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Rev. Shumake Receives Jefferson Award for Work with Mafanikio Program at Nystrom
By Craig Lazzeretti
Special to WCCUSD
For longtime Richmond community activist Rev. Andre Shumake Sr., giving African-American students at Nystrom Elementary School the tools and support to succeed academically is not just a matter of closing the achievement gap or raising standardized test scores.
It can also be a matter of life and death.
Shumake has seen first hand over the years the tragic consequences that can result when Richmond’s youth lose their sense of direction and purpose in school. It can start a downward spiral that ultimately leads to prison or worse.
“If our kids don’t get excited about learning, they’re going to fall further and further behind, and they may end up at that beachfront property across the bay at San Quentin, or I may get a call from their parents to do their eulogy,” Shumake said. “I see the results of our kids not getting this right.”
Shumake’s desire to make sure they do get it right has led him to his latest passion, serving as the site coordinator and school community outreach worker for the West Contra Costa Unified School District’s Mafanikio Academic Coaching Program at Nystrom Elementary School.
The after-school program, which was created during the 2016-17 school year under the leadership of district educational services directors Sonja Neely-Johnson and Dr. Janet Scott, resulted from parent concerns in the African-American community regarding their students’ academic progress. It is centered on instilling students with three simple concepts: Coming to school focused and willing to learn; paying attention to their teacher; and following instructions.
Jacqueline Martin was so impressed with Shumake’s leadership of the program and the impact it’s had on her grandson, D’jae Harrell, that she nominated him for the Jefferson Award for community service that he was recently awarded by KPIX Channel 5.
“He sits down with the kids individually if they have problems, he treats them like they’re his own,” Martin said. “The energy he brings to them is so great. This man has magic when it comes to kids. I really think he’s a friend of Santa Claus.”
Shumake’s first task in growing the program at Nystrom was recruiting teachers and tutors to take part, and engaging parents on how they can build on the program’s tutoring and mentoring components at home. It is primarily aimed toward students in grades three through six.
Three years in, the dividends are clear. Nystrom Principal Jamie Allardice credits Mafanikio (Swahili for “Achievement”) with helping to close the African-American achievement gap at the school. He notes that English Language Arts scores for African-American students on the SBAC test improved by 6% from 2016-18, while overall student performance remained flat.
“While we know the African-American achievement gap is a real thing in our district, in our state, and in our country, we can see the Mafanikio program has had an impact on the achievement levels of African-American students at Nystrom,” he said. “Our challenge now is to continue our improvement.”
Shumake says one key to the program’s success has been simply helping students believe in themselves and their ability to learn.
“One of the challenges was that many of the students had sort of given up on themselves,” he said. “Somewhere along the line, they had been misinformed, misled that they couldn’t achieve at high levels academically.
“It wasn’t because parents didn’t want them to, it was because somewhere along the line they had bought into the lie that they couldn’t learn.”
Shumake works with the other participants in Mafanikio to expose that lie by teaching students that challenges and struggles don’t equate with failure, and that hard work and perseverance are the keys to learning.
“They say, ‘Rev. Shumake, I don’t know it.’ My response is, ‘You don’t know it yet,’ ” he said. “Instead of throwing up their hands and quitting, they raise their hand and ask for help and maybe identify some strategies to see what that problem was.”
Martin saw the transformation last year in her second grader, who had been having behavioral problems before Mafanikio instilled him with a love of learning. In addition to the after-school tutoring program, Shumake has taken D’jae and others on field trips to places such as UC Berkeley for Cal Day and the Bill Pickett Invitational black cowboy rodeo in Castro Valley over the summer break.
“He’s a different kid,” Martin said of D’jae. “He has more interest in learning and comes home telling me all the things he’s learning in that program. All these experiences mean so much to him.”
Teachers and other students also benefit, Shumake said, when students who were once causing distractions in class become focused. “If we’re going to accomplish any academic goals in our school district, we have to have teachers who have a safe classroom environment where they can teach.”
He gives particular credit for the success of the program to Neely-Johnson and Scott from the district office. “Had it not been for them, this program would not be functioning,” he said. “If anyone should be getting some kind of an award, it should be Sonja Neely-Johnson and Janet Scott.”
Nystrom teachers Dorcas Sims, Ibilola Soyode and Alicia Wheat, retired teacher Oji Blackston and graduate tutor Nerina Iliili also have been pivotal in the program’s success, Shumake said.
Shumake sees Mafanikio as his latest ministry in a city where he has spent much of his life fighting the social ills that too often have led to tragic outcomes for young African-Americans. He calls Nystrom “paradise” for the difference it is making in so many lives.
“When I greet them on campus, I say, ‘Welcome back to paradise.’ Anytime you can show up somewhere and learn, that is paradise.”