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Bridging the Gap: Seaver College Professor Kendrick Roberson Addresses Educational Inequality in Compton Through Pilot Program

Kendrick Roberson

Kendrick Roberson, an assistant professor of political science at Seaver College, discovered a problem within his local community and vowed to fix it. 

The dilemma is simple. Eighth graders in Los Angeles are struggling with math. In fact, students in this specific age range just earned their lowest mathematical scores in 13 years. Across the board, kids are finding it difficult to grasp the basic numerical concepts necessary to their continued academic success. This problem is particularly severe in school districts educating primarily students of color.

“The undermining of Black education has a historical legacy,” Roberson says. “While people of color have made advancements as a group, Black and brown people are still woefully behind everyone else, which limits their opportunities. I promote the concept of equity—the concept of equalizing opportunity. One of the key ways we do that is by providing an education system that supports folks.”

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2022, Black students in California scored 36 points lower on mathematics exams than their white peers. Similarly, Hispanic students scored 27 points lower than their white peers. These data points reveal a lack of progress and, specifically, a lack of improvement, in academic scoring since the year 2000.

Moved by these statistics, Roberson was determined to uplift the educational resources available to students in Compton and provide children in this Los Angeles neighborhood—whose diverse community is 34.3 percent Hispanic, 26.7 percent Black, and 12.9 percent biracial—a fair chance to succeed. 

“Ahead of the Game”

“You want to give people the opportunity to be who they were born to be,” says Roberson. “If a student has a great mind for mathematics and they don’t receive the foundational support that they need, they’ll never achieve.”

With the support of staggering data and a resolute belief in the power of resources, Roberson developed what he calls the “vivid vision.” His goal is to create a community program that would help to minimize the educational disparity between communities of color and less diverse populations within 20 years. 

Roberson, alongside Seaver College students Ethan Barragan, Kayla Crouch, and Nicole Fashaw, developed a pilot program entitled “Ahead of the Game” in summer 2023. Their goal was to provide supplementary mathematical courses for high school students in Compton. Together, Roberson and his cohort of undergraduate researchers began their investigation by studying the courses offered in the local school system. This allowed them to create a four-week summer program in which students could jump-start their geometry and algebra education using the same textbooks they’d receive at school for no cost.

“If you miss something early on in math class, you’re going to struggle to catch up,” says Roberson. “In a classroom, a teacher has 30 to 35 students. They cannot stop for every student to express an issue with the curriculum or gaps in their knowledge. Part of our program provides an onsite tutor to recognize such gaps.” 

By providing students with the time, space, and support necessary to learn at their own pace, Roberson’s “Ahead of the Game” program prepares high schoolers prior to the start of the next academic year. This head start allows them to create a foundation of knowledge to supplement their contemporaneous learning. Thus, when faced with challenging or advanced concepts during class, students can excel rather than play catch-up.

During the program’s first year, “Ahead of the Game” hosted 10 students at the Inspirational Missionary Baptist Church in Compton, where they received instruction from 10 AM until noon with optional supplemental tutoring for those interested in one-on-one help. When Roberson checked in with the parents of each of these students during the fall semester, he learned all but one achieved an A grade in their high school math course. 

The success of this pilot program, coupled with Roberson’s passion to progress the project further, has opened new doors of opportunity. Recently, the professor of political science was awarded a Hayne’s Fellowship in support of his “Ahead of the Game” program. The accolade secures $16,000 for the development of this beneficial educational resource and distinguishes Roberson as a leading figure in the fight to assuage social dilemmas in the Los Angeles area.

Bridging the Gap

For Roberson, the issue of inequality in the California school system is personal. Growing up in Carson, California, and having attended the local high school, he struggled to keep up in the classroom. Limited academic resources, the quick pace of the curriculum, and large class sizes were all roadblocks on his academic journey. This changed when he transferred to Redondo Union High School in Redondo Beach. 

By driving a few extra miles west, Roberson gained access to a school system that provided co-curricular clubs, individual meetings with guidance and college counselors, and an internship program. These resources, along with many others, revealed to Roberson that not all educations are created equal. 

“The resource gap between Carson High School and Redondo Union High School was tremendous,” says Roberson.“As a teenager finishing high school, I said to myself, ‘Whatever I do, I want to make sure I come back and try to find a solution to this problem.’”

Since then, Roberson has achieved an associate’s degree, a bachelor's degree, three master’s degrees, and a PhD. He’s climbed from falling behind at Carson High School to leaping ahead at some of the premier institutions in the United States including Pepperdine University––where he earned a BA and an MS–– and the University of Southern California––where he earned an MS, an MA, and PhD in political science and international relations. 

But this assortment of degrees is not what qualified him to enhance the state of mathematics in his local community. Rather, as a student at El Camino Community College studying economics, Roberson won a nationwide competition hosted by NASA. The victory propelled him into nine years of work estimating the cost of satellites at the Los Angeles Air Force Base, Space and Missile Systems Center. Armed with an advanced knowledge of mathematics, Roberson was able to make a living while serving the nation at the same time. 

Now, as a political scientist, the Seaver College professor uses his mathematical abilities to expand his knowledge as a methodologist, where he applies statistics, AI, and computer programming to diversify his scholarship. More than that, he employs his numerical skills to give back to his hometown community as a teacher in the “Ahead of the Game” program.

The Future

Now in his second year of running “Ahead of the Game” in Compton, Roberson has gained experience, community trust, and, most importantly, the funding necessary to critically enhance his burgeoning program. With grant donations from Pepperdine University and the Haynes Foundation, the program recruits and retains highly qualified teachers to participate in and advocate for “Ahead of the Game” throughout Southern California. Already these additional funds have paid off, as the program just recently added a venue in Carson, California’s Stevenson Park. This extra facility will create space for 35 more students to enjoy “Ahead of the Game’s” free instruction.

In the future, Roberson is exploring initiatives that can more comprehensively connect the community with this educational resource, chief among them transportation.“One of the goals of the future is to get a bus,” he says. “Many parents, particularly in Compton, don’t want their kids walking around in the middle of the day. If they’re working and are unable to transport their students, it's difficult for the resource to be as effective as it could be.” 

Roberson believes this next step is key to ultimately achieving his vivid vision for Black education in California.

“In 2044, I want to see Black education levels and Black graduations from high school, from community college, and institutions of higher education at the same level as the highest-achieving population group,” says Roberson. “In this life, you choose which way you want to go, and an education can help get you there.”