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Program to Fast Track Students, Reduce Dropout Rate

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By Shernay Williams, Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American newspapers –

It’s a crisis that in 2010, President Barack Obama declared cannot be accepted or ignored—high school dropout rates. Roughly 1.2 million students renounce school every year, the White House reported, and about half of the dropouts are Black or Latino.

Obama vowed to pour $900 million worth of grants into states and school districts that undergo sweeping reforms to address the issue, and two alternative public high schools in Baltimore City plan to do just that.

The schools may not have ties to Obama’s grant initiative, but this fall, Reginald F. Lewis and W.E.B. DuBois high schools in East Baltimore are launching a joint, accelerated program that will cater to older students that are roughly two or more years behind their peers in academic credits.

The goal is to put the “over-aged and under-credited” students on a faster and more accommodating pace toward graduation—offering flexible bell schedules, combined classes, and non-traditional classrooms.

“If we do nothing, it’s a high probability that they will drop out,” said Reginald F. Lewis Principal Barney Wilson, who is working with W.E.B. DuBois Principal Delores Berry Binder on the endeavor.

The school officials have identified 170 students that qualify for the voluntary program.

Earlier this year, Wilson said, the principals were approached by school district leaders to develop an innovative plan to encourage students that are truant or falling behind academically to remain in school.

“We have to decide as a system to be educational leaders or followers and the city has decided to be leaders,” Wilson said.

High school officials traveled to New York to visit schools with like-minded programs and held focus groups with targeted students and their families to ask what would motivate them to stay in school and earn their diploma.

The students “overwhelmingly” said they would attend the accelerated program, Wilson said, if classes were held in a non-traditional setting and were more engaging.

“In their hearts, they do want to graduate and they do want to succeed,” he said. “And they have ideas; it’s just that no one ever asked them.”

Wilson adds that school officials are serious about considering student input for many aspects of the new program including its future name, mascot, and colors.

Accelerated students will take classes in a separate wing of the W.E.B. DuBois and Reginald F. Lewis’s shared school building. Construction for that division is scheduled for this summer.

Instead of a two semester structure with four or six classes at a time, as is customary, accelerated students could have trimester or even five semester grading periods and enroll in seven or eight classes at a time.

Classes would also be interdisciplinary; courses such as world literature and history would be combined—not only allowing students to earn more credits, but gain a deeper understanding of the content, officials say.

The classroom structure would also be nontraditional—chair rows would be eliminated, students would work in groups more frequently and portfolios and projects would be considered as varying means of measuring student progress.

Participating students would choose whether to begin their school day in the morning or afternoon, giving them the opportunity to have a set work schedule.

Wilson said it will take “out-of-the-box thinking” to successfully tackle the dropout rate.

“We keep using models that we observed and imitated in our own upbringing without taking the time to reinvent and modernize education,” he said. “If what we had in place worked, we wouldn’t have to do this.”

Researchers say varying factors impede teenagers from earning their diploma including the need to work to support their families, fear of walking through troubled neighborhoods to get to school, embarrassment about learning disabilities or behavioral problems, and some might even have criminal records and restrictions on when they can leave their home.

Cameroon E. Miles, founder and director of Mentoring Male Teens in the Hood, who’s worked with young adults at Reginald F. Lewis High School, said that’s why schools can’t approach school with the “one-size-fits-all” mentality.

“Anything the schools can do to help young people get through and get their diploma to move on is a positive thing,” Miles said.

He’s pleased, he added, that Reginald F. Lewis and W.E.B. DuBois leaders are working closely with teens to formulate the accelerated program.

“Too many times we create a program for young people and we haven’t asked them what they want, especially in the juvenile justice system,” he said.

The program is still in the development stages as school officials plan for the fall and search for a program director.

A spokeswoman for the Baltimore City Public School System confirmed the program, and said district leaders will be “putting the finishing touches on it” within the next few weeks.

ACLU Investigating Complaints Against Daytona Beach Police Department

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James Harper, Special to the NNPA from the Daytona Times –

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida (ACLU) is conducting an investigation of the Daytona Beach Police Department, The Daytona Times has learned.

The local chapter of the ACLU has volunteers scheduled at various venues, passing out copies of a questionnaire on the police practices of the Daytona Beach Police Department (DBPD), according to George Griffin, president of the Volusia-Flagler ACLU.

Griffin said the ACLU is not interested in people seeking it out to complete the survey because they want an objective sampling.

"We will have a table at Juneteenth (at Cypress Street Park on June 18), we will have volunteers at a feeding for the homeless, and we will be at the farmer’s market," said Griffin listing places where the survey will be passed out.

"By having people seek us out to complete a survey, we might skew the results by attracting people who have a "story" to tell," he said.

Number of complaints

Griffin said the ACLU has received a number of complaints about police harassment by DBPD officers.

He says the ACLU has reached out to Daytona Beach Police Chief Mike Chitwood.

"Last year, we invited Chief Chitwood to an event that was to be tentatively titled ‘An evening with the ACLU,’ meant to be an informal Q&A with local leaders. Mayor (Glenn) Ritchie agreed to participate, but Chief Chitwood would not. Three or four years ago, we held a racial profiling event at Bethune-Cookman and invited the Daytona Beach police to participate. They chose not to," Griffin noted.

