By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
In a world with an ultra-competitive, 24-hour news cycle, journalists are often urged by their editors and publishers to be first with the story.
Unfortunately, in doing so, some have traded accuracy for sensationalism.
Being first to break a story might provide accolades and even financial rewards, but whether printed, published online, or broadcast, a journalist’s words can have serious repercussions for both the accuser and the accused.
A 2018 Pew Research survey found that about two-thirds of American adults (68 percent) say they at least occasionally get news on social media. About the same percentage share the news and information that they find on social channels.
While Pew notes that many of these consumers are skeptical about the information they see there, noting that a majority (57%) say they find information on social media to be inaccurate, the pervasiveness of social channels makes it more imperative than ever for the press to present facts and stray from innuendo.
In some cases, mainstream media has failed to adequately report or focus on stories that would benefit the public.
For example, FBI statistics indicate that more than 424,000 girls have gone missing since the beginning of 2018, yet many say the media hasn’t done enough to shine a light on the crisis, which includes a large number of African Americans.
News reporting is a key witness in the court of public opinion
Author Michael Oby noted that the Black Press shed light on Emmett Till’s brutal murder and continued to press the case for decades afterwards. Though Emmett’s killers never spent a day in prison, in the APMreports series, “In the Dark: Acquitting Emmett Till’s killers,” Peter Vesco notes, “Pictues of Till’s battered, unrecognizable face were printed in JET magazine and publications across the country. News of his hideous lynching led to outrage around the world.”
Oby said news coverage by the Black Press proved to be crucial in the mobilization of African Americans at that time because it ignited the civil rights movement of the mid-1950s.
In a 2007 interview with historian Timothy Tyson, Carolyn Bryant, wife of Roy Bryant, one of the two men who faced trial for the killing, and Emmett’s false accuser, admitted that she lied, and in 2018 federal prosecutors reopened the case.
Today, it may be difficult for some to maintain high journalistic standards, especially since so many ‘citizen reporters’ are using cell phones and other handheld devices to chronicle criminal activity and expose wrongdoing that would have otherwise never been seen – or believed.
Diamond Reynolds filmed the police shooting of her fiancée, Philando Castile, who was pulled over by an officer because his car’s break light wasn’t working.
While the officer claimed he feared for his life because Castile was reaching for a gun, Reynold’s video showed that Castile informed the officer that he had a firearm and was licensed to carry it. It also showed that he never reached for it.
In July 2014, video captured by a citizen reporter shows police questioning Eric Garner of Staten Island, New York, after he allegedly sold loose cigarettes. Officer Daniel Pantaleo then used a chokehold on Garner, who heard repeatedly telling police “I can’t breathe!”
Garner later died.
During that same year, cellphone video captured the tragic moment when 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot and killed by police, just seconds after exiting their patrol car, while he was playing in a park in Cleveland with a toy gun.
A police dispatcher had alerted Timothy Loehmann, the officer that fatally shot the boy, that Tamir had a fake gun when she sent authorities to the scene, but Loehman still got out of his car and shot the young boy to death.
Ava DuVernay’s recent documentary, “When They See Us,” has brought attention to the “Central Park Five,” a group of young men who spent eight years in prison after being falsely accused of raping a woman in New York’s Central Park in 1989.
Much has been made about Donald Trump’s position on that case, including when he took out full-page ads in several New York newspapers calling for the death penalty after the incident.
But very little attention was given to the failure of the press to accurately report that story. Instead, the media sensationalized. For his part, Trump continues to refuse to acknowledge that he was mistaken and apologize to the young men who were ultimately exonerated.
When asked by a reporter in mid-June whether he would apologize, Trump replied, “Why do you bring that question up now? It’s an interesting time to bring it up. You have people on both sides of that. They admitted their guilt. If you look at Linda Fairstein and you look at some of the prosecutors, they think that the city should have never settled that case, so we’ll leave it at that.”
