September 18, 2023 | By Dr. Khalil Graham
One of the greatest challenges we face as a nation is the increase in racial segregation in our cities. Researchers at the University of California found that more than 80 percent of major metropolitan areas in the US were actually more segregated in 2019 than they were in 1990.
As a result, many of our nation’s urban public schools–including here in St. Louis where I live–have student bodies that are highly segregated.
If you want to prepare kids for future success and to solve the complex problems of the world, they have to learn to work together across differences. There’s strong evidence to show that diversity is correlated with many positive education outcomes, such as higher average ACT scores and college acceptance rates.
I love data, but my belief in the value of diverse student bodies isn’t solely based on research.
Growing up in Brooklyn, NY I lived in a section of Flatbush that bordered three ethnic enclaves: Jewish, Caribbean, and Puerto Rican. But the neighborhood elementary school drew from across the community, so my classmates were Black, White, Hispanic, and Southeast Asian.
For middle and high school, I was fortunate enough to attend independent schools. They were majority white but were actively recruiting minority students to increase their diversity. I was friends with people of all backgrounds. I attended Bar Mitzvahs and quinceañeras.
These experiences shaped my identity and informed the kind of educator I became. More importantly, it’s the reason I chose to accept the opportunity to become CEO at Kairos.
As those in our community know, Kairos Academies is an intentionally diverse-by-design school. We have one of the most racially diverse public schools in St. Louis. More than 60% percent of students are Black, 20% percent are white, 10% percent are Hispanic, 10% percent are multiracial, and 57% are eligible for free or reduced price lunch.
As part of my interview process, I got to observe classrooms and interact with students. What struck me wasn’t just the diversity of the student population, but the intentionality of the school culture that facilitated students developing meaningful relationships across a range of interests, backgrounds, and neighborhoods.
I’ve since learned that what I observed during that interview is one of the attributes of our school that our parents most appreciate.
As Charity Stone–a parent of 6th and 9th graders at Kairos, said:
“The Kairos culture is amazing! Our children have supportive friends, mentors, and teachers. We love the diversity that exists here and the opportunities provided to our kids to form lasting relationships, learn life skills, and grow academically.”
Of course, a diverse student body doesn’t automatically lead to equity and inclusion. We still have a lot of work to do. On average, our white students are performing better on state tests compared to our Black students, and our Black teachers report higher satisfaction than our White teachers. But we are well positioned to push all students to higher levels of academic excellence and for all teachers to have positive experiences because we have built a community that celebrates diversity and fosters meaningful relationships.
If I had to pick one event to give someone a sense of what makes Kairos so special, it would be our talent show. The lineup last year included two Black boys doing step dancing, a Black teacher shredding a guitar solo, a white student showing off his speed rubric skills, and a rock performance by a band with students from different racial backgrounds.
But what’s most important is that everyone cheers for everyone. We are all rooting for each other. That’s the kind of community I had growing up in diverse schools, and it’s the kind of community I’m proud to lead at Kairos Academies.
Our students have access to a resource that too many young people in our increasingly segregated city lack–exposure to people from all neighborhoods, from all school types, and from all types of socioeconomic backgrounds and races. By preparing students to work across lines of difference, we aren’t just supporting students on their path to college and careers, we are creating a generation of change-makers who will make St. Louis into a stronger, more equitable city.