Similar to survey done in Orlando

Griffin said the survey being passed out was done in Orlando.

"We’ve heard complaints (about DBPC) since the inception of our local ACLU chapter, roughly seven years ago – everything from police presence during Black College Reunion to tasering policies to the lack of citizen’s oversight.

"Since we have received individual complaints, it seemed appropriate to do a survey similar to the one done in Orlando to see if the concerns raised to us are isolated or widely held," said Griffin.

Once the survey is completed, Griffin said the ACLU will compile the information and present it to the public at least in a press release, then determine what should be the next cause of action.

"That all depends on what we find. We don’t want to pre-suppose what the results will be, but we will definitely make the findings available to law enforcement, the press, and the general public regardless of the results," he continued.

ACLU fighting for ex-felons’ rights

The Volusia/Flagler Chapter of the ACLU is one of 18 chapters of the ACLU of Florida, which is a part of the national ACLU. The goal is to try to protect people’s constitutional rights and liberties, particularly those outlined in the Bill of Rights.

Locally, Griffin said the chapter has been instrumental in changing school board policy regarding harassment and bullying, and most recently helping to get the Human Rights Ordinance passed by the Volusia County Council.

Statewide, the ACLU has just filed two lawsuits against Gov. Rick Scott regarding drug testing of welfare recipients and state employees.

Griffin said the organization is gearing up for a fight for the restoration of rights for ex-felons.

"We have run several workshops to guide people through the process in the past, but since the new Scott administration has made this process more difficult, we have to do all new training as to how the process works," he added.

Detroit Shoppers Look for 'Better' Food Choices

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By Eric T. Campbell, Special to the NNPA from The Michigan Citizen –

DETROIT — Detroit residents spend millions of dollars annually outside the city on groceries.

Food activists are attempting to reclaim that purchasing power by helping neighborhood grocers and changing buyers’ perceptions about local options — that fresh food is unattainable.

In December 2010, Washington, D.C.-based Social Compact, along with local partners the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation and Data Driven Detroit, released a comprehensive report on Detroit’s spending habits. The report breaks down how Detroit residents are leaving their neighborhoods for necessary food items, taking $200 million in grocery money and spending it outside the city.

Kami Pothukuchi, Wayne State University professor and vice chair of the Detroit Food Policy Council, says there are several reasons, including greater options, that people shop for their food outside city limits.

“People perceive more choices and better quality outside the city,” Pothukuchi told the Michigan Citizen.

According to Pothukuchi, many people equate greater quality with name brand products found only in larger chain markets.

Other shoppers are forced to put price ahead of nutrition. One third of food dollars spent in Detroit are generated by federal assistance.

“If you are a bridge card shopper, you have to make some very rational decisions,” says Pothukuchi, who was instrumental in preparing the 2010-11 Detroit Food Policy Council’s Food Report. “A tight budget will force you to maximize for calories and energy-dense foods versus produce. And trying to make sure kids don’t waste, you buy what you know they will eat.”

Pothukuchi says little data has been accumulated indicating Detroiters are aware of the options that do exist within city limits. The Social Compact report estimates “the existing 81 full-service grocery retailers capture 69 percent of Detroit households’ grocery expenditures.” That doesn’t include the expanding number of farmers markets that accept bridge cards, incentivizing Michigan-grown produce.

DEGC Vice President Olga Stella is part of a group working with grocers and the city of Detroit to keep shoppers in the city by improving the product. The quasi-governmental body has spearheaded a program called the Green Grocers Project to get more capital and marketing resources to full-service grocers. According to Stella, of the $200 million that leaves the city annually, $90 million consists of food assistance resources.

“There are some components of this grocery leakage that has to do with the perceived quality of stores,” Stella says. “But another component has to do with residents who work outside the city and are shopping on the way back in.”

Stella says the DEGC has focused on existing Detroit grocers who need a financial boost to expand and increase the quality and variety of food offerings. She says the independently-run full-service grocers in Detroit are at a disadvantage compared to well-known chains. But store-owners have shown a desire to compete.

“There is no cookie cutter solution; every neighborhood is unique,” Stella says, giving Metro Foodland and Family Fair Supermarkets as successful examples. “But residents should have the full spectrum of opportunities. People will start to change their opinion about what’s available in their neighborhoods.”

Despite a number of smaller Black-owned food outlets in the city, such as Goodwells Market near the campus of Wayne State, Metro Foodland Supermarket on Detroit’s west side is often cited as the only Black-owned, full-service grocer in the city. (The Social Compact study defines a full-service grocer as one with 20 or more employees and/or of 10,000 square feet in size. Smaller stores may qualify as full-service grocers, if they provide food in the categories of fruits, vegetables, dairy, meats, and breads.)

Metro Foodland owner James Hooks is known for keeping an exceptionally clean store and being on a first name basis with many of his customers. Hooks says grant monies from the DEGC and the Green Grocer Project have helped him add programs during difficult economic times.