Recently, the recurring challenge for journalists has been demonstrating fairness and objectivity in the wake of the #MeToo movement, founded by Tarana Burke in 2006 to help survivors of sexual violence.
Because there are often no other fact witnesses to the allegations levelled by accusers or corroborators that support the denials made by the accused, #MeToo’s gray areas have proven to be the places where the media fails to adequately practice journalistic standards or exercise caution. Many accusations associated with #MeToo have been substantiated. However, others were proven false.
It Matters if You’re Black or White
The National Organization of Women – or NOW – noted that, for African American women, sexual assault and violence are “incredibly pervasive issues that routinely go unreported and under-addressed.”
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported that, between 2012 and 2016, black women filed sexual harassment charges at nearly three times the rate of white and non-Hispanic women.
Data shows this is true regardless of the type of industry.
“Black people in the United States have never been given a presumption of innocence in the criminal justice system. Their entire relationship to justice is not a standard of ‘not guilty’ but one of ‘not guilty, yet,’” said Innocence Project Senior Staff Attorney Karen Thompson, who released a report earlier this year that revealed that more than 220 black men have been exonerated by DNA while on death row after they were falsely convicted of various serious crimes.
“The statistics confirm that sexual harassment is alive and well across all industries and women of color working low-wage jobs are facing the brunt of this abuse,” Emily Martin, the vice president of Education & Workplace Justice at the National Women’s Law Center, said in response to those statistics.
Sexual assaults and harassments are serious charges and false accusations can be devastating and career-ending, especially when amplified by news reports.
For example, in 2018, multi-talented actor, singer and songwriter Jamie Foxx was accused of assaulting a woman after she allegedly refused to perform a sex act.
The woman reported the 2002 incident to Las Vegas police and the media seized upon it, threatening Foxx’s career.
Foxx’s attorney said his client didn’t even know the woman, but reporters still swarmed to get her story.
“Jamie emphatically denies that this incident ever occurred,” Allison Hart, Foxx’s attorney said in a statement.
“The first time [Foxx] became aware of this woman’s absurd claims about an incident that supposedly occurred 16 years ago was when [celebrity website] TMZ contacted his representatives about this story,” Hart said.
Eventually, Foxx was cleared of any wrongdoing, but little was written about his innocence.
Even in instances where the truth is not immediately evident – a he said/she said scenario – like that faced by entertainment mogul Russell Simmons, the press has an obligation to objectively present the facts when reporting the story.
Simmons, who maintains that he’s never been violent with a woman or forced any to have sex, said aspects of the #MeToo movement will help ensure that his own daughters will have a better future.
“I see no benefit in getting in the mud with my accusers or the media,” Simmons said. “I’m certain that my truth will come out sooner or later.”
To accuse someone who was doing the kind of work Simmons was doing – “using his money and fame to raise more [money] to help those who needed it, you have to wonder why?” said Barbara Mealer, author of the novels “The Jillian Factor” and “Abilene: No Place to Hide.”
“The media must ask these questions before running with a one-sided story: Did he reject them? Were they just trying to get even with him for some slight? Were they just jumping on the bandwagon so they could get notoriety?” Mealer said.
Dr. Jonathan David Farley, a visiting professor of Mathematics at California Institute of Technology, a Science Fellow at Stanford University’s Center for International Security, and a vising scholar in the Department of Mathematics at Harvard University, said the case against Simmons is a travesty.
“There can be no proof after 31 years,” Farley said.
“Further, if we believed in gender equality, we would not allow women to make anonymous accusations, and we would not pretend that women don’t make accusations based on how much money the man has or whether or not the women felt scorned,” Farley said.
“A woman’s history with men, for example, as a prostitute, as was the case with at least one of Bill Cosby’s accusers, should be fair game for the media and for the defense,” Farley said.
Although Cosby was convicted of aggravated indecent assault, media reports have routinely falsely claimed that his charges included rape.
One high-profile individual who requested anonymity for this article, told NNPA Newswire that, “There’s a case pending against me, which my lawyers said will probably be dismissed shortly and the court has indicated it will be.”
