First Person

Week of 10/18/10: Safe schools wrap-up

Colorado Attorney General touts Safe2Tell

Colorado AG John Suthers this week unveiled new statistics from Safe2Tell, a program within the Office of the Attorney General, illustrating how the program has helped school officials and law enforcement intervene in thousands of potentially dangerous and life-threatening situations.

Since the 2004-2005 school year, students across Colorado have filed more than 2,700 reports concerningsafe2tellbullying, gangs and other problems through Safe2Tell. These tips and reports have helped local school and law enforcement to intervene and put a halt to problems before they grow and have potentially disastrous consequences.

The work of Safe2Tell and the more than 2,782 tips students provided have resulted in:

  • 284 school disciplinary actions
  • 67 arrests
  • 393 investigations
  • 344 counseling referrals
  • 282 prevention and intervention plans
  • 796 increased monitoring of individuals

Suthers and officials from Jeffco Public Schools also announced today that Safe2Text, a pilot program expanding the way students can file tips and reports, has been a resounding success. Safe2Text, a pilot program with Jeffco Public Schools, allows students to file anonymous reports with school officials and law enforcement through an encrypted two-way text message system. Since the start of the pilot program with Jeffco Public Schools, Safe2Text has generated 28 serious tip reports:

  • Seven reports involving drugs, four reports concerning bullying, three reports of suicidal threats
  • Three reports of depression, three reports of sexual misconduct and one each of the following: child abuse, cutting, assault, harassment, discrimination, counseling, overpricing a fundraiser and one report classified as “other.”

Students can file a tip or a report with Safe2Tell by calling 1-877-542-7233 or by submitting a tip through the program’s Web site, www.safe2tell.org.

Colorado Legacy Foundation receives $50,000 bullying prevention grant

The Colorado Legacy Foundation has received a $50,000 grant from the Gay and Lesbian Fund for Colorado to help create safer, healthier schools.

The grant supports one of the Colorado Legacy Foundation’s key initiatives – health and wellness in schools. The funding will be used to host the 2010 Healthy Schools Summit on Tuesday, Nov. 9, launch a new section dedicated exclusively to bullying prevention on the foundation’s online Health and Wellness Best Practices Guide, and provide hands-on bullying prevention assistance to schools as well as grants to support bullying prevention work.

The Nov. 9 Healthy Schools Summit agenda includes a bullying prevention panel of national and local speakers from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) as well as the National Center for School Engagement and Colorado School Safety Resource Center. The summit – also sponsored by Kaiser Permanente of Colorado and Western Dairy Association – is for superintendents, school district administrators, teachers, coordinated school health team members, community health and wellness agencies, health care providers and school board members. Register for this free, full-day event.

The guide is the second in a series of best practices published by the Colorado Legacy Foundation in collaboration with the Colorado Department of Education. The new bullying prevention section will launch in early November.

Schools follow new polices for head injuries

7NEWS reports on new policies in Colorado high schools aimed at preventing long-term head injuries in student athletes. Prior to this year, students could start practicing and playing again without a written release from a doctor. Now, the written consent only means the student athlete can proceed to step two of a six-step return-to-play process.

The six-step approach includes:

  • No physical activity as long as there are symptoms;
  • Light aerobic activity;
  • Sport-specific exercise;
  • Non-contact training drills; full-contact practice;
  • Return to play.

Another new policy puts the onus on high school coaches. High school coaches must take the 20-minute online course before the season, or they won’t be allowed to coach. So far, it’s not a requirement in middle schools or coaches who don’t have a supervisory role, such as volunteer assistants.

Teaching kids about safety on two wheels

9News reports about what students in one Jefferson County elementary school are doing to learn about bicycle safety through a program funded by a $35,000 federal grant, which will allow Bicycle Colorado to map out the neighborhoods and find the safest routes to school.

New law prevents expulsion of Colorado kindergartner

9News also reported on a boy who brought a toy gun to school.

“School officials in Grand Junction say a kindergartner who brought a toy gun to school was spared expulsion because of a new state law. A teacher at Nisley Elementary School saw the toy gun in the boy’s backpack on Tuesday. Officials found he wasn’t trying to threaten anyone but just wanted to show friends his new toy. School district spokesman Jeff Kirtland told The Daily Sentinel that state law previously required anyone with a facsimile gun in school to be removed from school.

Lawmakers changed the state’s “zero tolerance” law in 2009 after a 17-year-old drill team commander was suspended for having practice rifles in her vehicle at a high school in Aurora.”

First Person

‘I didn’t feel like I had anyone to ask for support’: Why it matters to have teachers who look like me

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

For 10 years — the first decade I was in school — all my teachers were white women.

As a Mexican-American kid, I didn’t get the chance to have a man of color as a teacher until high school. Going into my senior year, I like how diverse my teachers are now, but I wish I’d had the same experience when I was younger.

When I think about why it matters to have a teacher I can relate to, I think back to fifth grade. A classmate said to me, “Mexicans are illegal—they cross the border every day! How about you, did you cross the border?” This bothered me. So, after class, I asked the teacher for help. But all she said was, “That’s OK, he was just playing.” From there, I had nowhere to go. She was at the top of the food chain.

In 1990, before they met, my mother and father came over the border from Mexico. My mom’s parents weren’t making enough profit from their cattle ranch, so they had little choice but to immigrate. My mom came with them to the United States and worked at a restaurant so she could send money back home. My father followed his older brother here because he wanted to start a new life. Little did he know he would one day cross paths with my mother and eventually start a family.

But my classmate was “just playing” when he insulted all of this. I wish my teacher had done something else.

