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REL Midwest Documentary Explores Efforts to Encourage Black Students’ Success

Tuesday, January 7, 2020
With a long-term goal of ensuring a successful transition from high school to postsecondary education, researchers in Wisconsin are working collaboratively to help black students have meaningful dialogue and receive additional support from educators in schools.
A new documentary called, “High Hopes and Higher Education: Honoring Black Students’ Aspirations,” spotlights the ongoing effort of providing black students tools and resources to improve outcomes after high school.
The documentary, created by Regional Educational Laboratory Midwest and Wisconsin Public Television, works to open meaningful dialogue and highlights black students’ experiences as they prepare to enter higher education in Madison, Wisconsin.
“Our students are hungry for something that helps to validate them,” Wisconsin State Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor said. “They are seeking something that helps recognize their gifts and talents.”

While most black students in the United States have aspirations of attending college, data from the National Center for Education Statistics found that fewer than 60 percent of black students enroll in college. The study also found that just 40 percent of black college students complete their college degree within six years.

To counteract those statistics, dedicated educators and researchers are pushing to improve education by using evidence-based interventions.

“We need teachers willing to see the gifts that our children bring from their ancestors,” pedagogical theorist and teacher educator Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings said during a 2019 conference. “These teachers have to take seriously the need to read and study, and learn about our children, their culture, and the gifts they bring.”

To improve culturally-responsive education in Wisconsin schools, educators must be encouraged to develop strong relationships with students and work to incorporate the lived experiences of black students, the documentary explains.

“The risk is that if (black students) don’t ever see themselves in the curriculum, then they never feel like they can be leaders in whatever field, so I feel like that can be alienating,” Claremont Graduate University Associate Professor of Higher Education Deborah Faye Carter said during an interview in the documentary.

The short film also describes a program already in place in Wisconsin with a mission of inspiring low-income and potential first-generation college students to be viable college candidates.

The Precollege Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence (PEOPLE) program targets minority groups that are often overlooked and underserved for college admissions. PEOPLE uses its guiding principles to help students reach their goals of college attainment and degree completion.

“We push a lot of our students to build their full college experience,” PEOPLE Assistant Director for College Goodson Vue said in the documentary. “We don’t just focus on academics, but also on developing them as individuals and preparing them for post-graduation planning.”

About 94 percent of students who complete PEOPLE enroll in college, with between 50-55 percent doing so at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.