First Person

This week's teaching & learning tidbits

Latest school budget news

School cuts 101: Gov. Hickenlooper’s plan

LOVELAND – One hundred days into his first term, Gov. John Hickenlooper touted the passage of a balanced budget for next year as his most significant accomplishment to date. While his proposal was widely praised by Republicans eager to make significant cuts, Democrats reacted with horror to Hickenlooper’s initial proposed cut of $332 million to K-12 schools. Check out this FOX31 report, which is part of a series explaining Colorado’s school budget crisis.

D-12 plans to seek tax increase to help with budget woes

Cheyenne Mountain School District 12 is planning to ask voters for around $2 million in a mill levy override in November to help offset major budget cuts. Even if a measure passes, the district must cut 15  positions, most of them teachers, in 2011-2012. Read more in the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Jeffco schools face $40 million in budget cuts

The impact of the state budget cuts on education funding are quite evident in the state’s largest school district.  Jefferson County Schools has about 12,000 employees and nearly 86,000 students, and district leaders say everyone will feel the hit.  The district has to cut nearly $40 million from next year’s budget. Read the KWGN story.

More school news

Summer reading programs at Denver libraries

Studies repeatedly show that children who do not read during the summer demonstrate a significant loss in reading skills, while students who read just five to six books throughout these months perform better during the following school year. Denver Public Library’s (DPL) Summer of Reading Program is a fun way to incorporate reading and related activities into summer family time to help avoid “summer learning loss,” a problem that affects kids of all ages and income levels.

stack of children's booksDenver Public Library has offered summer reading programs for local residents over 80 years. Summer of Reading is one of the Denver Public Library’s most important programs for children and teens and is offered from May through August annually at the Denver Central Library, the Library’s 23 branch locations and through two bookmobiles. Over the past six years, participation has nearly doubled – from 16,792 in 2004 to 31,265 in 2010.

Find more information at and at the library branches. Or call 720-865-0975.

Two families choose different paths to academic excellence

Summers for eighth-grader Jade Larriva-Latt are filled with soccer and backpacking, art galleries and museums, library volunteer work and sleep-away camp. There is no summer school, no tutoring. For 10th-grader Derek Lee, summer is the time to sprint ahead in the ferocious race to the academic top. Read more in the Los Angeles Times.

Dougco school voucher program a hit

CASTLE ROCK, Colo. – Douglas County’s school voucher program will likely go to a lottery system to handle high demand. 7NEWS has learned the state’s first-ever voucher program is ahead of schedule, taking in nearly 300 applicants from kindergarten through high school in two days for 500 available scholarships. Read more on 7NEWS.

Westminster school has no grades, no grade levels

WESTMINSTER – An elementary school in Westminster is offering a different approach to education. At Hodgkins Elementary School, there are no grade levels and no grades. Students are not grouped by age, but rather by what they know. Check out 7NEWS for more information.

Boulder Prep creates American Indian focus program

Mason McCart was failing after two years at Boulder High. Faced with a choice of trying an alternative school or going to live with relatives in another state, he took a chance on Boulder Preparatory High School, an alternative charter in Gunbarrel. Along with a better academic experience, he said, the school has taught him about his Native American heritage and Plains Apache tribe. Read more in the Daily Camera.

iPads to be handed out with textbooks in Manitou schools

Textbooks soon will be joined by iPads as standard issue in Manitou Springs middle and high schools. The effort to provide tablet computers to every student in fifth grade through high school is a recognition by teachers and administrators that today’s students live in a digital world and are coming to school well-versed in technology. Read more in the Colorado Springs Gazette.

D-2’s work with English-language programs earns award

Carol Pollard is watching a first grader at Oak Creek Elementary School write a sentence about a flamingo. “What are you writing?” she asks. “Estan Comiendo,” he answers. Read more in the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Charter school students wowed by gift of netbooks

Eight-year-old Anthony Brown and Adrian Martinez, 16, were test driving a fancy netbook, solving a problem about temperature and friction for a bunch of dignitaries visiting Pikes Peak Prep charter school this week. Read more in the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Plans for online school move forward

Staying in step with modern trends has been a big point of emphasis this year for Trinidad’s schools. A new online school is a key part of keeping pace with those trends, and the project took another step toward being accomplished Tuesday. The Board of Education of Trinidad School District #1 approved the second reading of a proposed resolution establishing an online school within the district next year. Read more in the Trinidad Times.