“I’m lucky, right? But, why do I have to spend $600,000 or whatever the number is, to defend myself against a woman who said I did something not her 31 years ago and I don’t ever remember meeting her and she couldn’t produce one friend who she ever told she knew me or one photo or one thing to prove that she ever met me,” the individual said.
The media has been guilty of exacerbating claims, including those of Jackie Coakley, who provided an unsubstantiated story to Rolling Stone magazine that formed the basis of 2015’s “A Rape on Campus,” saying that she had been gang-raped by fraternity members at the University of Virginia.
The story went viral, making headlines in newspapers and television news broadcasts throughout the country, until it was discovered that Coakley made up the story. Even using fake text messages to support her false claims.
Rolling Stone reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely failed to verify Coakley’s story and the magazine ultimately settled the lawsuits with the fraternity and its members.
In 2013, blogger Susan Shannon accused Col. David “Wil” Riggins of sexually assaulting her in 1986 while they were both cadets at West Point. The allegations caused Riggins to lose a promotion to general, leading him to retire. A jury heard both sides and sided with Riggins, awarding him $8.4 million in damages.
A July 2019 Forbes Magazine article referenced an earlier story in The New Yorker. Jane Mayer’s piece is highly critical of the frenzy that led to the forced resignation of Al Franken from the Senate.
“Mayer described Franken’s fall as ‘stunningly swift’—so swift that it left far too little time to sort the facts,” Forbes reported.
“Every accuser should be heard, but their rights should be no more substantial than the accused, a fact that separates the United States from every other country,” New York-based marketing strategist Tracey Campbell said. “The press must be above that and must recognize that the burden of proof can’t be found in one corner or the other, even when a reporter is convinced the accuser is telling the truth,” Campbell said.
“Believe women,” a slogan that gained popularity during the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh, refers to the need to accept women’s allegations of sexual harassment or sexual assault at face value. Don’t assume women as a gender are especially deceptive or vindictive and recognize that false allegations are less common than real ones, says Elle Magazine’s Sadie Doyle.
The professional press has an obligation to do as much as possible to “get it right,” present a fair and balanced summary of the facts to its readers and resist the urge to encourage a presumption of guilt.
By Lauren Victoria Burke, NNPA Newswire Contributor
A movie preview for the upcoming biopic featuring the life of legendary abolitionist Harriet Tubman, entitled “Harriet,” was viewed by over ten million people in five days from July 21 to July 26 on Facebook. Another social media post of the same movie trailer on YouTube received over four million views. The movie will be released on November 1.
The film stars British actress Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Tubman and Janelle Monae, Joe Alwyn and Leslie Odom.
“Based on the thrilling and inspirational life of an iconic American freedom fighter, “Harriet” tells the extraordinary tale of Harriet Tubman’s escape from slavery and transformation into one of America’s greatest heroes. Her courage, ingenuity, and tenacity freed hundreds of slaves and changed the course of history,” a write-up by Focus Features read.
The world premiere for “Harriet” will take place at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2019.
Originally Viola Davis was set to star in and produce a film on Tubman but the development of the current film by Focus began in May 2016. In February 2017, Cynthia Erivo was cast as Harriet Tubman and Seith Mann, who is African American, was selected as the director using a screenplay by Gregory Allen Howard.
Harriet Tubman was born Araminta Ross in March 1822 and died on March 10, 1913. She was an abolitionist, activist and a spy for the Union Army during the Civil War. Tubman escaped slavery and traveled thirteen missions to rescue over 300 enslaved people, many family and friends. Tubman used a network of antislavery activists and safe houses to bring people to freedom. The vast network would become known as the Underground Railroad.
