Role Models of all Colors

-In honor of Black History Month, Deanna Bruce, Principal at IDEA Bluff Springs College Preparatory, told us her story and why she chose to change lives through education with IDEA Public Schools.  You can join Deanna on the mission to close the achievement gap.    

Kids internalize what they see.  I want to ensure my son, Malik, a kindergartner at IDEA Bluff Springs Academy, sees people of all colors in positions of leadership in schools and in the world.

My son sees his mother leading students and teachers on the road to academic excellence and college for all.  He saw a recent former black president strive for equality and justice in America.    

When I grew up in Austin, Texas, there were no black teachers, no black leaders in my school, nobody who I could look up to that looked like me.  I couldn’t help but feel like an outsider. 

When I was in middle school, my family moved to St. Louis, Missouri.  There I met many people who looked like me, and I found myself making friends much easier in St. Louis than in Austin.

Just as my family and I formed positive bonds with members of our new community, we also saw the poor state of the public schools in my neighborhood, characterized by low academic results and a culture of underachievement. 

My father, who worked in the newspaper business, and my mother, a librarian, worked extremely hard so that they could afford to send me to a high-performing private school.  Most of my friends on my street went to our local public school because they couldn’t afford the tuition to attend anywhere else.

These were crucial years for me and for my friends in my neighborhood—the years when I first grappled with the opportunity gap.  Just as I was becoming a product of my high school, gearing up for college, growing every day as a student and as a citizen through the support of my teachers, I watched many of my best friends struggle in their academics and in life.  As a senior in high school, I was accepted to Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, Georgia, thanks to good grades and a strong application.  Meanwhile, several of my same-age neighborhood peers were now pregnant or in prison. 

What seemed most unfair to me was that education, just having access to a quality school, was a direct cause of why I’d managed to succeed and others on my street hadn’t. 

I wish I could say my story is an exception to the status quo, but it’s not.  As an African-American principal at a public charter school predominantly serving students of color, I’ve heard the statistics. If you’re a person of color in this country, your odds of attending and graduating from college are much lower compared to your white peers.

In America, less than one in ten low-income children of color graduate from college.  I was fortunate enough beat the statistics, and after college I joined Teach For America in Dallas, Texas, to help change the statistics.

My path as an educator, on a mission to close the achievement gap, has now brought me back to my hometown—Austin, Texas, where so many years ago I felt like an outsider.  There’s more diversity here now than there was when I was a child, but there’s still much work to be done.  At IDEA, we strive to ensure that our students see examples of what’s possible for them, regardless of their race, income level, or where they live. We want to ensure that our students see positive examples of leaders and teachers of color every day. In fact, eighty-four percent of IDEA principals and seventy-four percent of IDEA teachers identify as a person of color. 

I’m proud to be part of IDEA Public Schools, a tuition-free, public charter school system that restricts no one from a high-quality education and sends all students to college, prepared and ready for bright futures.  We believe in college for all children—no excuses.  This is the very foundation IDEA Public Schools is built upon. IDEA students aren’t just going to college; they’re graduating at three times the national average for low-income students.

Kids internalize what they see.  I’m proud that here at IDEA Bluff Springs, and in a continually changing world for the better, our students see educators, leaders, and role models of all colors.     

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