Book Trust highlights efforts in DPS to boost literacy

Book Trust, Denver Public Schools and Lt. Governor Joe Garcia teamed up Tuesday to showcase critical services being offered to DPS by Book Trust, a non-profit dedicated to building the early literacy skills of children from low-income households. Castro Elementary in southwest Denver has been working with Book Trust since 2007, and since that time, students have benefited from the hundreds of books donated to classrooms and low-income families.

If current trends hold true, 6.6 million low-income children in the birth to age 8 group are at increased risk of failing to graduate from high school on time because they won’t be able to meet NAEP’s proficient reading level by the end of third-grade. Teaming up with Book Trust to expand the program to more schools will help DPS break this cycle for Denver students.

Please contact Amy Friedman, Executive Director of Book Trust at 303-968-5036 for more information.

DSST  gaining national attention

DENVER – Public Charter schools say they are feeling the pinch of state budget cuts in the same way that traditional public schools are.  Both kinds of schools are funded by the state, and per pupil funding is being slashed. But there is one local charter school that is still getting national attention despite budget cuts. Check out FOX31.

First Person

I’ve spent years fighting for integrated schools in New York City. I’m also Asian-American. Mayor de Blasio, let’s talk.

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Parents weigh in on a proposal to integrate District 2 middle schools by making them enroll students with a range of academic abilities earlier this year.

Dear Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza,

I write as a school integration advocate, racial justice activist, public school mother, and a first-generation Japanese-American.

I have spent years working with other parents to make New York City’s public school system more equitable, facilitating conversations on school integration as a means to dismantle racism in our society. I believe it is past time we address the segregation in New York City public schools, and I agree that something must be done with the specialized high schools — which currently admit few black and Latinx students — as part of this work.

However, I am concerned about how you’ve rolled out this proposal without including the people it will affect.

As opposition mounts and the Asian communities across the city mobilize against your plan, I wanted to share some thoughts so that you are better prepared to create a meaningful dialogue on perhaps the most complex part of the school integration work.

I would like to ask three things from you. One is to please see us Asian New Yorkers for who we are.

There is no question that Asians have been (and many still are) marginalized and disempowered. If one learns the history of Asians in the U.S., she understands that our past is filled with violence and struggles. Our history is steeped in discriminatory policies at federal and local levels, including the Chinese Exclusion Act and Japanese internment. We were only given the “model minority” status because doing so was convenient for domestic and international politics.

We are also a very diverse group of people, representing more than four dozen countries. This fact alone makes it very difficult to make any general statements about us.

That doesn’t mean, though, that we should be ignored in this conversation or inaccurately lumped in with whites. High average test scores do not automatically equal privilege, and they are certainly no match for white supremacy — a concept many self-proclaimed “non-racists” are unable to recognize. This lack of understanding makes it nearly impossible to identify Asians as oppressed people of color.

The second thing I ask is to bring all of us – whites, blacks, Latinx, and Asians (East, South, and Southeast Asians) – together to develop solutions to integrate our schools.

The unfortunate fact is that our city is not typically equipped to have productive conversations about race and racism. And if racism of white against black/Latinx is difficult to grasp for some, understanding how Asians fit into this discourse is even harder.

Our position is so complicated, even racial justice activists – including Asians themselves – often do not know how to talk about us. When we are not ignored, we are perceived as “outsiders,” even if this is the only country some of us know.

But there is no reason we can’t work together. History tells us that Asians have been fighting for civil rights alongside black and Latinx people for decades, even after the white system began using us as pawns. Even in the highly contentious affirmative action arena, in which some Asians have been co-opted by white anti-affirmative action groups, many Asians remain in favor of affirmative action and are continuing to fight for equity for all people of color.

Finally, to make that work, I ask that you adopt a “bottom up and top down” approach, in which community conversations and shared decision-making happen under your leadership. Such a framework has been proposed by a group of advocates, including students.

The Department of Education has already hosted a series of town halls to solicit ideas on diversifying our schools, and has done a good job of getting people to come out. However, on this proposal for the specialized high schools, there was no consultation with affected communities, including students.