Lauren Victoria Burke is an independent journalist and writer for NNPA as well as a political analyst and strategist as Principal of Win Digital Media LLC. She may be contacted at LBurke007@gmail.com and on twitter at @LVBurke
By Roger Caldwell, NNPA Newswire Contributor
In 2019, most Blacks and people of color would like to believe that, “There is Not a Racist Bone in My Body” was an accurate statement in America. With the first African American President, Black businesses in every major city, and Black political officials in federal, state, and local municipalities, diversity is a reality. With all these achievements in one of the greatest countries in the world, there is a major divide.
This major divide is based on the color of an individuals’ skin, which makes no sense, until you study economics, politics, and business. Power is based on what you own and control, and if you close your eyes, power may also be based on what you take by force.
Last week, President Trump attacked four freshmen federal Congresswomen by claiming they are un-American, they should go back to their country, and everyone is asking the question, “why?”
This started as a tweet-storm on that weekend, and it has turned into a nasty battle of words, where the majority of the media is calling President Trump a “racist.” This tweet-storm appeared to be racist and personal, very little was discussed by the president about the ladies’ policies.
“In America, if you hate our Country, you are free to leave. The simple fact of the matter is, the four Congresswomen think America is even more wicked now, that we are all racist and evil. They’re entitled to their opinion, they’re Americans. Now I’m entitled to my opinion, & I just think they’re left wing cranks,” says President Trump.
It is obvious, that the first thing the President thinks comes out of his mouth, and it does not matter if it makes any sense. The president is not fit or mentally stable to manage America as Commander-in chief, but over 40% think he is doing a good job.
As this new social media and campaign rally from the President attacked the four Congresswomen escalates to a higher level of insanity, everyone in America is picking a side. The four Congresswomen at the beginning of the week called a press conference to denounce the President and asked for a draft to be drawn up to condemn President Trump’s racist language and tweets. The resolution was passed in the House last week to condemn the President.
The amazing issue about this battle is that over 40% of Americans believe that the President is correct, and at a campaign rally during the week, a packed house with the majority being White Republicans chanted, “Send her back.”
With the media claiming that President Trump initiated and supported the yelling, the President is being forced by the Vice President and some of his consultants to distance himself from the chant. “After smearing Rep. IIhan Omar (D-MN) as anti-Semitic – and letting the crowd at his Greenville, North Carolina rally roar “send her back” for more than 10 seconds – President Trump has falsely claimed he continued his speech immediately after the crowd started yelling,” says Tana Ganervo –reporter at Raw Story.
Send her back is a turning point, “With Trump’s naked hatred and cruelty captured on live television, and along with it, so was the seething anger of the hard-core Trump base. The whole nation saw in dramatic fashion that Trump voters understood his meaning perfectly well and watched them not just agree with it but also amplify it, with as ugly and hate-curdled a chant as one could imagine.”
Racism in 2019 is out in the open, with the election of President Trump leading the way. It is easy to argue what constitutes the act, and whether someone is a racist sometimes. But President Trump does not care what Blacks and people of color think.
He is only concerned with his base, and he feeds them red meat on a daily basis. There is something fundamentally wrong when the president does not care about values and inappropriate statements, because his goal is to only make America White again.
By Dwight Brown NNPA Newswire Film Critic
In this #MeToo age, a biofilm about a wrongfully convicted high school football player, who was accused, tried and imprisoned for rape, is timely.
The real Brian Banks, the subject of this movie, lived through an ordeal that was tragic, inspiring and often profound, something is lost in this one-dimensional retelling of his life experiences. Something turns his extraordinary story of resilience into a decent but ordinary made-for-TV-like movie.
In 2002, Brian Banks (Aldis Hodge, Straight Outta Compton, Hidden Figures) is a junior at Polytechnic High School in Long Beach, California and a linebacker football player. He has verbally committed to attending USC based on his football prowess. The future looks bright for him and his single mom Leomia (Sherri Shepherd). One day at school, Banks runs into coed Kinnesha Rice (Xosha Roquemore), and they decide to hook up in a secluded school building where kids go to make out and get down.
