Posted: February 19, 2013

Black Student Unions Emphasize Academics, Provide Student Support

The volunteer organization at eight APS high schools may have played a role in improved graduation rates among African American students due to its emphasis on education and college readiness.

2012 graduates show off their Kente Cloths that they received for being involved in BSU.

When news got out that the graduation rate for African American students in Albuquerque Public Schools improved by more than 7 percentage points in 2012, sponsors of Black Student Unions couldn’t help but feel they played a role.

The volunteer organization at eight APS high schools promotes education, culture and community, with an emphasis on mentorships, college readiness and service learning projects.

At Highland, for example, a diverse group of about 40 students meets weekly to talk about issues facing students as well as grades, graduation and social responsibility, said sponsor Stacy Washington.

“We monitor grades on a regular basis. If students need help, we find them a tutor or we try to find out why they’re not getting the grades they should. We work with them on getting the help they need.”

Washington said students watch out for each other as well. “Students mentor each other. The juniors take the freshmen, the seniors take the sophomores. This way students have someone to talk to about school and life in general. It could be academics, it could be getting help like tutoring, it could be personal.”

The BSU advisors also serve as role models for their students. At Albuquerque High, for instance, sponsor Jackie Cole is one of only two African American teachers at the school. “On any given day, I’ll have one or two kids come in just to talk to me,” said Cole, who has been the BSU sponsor for 20 years. “I get to know them. I ask them what they’re going to do with their lives. We talk about why they need to go on and get an education. We talk about their home lives. We get them help, counseling, tutoring, whatever they need.”

Black Student Unions serve hundreds of students at Albuquerque High, Atrisco Heritage Academy, Cibola, Del Norte, Eldorado, Highland, Manzano and Sandia high schools. Membership is diverse – students don’t have to be African American to belong. In addition to the academic and social benefits, the groups expect their members to volunteer their time to help others, learn about their culture and history and apply for scholarships. The two BSUs at Albuquerque High and Highland also take a trip each spring to visit historically Black colleges.

Joycelyn Jackson, director of Black Student Unions for APS, said students in the organization are expected to maintain a 2.0 grade point average, attend 80 percent of meetings, complete two service learning projects and be in good standing at school. As a result of the high expectations and support provided by the BSU, Jackson said nearly all of its members graduate from high school and many go on to college or trade school.

“What it’s all about is communication,” said Jackson, “and you can’t effectively communicate if you don’t understand their culture.”