Caribbean Achievement Project

Conducting research to help the Schenectady City School District better support their Caribbean student population.

Photo of Travis Ghirdharie
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  • Education

Date You Started Your Project Started


Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Start-Up (first few activities have happened)

1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

In the early 2000’s, Caribbean immigrants moved to Schenectady, NY and helped revitalize the post-industrial city. Now composing ⅛ of the city’s population, teachers report that Caribbean students feel alienated, demonstrated by their low attendance and graduation rates. Caribbean students are not doing well in Schenectady’s schools. Our schools need to make systemic changes to fulfill the promise of educational equity in our schools.

2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

I am working with the school district to quantify the achievement gap of Caribbean youth. I have conducted a last name analysis to determine which students identify as Caribbean. I am analyzing this group's academic, attendance, and behavior data, and comparing these numbers to those of the entire district. Once these gaps are quantified, I plan to address these problems with community-based solutions by engaging students, staff, and families in focus groups and interviews. I also plan to use my experience as a teacher and student of anthropology to conduct ethnography in Schenectady's schools to observe school and classroom culture and how they might help or harm Caribbean students. I provide recommendations to the district in hopes to make systemic change in Schenectady's schools. While my work primarily focuses on Caribbean students, it also helps us find ways that the school district can better support their marginalized student groups. For instance, my work has helped the district realize that we are not collecting data to track the performance of our many immigrant populations and we are working to fix this.

3. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?

In Schenectady Schools, I faced the constant pressure to choose between my education and culture, just like many other Caribbean students. Despite this conflict, I was able to successfully complete high school and attend Cornell University. However my Caribbean peers started skipping school, doing drugs, etc. I blamed my peers for their lack of effort, instead of critiquing systems that alienated them from their education. This realization inspired me to join Teach for America to fight for educational equity for all students. As a teacher, I regularly sought student feedback and implemented culturally relevant pedagogy to further invest my students in their education. Now I have returned to Schenectady and started the Caribbean Achievement Project, hoping to transform my past educational experiences into powerful weapons to make lasting systemic change for marginalized groups in schools.

4. Selfie Elevator Pitch: Include 1-minute video that answers the following “I am stepping up to make change because...”

5. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.

Since this project is still in the start-up stage, nobody has reached out to get involved, but we are hoping that this will start happening sometime soon, especially after our listening tour. When community members reach out to regarding the Caribbean Achievement Project, I would like to meet with them and learn about why they are passionate about this work. I would then want to see what their current strengths are, and the ways that they would like to grow as an advocate. I would show them the general layout of the project. Then we'd come together and see where they would best for into the project's implementation. This would allow the individual to have a better understanding of how they best fit into the project's mission.

6. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

Many organizations are working to close the achievement gap, but aren’t advocating for systemic change to better support Caribbean students. There isn’t even a way to determine if a student identifies as Caribbean in schools. The NYC Indo-Caribbean Alliance provides tutoring to Caribbean students. But they only serve Indo-Caribbean students, limiting their scope. The ICA also works with students at an individual level. My project plans to support individual students. We also want to make systemic change to our schools, so that they can better support all marginalized student groups.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

Because of my project’s last name analysis, we have learned that about 14% of students in Schenectady schools identifies as Caribbean. I’ve been talking about my project to administrators, teachers, etc. in our schools and I’ve been educating and addressing misconceptions about this significant demographic. Some wrongly associate Caribbean students with the model minority myth. Many mispronounce the Caribbean names and countries. In general it is clear that these education stakeholders have extremely limited knowledge about a demographic that makes up about 1 in 7 of Schenectady’s students. Schenectady’s schools have overlooked Caribbean students. This project’s execution is already changing the narrative around Caribbean students and now I have become a school resource to better support this demographic in its pursuit of educational excellence and upward mobility.

8. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

The Caribbean Community Center will be executed alongside this project in order to provide strong community support to students outside of school. I hope that this center can serve the community in three key ways: 1) Provide academic support to students 2) Maintain a space for cultural events and discussions 3) Support and promote Caribbean-owned business. By seeking community input, I hope to find more ways that this Center can support the community. I am planning to conduct a listening tour to better understand the needs of my community in regard to these projects. I will be interviewing community stakeholders, members, and students. This listening tour is vital because people won’t care about what you know, until they know that you care

9. Which of the following types of expertise would be most useful for you?

  • Accounting & Finance

10. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Mentors/advisors

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others

Evaluation results

3 evaluations so far

1. Overall evaluation

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 0%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 100%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. - 0%

2. Changemaker Quality

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 0%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 66.7%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 33.3%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

3. Creativity

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 0%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 33.3%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 66.7%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer - 0%

4. Commitment

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 50%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 0%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 100%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer - 0%

5. Connection

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 33.3%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 33.3%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 33.3%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer or No Connection - 0%

Attachments (1)

Caribbean Achievement Project_Report 1 .pdf

The project's first report, in which we define the Caribbean identity and quantify the amount students that fit into this demographic. Then I provide recommendations to the school district on how to better collect this data.


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