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San Diego Unified’s Black Student Experience

 February 25, 2021 at 5:00 AM PST

Good Morning, I’m Annica Colbert….it’s Thursday, February 25th. What San Diego Unified Needs To Change For Black Students, We’ll have that next, but first... let’s do the headlines…. San Diego county officials say they’re expanding access to the covid-19 vaccine...soon. Starting on saturday, school and child-care workers, food and agricultural workers, and non-medical emergency responders will be eligible to get vaccines. Officials say they’ll prioritize k-through-12 schools in ZIP codes hardest hit by the pandemic. The San Diego section of the California Interscholastic Federation says it will comply with a recent court order allowing youth sports to resume countywide. The CIF says whether sports activities will actually resume depends on the individual schools’ ability to meet COVID-19 protocols. The announcement on wednesday follows a ruling from a Vista judge to allow youth sports to resume so long as they follow COVID-19 protocols of professional and collegiate sports. 27 dogs from Texas have arrived at the Helen Woodward Animal Center today, seeking warmer weather and a second chance at a forever home. The dogs survived record-breaking winter storms at a shelter otherwise left uninhabitable. Workers for the transport service Concho Valley Paw Shelters braved the icy roads and were able to get the dogs out and bring them to the sunny golden state. From KPBS, you’re listening to San Diego News Now. Stay with me for more of the local news you need. In the past decade, the San Diego Unified School District has made significant progress in increasing graduation and college readiness rates for Black students -- but there’s room for more progress. KPBS Education Reporter Joe Hong spoke with students, families and experts about the Black student experience at San Diego Unified and what needs to change when students return to a post-pandemic classroom. I grew up here in Southeast San Diego for the majority of my life... Makhfira Abdullahi is the daughter of Ethiopian immigrants who came to the United States as refugees during the Somali Civil War. Abdullahi says, growing up, her parents had high expectations for her. But she quickly realized that her teachers didn’t have the same expectations. That’s when I started to realize I know they won’t see me the same so I need to start doing better in school and really take it serious. And if I didn’t they’d probably just see me as that other black student who doesn’t care about school and who doesn’t want to listen. You know, just to reinforce those stereotypes. She said her middle school experience was especially discouraging. She and her Black peers felt isolated and constantly monitored. But she said she toughened up once she got to Morse High School. I tried my hardest, talked to my counselors, put me in those AP classes. I don’t care if you won’t let me, I’m still gonna keep trying. That’s when I really started getting into school, but the experience was definitely not easy. Today, she’s in her first year at UC San Diego majoring in political science. Abdullahi’s path was difficult, but she’s part of a positive trend at San Diego Unified. Pedro Noguera, the Dean of the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California, led a 2019 study of the district that found it had increased both graduation and college-readiness rates for Black students. That’s a really powerful factor because that has a bearing on college eligibility rates. So you’ve seen the number of Black students that are eligible for admission to cal state and the University of California go up and that I think is not an insignificant data point. While graduation and college readiness rates have increased during outgoing Superintendent Cindy Marten’s tenure, results for school discipline have been mixed. The suspension rate for Black students dropped from 10.1% in 2013-2014, Martin’s first year, to 8.6% in 2018-2019. But Black students are still more than 3 times as likely to be suspended than their white peers, according to the most recent data. LaWana Richmond, a former school board candidate from Southeast San Diego, said it’s a sign that Black students are still seen as outsiders at schools. When you think of a child as your neighbor, your community member, your family member, they could be your child, the way that you see them is different than if you see them as those kids. But as the district begins to bring students back to campuses both Richmond and Noguera see an opportunity to rebuild trust between educators and students from all marginalized backgrounds. Noguera said overemphasizing academics and making up for what’s been referred to as learning loss is not the path to an equitable post-pandemic public school system. I would prioritize relationships. I would prioritize bringing some joy to learning. The arts. Music. So that kids wanna be in school. And then I would really focus on getting kids engaged as learners before we focus narrowly on assessment. San Diego Unified has already taken steps in that direction. Shortly following this summer’s protests for racial justice, the district revised its grading policy to prioritize mastery of material over test scores. The district also revised its discipline policy for middle school and invested in training for its police department. Abdullahi, the UC San Diego student, says she’s hoping her younger siblings might get to experience a more inclusive curriculum and school environment. There’s still so much history that needs to be