students.

She was pressed by Virginia Rep. Bobby Scott — the committee’s top Democrat — over whether she had approved state education plans that violate the law. Scott repeatedly pressed DeVos on plans where school grades don’t include subgroup performance, suggesting that allowed states to ignore disadvantaged groups.

“All of the plans that I have approved follow what the law requires and it will, we will continue to do so,” DeVos said.

“How do you address an achievement gap if subgroup performance isn’t addressed,” Scott asked DeVos.

At one point during the hearing Florida Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson asked DeVos if she was aware she was “resegregating” the nation’s schools by expanding school choice programs, and in turn, transferring federal funds away from public schools.

Read the full article here.

5000 Role Models of Excellence Provides Incentives to Graduating Seniors and Student Leaders

5000 Role Models of Excellence Provides Incentives to Graduating Seniors and Student Leaders

The 5000 Role Models of Excellence conducted its 2nd Annual Awards Ceremony and Dinner at William M. Raines High. Students from the Raines High Culinary program catered the event. The celebration honored 5000 Role Models of Excellence student leaders and graduating seniors who have gone above and beyond for the 2017-2018 school year. Adult Role Models who serve as mentors for the students enrolled in the program and Site Directors who head up each of the 12 school programs were also honored.

The event was held at William M. Raines High, which along with Highland Middle School, will be the two new expansion sites for the 2018-2019 school year. This will make a total of 14 schools comprised of 7 middle schools and 7 high schools spread throughout Duval County. Currently the program has 425 registered minority male student members from Duval County Public Schools. Initially founded in Miami, FL by Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, the program has been in Duval County for three years. The initiative looks to provide exposure to minority male students educationally, vocationally and culturally. In its third year in Duval County, the program has partnered with female compliment programs at six of the twelve current sites.

Amongst awards received during the ceremony included a custom backpack designed by BlendedDesigns, a custom 5000 Role Models of Excellence class ring designed by Rhodes Graduation-Jostens and over $7,000 in scholarship funds. Lawrence Hills, District Supervisor for the initiative stated, “this was an opportunity for us to honor those students who have worked extraordinarily hard in the classroom and/or improved their citizenship in an effort to become a leader in their schools and community.”

Please visit the website at https://www.duvalschools.org/5000Rolemodels for more information on the selected schools for this initiative.

If You See Something, Say Something: The Seriousness of Gun Threats at School

If You See Something, Say Something: The Seriousness of Gun Threats at School

As schools all across America continue to get back to a sense of normalcy after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, in Parkland, Florida, they continue to remain on edge as the number of threats and activity that schools have witnessed since the Parkland shooting has significantly increased, especially here in Harris County.

This past week, Houston Community College closed its Central College campus located at 1300 Holman Street on Monday and Tuesday (May 7-8) as a result of a shooting threat that was made on social media over that weekend.

HCC officials immediately responded to the threat and took every precaution to protect students from any potential harm, in spite of finals being scheduled for that week.

“It was my decision to close the campus for the last two days,” said HCC Chancellor Cesar Maldonado. “It was a decision made out of an abundance of caution and concern for everyone’s safety and based on input from law enforcement and my leadership team.”

After an intense investigation by HCC Police, a person of interest was identified and investigators sought to have charges brought against that individual. Upon review of the information, the Harris County District Attorney’s office charged 21-year-old Luis Antonio Rivera with allegedly making a terroristic threat at HCC’s Central Campus. The HCC Central Campus eventually reopened, but HCC identified that this matter was too important to ignore.

“Houston Community College remains vigilant and responds thoroughly whenever any reports of a concerning nature are received and, as always, we will be proactive in the safety of our campuses,” HCC said in a statement. “We want to thank the many agencies that were involved in responding to this threat and remind everyone if you see something, say something.”

Since the beginning of the year, America has found itself having to deal with countless acts of domestic terrorism as a result of gun violence. Sadly, many of these acts came after warning signs were displayed and threats were made through openly accessible outlets like social media.

In the case of 19-year-old domestic terrorist suspect, Nikolas Cruz, the Florida Department of Children and Families had been alerted to social media posts where Cruz talked about buying a gun and doing physical harm to himself at least a year and a half before he shot and killed those seventeen people in Parkland, according to a state report. Even after a person close to Cruz called into a tip line to identify him as a gun owner who had intentions of potentially murdering people at a school, the F.B.I. publicly admitted to not investigating the tip. Cruz had just legally purchased a semiautomatic AR-15 rifle in February 2017 – a year prior to killing his victims.

