Jeff Duncan-Andrade, the founder of Roses in Concrete Community School, is a compelling speaker, and I couldn’t wait to hear him speak at the University of Minnesota’s statewide convening for Educational Equity In Action last month.

With 23 years of educational leadership in East Oakland, he is a teacher who strikes the balance between equity, rigor, and care. I walked away from his talk inspired to continue pushing for educational equity.

Little did I know that a Supreme Court tie the following day would make that push even harder.

The school Duncan-Andrade started got its name from a poem by Tupac Shakur.  “Did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete?” the poem asks. Duncan-Andrade responds, “Concrete is real. It is toxic. And the most successful are those who become ethnographers of their communities and learn what their students’ concrete is made of.”

For my students in South Minneapolis, many come to school every day fearing that they or their parents will be deported. Even as legal immigrants, they are terrified when they hear the rhetoric of the presidential campaign. The chronic fear of losing their loved ones sets many of our students on an uphill battle when it comes to emotional self-regulation and building relationships of trust, both essential preconditions for academic learning.

It is very hard to help a six-year-old learn math when she isn’t sure if she will see her father again. That is her concrete.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA)—two executive orders put in place by President Obama—have offered work permits and temporary deportation relief to millions of immigrants who arrived in the United States as children. But on June 23, the Supreme Court reached a 4-4 decision on a case claiming that the President does not have authority to make states offer those protections. What this means for my students is that if their parents’ undocumented status is discovered, they will not be safe from deportation.

In South Minneapolis, constant tension and fear give my students a life “in the shadows,” as President Obama has described it. Since the Supreme Court’s decision last month, the shadows have loomed larger.

This is not a problem that schools have caused, but it is a problem we will need to address if we want our students to learn and grow. Teachers, social workers and administrators will need to continue learning about the effects of chronic stress on young people.

A good place to start is the PBS documentary “Unnatural Causes”, or any resource on complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD).  We will need to work even harder to forge strong relationships of trust with parents, since even bringing their children to school can now be a source of fear: What if they are stopped for a broken taillight? What if school authorities are supposed to report undocumented immigrants?

It will be essential to make sure families know they are all safe at our schools. We will need to make sure our discipline policies and counseling practices take these changes into consideration. Most importantly, we will need more than ever to honor our students’ full humanity at a time when we are, in Obama’s words, “further than ever from the country we aspire to be.”

To continue the metaphor started by Tupac and Duncan-Andrade, we must continue to work the concrete. We can never blame the roses themselves for their damaged petals or their unexpected thorns. Instead, we can only support them as they strive even harder to reach the light of the sun.

Karen Shapiro cannot remember a time in her life when she was not, in some capacity, teaching. She currently serves as the technology instructor at Hiawatha Leadership Academy-Morris Park in South Minneapolis, and has taught every grade from kindergarten to 7th in California, New York, and Minnesota. She spends most of her time thinking about digital literacy, collaboration with families, racial justice, and organizational health within schools.

The MinnCAN blogging fellowship allows Minnesota students, teachers, administrators and parents to share their thoughts on key education issues. MinnCAN supports fellows seeking to advance the conversation around public education, though fellows’ views and opinions are solely their own.

Karen Shapiro is a 2016 MinnCAN blogging fellow. She currently serves as the technology instructor at Hiawatha Leadership Academy-Morris Park in South Minneapolis, and has taught every grade from kindergarten to 7th in California, New York, and Minnesota.


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