While in their secret place, Brian has a change of heart, leaves Kinnesha behind and she is forced to explain to a security guard why she is in a notorious spot. Flustered, the student fabricates a story about being raped. Her lie leads to Banks’ arrest, a too-hasty plea deal, trial, imprisonment, a tough parole and a sex offender label that haunts him.
Banks can’t live, work or be near places that children gather—including schools, parks and malls. He’s lost any academic or professional football opportunities. Unless his conviction is overturned, his future is bleak and he’s hit a wall.
That’s a galvanizing setup. Sympathetic protagonist, wrongly accused, innocent and determined yet filled with self-doubt. He’s the David. A California judicial system that rarely—if ever—overturns cases against convicts is the Goliath. Audiences like to watch a “good fight” against injustice. Bring it on.
Screenwriter Doug Atchison (Akeelah and the Bee) fit all the characters and pieces of Banks jumbled life into an easy-to-decipher script. Maybe too easy. Son, mom, accuser, mentors. The California Innocence Project (CIP) is also in the mix. It’s a non-profit that helps wrongfully convicted prisoners and is headed by Justin Brooks (Greg Kinnear). Other supporting characters (new girlfriend, skeptical prosecutor, accuser’s stubborn mom) augment the cast. But the focus is on Banks—his sorrow, integrity, courageousness and perseverance.
Given a story that sells itself, and a quest that provides innate momentum, you’d think filmmaker Tom Shadyac (The Nutty Professor) would have an easy time directing a film that’s powered by its own natural thrust. Yet, his plodding direction slows things down. The footage (Ricardo Diaz, cinematographer) is bland, lacks style and eye-catching composition.
Shadyac fails to get the cast’s emotions to rise to a level of desperation that piques attention. Everything seems average. Smart, intuitive directors (e.g. Sidney Lumet “Q & A,”) find ways to lift urban dramas off the page and turn them into compelling films that are more than the sum of their parts. Not the case here.
Can’t blame the editing (Greg Hayden, Zoolander), art direction (Starlet Jacobs), production design (Teresa Mastropierro) or costumes (Amanda Ford) for the general malaise. The tech credits are just decent enough to make this film semi-engaging for 99 minutes. The ensemble cast is proficient, but none stand out, except the lead.
Big question: “Why is Aldis Hodge in a so-so movie like this?” His deft interpretation of the character, the raw emotion he displays and the solid screen persona he creates crown his performance. He saves the film. At this point in his career, Hodges should be starring in far bigger projects than this. He should be one of the Avengers, vying for parts Denzel Washington has aged out of and up for roles that lead to Oscars. He’s that good.
Brian Banks’ story is a cautionary tale in an era when a false accusation can ruin a career. It shows that harm that can be done when well-intentioned advocates believe an accuser before hearing all the facts. Also, Banks’ predicament clearly indicates why parents should be in the room when their offspring are negotiating plea deals with public defenders. For a multitude of reasons, Banks’ experience should be shared.
The Brian Banks film, within the confines of its made-for-TV-movie-of-the-week approach, is not as three-dimensional as Banks real-life story. It lacks the artistry of an indie film, the dramatic chops of a cable film (HBO) and the repeat-viewing power necessary for a streaming movie (Netflix).
If this well-meant film has a saving grace, besides its message of resilience, its Hodges’ powerful performance. He’s an Oscar-caliber actor in need of an Oscar-caliber film.
Gov’t Agencies Must Demonstrate That They’re Doing Business with Minority-Owned Media
By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
Beginning later this year when federal agencies submit proposed budgets to one or more of the 12 Appropriations Committees, those requests now must include a line item detailing what they are spending with minority-owned businesses, which include black-, women- and other minority-owned media outlets.
D.C. Democratic Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton told NNPA Newswire on July 26, that each of the 12 federal Appropriations Committees have adopted language from her Government Advertising Equity Accountability Act [HR 2576], which mandates all agencies include in their annual budget request to Congress the amount of money they spend to advertise in minority-owned media outlets.
She said today’s developments mean that her measure doesn’t require further action. “This is exactly what we wanted. This is it, we got it,” Norton said.