If I’d been the teacher, I would’ve taken a different approach and worked to understand why we were acting and responding the way we were. Maybe the other student and I could’ve found common ground. But, unfortunately, we never had a chance to try.

Up until ninth grade, I had zero male teachers of color. I didn’t feel like I had anyone to ask for support when things like the fifth-grade incident happened. Many of us students felt that way — and that’s why I want to be a teacher, a fifth-grade teacher in particular. I want to make my culture an asset in the classroom and be a teacher students feel comfortable confiding in, no matter their background.

A teacher’s perspective: Cut from the same cloth: Why it matters that black male teachers like me aren’t alone in our schools

In middle school, I started seeing more male educators, but they were all white. Then, when it came time for me to start high school, I ended up going to school in a different neighborhood — an hour commute away—and things finally changed for me. Since starting high school, I’ve had six male teachers of color, and it’s made a huge difference.

My high school makes a big deal out of the whole “building relationships” thing. To my teachers and everyone else at the school, relationships are just as important as academics. At first, it was hard to get used to, but eventually it started making sense to me. I’m in an all-male mentorship group led by two African-American men who openly share about their struggles growing up in New York, and give us advice in any area of life — including what it means to appreciate our cultures. This is one of the things I like most about my school.

It’s hard to explain the way it feels to have a teacher who looks like you; they’re like older brothers who become a huge part of our lives, even if it’s just for four years. They make it easier to connect and socialize and help me feel more like I belong. To me, learning from someone who reflects who you are is one of the best things a student can experience.

Near the end of the school year, my mentorship group did an activity where we took turns getting asked questions by other students and staff. One of the mentors asked me, “What’s it like being Mexican American and how has your background influenced your goals?” No one had ever asked me that before, and it took a long time for me to process the question.

After a few moments, I spoke a bit about my family’s story and shared some of the stereotypes I had encountered and how they affect me today. Everyone was so supportive, and the mentors encouraged me to continue breaking stereotypes and defining myself rather than letting others define me.

It was nerve-wracking at first, telling my story in that group, but after three years of high school, we’d developed that level of trust. It was the first time I’d shared my story with that many people at once, but it felt intimate and very different from the time in fifth grade when that kid tried to tell my story for me.

Finally having teachers that look like me has made a huge difference. They don’t just mentor me and help me with my academics, they also make my goal of becoming a teacher seem more realistic.

Having men of color I can look up to and model myself after is a big part of why I have no doubt I’ll make it to college — and eventually be able to give other kids the type of help my mentors have given me. I know where I’m needed, and that’s where I’m headed.

Jose Romero is a senior at EPIC High School North in Queens, New York. This piece originally appeared on the blog of TNTP, a national nonprofit and advocacy group that trains new teachers.

First Person

A Queens teacher on Charlottesville: ‘It can’t just be teachers of color’ offering lessons on race

PHOTO: Bob Mical/Creative Commons

In a few short weeks, school will resume in New York and I’m already thinking about how we are going to address racism within the four walls of my classroom. I’m thinking about what texts, historical and current, we can read and films and documentaries we can watch to support dialogue, questioning, and solutions for combatting that ugly, pervasive thread in the fabric of our country’s patchwork quilt called racism.

Last year we read “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass,” a former slave turned abolitionist, and juxtaposed its reading with a viewing of Ava DuVernay’s documentary “13th,” which discusses modern-day slavery in the guise of mass incarceration. Students asked questions of the documentary as they watched it and discussed those queries within their groups and with the class at large afterwards.

We do our children and ourselves a disservice when we don’t have these difficult conversations as a part of our collective curriculums. However, many teachers from various walks of life are neither well-versed nor fully comfortable discussing race on any level with their students. Not talking about racism won’t make it go away. If anything, not talking about racism in the classroom further perpetuates racist ideologies that are, at their root, born out of ignorance. Education’s goal is to dispel ignorance and replace it with truth.

With that being said, just how many teachers feel equipped to facilitate lessons that touch heavily upon race in the classroom? Not nearly enough.

According to Teaching Tolerance, “The dialogue about race should start in the classroom — the teacher-prep classroom, that is. Preservice teachers should be exploring multiculturalism and discussing ways to honor diversity in their future classrooms.”

But often, Hilton Kelly, a professor of education at Davidson College in North Carolina told the site, the coursework isn’t giving future teachers the training they need to talk about race. “Even when future teachers take courses on diversity and multiculturalism,” Kelly said, “those courses don’t take the critical approach to race that future teachers truly need.”

“Food, folklore and festivals are not the same as an analysis of race in America,” Kelly argued.

But an analysis of race in America is exactly what needs to happen. Furthermore, it can’t just be teachers of color solely facilitating such lessons in their classrooms.

I don’t want to write about the events going on in Virginia. I don’t want to think about it. I’m so tired of the hatred and I long for peace, but I can’t very well in good conscience remain silent. That would be akin to protesting with those hate-mongers in Virginia last weekend. I can’t just write about back-to-school shopping, lesson planning, and business-as-usual while my brothers and sisters in Virginia are being murdered in cold blood by white supremacist American Nazis.

Are the children of Virginia safe? Are our children anywhere safe? What can I do to make a difference within the hearts and minds of the children whom I teach? If education is our best vehicle for bringing about change — which it is— how am I going to infuse the lessons I teach with critical thinking and analysis about racism in the United States for the seventh-graders entrusted in my care? How are other educators planning to address these events with their students at every grade-level?

I pose these questions to all who are reading. Whether you are a teacher, a student, a parent, an administrator, or a community member, I plead with you to work together to create answers that work toward healthy conversations and hands-on action in the fight against racism.

Vivett Dukes is a teacher at Queens Collegiate: A College Board School. A version of this post first appeared on New York School Talk