Nine North Carolina organizations focused on education, disability rights, activism, Latino issues, and rural communities were selected to learn more and advance their work at the intersection of race, educational equity, and learning differences through participation in “Learning for Equity: A Network for Solutions,” a learning and action network being created by MDC and Oak Foundation.
Oak Foundation has committed over $1.4 million to the 18-month initiative, known as LENS NC. Participating organizations are receiving grants to advance their work to reduce race and income disparities in educational outcomes among students with learning differences, and to create learning environments where marginalized students with learning differences will thrive.
Members of the network began by sharing new and promising ways to ensure that children with learning differences receive the supports they need, and now are meeting virtually to address the unique challenges posed during the Covid-19 crisis. They also will continue to address common challenges and explore opportunities to amplify effective strategies for change at the classroom, school, community, district, and state levels.
LENS NC seeks to improve the lives of the one in five children who struggle with learning and attention issues, and the less than favorable outcomes for the ones who are low-income students and students of color, who face even greater challenges in our educational systems.
“This work at the intersection of race, educational equity, and learning differences is occurring at a pivotal time in history, when there are numerous discussions about justice and equity in our communities,” said MDC Program Director Stephanie Walker, who is heading LENS NC “In the few months that LENS NC has been underway, several organizations in the network have forged new alliances to provide assistance to students and parents. As the network continues its work, even more opportunities for partnership will emerge, and we are excited about the possibilities.”
Participating organizations are:
- Center for Racial Equity in Education (Charlotte), which seeks to build educator understanding of equitable practices and learning environments that address bias, and plans to produce an educator-focused playbook for better serving North Carolina students of color with learning differences
- Disability Rights North Carolina (Raleigh), which seeks to improve educational outcomes and reduce disparities in school exclusion, court referrals, and literacy deficits among students with learning differences statewide who have low-wealth families and/or are students of color and elevate the voices of students and families.
- Education Justice Alliance (Raleigh), which educates, activates, and engages communities of color, with a particular focus on Black and Brown working class people, and is working to create a school-funding coalition that would propose community solutions to unfair school-funding practices.
- El Futuro (Durham), which works with Latino children and families, particularly on education issues, and plans to enhance supports for Latino children who have ADHD by developing more culturally informed strategies at the practice- and system-level.
- Exceptional Children’s Assistance Center (Davidson), which works with families, students, and professionals to practice special education advocacy in the context of institutionalized racism, and plans to work with school staff and principals on institutionalized racism and issues specific to students with disabilities.
- Immersion for Spanish Language Acquisition (Chapel Hill), which empowers students, parents, and teachers to engage with one another to support their community as they navigate the educational system and seek better support for their diverse learning needs.
- North Carolina State Board of Education (Raleigh), which plans to develop and implement ARISE NC, an intensive training for school districts experiencing significant disproportionality in identifying children as students with disabilities, placement in educational settings, and incidence of disciplinary removals.
- Rural Opportunity Institute (Tarboro), which will be working with parents, students, and staff at Edgecombe County Public Schools to design, implement, measure, and evaluate the impact of a series of interventions to reduce the impact of trauma and provide opportunities for healing and resilience.
- Student U (Durham), which will continue developing strategies to support marginalized students in Durham, N.C., who learn differently, providing multiple one-on-one touchpoints for students over their 11 years at Student U.
“Our aspiration is that the collective effort to learn and collaborate together will strengthen the work and amplify the reach of each participating organization to advance more equitable outcomes for students with learning differences who experience additional adversity due racism and poverty,” said Heather Graham, Oak Foundation Learning Differences Program Director.
Oak Foundation commits its resources to address issues of global, social, and environmental concern, particularly those that have a major impact on the lives of the disadvantaged. With offices in Europe, India, and North America, Oak Foundation makes grants to organizations in approximately 40 countries worldwide.
Its Learning Differences Programme strategically partners with and invests in organizations that improve education for students with learning differences with a particular focus on advancing equity in education. Learning differences are defined as diagnosed or undiagnosed specific learning disabilities (such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia) as well as other related neurological processing challenges that can affect learning (such as attention deficits, sensory processing disorders, and executive function challenges).
MDC is a Durham-based nonprofit that equips Southern leaders, institutions, and communities to improve economic mobility and advance equity. Founded over 50 years ago, MDC has a historic commitment to removing systemic barriers that hold back economically marginalized youth, families, and communities.
LENS NC’s network will focus on shared learning and amplifying strategies by:
- Building knowledge and understanding of ways to combat structural racism within the education system, with a focus on the identification and support systems for students with learning differences
- Providing supports to marginalized students with learning differences and their families that increase confidence, self-esteem, and agency
- Building educator understanding of equitable practices and learning environments that address bias and promote cultural responsiveness in the classroom
- Influencing systems to embrace and adopt policies and practices necessary for schools to reduce race and income disparities in educational outcomes among students with learning differences
- Elevating the voices and strengthening the skills of students and families affected by structural racism to advocate for changes to practice, policy, and systems that improve opportunity for marginalized students with learning differences