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Closing the gap will take effort

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By Jesef Williams

A nationally known motivational speaker visited Lancaster for the second time in four months to speak to concerned residents about the disparity in academic achievement among students.

Mychal Wynn, an educator and author of several books, was the keynote speaker at the first-ever Community Education Summit, a product of the local Closing the Achievement Gap initiative.

A large part of Wynn’s message centered on black children, who, according to local data, perform considerably lower than their white counterparts on standardized tests.

Wynn said parents and the community don’t make education a high enough priority in those children’s lives.

“When it comes to academic achievement, we have lowered our expectations so much as a community,” Wynn told the crowd at Bundy Auditorium at the University of South Carolina at Lancaster.

Wynn said that parents must be aware of the way they speak to their children, because children may tune their parents out over time. He advised parents to shorten their sentences (avoiding long lectures and demands) and be persistent in making your child talk to you.

He said many children don’t talk to their parents enough and, later in life, they aren’t able to community well with people.

Wynn believes communities tend to give up on students once they start struggling or reach a certain age. He urged those in attendance to speak about education in a positive light as much as possible and encourage students to take challenging courses.

Before Wynn spoke, Dr. Gene Moore, the Lancaster County School District superintendent, cited data that illustrates the strides made by students along racial and socioeconomic lines.

In 2008, for example, 74 percent of white boys in the school district scored basic or above on the English/Language Arts section of the Palmetto Achievement Challenge Test. But on the same test, 49 percent of black boys scored basic or above on the same test.

Moore said it’s going to take a concerted effort from all – educators, parents and the community – to turn those numbers around.

Judging by attendance at the conference, Moore said it appeared residents were ready to do so.

“I’m excited to see the turnout we have here,” he said. “It’s not a school district issue. It is a community issue, and what happens in the community is so important.”

The Closing the Achievement Gap initiative started in 2007 as an attempt to discover why certain groups of students don’t perform as well academically as others.

The committee, headed by retired teacher Bobby Bailey, consists of educators, parents and leaders from the faith and business communities, among others.

A major aim of the initiative is to make people aware of available resources and to organize people interested in tutoring, mentoring and providing other services to help area children succeed.

Organizers and supporters talked last week of the desire to have the summit again next year.

“I hope this is one of many,” school board chairwoman Charlene McGriff told the audience. “We want you to know that we need your help in order for this to be a success.”

Contact reporter Jesef Williams at jwilliams@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 283-1152