Just a day after the Parkland shooting, 17-year-old Jaquinn Alani Smith tried to come to school at the Hobby campus of Houston Can Academy with a gun in his backpack. Because Houston Can Academy had a screening process to enter the school, the gun was discovered and Smith ran away. Smith was eventually arrested by members of law enforcement and charged with carrying a weapon in a prohibited place, but the thought of what had happened the day before in Florida was fresh on the minds of students, teachers, administrators and parents.

This is a prime example of why monitoring these types of threats, particularly social media activity, is critical and can stave off a potential tragic event like the Parkland shooting and others.

Back in September 2016, then-14-year-old Jesse Osborne, went onto social media to ask his Instagram friends whether he should go back to his former elementary school or to the middle school he had been suspended from, a week before he fatally shot 6-year-old Jacob Hall and wounded two others at Townville Elementary School.

According to the F.B.I., Osborne’s social media posts showed that he stated he was going to kill his father, get the keys to his truck and drive to Townville Elementary School to commit the act of violence. Less than a year before the Townville shooting, Osborne was criminally charged with bringing a machete and a hatchet to his middle school because he was being bullied.

On December 7, 2017, 21-year-old William Atchinson went to his former high school in New Mexico and fatally shot Casey Marquez and Francisco Fernandez before killing himself. Minutes before he committed the horrific act, he posted a message on social media talking about what he planned to do.

Ironically, that was not the first time Atchinson had made these types of comments on social media. He was investigated by the F.B.I. a year prior for making disturbing comments on social media, but the F.B.I. did not charge him with anything because they said he was no threat at the time. Atchinson went on to legally buy the gun he used to kill his victims and himself.

According to officials at the Harris County District Attorney’s office, at least 140 criminal cases involving threats against students and school campuses have been filed with their office since the Parkland shooting, with most of the individuals charged being between 12 and 16 years of age.

Much of the gun violence tied to schools can seemingly be prevented, and it begins with a simple focus. If you see something, you must say something – before it is too late.

The Forward Times plans to continue being a part of these discussions related to gun violence, and will keep our readers informed on any new developments surrounding this important issue of gun violence in our country.

The post If You See Something, Say Something: The Seriousness of Gun Threats at School appeared first on Houston Forward Times.

Trauma: The latest addition in school-to-prison problem

Trauma: The latest addition in school-to-prison problem

Tiffani Knowles Special to The Miami Times

It was 3 a.m. when an 11-year-old broke into a Miami home while a family was sleeping. He was arrested and sent to juvenile detention for processing.

The day before, he had stolen a car and was caught in a high-speed chase with the police before jumping out of it at 40 miles per hour.

When staffers at the Miami-Dade County Juvenile Services Department advised Director Morris Copeland acutely, “This one, we can’t let this one out, Mr. Copeland,” he took off his jacket and tie and looked the boy square in the eyes, searching for regret — or at least fear.

“I told him, ‘Don’t you know you could have died during one of those incidents? He said … ‘Mr. Copeland, I don’t care nothing ‘bout that … I don’t want to live,’” Copeland recounted.

Looking at a case like this one, Copeland said youth like him have been exposed to traumatic events that leave them hopeless. Copeland avows he refuses to lock up youth under the age of 12 and instead negotiates with the state attorney for an alternative to detention.

“These are not evil men. These are hurting boys. They have been victims over and over again, traumatized to the point that they don’t care anymore,” he said.

Copeland was one of several community leaders who spoke to an audience of students, parents, educators and health practitioners at the Afrocentric Talking Circle “Ubuntu ‘I Am Because We Are’” presented by the School to Prison and Education committees of Miami-Dade’s NAACP.

Following an April 9 shooting in Liberty City that left two boys dead, leaders met on April 14 at Jessie Trice Health System, in Miami to determine how post-traumatic stress disorder may be the cause of what is known as the school-to-prison pipeline.


“There are more children experiencing PTSD in the inner city than all of the soldiers who came out of the Afghanistan War … but these soldiers can get out; the kids can’t,” said Cornelia “Corky” Dozier, Performing and Visual Arts Center co-founder and one of the event’s talk-back leaders.

Freddie Young, the chairperson of the school-to-prison pipeline committee, gathered experts like Copeland to share research and anecdotal evidence to prove some problematic students aren’t just menaces bound for prison but are children “acting out” – the effects of trauma that was first done to them.

“This notion of expecting kids to bounce back from gun violence and go to school the next day is not a realistic expectation,” said Dr. Roderick King, a pediatrician and assistant dean of public health education at University of Miami medical school.

