No App for That

Legacy HS students use theater to reflect on school closure

Students from M.S. 363 in the Bronx perform a skit about the choice to stand up to bullies as part of the ENACT showcase.

Students weren’t able to stop the city from closing Legacy High School for Integrated Studies. But they have been able to turn their protests into a learning experience.

Last night, students from Legacy performed a skit on the difficulty of making choices. In the skit, the students had access to “Make a Choice 3000,” an app that showed them the outcome of possible decisions.

The skit was performed as part of “Show Up,” an annual event showcasing of original performances written by students as part of ENACT, a dropout prevention program that operates in 150 city schools with high dropout rates.

The choice the kids in the skit were confronted with? Whether to fight against the city’s closure of the fictional Regency High School, even if they knew their efforts would most likely be fruitless.

The skit also delved into students’ feelings after their efforts failed.

“I feel embarrassed,” one student in the skit said. “We fought so hard.”

The Panel for Educational Policy voted to phase out Legacy in February, despite student-led efforts in opposition to the turnaround, including a student walk-out to a rally at Union Square and phone drive. Legacy students were at the forefront of the protests, which involved several high schools.

But the skit concluded with a positive message.

“Sometimes you don’t have a say,” a student actor said. “But you always have a voice.”

ENACT strives to use theater to help students take ownership of their behavior and choices, and holds workshops at the schools throughout the year, focusing especially on the ninth grade. The performances last night were the result of ENACT’s afterschool program at four schools, including Legacy.

“We ask students what it is that they want to share with an audience in a way that be heard, that can help bridge gaps between the community and the schools,” said Diana Feldman, the founder and head of the program.

“In this particular school, clearly this was on their mind,” she said. “Some of the had a sense of hopelessness, and we worked with them in helping them realize they learned a lot, that there was a lesson in standing up for themselves.”

Harry Rivas, a freshman at Legacy and actor in the skits, said the students chose to set the piece at a fictional high school in order to depoliticize it.

“We didn’t want anybody to feel blamed,” he said. “It feels great to just give them our perspective of being in a school that’s being phased out.”

The other skits, performed by students from the High School of Hospitality Management in Manhattan, M.S. 363 in the Bronx, and the School for Legal Studies in Brooklyn, also focused on the importance of choice.

DaShannon Bryant, a sophomore at the School for Legal Studies, said ENACT helps her make a choice every day— to show up for school.

Bryant said she was recommended to participate in the ENACT afterschool program after she racked up absences her freshman year.

“I had a lot of absences, so a teacher recommended I get involved so I would come to school, so I could learn and stuff,” she said.

Erica Burkett, a freshman at Legacy and aspiring actress, signed up for the after school program as soon as she heard about it. She said ENACT was also one of her favorite parts of school.

“I just love it so much,” she said.

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.