“Everybody says the food business is recession-proof, but it’s not,” Hooks told the Michigan Citizen, adding that recent inflated gas prices affect spending across the board. Hooks has continuously improved his selection of specialty foods to reflect health trends, including signs in food aisles describing the health benefits of particular foods. Terms like “organic,” “gluten-free” and “non-dairy” are appearing in the aisles at Metro Foodland. Hooks wants Detroiters to know that food options do exist in the city, including his health rewards program.

“It’s to let people know we have items in the store that people might normally go to Whole Foods for,” Hooks says. “Some of that money is going to the suburbs because people don’t think we have those products.”

Closure of Minority Agencies Cause Concern in Pennsylvania

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By Christian Morrow, Special to the NNPA from The New Pittsburgh Courier –

The web page for the Pennsylvania Governor’s Advisory Commission on African American Affairs still lists all its initiatives, and still pictures of Executive Director Sonya Toler.

But like many things on the Internet, it isn’t real. The office and Toler are both gone. She has returned to journalism, and the commission—along with those on Asian Affairs, Hispanic Affairs, and Women and Girls—has been consolidated into the Office of Public Liaison.

The liaison office is headed by Gov. Tom Corbett’s Deputy Chief of Staff Luke Bernstein, former staffer for both U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum and an advisor to the U.S. Treasury Department under President George W. Bush.

Bernstein could not be reached for comment, but Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley said the consolidation was one of many administration-wide cost cutting and streamlining measures implemented to address a $4.2 billion budget deficit.

“The decision to consolidate operations was based on our analysis, which found that the vast majority of the commission’s expenditures were directed to overhead costs—not actual constituent service,” he said. “In our extensive review, we found that personnel and administrative expenditures accounted for more than 90 percent of the (FY 2010-2011) budget for the Governor’s Advisory Commission on African American Affairs.” Toler, in Philadelphia, said she believes the consolidations are counterproductive.

“It’s not a positive consolidation in that there is a problem with access to state government in general that is magnified with minority constituencies,” she said. “It is not something that can easily be done by someone who doesn’t understand your community.”

In addition to advising the governor on policies affecting African-Americans, the commission was largely responsible for making sure applicable services were delivered to individuals, nonprofits, and businesses. In some cases, Toler said, that meant being a fundraiser.

“In 2008 we held a Minority Business Summit in Harrisburg to provide information for African-American entrepreneurs. I had to raise $60,000 to do that,” she said. “One of the speakers was Jerome Shabazz from Philadelphia, who educated attendees on how he secured two ‘Growing Greener’ grants.”

Toler added, however, that much of what the commission’s work did, did not require much money. In most cases it was about adjusting policy and regulations.

“A man who passed the state Real Estate Broker’s test, but was denied because of his educational background,” she said. “He didn’t have a four-year real estate degree, he had an MBA focused on real estate, from the University of Pennsylvania. A focused graduate degree we said should qualify, and they changed the rule. That was a policy thing that didn’t cost a dime.”

African American Chamber of Commerce of Western Pennsylvania President and CEO Doris Carson Williams said she is willing to wait and see whether or not the consolidation actually means the administration does not find the commission’s former task significant.

“The commission did advocacy within the administration. It would appear that outreach to strengthen relations with the African-American community is now on the back burner,” she said.

As for closing the commissions as a cost cutting measure, most were operating on such shoestring budgets that they only had an executive director. Thanks to what she called her “fiscal restraint,” Toler was able to keep her Deputy Director Jennifer Kyung on board.

Black Political Empowerment Project Director Tim Stevens said he does not see how the Office of Public Liaison could have the focus that Toler did.

“It’s unfortunate, especially for African-Americans in Pittsburgh who, according to one report, have the highest unemployment in the nation,” he said. “It’s not the time to shut that commission down.”

Harley said the commission was not “shut down.” He said new staffing for the Liaison Office would depend on how the final budget authorization turns out. The final budget should be in place July 1st. Currently there is no staffing.

“We regard all callers’ concerns as equally important, regardless of the issue on which they are calling,” he said. “Each and every inquiry is important to us and we strive to handle them as expeditiously as possible. We are confident that the Office of Public Liaison will be able to meet the needs of the citizens we serve.”

South Africa Needs Jobs for Six Million, Labor Leader Says

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

Six million South Africans want to work but can't find jobs. Most of them are young Black women without education and skills, said Zwelinzima Vavi, general secretary of the major labor group Cosatu, speaking at the University of Johannesburg.

"They face a lifetime of poverty. This is what I have called a ticking bomb," Vavi said. Thousands of South Africans, he added, are "living in slum shacks, collecting water from taps in the street, even having to use bucket toilets".

A radical program was needed, he said, to get young people working. Such a program was the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, an anti-poverty initiative in India, which gives every rural household the right to 100 days of employment (manual labor) a year at a minimum wage.

With more than 55-million participants, it is one of the largest jobs program in history and has provided more than two billion person-days of work, 48% of which have gone to women.

"South Africa has been slower off the block. Yes, there have been similar schemes ... but much more needs to be done to give our young people hope for a better future," the labor leader declared.

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