For the 2017-18 school year, 87.2 percent of white students in grades 9 through 12 in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools scored as "college and career ready" on their end-of-course exams, compared to 30.5 percent of Black students, 45.5 percent of Native American students and 45 percent of Hispanic students.
With such a large racial achievement gap, people are voicing concerns about what they view as the district moving away from the Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate, a program designed to improve the achievement of students of color.
“That gap that we all talk about is one of the crucial areas of disappointment in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools, and to see a program that’s actually addressing that with some success, deemphasized we’ll say — I’d say more neglected — is very disappointing,” said Mike Andrews, a longtime mentor in the program.
For over 20 years, BRMA has paired adult mentors with local students to provide academic support and leadership development to help these students reach their full potential.
N.C. Rep. Graig Meyer, D-District 50, was the Blue Ribbon program coordinator for 16 years before being elected to the N.C. House of Representatives in 2013.
On March 4, Meyer wrote a letter to the Orange County community entitled “Don’t Let the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School System Dismantle the Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate Program,” where he alleged that the district has slowly been withdrawing support from the program by moving staff away from it and taking a stance that its expenses are not justified.
Meyer outlined specific actions taken by district administration that he believes directly undermine the BRMA program. These include taking the BRMA’s website offline during mentor recruitment system, prohibiting the establishment of an advisory council that would assist with fundraising and program support and prohibiting staff from transporting students in their personal vehicles.
Meyer said he has heard concerns from many students, parents, mentors and donors about the long-term strength of the program, and he urged community members to share their personal stories in order to show the district how impactful the program has been.
“Please tell the board about the students who will no longer have a mentor-advocate who meets them in fourth grade, shows up at their quinceañera or basketball games, and then helps them navigate the college application process,” Meyer wrote.
Since its inception in 1995, BRMA has been recognized for excellence in mentoring and school-community partnerships at the local, state and national level.
A 2012 UNC School of Education study found that the BRMA is extremely effective in promoting high school graduation and college attendance, has significant effects on student grade point average and is highly valued by parents, mentors and mentees.
“It is highly effective for youth and their families, and provides CHCCS with a conduit to families that have been traditionally hard for the schools to serve well,” the study concluded.
The study also found the students in the program had a 97.5 percent high school graduation rate, and 100 percent of those students enrolled in some type of post-secondary education.
Andrews said the administration for the last four or five years has not provided adequate resources for the program.
In response to Meyer’s letter, the CHCCS Board of Education released their own letter “to address confusion regarding district plans" for the program.
The letter said the district and board are actually working to grow the services provided by Blue Ribbon, and that the board is excited to situate the BRMA program in their newly organized Office of Equity and Inclusion.
"We are grateful for the raised awareness and story sharing related to students," the letter wrote. "We look forward to continued conversation with community members."
The program's Blue Ribbon academic specialist did not respond to multiple requests for comment by the time of publication.
However, some community members are upset about the fact that the district has not been communicating with local citizens.
Wanda Hunter, the co-chairperson of the education committee of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP and a team member at the Racial Equity Institute, said she could not believe the district seems to be making decisions in the shadows without consulting their key stakeholders. She said CHCCS has not followed the steps identified in their Racial Equity Impact Assessment.
“It’s been the one and only program that has really been set up in any kind of significant way to provide support and opportunity to African-American students," Hunter said. "How could it be that that program is going to be expanded and no one involved in that program knew it?”
Andrews, who has lived in Chapel Hill for 35 years, said he believes the district needs to be more transparent and open about their plans, especially when it comes to combating the achievement gap. Andrews said the district repeatedly fails to take advantage of the wonderful Chapel Hill-Carrboro community by leaving them out of the decision-making process.
“The school system somehow feels the need to work, I’ll just say, in the shadows, and then to announce what they’re going to do, and that just again, is foolish to me," he said. "It’s a waste of their good work and time."
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.