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Why We Organize For Relationship-Centered, Community Schools

Community Schools Email Graphics (Presentation (43))

By Asher Ki, CFJ Organizer, Fresno

Dear Community, it’s time for something new.

A lot of the problems that we’ve been hearing about schools during Covid – learning disparities between Black students and white peers, the need for mental health resources, students feeling unsafe and needing relationships – existed before Covid, this pandemic has just shed light on it.

I remember 7 or 8 years ago, when I was a senior at Edison High School in Fresno, I was conducting and collecting surveys from other students about how they’re feeling on campus. From those surveys, we found that 1 in 3 students could not name a single caring adult in school, similar to how I was feeling. And from those surveys we launched our Relationship Centered Schools campaign.

In high school, I used to get bullied by other students a lot, and my teachers knew. I would be in class, and students would be saying things about me. I felt like I wasn’t able to do anything, and remember my teachers hearing it and not stepping in. I grew up in an impoverished neighborhood, I didn’t have the same type of access to opportunities, resources, or support systems as other students may have had. I was also thinking about work, family, health, housing, and more, but when I got to class, I was expected to sit there and learn, and if I didn’t, I would get punished. 

As a Black student, it’s exhausting  hearing “You’re not qualified enough” or “Black students don’t care enough” or simply just don’t cut it. Even hearing remarks like “Hey you’re actually really smart” or “A lot of students like you don’t care or drop out” were ways of saying I’m Black without saying I’m Black, but I knew what it meant. 

But I do remember having one teacher on campus, Mr. Ratcliff, who did step up, who heard what was going on, and pulled me aside one day and told me how people are going to try to tear me down, but he saw me as a whole person, and saw my potential. Having someone like Mr. Ratcliff there, an adult who I felt cared about me, helped me get through it.

Fast forward to 2022, and a lot of the issues I heard almost a decade ago are the same issues I’m hearing from my students today as an organizer. Students are hungry to learn, but are also dealing with a lot of issues outside of school that don’t leave once you’re in class. Schools need to center relationships and student decision-making. Schools should be places of joy. 

It’s time for something new.

Our traditional way of education wasn’t working for a lot of students, especially Black and Brown students. Our education system needs to be transformed. Racially-just, relationship-centered community schools are a good place to start. These past couple of years, CFJ and the California Partnership for the Future of Learning organized at the local and state level to not only help win a historic $3 billion for community schools, but also make sure that many of the elements of our Relationship Centered Schools now live in the California Community Schools framework.

I see community schools as the next phase of our Relationship Centered Schools campaign. Community schools that commit to shared decision-making and practices, restorative school climates, culturally relevant instruction, social and emotional learning, and systems of support. With community schools, the culture and narrative we often hear about students can change to one that centers and values growth, inclusivity, and sees students as humans – people who are worthy of investment and understanding versus seeing students as a number and punishes youth for belonging and existing as a person of color. 

This week, the California Department of Education just released their applications for Planning and Implementation grants for the California Community Schools Partnership Program. I know how important it is for our students and families to apply AND work in partnership with our school districts to make sure we are working towards a SHARED vision for school transformation.

You can find more information on the California Community Schools Partnership Program planning applications here, because we all know, it’s time for something new.


Asher Ki, CFJ Organizer, Fresno

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