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Environmental Justice is Education Equity

You know it's funny when it rains it pours

They got money for wars, but can't feed the poor

Said it ain't no hope for the youth and the truth is

It ain't no hope for tha future

And then they wonder why we crazy

-Tupac Shakur

Preparing for my child to return to school in the fall of 2018 included providing him bottled water from home because reports released only days earlier indicated a major problem with the water in CMS schools, and my child’s school was included in that list. Lead was found in 27 CMS schools and dozens more schools were untested. Meanwhile, our family went from being given notice from my child’s teacher that they were “lucky” to have a water fountain inside the classroom to that water fountain being removed before the month was out. The D rating meant there were huge educational gaps, and as a Title 9 school, more than 50% of the students and their families were also facing poverty. Lead is a climate justice threat, and communities most impacted by climate justice threats are also most impacted by education deficiencies. My journey as a tech advocate crystalized this even more.

In April of 2019 I attended the 2019 North Carolina Center for Afterschool Programs SYNERGY conference as a speaker on the topic of Closing Gaps, College & Career, Readiness, STEM, and Youth Development. I was first introduced to the 2019 Roadmap of need, but it wasn’t until North Carolina Center for Afterschool Programs (NCCAP) went on the road, bringing the Policy & Practice Regional Convening to Charlotte, that I fully understood what the Roadmap of Need report meant. According to NCCAP, “The Roadmap of Need is a whole child needs assessment for North Carolina youth.” The Roadmap of Need includes 20 indicators of wellness categorized into the areas of health, youth behavior & safety, education, and economic development.

In the 2020 report, Orange, Wake, Union, Dare, Watauga counties were at the top. Not really surprising, considering cities in Orange and Wake County make-up Research Triangle Park, which is considered the largest research park in the United States.Falling to the bottom were Scotland, Washington, Vance, Halifax, Robeson Counties. These counties represent some of the eastern most rural communities in North Carolina. For every 10,000 people in Orange county there are nearly 119 licensed physicians. In Washington county, there are only 4. For every 1000 school aged students in Orange County there were 35 short term suspensions. In Robeson County there were 365 kids losing valuable learning days and stigmatized with the suspension tag. Third grade reading proficiency in Orange County was among the highest reading proficiency levels in North Carolina at 62%. In Robeson County it was 39% only 5 percentage points away from the bottom. I took a look at the data from 2019, (because that was the first year I was introduced to this report), 2020 (because I wanted to see the change since last year), and 2013 because that was the earliest available data. Orange County was in the top 5 each of those years. Robeson County was in the bottom 5 every one of those years. Robeson County is also home to environmental justice threats that include poisonous coal ash dumps, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations that are notorious for the untreated waste they leave behind and a wood pellet manufacturer that has set its sight on this community. Communities most impacted by environmental justice threats are also most impacted by education deficiencies.

So what’s the SOLution? The issues of environmental justice and education equity are so layered and there is no one way that we are going to solve them. However there are people and organizations that are moving us in the right direction. I met Travis Manigan early in my organizing career when he was working for the late Senator Kay Hagan, who was considered an environmental champion by many. Travis has since gone on to launch GAMEPLAN, the college and career engagement platform designed to connect students, parents, college, and career professionals into one app. Janeen Bryant and James Ford, lead the Center for Racial Equity in Education. Janeen, a long time champion for education equity and former candidate for Charlotte Mecklenburg School Board and James, the former North Carolina Teacher of the Year, work together to close opportunity gaps for all children, especially children of color, with the vision that one day race will no longer be the primary predictor of educational outcomes.

In our latest Sol Story we talk with Travis and Janeen on the topic of Environmental Justice is Education Equity. Catch up on the Roadmap of Need reports by NCCAP. Here’s this month’s mixtape Environmental Justice Is… Vol 4 Education Equity. Let us know what you think in the comments!


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