By MURPHY BROWNE (Abena Agbetu)
“All children start off as ‘gifted’ and at risk! What diminishes these gifts are the lack of inspired teachers; classrooms that impose restrictions on who they are and what they learn; and parents who leave their children’s potential and destiny to all of the above.“
Michelle Brown-Stafford Parental Involvement Coach.
Michelle Brown-Stafford is the African American woman whose son Stephen Stafford Jr. entered university when he was 11 years old.
Brown-Stafford and her husband Stephen Stafford Sr. made the decision to withdraw their two children from the public school system and home school them. Brown-Stafford made the sacrifice with the support of her husband to leave her job and become the educator of her children. The family lived on the one income of Stafford senior, an electrical engineer, to ensure that their children received the best possible education at home with mom as teacher. Today, their 19-year-old daughter, Martinique Stafford, who entered university at 17 is a member of Phi Eta Sigma National Honour Society and their 15-year-old son will graduate next year with a Bachelor of Science (BSc) degree in psychology (major) and computer science (minor) and then he is off to medical school (at a mere 16 years old).
Brown-Stafford and her husband decided that home schooling was best for their children after losing confidence in the education system. This is not possible for all parents who may only have one income to begin with or who need both parents’ incomes just to survive.
Brown-Stafford has advice for parents who by necessity must have their children educated in the public school system. She urges parents to work with their child’s teacher to identify if the child is an auditory, a visual or a kinesthetic learner. Kinesthetic learners learn best by moving their bodies, activating their large or small muscles as they learn. These are the “hands-on learners” or the “doers” who actually concentrate better and learn more easily when movement is involved. Some kinesthetic learners are mistakenly labelled “hyperactive.” It is very unfortunate that some educators who do not have the training or the dedication needed to work with children do more harm than good when working with kinesthetic learners. This is especially true when the kinesthetic learner is an African American or African Canadian male child.
In a June 2010 interview published in the St. Petersburg Times when explaining that Stephen was homeschooled more than his older sister Brown-Stafford is quoted: “We had to keep track of Stephen because he is an African-American male, and we didn’t want to lose him and we didn’t want him to become a statistic.”
The Stafford family and other African Americans are not alone in their disenchantment with the education system. In 2006 British educator Ken Robinson spoke about the lack of diversity in the education system which leads to the misdiagnosing of some children who are kinesthetic learners and the stifling of their creativity: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iG9CE55wbtY.
Parents have a role to play in the education of their children. Some of the activities in which parents can engage with their children include taking them to the library to borrow books (to read with and to them) and educational DVDs and encouraging them to play educational games. You can choose to turn off the television or limit the time spent watching television shows that are not educational. Have regular chats with your child’s teacher about his or her progress and address any concerns before it becomes a big deal. Document any concerns you may have and questions that are not answered satisfactorily must be addressed in writing. When attending formal meetings have an advocate or support person to take notes. Volunteer at your child’s school whether on a regular basis or for special occasions, attend Parent Council meetings as often as you can and run for office on the Council if you have the time to commit. You and your child need to know the names of any one who works with your child including the principal, vice principal, class room assistant and volunteers, office administrative assistant and caretaker.
We pay taxes to fund, among other things, education and health care so we should expect that the education our children receive is appropriate to their learning style. We should expect and demand that the education system works for us, to educate our children effectively. If the system does not serve us appropriately then we need to hold the politicians and educators accountable. Make this an election issue.
Michelle Brown-Stafford hosts a website at www.gifted-spirit.com where she shares the knowledge she has gained from successfully homeschooling her two children. She encourages parents to be involved in their children’s education. Her advice and the knowledge she willingly shares is invaluable because both of her children have done well under her tutelage.
Her son Stephen Stafford Jr. will graduate from Morehouse, the alma mater of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who entered Morehouse (one of the USA’s 105 Historically Black Colleges and Universities) as a 15-year-old in 1944. On Sunday, August 28, the 48th anniversary of the March on Washington and his famous I Have A Dream speech King will be honoured when a monument is dedicated with a larger than life size sculpture of King. The memorial honouring King which includes a 9-metre-tall sculpture of King emerging from a 137-metre-long granite wall inscribed with 14 quotations from his speeches sits on the National Mall between memorials honouring Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson. The monument is a fitting tribute to a man who dedicated his life to a worthy cause and lost his life in that struggle.
It is almost the end of the summer vacation and time spent away from formal education. What have you and your children been reading during the two-month summer break? The summer is not over until after Word on the Street on Sunday September 25, 2011 at Queen’s Park, from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm http://www.thewordonthestreet.ca/wots/toronto.
It has been an amazing summer with glorious weather and many opportunities to visit festivals galore and learn about Toronto. Unfortunately, there has not been much to learn about our history in this fast disappearing International Year of People of African Descent. However, do not despair, we have the opportunity to educate the teachers in the schools our children attend when schools re-open on September 6. You still have about 10 days to either borrow books from the Toronto Public Library about the history of Africans from the continent and the Diaspora or visit the bookstores and buy some books.
Practice the 4th Kwanzaa principle Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics) by buying your books from Accents on Eglinton, A Different Booklist, Nile Valley Books and any other bookstores whose owners support our community.