Culturally Competent Collaboration: School Counselor Collaboration with African American Families and Communities

Article excerpt

Emerging literature on school-family-community partnerships suggests positive educational and social outcomes for students (Koonce & Harper, 2005; Mitchell & Bryan, 2007). This article discusses the historical and contemporary factors and barriers that affect African American students and their families as they partner with schools and communities. The article explores cultural competence as it relates to effective collaboration and interactions as well as an understanding of the political structures and sociocultural realities of African American students, families, and their communities. Specific models, strategies, and recommendations for school counselors' and counselor educators" effective work with African American students and families within school-family-community collaborations are discussed.

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School-family-community partnerships are relationships through which school personnel partner with families and other community members to help children succeed in school (Bryan, 2005; Epstein, 1995). Borrowing on the principles of systems approaches to counseling (see Goldenberg & Goldenberg, 2008), this may be familiar territory to school counselors. Moreover, school-family-community partnerships may serve as significant forms of social capital for African American families. That is, these partnerships move beyond the more passive, one-way acts of collaboration like volunteerism to more engaged collaborations that affirm the assets, capacities, and strengths of each partner and provide African American families with the connections to information, resources, and understandings they need to help children meet mutually determined academic goals (Bryan; Bryan & Henry, 2008). The benefits of partnership are reciprocal, however. Although school-family-community partnerships can help African American families, they also can offer school personnel the cultural skills and insights they need to fully engage in ways that most benefit students and lead to quality educational experiences that deepen and broaden students' learning communities (Koonce & Harper, 2005; Scheurich, 1998; Williams & Baber, 2007).

Given these significant findings, this article discusses the historical and contemporary factors and barriers that affect African American students and their families as they partner with schools and communities. We also explore cultural competence as it relates to effective collaboration and interactions as well as an understanding of the political structures and sociocultural realities of African American students, families, and their communities. In conclusion, we discuss specific models, strategies, and recommendations for school counselors' and counselor educators' effective work with African American students and families within school-family-community collaborations.

AFRICAN AMERICAN FAMILIES

African American families are an integral part of the rich tapestry of the United States. With roots in indentured servitude and slavery, the African American family has survived the African holocaust, or Maafa (Leary, 2005; Wells-Wilborn, Jackson, & Schiele, 2010), with values and behavioral patterns that are visible today. These include extended family orientation, reciprocity and support among family members, reverence and support for ciders, and cooperation and shared responsibility in child-rearing (Logan, 2001).

Current demographic data suggest that no single profile adequately characterizes the African American family. Making up about 13.5% of the U.S. population, African Americans live in diverse family systems in rural, suburban, and urban communities throughout the nation (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000). The average family size in the African American community is three, with approximately 37% of African American children living in two-parent households (U.S. Census Bureau). Thirty-three percent of African American families maintain middle-class status and 22. …