“We got all 12 of the Appropriations Committees to include the language and, in October, when the bills take effect, it will be the law and these agencies will have to comply,” she said.
Norton asked for an update on a 2007 GAO report that found, of the $4.3 billion available for advertising contracts, five agencies: the Department of Defense, the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of the Interior, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, spent only five percent with minority-owned businesses.
A subsequent 2018 report revealed that, of the approximately $5 billion government agencies spent on advertising contracts, just $50 million went to minority-owned businesses and even considerably less to minority-owned newspaper and media companies owned by African Americans.
“This is important not just for the publications but because those publications reach minorities and women in a way that mainstream publications may not,” Norton said.
“We did this because the federal government is the largest advertiser in the United States and this gives it a special obligation to make sure that it is using advertising dollars fairly and to reach all people in the United States,” said Norton, who has served in the U.S. House since 1991.
At the request of officials from the National Newspaper Publishers Association (Black Press of America) and the National Association of Hispanic Publications, Norton ordered a Government Accountability Office (GAO) examination on the spending on advertising contracts with minority-owned businesses.
Norton began a fight to change that.
She gathered support from other members of Congress and then, in May 2019, she crafted H.R. 2576 and continued to work behind the scenes to find more immediate solutions.
During budget hearings on Capitol Hill, Norton spearheaded a bipartisan effort for the 12 Appropriations Committees to place the language in their spending bills.
President Trump also urged Republicans to pass the budget bills – though, he had not specifically addressed Norton’s measure.
By Thursday, 11 of the 12 committees had agreed to include the language with the Department of the Interior being the lone holdout. However, that changed on July 26, when she secured the commitment of the Department of the Interior.
Despite her diligent work, Norton credited minority-owned media with the success of the legislation.
“I didn’t just come up with this out of the blue, I credit Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. [president and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association], the Black Press of America, and the National Association of Hispanic Publications because they came to see me about this a couple of years ago,” Norton said.
“They came to Congress to seek redress and I met with them, and then, having heard about what looked like a discrepancy, I needed to see if I could document that. So, I asked for the GAO report,” she said.
Although the legislation does not mandate federal agencies to spend specific dollar amounts with minority-owned media companies, Norton said she believes publishers and owners of those publications ultimately will be pleased.
“Of course, I think they will start advertising because this is a big encouragement to do so,” Norton said. “These are federal agencies under the jurisdiction of the appropriations committees, and they have to come before these committees each year to get their money. When they report back on how many dollars they spent with minority-owned and women-owned publications, they will understand that they will have to do just that and whatever they’ve done before they’ll have to strive to do even better,” Norton said.
“Once again the Black Press of America salutes the effective leadership of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton,” said Chavis. “Her diligence and commitment to diversity, inclusion and economic equity with respect to the Black Press and other minority-owned media across the United States is noteworthy and much appreciated.”
Inspired by the radical experimentation of the Black Arts Movement, The Broad Museum presents, “Black Fire Sessions,” a two-part series featuring “live music by innovators of free jazz alongside younger artists at the intersections of jazz, R&B, electronic, hip-hop and soul.” Since March, The Broad’s “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power 1963-1983,” has celebrated the contributions of powerful Black Los Angeles-based artists during the Black Power movement. From this powerful exhibit emerges “Black Fire Sessions,” adding music to the conversation.
Music, like jazz and hip-hop specifically, became a force of artistic expression and therapy for Black people in America and its connection to the Black Power movement is woven into the art presented in “Soul of a Nation.”
Night one of “Black Fire Sessions” featured performances by jazz-genre bending artists like Busdriver, Teebs and Georgia Anne Muldrow. Muldrow’s set was energetic and vibrantly jazzy yet her rich, classic voice and soul-provoking lyrics invoke the smooth vibes you’d expect from a night of jazz at The Broad.