He echoes the research of Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, a pediatrician who developed methods to screen and treat children suffering health problems attributable to toxic stress and recently published her findings in the book “The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity.”

On MRIs of children who experienced trauma, Burke’s team observed a shrinking of the hippocampus, a brain area important for memory and emotional regulation, and an increase in the size of the amygdala —the brain’s fear center.

When a child witnesses gun violence, they experience short-term effects like disruptions in sleep cycles and trouble maintaining social relationships. But the long-term effects are more troubling, King said.

After witnessing multiple, frequent incidents, children may exhibit aggression, out-of-place sexual behavior, self-harm and abuse of drugs or alcohol, all of which can result in potential incarceration.

“So, by the time they’re 16, and they’re dealing with tough life issues, they don’t know how to bounce back because of the cumulative effects of PTSD,” he said.

District 2 School Board Member Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall said there is no easy way to recover from this kind of violence.


“Our students handle trauma differently, and what we as educators must do is to give our children the best education and opportunities to learn and grow,” she said. “Miami-Dade County Public Schools is always ready to provide counseling and support for our students affected by gun violence.”

Copeland also claims that the deeper the kids go into the criminal justice system, “the darker they are,” and he believes it’s his duty and the duty of others in the community to disrupt this cycle by treating children like they’re children.

He reported that in Miami-Dade County, they have made more strides than other metropolitan cities in the U.S., declining from 22,000 juvenile arrests when he started in 1978 to just over 3,000 arrests in 2017.

Further credit goes to the work of people like Edwin Lopez, deputy chief of Miami-Dade School Police Department, who was also invited to speak at the Ubuntu Talking Circle. Lopez, a former Miami-Dade teacher, entered the police force to give students alternatives and, since he’s been there, the school arrest rate has decreased by 50 percent.

“We’ve had a huge culture change in the way we view Hispanic and Black males, who had the highest rate of arrests,” he said.

He cites the civil citation program for misdemeanors, officers now issuing warning and dismissals and re-framing nonviolent felonies as factors for the culture shift and decline in arrests.

“For example, stealing an iPhone is a felony because it’s worth more than $300,” said Lopez. “But when a 9, 10 or 11-year-old steals an iPhone, maybe jail is not the best option for them.”

Lopez said these new policies keep the criminal justice system from being a revolving door, which can produce toxic stress in a student.

“This can make a child more sensitive to threats or challenges and the pleasure and reward center of the brain —the part that is stimulated by cocaine, heroin, tobacco, sex, high-sugar and high-fat foods — can be affected,” said Burke.


But, even when children resist high-risk behavior, there are still damaging effects due to toxic stress. Young asked adults to take the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) assessment, first published in 1998, to fully understand how severe or prolonged levels of childhood adversity affected their own lives.

In the talk-back circle, some attendees shared their scores on questions like “Did a household member go to prison?” and “Did a parent push, grab, slap or throw something at you?”

The scoresheet explained that with an ACE score of 4 or more, the likelihood of chronic pulmonary lung disease, asthma, depression and suicide goes up exponentially.

Burke says the reason for the onset of illness is because a child’s stress hormones have to work overtime when placed in dangerous environments.

“Our biological stress response is designed to save our lives from something threatening, and that’s healthy. The problem is that when the stress response is activated repeatedly, it can become overactive and affect our brain development, our immune systems and even how our DNA is read and transcribed,” said Burke.

The research offers some explanation for why trauma victims may commit violent crimes like the ones in Liberty City or even in Parkland. But, the problem, Copeland said, is that oftentimes the residents in urban areas normalize violence, and “it becomes part of our everyday routine.”

Young, Dozier and others working with the NAACP are hoping to give Black communities the voice to express their trauma instead of normalizing it.

“You look at all those kids from Parkland, and they were trained communicators. For us, the arts becomes the voice for the voiceless right now,” said Dozier. “But now we need to teach them to be trained communicators even more so than the way they’re expressing themselves in the music or in the film.”

Leadership and business coach Daphne Valcin said she believes that reaching out for a community of support can help in overcoming childhood trauma like the type she experienced.

Valcin grew up in North Miami Beach witnessing multiple fights by rival gangs and attending a middle school that had a reputation for gun violence.

When she was away in college, she received word that close friends were shot and killed.

Now, at 34, she mentors young people and coaches business professionals on how to redefine their past in order to achieve present success.

“I choose to see people through a lens of hope,” she said.