|Andreal Davis is a culturally responsive coordinator for
the Wisconsin Response to Intervention Center.
Andreal Davis and Culturally Relevant Education for Black Students
Teaching Black History
By Jonathan Gramling
Way back in the day, some 20 years ago it seems, Andreal Davis and her husband Arlington were powering
the African American Ethnic Academy, a Saturday morning enrichment program for African American
students. It was held in the Project Bootstrap offices on S. Park Street and other places. And it used
culturally-relevant techniques like call and response to encourage the students to believe and achieve.
As the groups would get started in the morning, they would recite “I Am Somebody” written by Andreal
through the inspiration of Rev. Jesse Jackson. Andreal would shout out “I am somebody” and the students
would respond back “I am somebody.”
Andreal went on from being a teacher at Lincoln Elementary School to working in the Doyle Administration
on culturally-relevant teaching, working with several elementary schools on implementing the culturally-
relevant pedagogy that Andreal and teachers like Michelle Belnavis were working on. Even this past
week, Lincoln Elementary School did “I Am Somebody” school-wide for a week.
Eventually Davis went on to work for the WI Dept. of Public Instruction to continue her work on culturally-relevant instruction. Then State Superintendent Tony Evers
charged Davis and some of her colleagues to work with the Regional Education Laboratory to research the best practices in culturally-relevant education through the
Wisconsin Response to Intervention Center. As its culturally responsive coordinator, Davis has worked with a team to catalogue those best practices.
“The Regional Education Laboratory actually did a lot of the legwork,” Davis said. “They have a team that helps pull some of that. We had help on that end of pulling
some of the research. Then it was our job to help read through and give stories about in our own work how we have seen those practices validated. In the study, they
actually do cite where the bodies of work that they are referencing and some of the limitations around of what we found as well.”
Davis and her team criss-crossed the state looking at methods of culturally-relevant teaching. And what they found was a lot of really good people working in isolation
from each other.
“How are we sharing best practices and models from a statewide perspective,” Davis said. “What I am hoping is that we will be able to create a statewide approach,
which is unique to this work. We have the Appleton, Sheboygan, Racine, Madison, Milwaukee, Wauwatosa and other districts attending. I hope over time we will get all
districts across the state at the table to look at this issue and create a collective action plan about how we can close some of these gaps: the opportunity gap, the
attitude gap, the academic gap, and the pipeline to prison. How can we tackle this work, this collective work with responsibility as our lens?”
In their research, Davis and her colleagues came across 22 interventions that they felt were effective with African American students. One of them is affirmation,
something she had been doing with “I Am Somebody” over a decade previously.
“The idea behind that is you have students speaking to existence what you believe about them and what you want them to believe about themselves,” Davis
emphasized. “There is actually research that comes out of Stanford School of Education that says the use of affirmation can have a profound effect on academic
achievement, particularly with students of color. And so, one of the interventions is the use of affirmations. And a study that was done in the literature review that we
did actually came right out of Madison, Wisconsin. There was a study done in middle schools in Madison with the use of affirmations. And their findings were the use of
affirmations has strong impacts on improving academic outcomes.”
Davis found two other interventions that interested her.
“One was about a positive behavior game where it focused in on social and emotional learning,” Davis said. “Another was on urban debate teams. I got a lot of calls
from people asking about the urban debate team work and where they may go to evidence what they may look like. Other than where our research came out of,
surprisingly, I wasn’t able to point them in the direction of a lot of places that had urban debate teams. There will be someone attending the conference who is doing
some further research in trying to help us put that together, trying to locate where those might be. The topics that the urban debate teams might argue about, if you will,
are culturally relevant. Also some of the approaches that they use in the debate team are culturally relevant as well. This person wanted to find out where they could go
to see them and go deeper in the learning around what that looks like.”
On February 15-16, Davis and her team will be forming a “community of culturally-relevant professionals” together for the “Bringing the Gifts that My Ancestors Gave:
Black History Education Conference.” People from across the state will be coming to learn about 22 promising practices and interventions that have positive outcomes
for African American students.
“The beauty behind what we are going to be offering at the conference is a lot of people think it is just a Black History conference,” Davis said. “But what it really is, is
that we are going to be exposing or sharing what Black History means to us. But the strong emphasis will be on what can we take back to our children and families that
will impact outcomes. It’s bigger than just celebrating Black History month. It will be deeply rooted, I feel, in history. There will be strong historical context and
perspectives being shared. But there also will be strong pedagogical approaches, strong ways of going about reaching our babies and reaching their families. So it’s a
combination of the two.”
On Friday afternoon and evening, People will gather at the Madison Concourse Hotel for the Pre-Conference from 2-4:30 p.m. and the Welcome Reception is from 5-8
“Our welcome reception is going to have a focus on the Harlem Renaissance and showcase Black dance and Black excellence,” Davis said. “First we’re going to
have a dance and then focus in on music as well.”
On Saturday morning, the conference switches to Edgewood College for everything from yoga, meditation and art appreciation to workshops on the 22 interventions.
“We will be sharing some of the video documentary work on the interventions,” Davis said. “People will be walking away with those 22 interventions. They will also
walk away with the viewing guide that has suggestions and ideas about how they can act on some of those interventions and how they might move them out. A lot of
the presenters are bringing tools and resources that they are going to be sharing as well. There is also a time towards the end of the conference where teams will be
able to do action planning around how they are going to take this work back and look at themselves on a personal level or how they take the work back and do work
on the classroom, school or district level. We have an action-planning guide that helps you do that.”
Davis expects over 200 people to attend this initial conference. There are awesome developments to share. For more information about the conference, email Andreal
Davis at email@example.com