Muldrow is a singer-songwriter signed to her label SomeOthaShip Connect, which she co-founded with her husband and music partner, rapper Dudley Perkins. Muldrow has appeared on albums with Erykah Badu, Mos Def and Blood Orange. Her spirit and style in combination with the beautiful essence of her voice and lyrical content meshed effortlessly with the content of the “Soul of a Nation” exhibit and the “Black Fire Sessions” event where she began her set with gratitude for the audience.
“What a special, special exhibit this is. What a focal point of Black energy,” she said as the crowd affirmed in a church-like cadence. “What a prideful moment.”
“As artists, you have revolutionary goals and aspirations,” Muldrow told the Sentinel after her performance. “As an artist, you feel the pain and the disenfranchisement of the majority of the world. A majority of the world is disenfranchised.”
“Soul of a Nation” celebrates artists like Betye Saar and David Hammons whose art advanced Black culture and the Black Power movement and “Black Fire Sessions” was an ode to a newer school of artists — musicians who are a continuation of that very movement.
“Thinking about that as an artist gives me so much, because sometimes we feel so powerless. It helps me with the lineage, it helps me know that I am a part of this,” said Muldrow who was born in 1983, the last year of the era that the “Soul of a Nation” focuses on.
The second night of The Broad’s “Black Fire Sessions” takes place August 14 at 8:30pm with performances by Anthony Braxton, Kelsey Lu and Jimetta Rose. You can still visit “The Soul of a Nation” at The Broad until September 1. To learn more, visit thebroad.org/events.
This article originally appeared in The Los Angeles Sentinel.
Dr. Elizabeth Primas, NNPA ESSA Awareness Campaign Program Manager
It is not uncommon for military programs to be adopted for use in civilian life. Schools in Virginia Beach, VA, that have some of the highest percentages of military children in the country, are doing an incredible job helping those students cope with the added stresses of having parents in the military. Other schools and communities can learn from Virginia Beach City Public Schools.
I recently spent a day with families and educators from Shelton Park Elementary School. About 70 percent of the students there were children with a parent in the military or a defense contractor. There is a large population of special forces personnel in Virginia Beach and at any moment, a parent can be called on for deployment to a warzone. Their families often do not know to where they are deployed, which compounds stress and anxiety.
A unique program in Virginia Beach public schools includes 28 Military Family Life Counselors, who work closely with schools’ staff and families to support students. One mother we spoke with, talked about the fears her five-year-old daughter had while her father was deployed. After a particularly bad night, the mother let the school staff and the assigned counselor know that her daughter was going through a very difficult time. However, mom was able to send her daughter to school knowing that the school community would play an active role in engaging with her to help her work through her fears. The Virginia Beach counselors, funded under a program by the U.S. Department of Defense, are licensed and specialize in child and youth behavioral issues.
It’s not just supporting students through the stress of having a parent deployed where Virginia Beach schools excel in supporting this population of students. A report from The Lexington Institute looks at how schools and districts with high percentages of military families are supporting students, who, on average, move every 2-3 years to far and distant places. Uprooting and moving so often is disruptive to a child’s educational progress, and it can stall their academic achievement.
However, moving is not the only thing that can disrupt educational progress. Low teacher retention, frequent absenteeism, and unsafe school environments are all factors that can also inhibit academic progress.
The Every Student Succeeds Act, a federal education law, requires schools and districts to have a well-rounded curriculum. Too many schools have eliminated music, art, drama, and essential academic courses like social studies and science to give more instruction time to reading and math. Math and reading are critical, but these other subjects enrich the learning experience and help make a well-rounded, whole human being.
From the very beginning, students at Shelton Park Elementary School are exposed to art, music, leadership strategies. The well-rounded curriculum combined with support from the military counselors creates a school environment that can – and should – be modeled across the country.
As a lifetime educator, I am inspired to see how Virginia Beach Public Schools are supporting military children. They are truly a model to be emulated by any school, because every kid—military or not-deserves this kind of high-quality support and instruction.
Dr. Elizabeth Primas is the ESSA Program Manager for the National Newspapers Publishers Association.