Dozens of mentors and students representing the Black-led educational advocacy group Action4Equity attended the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Board of Education meeting this week in support of the organization's mentoring program.
The contract for the program, which aimed to curb violence with community-based, trained mentors in four local schools, was terminated last month in light of an issue with one of the mentors.
On July 6, the district sent a letter to the families of about 200 students involved in the program, saying a mentor had been terminated for having an inappropriate relationship with a student.
The letter states that Action4Equity terminated the mentor, but that they did not notify the school district in a “timely or suitable manner.”
“Despite the benefits and potential of the Action4Equity mentoring program, WS/FCS will not tolerate any conduct that is in violation of WS/FCS Board policies and jeopardizes student safety,” the letter states.
Action4Equity leaders have denied the claims about not notifying school officials, and stated that they learned of the behavior, fired the mentor and informed the school district and law enforcement all on the same day.
The issue is under investigation, but supporters of the program want the district to reconsider their decision.
Seventeen-year-old Xavier Galloway spoke at the end of the Aug. 9 school board meeting about his experience in the program. He said his mentors helped him to see the bigger picture of his life.
“These kids, they need more of these mentors. It's hard for the Black community out here. No one seeks help for us besides ourselves,” Galloway said. “It's hard for us when we have something like this and then a major downfall messes it up and it's like it's gone within a second when it shouldn't have to be that way at all.”
Shinika Austin, the assistant director of the Embedded Mentoring Program, was tearful listening to Galloway speak. She said it was important for the board to hear from the students involved in the program and not just the adults.
“We showed up here to show the school board that one monkey won't stop our show,” she said. “And we have a whole bunch of children that we believe in, that believe in us and look up to us. … So, we came out, and it's just the point that they see us as their family.”
Austin said through the program, mentors were able to build relationships with the students as well as their parents and families. Since the contract has been terminated, she and other adults in the program have continued to try to manage those relationships.
“I have a group that's already feeling the effects, and we have to reassure them,” she said. “And we also have to find alternate ways, until we can get everything back in place, as to how to deal with them and still support them in schools.”
The organization's contract was not on the school board meeting's agenda. Once the students and mentors spoke during the public comment section, the meeting ended without response from board members.
Amy Diaz covers education for WFDD in partnership with Report For America. You can follow her on Twitter at @amydiaze.