Let’s practice what we preach and have an inclusive, participatory process. Let’s not ignore the Asian community when we talk about school integration, and let’s specifically include Asian voices — parents and students — in this discussion about specialized schools and all schools. Let’s have real conversations aimed at uniting those who have been marginalized, not dividing them. And let’s explain how these decisions will be made and why.

This is an opportunity to start a conversation that should have happened when Brown v. Board of Education was decided 64 years ago, and to create more equitable, integrated schools. Let’s make sure we do it right.

Shino Tanikawa is the vice president of District 2’s Community Education Council and a school integration advocate.

First Person

If teachers aren’t equipped to help trauma victims, students suffer. Learn from my story.

PHOTO: Anthony Lanzilote

It took one of my kindergarten students, Andrew, to help me figure out how to handle my toughest teaching challenge.

My classroom wall was full of pictures that Andrew had drawn for me. He often greeted me at the door with a smile. But Andrew would also scream, act out, and even hurt himself in my class.

For quite some time, I thought that if I could find a different way to ask him to get back on task, maybe he would not become so aggressive, not bang his head on the floor. But regardless of how tactfully I approached keeping him engaged or redirected his behavior, Andrew would implode. And with little to no support, I quickly grew weary and helpless.

Eventually, I did learn how to help students like Andrew. I also eventually realized that when you teach students who have been impacted by trauma, you have to balance ownership and the reality that you cannot solve every problem. But the trial and error that it took to reach that point as a teacher was exhausting.

I hope we, as a profession, can do better for new Memphis teachers. In the meantime, maybe you can learn from my story.

I grew up in a trauma-filled household, where I learned to mask my hurt and behave like a “good girl” to not bring attention to myself. It wasn’t until a high school teacher noticed how hard I flinched at being touched and privately expressed concerns that I got help. After extensive investigations and professional support, I was on the road to recovery.

When I became a teacher myself, and met Andrew and many students like him, I began to see myself within these children. But that didn’t mean I knew how to reach them or best help them learn. All I knew to do when a child was misbehaving was to separate them from the rest of the classroom. I didn’t have the training to see past a student’s bad behavior and help them cope with their feelings.

It took a while to learn not to internalize Andrew’s attacks, even when they became physical. No matter what Andrew did, each day we started over. Each day was a new opportunity to do something better, learn from a mistake, or work on developing a stronger bond.

I learned to never discipline when I am upset and found success charting “trigger behaviors,” using them to anticipate outbursts and cut down on negative behaviors.

Over time, I learned that almost all students are more receptive when they feel they have a real relationship with the teacher. Still, each case must be treated differently. One student may benefit from gentle reminders, private conversations, or “social stories” that underscore the moral of a situation. Another student may respond to firm consequences, consistent routines, or reflection journals.

Still other students sit in our classrooms each and every day and are overlooked due to their mild-mannered demeanor or their “cooperativeness.” My childhood experiences made me aware of how students mask trauma in ways very unlike Andrew. They also made me realize how imperative it is for teachers to know that overachieving students can need just as much help as a child that physically acts out.

I keep a watchful eye on students that are chronically fatigued or overly sensitive to noise or touch, jumping for minor reasons. I encourage teachers to pay close attention to students that have intense hygiene issues, as their incontinence could be acting as a defense mechanism, and I never ignore a child who is chronically withdrawn from their peers or acting out of character.

All of this took time in the classroom and effort processing my own experiences as a student with trauma. However, many teachers in Memphis aren’t coming from a similar background and haven’t been trained to see past a student’s disruptive behavior.

It’s time to change the way we support teachers and give educators intense trauma training. Often, compassionate teachers want to help students but don’t know how. Good training would help educators develop the skills they need to reach students and to take care of themselves, since working with students that have been impacted by trauma can be incredibly taxing.

Trial and error aren’t enough: If teachers are not equipped to help trauma victims, the quality of students’ education will suffer.

Candace Hines teaches kindergarten for the Achievement School District, and previously taught kindergarten for six years with Shelby County Schools. She also is an EdReports content reviewer and a coach and facilitator for Teach Plus Memphis. Hines serves as a fellow for Collaborative for Student Success and a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow.