Monday, January 30, 2012

Captured: Team Bonding

Now if this doesn't prove what a positive work culture we make sure to build, I don't know what does.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Words: Red Jacket Ambassadors

"We changed our thinking from what can we do to what do children need?"  
- Lisa, executive director of City Year Chicago 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Words: The 20%

"There's a general understanding in our schools that in order to hit 80% of the kids, you're going to miss 20%."

"It's always our responsibility to be the advocate for the 20%.  Because in a room of 10 people, 9 of them won't be."

Printed: Damming the Water

According to an article called Basketball Controveries: In the Name of Protecting Kids, There's a Movement to Take Their Sports Equipment Away, "the debate over whether basketball courts attract violence - or whether they're simply blamed because people are afraid of the young men of color they see playing ball - has been going on for years."

In the diverse-but-gentrifying Uptown neighborhood, where I live, the alderman recently removed the rims on the basketball hoops in a park, with the rationale that if kids don't hang out in the park, they won't engage in the gang recruitment or activity that can happen there.  However, as one resident puts it, "removing the rims obviously hasn't ended the problems, and... it will get worse because kids don't have a place to play."

In Oz Park, the rims have also been removed.  "Lincoln Park High School (across the street) has several highly regarded honors and arts programs, but 'it also has some issues around school discipline that makes some people concerned around going there,' Alderman Smith says.  What she didn't say is that while the neighborhood is well-off and white, the student body is neither.  Neighborhood parents typically send their kids to magnet or privates schools, and most Lincoln Park high sudents, commuting from other areas, are under a spotlight as they come and go."  So though eliminating groups of kids playing the park might make the white Lincoln Park residents feel 'safer,' will it actually change anything?  

While removing the rims may make parks less busy, what about attempting to give kids more productive things to do with their time, rather than less?  Build a YMCA, hire security to guard the parks so they can be usable, give schools more funding to hold after school programs - anything that will provide the millions of benefits that after school programs and sports are scientifically proven to give kids... 

Attempting to end gang violence by cracking down on symptoms of gangs is the same thing as attempting to stop water-flow by building dam after dam after dam, then getting frustrated and blaming the water when it continues to find places to flow.  The solution is to address the source of the issue.

Printed: Maniac Magee

"Maniac loved the colors of the East End, the people colors.  For the life of him, he couldn't figure out why these East Enders called themselves black.  He kept looking and looking, and the colors he found were gingersnap and light fudge and dark fudge and acorn and butter rum and cinnamon and burnt orange." 

"As Maniac ate and talked and laughed his way through dinner, he couldn't help thinking of the Beales.  How alike the two families were: friendly, giving, accepting.  So easily he could picture the Beales brown faces around this dinner table, and the little Pickwell kid's white bodies in the bathtub at 728 Sycamore.  Whoever had made of Hector street a barrier, it was not these people."

- Jerry Spinelli, Maniac Magee
   pg. 58 and 154

Moment: Return

Hearing "Hey, Ms. Lewis" and turning around to see a student that had quit school about a month ago standing there on his way to the cafeteria.

(I got TWO hugs and he told me that he's glad to be back in school :-)  Which, clearly, I followed up by giving him a long note and a book at the end of the day.  He told me he would read it "just for me."  Being the only adult that sits and listens to a kid can have its payoffs).

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Printed: Zero Tolerance Consequences

"The U.S. has experienced dramatic increases in the number of students suspended, expelled, and referred to law enforcement...  These practices are paving the way for higher dropout rates and involvement in the criminal justice system, a pathway often referred to as the 'school-to-prison pipeline.' (From Teaching Tolerance)

Some examples:  In Florida, a five-year-old girl was arrested and forcibly removed from her elementary school by local police for having a temper tantrum in class. 

A ten-year-od boy was dealing with sever emotional and behavioral disturbances.  Over a two-month period, other students harassed him multiple times.  James reported the harassment to school officials, to no avail.  A week after being choked by a student, James was knocked to the group by the same student while others watched and laughed.  Frustrated, angry, and frightened, James jumped to his feet shouting 'I could kill you.' When school officials called the police, James was removed from the school in handcuffs, placed alone in the back of a police van, and charged with making 'terroristic threats."

A ten-year-old girl found a small knife in her lunchbox, placed there by her mother, for cutting an apple.  She immediately gave the knife to her teacher, but was expelled from school for possessing a weapon.  

A teen in Georgia was expelled for violating school rules by talking to his mother (with whom he had not spoken in 30 days).  His mother was on deployment as a soldier in Iraq.

This is disturbing enough as it is (why is it so hard to treat students as PEOPLE?) but it gets worse when you consider that
  • "nationwide, African American students are expelled at 3.5 times the rate of white students... and Latino students are almost twice as likely to be expelled as their white peers,"
  • "children with mental and emotional disabilites are much more likely to be suspended, expelled, and arrested at school," 
  • and that "students who are repeatedly suspended, or who are expelled, are likely to fall behind their peers academically, paving the way to eventual dropout." 
So now of course I think about my school.  I can think of students of mine that have been suspended, expelled, and arrested on school grounds in the past couple of weeks.  The article lists "after-school detention" as an effective alternative strategy for discipline, and it's so ridiculous that it's almost funny that our school has stopped holding detentions because our Dean of Students is also the Athletic Director and is now busy with basketball season (which is clearly the priority here, right?).  Students' behavior has gotten worse since they know there's no detention and teachers are frustrated by the lack of any middle-ground consequences available.  I have definitely seen students get suspended for infractions that merited only a detention.  And pretty much when students are suspended for 10 days or more, their grade is shot.

I still have mixed feelings on the automatic suspension policy for anything gang-related... how effective is it to send kids out onto the streets, aka further into the gang, when they're at their most vulnerable?  In my opinion, consequences for gang-related incidents should be paired with mandatory counseling or peer support groups that give students a space to actually discuss and explore with adult guidance the implications of joining or rejecting a gang.  The message currently given is something like "well now we know you're in a gang or considering joining one, so we're not going to let you come to school for the next 2 weeks.  Good luck completing your work by yourself.  You're really going to need luck on the tests you'll likely have when you return on material that you weren't around to learn.  You know, the top reasons for joining a gang are for a sense of belonging and for a sense of actually being successful at something... I don't see how you don't feel like you belong or can succeed at school.  But I'm not going to talk about it with you, since I don't talk about gangs." 

A friend at another west side high school shared that recently she gave her teacher a heads up that a particular student was having a rough day - rather than thinking "what can I do to check in with him or support him," his response was "well then maybe he shouldn't come to class today."  As teachers and educators, shouldn't it be our job to show students that school is a place of caring and understanding, not try to get them out of school at every slightest chance? 

Update: There is now a petition on for a 6 year old girl in Georgia who was arrested at school for 'a temper tantrum.'  Her parents say Salecia has been traumatized by this experience. She's afraid to return to school and recently woke up in the middle of the night saying 'they are coming to get me.' 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Printed: Finland's Secret

So we all know that Finland's education system rocks.  What I didn't know is this:

"What may come as a surprise is that Finland has neither engaged in researching its own, distinctive reform measures, nor generated change knowledge to steer education policy implementation. Instead, Finnish researchers have relied on the theories and insights of their international peers... Education ideas from the United States have played an especially significant role... Finnish authorities have likewise made significant use of ideas from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development; the European Commission; and the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. In short, the Finns have been open to learning from other education systems."  - EdWeek

Learning from others who are doing the same thing next door.  Genius!  

Equally as genius: "Second, formulation and implementation of education policies have been built upon close cooperation with education authorities, municipalities that govern the schools, and—through Finland's Trade Union of Education—teachers."  Teachers?  Who work with kids?  Informing policy about kids?!?  It's so crazy it just might work!

Another gem: "The key driver of education-development policy in Finland has been providing equal and positive learning opportunities for all children and securing their well-being, including their nutrition, health, safety, and overall happiness... They have not endorsed student testing and school ranking as the path to improvement..."

It's not rocket science, people.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Captured: MLK Day

Paint got crazy
Some of the 900 volunteers at the YMCA, an elementary school, and a high school
YMCA on the west side - 12 classrooms, 2 hallways, and a lot of paint 

Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?' - MLK

Monday, January 16, 2012

Printed: Murder Rates

The murder rate... in Chicago dropped 2 percent, but those numbers don’t seem to matter in Englewood [south side neighborhood]. The Sun Times reports that though city murder rates are at their lowest in decades citywide, murders in Englewood rose 40 percent this year. - Chicagoist 

From another source.  Red = 2009 murder. 
Trapped in a vicious cycle.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Rambling: New White Kid!

Breaking news: there is a new kid at our high school, and he's white.  This seems so bizarre, then it seems bizarre that it seems so bizarre.  So far we know that he wears braces, is very polite, and "had a good first day."

I cannot imagine transferring into a school where you are the only one of your color.  Everyone is curious to hear 'his story' about why he's attending our school, as if he needs a reason.  I'll be keeping a close eye on how the other students receive him... hopefully they'll embrace the move toward diversity ?

March Update:  I never heard about any conflicts between him and other students.  However, he has transferred. 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Printed: Religious Intolerance

This is disgusting.  A 16-year-old stands up for her constitutional rights and now her classmates are threatening to kill her.  Read about it 

"I hope there's lots of banners in hell when your rotting in there you athiest fuck #TeamJesus"

I am shocked by the close-mindedness, hatred, and lack of understanding of these teenagers.  Sigh. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Printed: The South

Today we had a thought-provoking IJ session (deep discussion about an aspect of life) with my fellow Senior Corps members.  Data shared:

Student Performance 
Top 5 States: Vermont, Massachusetts, Florida, New Hampshire, New York
Bottom 5 States: South Carolina, West Virginia, Michigan, New Mexico, Louisiana

The national high school graduation rate is only 70%, with states ranging from a high of 84% in Utah to a low of 54% in South Carolina.  The report also cited 2006 data that found that only about 42% of South Carolina ninth-graders had a solid chance of enrolling in college. 

Discussion: "How are stereotypes formed?  Is there validity to the stereotype that southerners are less educated?  And looking at the data, why is nothing being done about it?"

Monday, January 9, 2012

Words: Testing Scores

"This freshmen says that he isn't being challenged in class, so he's failing.  Ha.  Have you seen his ISAT scores?  They're dismal... don't let him fool you, he just thinks he's pretty so he doesn't do his work."

Why are test scores more of an authority than the student himself?  There could be a million reasons why he has low test scores that have nothing to do with his intelligence.

Words: Student

Rushing through the halls worrying about to do lists and deadlines -

Me: Hey, how was your holiday break?
S: It was sad.
Me: Oh yeah? Why is that?
S: My uncle was murdered.

Wow.  Perspective.

Printed: School Closing

"CPS has schedule hearings in January and February for the schools that are scheduled to turnaround or close; however, the CTU and an army of activists, parents, and community members have planned protests for the week before..."

No one likes change.  However, when a school has been on probation for the past ten years, 19 out of 20 juniors don't meet state testing standards, 83% of eligible students choose to enroll in other schools, and more than 50% of students don't graduate, something's gotta change.  C'mon, Teachers Union.

Printed: Taylor Mali Poem

"Let me teach like the first snow, falling."   From Undivided Attention 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Printed: Source of Underachievement

"For example, in an investigation of academic achievement among Mexican American students in a Texas high school, (the researcher) located the problem of student underachievement not in students' identities or in family culture or poverty, but in uncaring school-based relationships and ineffective organizational structures."

It's the same everywhere.  Why is this so hard to grasp, society?  Kids need love and adults need to be well-led so they focus on their kids.  The end.

Another Inconvenient Truth: Race and Ethnicity Matter printed in Educational Leadership, Nov 2010

Rambling: See People How They Want

I had a thought during Bea Young's diversity training at ATR.  We were writing 'Personal Vision Statements' and I had to finish the phrase "I am a person who..."

My first thought was I am a person who sees the best in people.  However, I think it's a beautiful thing to see the worst of people, too, and still love them regardless (which that doesn't capture).  Since we were talking about culture all day, my next solution was I am a person who sees people's strengths weaknesses and appreciates their culture, but that's kind of weird, and some people would value their culture more than others anyway.  Then I realized that really how I want to see people is how they want others to see them.  The perception of ourselves that we strive to project to others is really the best of ourselves, the weaknesses we're willing to expose, and has the elements of our cultures that we want others to appreciate.

So, I am a person who sees people how they want to be seen.  It's not rocket science.  Example - seeing 'the best of' Student Darious would mean focusing on his potential and resiliency (not his evident negative qualities that others tend to focus on).  However, seeing Darious 'how he wants to be seen' equates to the same thing - because deep down, Darious wants to be known as someone with potential and resiliency.  Everyone does.  There's something lovely about acknowledging the fact that we both want the same thing.    

Really, it should come naturally - just put yourself in other people's shoes to determine how they want to be seen, and that's the answer.