Monday, July 27, 2015

Kesho Basi

Dear Friends of The Toa Nafasi Project,
My heart is breaking as I write these words and I can't even believe what they mean.  I've not yet wrapped my head around the events of the past couple days as they've been such a blur....
Vumi Temba - colleague, friend, sister - died last week and will be buried tomorrow, Tuesday, July 28, 2015.  

Her death was shocking and unexpected, and the empty space she has left behind is palpable and, at this particular time, I cannot see when it won't be....

I am not of a good mind to write much more now, so I ask you all who read this blog to take a moment of silence, just a tiny beat in the rhythm of your daily lives, and give us a care.

Not just for me as Sarah or us as Toa Nafasi, but for Vumi's family and friends especially her young daughter Grace, and for all the schoolchildren whose tattered notebooks slid under her red pen, whose playground squabbles she mediated, whose runny noses she wiped, whose earliest learning experiences she helped shape into positive memories.
Mwl, kesho basi, tutaonana tena mara ya mwisho alafu najua itabidi uniache.  Nitakukumbuka daima....


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Clean It Up

Still working on my epic Kili blog - apologies for the delay - but I've been otherwise occupied the last few days enjoying the tail-end of Mama's visit before she heads back to the States later this week.

Until I get that masterpiece posted, please check out this cute story out of Boston, Massachusetts.

Titled "Special Education Students Remake Taylor Swift Video, Hope For School Visit," it'll bring a smile to your face, for sure.

I only hope T-Swizzle comes through for these guys!  Otherwise, I am never-ever-ever listening to another one of her so-cheesy-you-need-crackers-but-secretly-a-guilty-pleasure country/pop songs again!!


When Taylor Swift heads to Foxboro later this week, a group of local students wants to make sure she considers a stop at their school, and they're taking their campaign to social media.

The students from the Assabet Valley Collaborative's Evolution program, which teaches life skills to students with special needs, turned Swift's "Shake It Off" into "Clean It Up," with lyrics about daily chores.

"When I get up out of bed every day, day, day, I always make my bed with no delay.  I brush my teeth, wash my face, face, face, then I'm off, then I'm off," the students sing.

The video has been viewed on Facebook thousands of times.

Special Education Students Remake Taylor Swift Video, Hope For School Visit « CBS Boston
These students are so inspiring to us all!  Please share this video," staff members say.

Swift plays Gillette Stadium on Friday and Saturday, and teachers say the students have been asking if she can visit them.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Nani Kama Mama?

Translation: Who's like Mama?  Answer: NO ONE!!

We are just off Mount Kilimanjaro having successfully reached Uhuru Peak, the highest point on the tallest freestanding mountain in the world (5,895 meters or 19,341 feet).

Both me and Mama made it to the top against really quite impossible odds, starting with our ages - her 70, me 40 - but also a lot of other factors: the fickle elements, the grueling trek, the fact that we're basically Washingtonians/New Yorkers who do NOT climb mountains!!

At any rate, still sore and tired from our journey, I'll make this post short and sweet and regale you with an account of our adventure at greater length once I've got my mojo back.

Until then, enjoy this photo of me and my Mama, best friend, and soulmate on top of the world with the guides who got us there.  Truly an unbelievable experience shared with the person who knows me best in this world, who brought me into this world, and who damn near took me out of this world on the way to the "Roof of Africa."  We did it, people!!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Is Special Education Racist?

Hey everybody, I'm headed off to the mountain tomorrow (eegads!!) but wanted to put up a quick post before my departure.  This opinion piece from the New York Times caught my eye and I thought I would share....

I'm not entirely sure where I stand in this argument except to say that pretty much every service offered in America has an element of *racism* to it just based on how our country operates on a socio-economic level.  That the powers-that-be would then apply a quota in order to level the playing field strikes me as counter-productive.
Really, the last sentence of this piece matters most: We should be trying to identify children with disabilities and to provide them with an education adapted to their individual academic, physical, or behavioral needs.

What do YOU think??


More than 6 million children in the United States receive special education services for their disabilities.  Of those age 6 and older, nearly 20% are black.

Critics claim that this high number — blacks are 1.4 times more likely to be placed in special education than other races and ethnicities combined — shows that black children are put into special education because schools are racially biased.

But our new research suggests just the opposite.  The real problem is that black children are under-represented in special education classes when compared with white children with similar levels of academic achievement, behavior, and family economic resources.

The belief that black children are over-represented in special education is driving some misguided attempts at policy changes.  To flag supposed racial bias in special education placement, the United States Department of Education is thinking of adopting a single standard for all states of what is an allowable amount of over-representation of minority children.

If well-intentioned but misguided advocates succeed in arbitrarily limiting placement in special education based on racial demographics, even more black children with disabilities will miss out on beneficial services.

Black children face double jeopardy when it comes to succeeding in school.  They are far more likely to be exposed to the gestational, environmental, and economic risk factors that often result in disabilities.  Yet black children are less likely to be told they have disabilities, and to be treated for them, than otherwise similar white children.

About 65% of black children, compared with about 30% of white children, live in families with incomes below 200% of the poverty line.  From 1985 to 2000, about 80% of black children grew up in highly disadvantaged neighborhoods characterized by widespread unemployment, racial segregation, poverty, single-parent households, and welfare.

36% of inner-city black children have elevated levels of lead in their blood.  The figure for suburban white children is only 4%.  Black children are about twice as likely to be born prematurely and three times more likely to suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome.

In a study published today, we report that the under-diagnosis of black children occurs across five disability conditions for which special services are commonly provided — learning disabilities, speech or language impairments, intellectual disabilities, health impairments, and emotional disturbances.  From the beginning of kindergarten to the end of eighth grade, black children are less, not more, likely than white children with similar levels of academic performance and behaviors to be identified as having each of these disabilities.

In fact, our study statistically controlled for many possible factors that might explain these disparities.  Examples included differences in children's academic achievement, behavior, gender and age, birth weight, the mother's marital status, and the family's income and education levels.  In contrast, many previous studies reporting over-representation have not adjusted for these factors.  Instead, these prior studies have relied on school- or district-level data that did not adequately control for differences in risk factor exposure between black and white children.

It may be that black children are less likely to be identified and treated for disabilities because of a greater responsiveness by education professionals to white parents.  Low expectations regarding black children's abilities may also lead some professionals to ignore the neurological basis of low academic achievement and "problem" behavior.  Even those black children who do receive a diagnosis are less likely to receive help.  For example, despite being more likely to experience symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, black children are less likely than white children to be given a diagnosis of A.D.H.D.  And even among those who are given an A.D.H.D. diagnosis, black children are less likely than white children to receive medication to treat the condition.

The last thing we need is to compound these widespread disparities in disability diagnosis and treatment by making school officials reluctant to refer black children for special education eligibility evaluations out of fear of being labeled racially biased.

Pamphlets describing a school district's disability eligibility procedures are often written in dense legalese that may be hard for many parents to understand.  Revising them might make it easier for parents to advocate for their children during the eligibility evaluation process.  Community outreach programs can also help overcome cultural barriers to identifying children with disabilities.

Such programs have already been shown to reduce racial disparities in children's health and health care access.  We should be trying to identify children with disabilities and to provide them with an education adapted to their individual academic, physical, or behavioral needs.