To combat a lack of diversity awareness in the local EER program, the Jefferson City Commission on Human Relations is discussing partnering on a new student program.
Housed in the Southwest Early Childhood Center, EER — enrichment, exploration and research — is a gifted elementary and middle school program that serves children who live within the Jefferson City school district and qualify for the program.
EER elementary teacher Gregory Medlin asked the commission to consider partnering on a potential kindergarten kickstart program that would help economically disadvantaged students receive school supplies while giving students a chance to work with individuals from diverse backgrounds.
About 86 percent of students in the EER elementary program are white, and most of the students come from affluent families, Medlin said. However, the Southwest Early Childhood Center caters to students from wide racial, ethnic and economic backgrounds.
To give EER students a chance to interact with people from different backgrounds, Medlin proposed the kindergarten kickstarter program, which would entail collecting and packaging school supplies in backpacks for Southwest Early Childhood Center preschool children at the end of the school year.
“Families on free and reduced (-priced) lunch and (who are) socioeconomically disadvantaged, if you say, ‘I need you to spend $86 on school supplies,’ that is detrimental to them for the rest of the year,” Medlin said. “They have to make choices to get these things done, like canceling cable subscription, taking out a meal a day for a week every month.”
These backpacks would contain most of the school supplies needed for kindergarten, but the families may still have a few items to purchase, especially as the program tries to gain momentum. However, the program would help “relieve the burden” on socioeconomically disadvantaged families, Medlin said.
EER students would package the school supplies, write letters of encouragement for the packages, and give the backpacks to the preschoolers, while EER faculty and partners fundraise and collect school supplies.
“I want to find a way to get those kids in my classroom to understand all of the other kids in the building, not just come to those two classrooms that are so non-diverse when we have a building that’s extremely diverse,” Medlin said. “I want to get those kids to see those other kids. … It seems criminal for me not to take advantage of helping one subset learn about the other subset.”
He added he wants the students to feel like they are “part of the Southwest family, not just the EER kids that visit there.”
Human Relations commissioners suggested EER students and families get involved with the fundraising by creating projects that could be auctioned off.
Medlin hopes diversifying students’ interactions will encourage them to get involved in the community.
“I want them to have interactions with kids who are different than them in our own building and take ownership of what’s going on in their community,” he said. “If they do that, they won’t look for that in another community. If you see needs in your community, you want to serve your community.”
Medlin said he hopes partnering with the commission will bring more awareness to EER and the possible kindergarten kickstarter program.
He hopes the program will be one step toward diversifying EER, too.
“Socioeconomically disadvantaged subsets, racial subsets, LGBTQ students across the board, across the nation are not represented in gifted programs, and (EER) is an example of that,” he said.
EER does not meet national standards because the program’s student makeup does not mirror the makeup of the community, he added.
“We should not be in that situation,” Medlin said. “We’re missing pieces of a puzzle here. We have all the puzzle pieces throughout the district, but I have like one side and a corner over here. I’m missing the meat of the puzzles. I should have African-American students, Asian students, students with learning disabilities, poor students.”
The commission showed an interest in helping with this initiative, but some commissioners said they would like more details regarding the kickstarter program and EER before voting on the partnership. Medlin said he would get that information to the commissioners at a future date.