Words Matter: Changing the Tone for Our Students

Friday, January 10, 2020

By Assemblyman Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer, Sr.

As of January 1, 2020, California’s Education and Penal Codes will no longer use the term “at-risk” to recognize, label or identify any student or student population attending our state’s public schools.

AB 413, eliminates the negative terminology and stigma associated with categorizing students as ‘at-risk’ and alters the language to a positive, reinforcing phrase that matches the child’s potential as an at-promise student.

Children can hear the term ‘at-risk’ used in reference to them and can misinterpret and internalize its meaning – this can have a weighting affect rather than uplifting the potential they each have in working towards a brighter future through persistence in the classroom.

At-risk has been used for years to describe predominantly students of color and their plight with social and economic difficulties. The term also promotes the stereotype of a student unable to achieve academic success because of where they live or the minimal amount of resources available.

This is especially true of students in the foster care system where Latinos make up half of the foster youth population and African American and Native American students continue to be disproportionately represented.

Every student has the potential to excel academically with the support of family, dedicated school officials and stakeholders in their respective community that value education and know firsthand the dedication needed to rise to the challenge of becoming successful.

Foster care students, along with those deemed disadvantaged economically and with special needs, each have been promised a free quality public education that supports them every step of the way and into either a career of their choosing or onto higher learning without labeling that follows them like a scarlet letter.

If you are a parent, remind your child about the importance of learning. If you are a school administrator or teacher, continue to remind your students about the promise a good education can deliver in future employment and understanding the working of the world and their immediate environment.

We must work as a village to remove risk from our students’ pathways and replace it with a promise of success.

About Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer

Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer, Sr. was elected in 2014 to represent the constituents of California’s 59th Assembly District (So. LA area) in the State Legislature. Chair of the Public Safety Committee and the Select Committee on Ending the School to Prison Pipeline, Assemblymember Jones-Sawyer is a fierce proponent of second-chances and fairness within the law.

A champion of minority, social justice and civil rights causes, the Assemblyman Jones-Sawyer has authored and had legislation signed into law related to ending discrimination in housing, providing mental health grants and supportive services to schools and expanding opportunities and growth to small and start-up business.