covered and so much history that Black students deserve to learn about the history of their people. In regular AP US history they just brush over the major topics, Jim Crow, slavery. There’s so much work that needs to be done, but it’s a step in the right direction for now. That reporting from KPBS Education reporter Joe Hong. Local state lawmakers are proposing an expansion to emergency paid sick leave, family leave, and medical leave for workers in California. KPBS’ John Carroll says the pandemic is behind the new legislation. It’s a terrible conundrum faced by workers in California every day… made worse by the pandemic. You feel sick, but you’ve used up all your sick leave. You live paycheck to paycheck so you have no choice but to go to work. State law mandates three paid sick days for workers now. But Democratic San Diego Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez says that must be extended to two weeks so workers who are sick can stay home. “Workers who don’t have paid sick leave, especially undocumented workers who are very vulnerable, will go to work anyway if they’re not feeling well. They have to.” Gonzalez is sponsoring the bill along with Democratic Los Angeles Assemblymember Wendy Carillo. She says they hope to have it on the governor’s desk in the next week or two. That story from KPBS John Carroll. Researchers at UC San Diego are starting human-testing for a process that could stop or slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease. Dr. Mark Tuszynski is a professor of neuroscience at UCSD. He says he and his colleagues have been studying this kind of gene therapy for 15 years. And tests on animals have shown great promise. "We're using a gene therapy that introduces a protein into the brain that in animal studies prevents the death of cells in the brain, and promotes the formation of new connections between cells. So in animals, when we do this, we see a reduction in loss of cells and we see an improvement in memory function." He says his study group is now recruiting test subjects for their upcoming clinical trial. An audit of California's top climate agency released on tuesday found regulators overstated reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. From KQED’s science desk, Kevin Stark reports. And that reporting from KQED’s Kevin Stark. Coming up.... A new study found that when black doctors care for black babies, the mortality rate for those infants is cut in half. We’ll have more on that next just after the break. A new Center for Anti-racism Research for Health Equity has just been established at the University of Minnesota. It’s one of several efforts around the country to get to the root of the implicit racial attitudes in health care. Dr. Rachel Hardeman (HARD-ah-MEN) is the founding director of the new Antiracism Research center. A study she co-authored was profiled in the Washington Post earlier this year. It found that when Black doctors care for black babies, the mortality rate for those infants is cut in half. Dr. Hardeman spoke with KPBS midday Edition host Maureen Cananaugh about her study. Here’s that interview…. That was Dr. Rachel Hardeman, founding director of the new Antiracism Research center at the University of Minnesota. Common Ground theatre’s mission is “to produce classics and new works by and about people of African descent.” This weekend the San Diego theatre company is showcasing ‘a day of absence” by Douglas Turner Ward, who died last saturday. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando says his death is a sad note on which to close out black history month, but, the production celebrates the playwright’s legacy. Douglas Turner Ward’s A Day of Absence is a satire about an imaginary Southern town where all the Black people disappear for a day and their absence wreaks havoc for the white community. John, played by Leon Alexander Matthews, wakes up to find his Black maid missing. Went around the side in the window, nobody stirred next door or nobody ever crossed over the side of the street. By noon, five, six, all the doors, not a colored person could be found. In a reversal of the old minstrel shows, the Black actors here perform in white face. Matthews says Ward’s death tinges the show with sadness but the production pays tribute to the playwright’s ability to tackle issues that still resonate today. Even though it was written back in 1965, it is so relevant to what is going on in 2021. And by then we thought, you know, racism and just the way that America thinks and the way America processes things, we thought by now it should be men and women of any color or race or background or religion should be on equal ground, but they're not. A Day of Absence is available online through Common Ground Theatre’s website. And that was KPBS Arts Reporter Beth Accomando. That’s it for the podcast today. Be sure to catch KPBS Midday Edition At Noon on KPBS radio, or check out the Midday podcast. You can also watch KPBS Evening Edition at 5 O’clock on KPBS Television, and as always you can find more San Diego news online at KPBS dot org. I’m Annica Colbert. Thanks for listening and have a great day.

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The San Diego Unified School District has made some progress addressing inequities in education for Black students, but advocates say there’s a lot more that needs to be done. Meanwhile, local democratic representatives are pushing for more sick, family and medical leave for California’s workforce. Plus, playwright Douglas Turner Ward’s life and legacy are celebrated in a new production at Common Ground Theatre.