ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Asheville City Council has allocated over $350,000 to six agencies working to address achievement gaps in low to middle-income households.
You can tell Dr. Tiece Ruffin loves books, and her love for education for the youngest among us started with her family.
“I watched my grandmother, who took care of her younger brother with Down syndrome and an intellectual disability, and I was amazed,” Ruffin said.
The chair of education at UNC Asheville considers herself to be an educator activist. She is also director of Africana Studies and professor of Africana Studies & Education at UNC Asheville.
“We have a system that was founded on inequity that was an exclusive system. We’ve been in a reform mode where we’re just retrofitting and we’re adding like appendages, doing work ad hoc. We’re not completely restructuring it,” Ruffin said.
Data released earlier this year shows learning gaps between Black and white students.
For instance, when it comes to proficiency in math, white third through eighth graders in Asheville City Schools tested at 66%, while Black students tested at 11%.
In Buncombe County Schools, white students tested at a 57% reading proficiency rate, while Black students tested at 21%.
Dr. Ruffin believes history plays a role. “The historical truth is that in the United States, education has been one that’s been exclusive from the beginning. Right? We disenfranchise, we push people to the margins, based on race, class, gender and ability from the beginning of schooling,” Ruffin said.
She argues students are gifted in ways beyond standardized tests.
“Capstone projects that are culminating and integrative in nature. Some people have said, ‘Why don’t we have formative assessment that really does inform instruction that’s diagnostic in nature,’” Ruffin said.
But she adds the school systems can’t do it alone. She’s seen success with having members of the community help. One example she points to is during the pandemic when Black moms created learning pods to help tutor kids.
“I often saw exuberant, enthusiastic kids excited about virtual learning because they were in a place that nurtured and supported them to thrive,” Ruffin said.
In April, Asheville’s City Council unanimously voted to award six local agencies, each of which is dedicated to narrowing education achievement gaps in low to middle-income families, with over $350,000 as a part of their Strategic Partnership Grant Program (SPG).
Read to Succeed of Asheville/Buncombe was awarded $40,000, OpenDoors Asheville was awarded $126,209, Umoja Health, Wellness & Justice Collective was awarded $60,000, The Arc of Buncombe County was awarded $50,000, Getting Back to the Basics was awarded $35,000 and Black Wall Street AVL was awarded $45,000.