First Person

This week's teaching & learning tidbits

National School Choice Week prepares for takeoff with in-flight video

Last January, tens of thousands of parents, concerned citizens, and advocates from across the political spectrum joined together for National School Choice Week, a week dedicated to promoting the right of all parents to choose the most effective learning option for their children.

The previous National School Choice Week involved supporters from more than 200 organizations, and resulted in more than 150 events all across the United States. The second annual is expected to be even bigger.

Beginning this month, NSCW supporters are presenting their school choice message to passengers on board select airline carriers as part of the in-flight video programming. Over the next three months, the video will be shown on 29,000 flights, to an audience of more than 3.8 million viewers.

Viewers will be urged to get involved in the next National School Choice Week, which is being held Jan. 22-28, 2012. The video can be seen by clicking here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5dIRKS6sJGk Anyone interested in getting involved in the upcoming National School Choice Week can visit SchoolChoiceWeek.com to find an event in their area.

Obama launches ‘Digital Promise’

The Education Department provided start-up funding for the new project, which promotes software and “digital tutors.” The White House announced Friday the launch of “Digital Promise,” a nonprofit initiative meant to bring more technology to classrooms. Read more in The Hill blog.

Vouchers, merit pay spice Dougco forum

Anger on both sides of Douglas County’s controversial school voucher program, its equally controversial performance-pay plan for teachers, and the perceived politicizing of the school board drove debate at a candidates forum Monday night, as six of the eight people seeking a seat on the county school board came together at a Highlands Ranch elementary school to field questions submitted by voters. Read more in EdNews Colorado.

Latin lost in budget translation at Jeffco schools

In Laurie Lawless’ Latin class at Dakota Ridge High School, 18 eager students study the classics: works by Vergil, Ovid, Horace — and, of course, the timeless … Seuss? Read more in the Denver Post.

SAT reading scores fall to lowest level on record

SAT reading scores for the high school class of 2011 were the lowest on record, and combined reading and math scores fell to their lowest point since 1995. Read more in the Denver Post.

Equity Education Conference held in Aurora

The Equity Education Conference will begin at 8 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 17, at Vista PEAK Preparatory 9-12, 24500 E. 6th Ave., Aurora.

This year’s topic is Culture, Community and Our Classrooms: Examining the Impact of Equity through Relevance, Rigor and Relationships. Gary R. Howard, who has 35 years of experience working with civil rights, social justice, equity, education and diversity issues, will serve as keynote speaker. Considered groundbreaking, his work regarding privilege, power and the role of white leaders in a multicultural society can be found in his most recent book, We Can’t Teach What We Don’t Know: White Teachers, Multicultural Schools.

The conference is open to all teachers, classified staff, parents, students and community members of Aurora Public Schools.

New STEM schools target underrepresented groups

Few Americans may know about the Grand Challenges for Engineering—from making solar energy affordable to ensuring access to clean water—but the students at a new school on the campus of North Carolina State University are getting to know them firsthand. Read more in EdWeek.

Poudre schools 101 event for community members

PSD’s parent District Advisory Board invites parents, community members and staff to a free “PSD 101” conference to learn how the district operates and how to make an impact in the decision-making process. The free conference will be held from 6 to 9 p.m., Monday, Oct. 3, at Blevins Middle School, 2101 S. Taft Hill Rd. No pre-registration is required. Spanish interpreters will be available.’

Get Into Water’ project teaches water science in Boulder Valley

Boulder High juniors and seniors are learning the basics of Colorado’s water system with the possibility of getting jobs in the water industry after they graduate or continuing in that field of study in college.

The Boulder High class is part of the “Get Into Water” project through the Boulder Valley School District’s Lifelong Learning Program, in conjunction with the Rocky Mountain Section of American Water Works Association and the Colorado Workforce Development Council. Read more in the Daily Camera.

Brighton parents begin push for school district’s mill-levy ballot measure

BRIGHTON — Parents are hoping a November ballot measure will help the financially starved Brighton School District 27J, considered the most poorly funded in the Denver area.

“Something has to give soon or we’ll be up the creek without a paddle,” said Edith Kohler, the parent of a district third-grader. Read more in the Denver Post.

Boulder Valley parents raised $370,000 for tutors, teacher aides

Budget cuts in the last couple of years could have endangered the jobs of some classroom aides at Boulder’s Flatirons Elementary.

But, according to Flatirons Principal Scott Boesel, the school’s parents raised enough money that he could continue to provide critical support to classroom teachers, reducing class sizes and increasing the hours for gifted advisors. Last school year, Flatirons raised $34,000 to pay for staff time. Read more in the Daily Camera.

District 6 Board of Education to hold community conversation

The District 6 Board of Education will hold a community conversation session from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Monday, Sept. 26, in the auxiliary gym at Franklin Middle School, 818 35th Ave. Parents, students, staff members, and community members are invited to attend and participate in the conversations.

The meeting format will feature small-group conversations at tables set up in the gym, with board members spread among the tables. District staff members will be on hand to answer questions at individual tables as needed.

Attendees will be asked to share their thoughts on a variety of educational issues. In addition, participants will be asked to discuss what programs and services they would add or strengthen in the district, should K-12 funding be improved in the future. Input gathered from table conversations will be factored into the Board’s discussions and decisions throughout the school year. The Board of Education regularly holds several community conversation sessions throughout the school year.

Notes from the table conversations will be compiled after the meeting and posted on the district website, www.greeleyschools.org. Community members who are unable to attend the meeting can provide their comments by e-mail to [email protected].

Middle-class schools miss the mark

Middle-class public schools educate the majority of U.S. students but pay lower teacher salaries, have larger class sizes and spend less per pupil than low-income and wealthy schools, according to a report to be issued Monday. Read more in The Wall Street Journal.

Boulder Valley School District seeks input on standards curriculum

Boulder Valley School District is inviting community members to play a role in developing new curriculum to align with the new Colorado Academic Standards adopted by the Colorado State Board of Education in 2010. BVSD must revise its standards as necessary to ensure that district standards meet or exceed the statewide standards.

This curricular revision and alignment with state standards must be completed and approved by the Board of Education by Dec. 15. To meet that deadline and receive as much input as possible, the district is holding public meetings this month. Meetings will be from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. on the following dates:

Sept. 20 — Monarch K-8 School, 263 Campus Drive, Louisville

Sept. 22 — Southern Hills Middle School, 1500 Knox Drive, Boulder

Sept. 29 — Lafayette Elementary School, 101 N. Bermont Ave., Lafayette

Those who would like to review the curriculum documents, but cannot attend one of the above meetings, can request a copy by calling Susan Wojciechowski at 720-561-5139.

In October, district personnel will review public input and amend curriculum revisions before submitting them to the school board for review and discussion. The curriculum revision is slated as a study item at the board’s Nov. 8 meeting and final action is slated for its Dec. 13 meeting.

34 percent new principals in DPS schools

Denver Public Schools opened its doors last month to more new principals than it has in at least six years.

Denver Public Schools logoPrincipals at 46 of the district’s 134 non-charter schools – or 34 percent –  are new this year to their position, their school or both, according to district information.

Suzanne Morey, new principal at McGlone Elementary, works with a student. Photo courtesy of McGlone.

Sixteen of the new principals are moving into the position from that of assistant principal. If the 11 principals who simply moved laterally – jumping from the leadership of one Denver school to another – are not counted in the total, DPS still has 35 new principals. Read more in EdNews Colorado.

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