Andrea Ramirez, executive director of the Faith and Education Coalition – NHCLC, recently asked Katrina Boone how churches and parents can help support minority student success. As a former high school English teacher, and as an African-American who attended public schools, Katrina offers a uniquely practical perspective. She currently serves as director of teacher outreach for the Collaborative for Student Success.

Katrina, what challenges did you experience as an African American student growing up in poverty?

As a kid, I spent a lot of time feeling confused and unmoored. My siblings and I grew up in the type of poverty that came and went in waves. Sometimes the bills were all paid, our bellies were full, and we had cable television. But sometimes we missed meals or went without heat for months in the winter. That sort of unpredictability followed me to school. I struggled socially and emotionally, and I constantly felt unsure if my peers or teachers liked me or cared about me. Not knowing where my next meal would come from, or if I would have a warm, safe place to sleep was a burden I carried everywhere.

The structure of school confused me too. I enjoyed learning, and I was good at it. But I never felt particularly at ease in the classroom. I felt stressed and isolated. I knew I was poorer than many of my peers, I smelled and looked dirty, and I was brown in a sea of whiteness. I felt like school was a game at which I excelled, but I also was concerned that the game was rigged against other poor or brown students. We were supposed to focus on learning, but were distracted by growling bellies. When we struggled to control our emotions, we were removed from opportunities to learn. School was a game that I worried I wasn’t ...

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