More than a dozen student leaders in kindergarten through 7th grade are involved in a new partnership model designed to create a learning environment that brings out the “royalty, genius and uniqueness of each student, centering the humanity, gifts and dignity of each individual and culture,” said the creators of the model – a team of educators and activists, who have formed a partnership with funding from a $40,000 grant to UNC Asheville from the Dogwood Health Trust and a $17,600 contract with Dogwood Trust for REGAL (Relevant Education Grows All Learners) authors and community leaders.
The REGAL approach to education draws upon a legacy of educational development from 19th century Black educators and Freedpeople Schools, Freedom Schools from the 1960s, recent Children’s Defense Fund-sponsored Freedom Schools and current Black scholars. The model also builds upon traditions of self-determination, where different communities of color organize opportunities to learn from Black adults.
“Nationally and locally, U.S. public education has epistemic foundations of inequity, exclusion, and disenfranchisement. Ultimately, this is a transformative, revolutionary and reimagined framework to upend anti-Black, racist and unjust practices in teaching and learning for Black children,” said Tiece Ruffin, co-creator of REGAL and director of Africana studies and associate professor of Africana studies and education at UNC Asheville. “The time is now to work in the community, with community, to show up in a mighty way for education justice. Our humanity depends on it.”
The REGAL approach is currently practiced in the Marvelous Math Club, which meets weekly after school at Pisgah View Apartments, and in a learning pod that meets daily from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Professional educators, parents and UNC Asheville student volunteers work directly with Marvelous Math Club and pod leaders approaching learning using a REGAL lens.
The inspiration for the grant and partnership stems from a co-authored 42-page guidebook detailing approaches, learning tools, lessons and research that supports equitable practices in education. Co-authors of the REGAL guidebook are: Tiece Ruffin, a UNC Asheville associate professor of education and Africana studies, interim director of the University’s Africana Studies Program and an Asheville City Schools parent; Marta Alcala-Williams, an Asheville City schools executive director of equity/community engagement and co-founder of Marvelous Math Club; Miranda Williams, an Asheville City schools high school student racial equity ambassador program mentor (Asheville City Schools Foundation) and AVID ambassador (Asheville City Schools); and Ashley Cooper, an educator and community organizer for equity.
Program partners include Cicely Rogers, Toshia Sitton and Teri Hughes, community leaders and pod instructors at Pisgah View Apartments; Samuel Kaplan, a UNC Asheville chairman of the Department of Mathematics, co-founder of Marvelous Math Club; and Makenzie Bennett, a coordinator of Marvelous Math Club.
“It is a safe space where kids are comfortable and where people really care about them,” said Rogers, one of the three Pisgah View Apartments pod instructors, along with Sitton and Hughes. “The three of us who are all working in the pod bring something different to the table. We all have our strengths and working together makes this awesome.”
“We want people to see that these children really do care, they really want to be somebody; they want to go to college and finish. They just need the support, so we are going to continue to be an advocate for them and the community so that they can continue to strive for the better,” said Sitton. “We want everybody to see that this can work.”