First Person

This week's safe schools snippets

School bus stop safety highlighted

Check out the report on school bus stop safety by Patti Moon from KRDO Newschannel 13 in Colorado Springs.

Bullying: Words can kill

Check out this  “48 Hours” special on bullying in the digital age.

Time Warner joins Facebook in  ‘Stop Bullying: Speak Up’

Facebook iconBullying is a prominent problem that greatly impacts the lives of teens everywhere and there have been various initiatives to raise awareness and help stop bullying in schools across the country. In July, ABC Family, Seventeen Magazine and Twibbon launched an anti-cyberbullying campaign on Twitter and Facebook after ABC Family aired the biting drama “Cyberbully.” Formspring also took steps to help stop bullying and Barack and Michelle Obama used Facebook to help spread their anti-bullying message. Now Time Warner has teamed up with Facebook to help stop bullying through a new social pledge app called “Stop Bullying: Speak Up.” Read more at Scribbal.

Carbondale school officer accused of racial profiling

CARBONDALE, Colorado – A statewide immigrant rights group is accusing Carbondale’s school resource police officer of using his position to profile local Latino students and their families for possible immigration violations and turning them over to federal agents. Read more in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.

Positive Behavior Program yields results

Creating a positive school culture is part of the work in every school. Aurora Public Schools is tackling this issue from an innovative angle with the Positive Behavior Intervention Support program. PBiS develops strategies that staff uses to increase academic performance, enhance safety, decrease problem behavior and establish positive school cultures.

APS launched the program to address the need for an effective social skills curriculum in the schools. Piloted at eight schools during its inception in 2007, 41 schools and the transportation department now participate in the program.

Recent data indicates that the program is working district wide. PBiS sites recorded nearly 5,000 fewer office discipline referrals in the 2010-11 school year compared to the year before. The goal is to focus on the positive conduct that students display.

Participating schools have developed unique ways to promote PBiS with their students. For example, Dalton Elementary School teachers hand out tickets to students modeling positive behavior. Then, twice a month, principal Bonnie Hargrove holds a drawing to reward students with prizes. Dalton administrators have also placed posters around the school that highlight and enforce student and staff expectations.

“Kids have a very concrete knowledge on how to follow those rules,” said Caron Otto, psychologist and PBiS building facilitator at Dalton. “They know what positive behavior looks like and what we expect.”

Aurora West College Preparatory Academy teacher Kari Jacobsen-Laniel says that recognizing positive choices can have a lasting impact. “PBiS has allowed us to honor kids for who they are and what they are learning about life,” Jacobsen-Laniel said. “It is not a ‘quick fix’ program. Instead, it is part of a lifelong journey for students and adults to learn what it means to make good choices.”

To learn more about PBiS, visit equity.aurorak12.org/pbis.

 

First Person

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

PHOTO: Karla Ann Cote/flickr
A white supremacist rally in Charlottesville surrounds a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Debates about monuments honoring Confederate icons and what they represent often come down to one’s view of Civil War history.

Last weekend’s violent gathering of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, which left one protester dead, was started as a rally against removing a statue of Robert E. Lee. It’s one of about 700 Confederate monuments scattered across the eastern half of the country, with a large cluster in Virginia.

It’s no accident that white supremacists chose the site of a Confederate monument to amplify their racial hatred. For them, the statue is a symbol of white superiority over African Americans, who were enslaved in this country until the middle of the Civil War.

In a disturbing irony, these white supremacists understand an aspect of history that I wish my peers understood from their time spent in school. But many casual onlookers don’t grasp the connection between slavery and the Civil War, and the racism rooted in America’s history.

I know because, in my own education in a small town near Charlottesville, teachers rarely connected slavery and racism to the root of the Civil War. In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.

Those who grew up with me mostly see states’ rights as the primary cause of the Civil War, according to a 2011 survey by Pew Research Center. The national fact tank found that two-thirds of people younger than 30 think slavery was not the impetus. Only a third of people 65 and older shared that view.

The survey suggests that today’s students and young adults do not have full knowledge about the complicated relationship between the Confederacy, states’ rights, and slavery. Teachers have a unique opportunity to give a fuller picture of a painful past so that students can counter white supremacy and its inherent racism today.

As famed black writer and social critic James Baldwin put it: “If you don’t know what happened behind you, you’ve no idea what is happening around you.”

Tim Huebner, a Civil War researcher at Rhodes College in Memphis, said his own children’s textbooks accurately describe a complex economy that relied on enslaved people for labor. But in a state like Tennessee, where more classroom resources are spent on math and reading than social studies and history, a lot can get overlooked.

“If we’re not teaching students about the history of our country and the conflicts and struggles we’ve been dealing with, we don’t have the intellectual tools or the culture tools or ethical tools we need in order to deal with the issues that are coming to the surface now,” he told me.

Meanwhile, one look at the constitution of the Confederate States, or a speech given by Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens a few days after that constitution was written, would tell you states’ rights were meant to keep black people enslaved for economic gain.

“The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution — African slavery as it exists amongst us — the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. (Thomas) Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the ‘rock upon which the old Union would split.’ He was right.”

Richard Spencer, the Charlottesville march organizer and a University of Virginia graduate, and James Alex Fields, who is charged with killing a woman by driving into a crowd of anti-Nazi demonstrators last weekend, understood too well the connection between slavery, racism and the Civil War.

Derek Weimer, a history teacher who taught the 20-year-old driver at a high school in Kentucky, said he noticed Fields’ fascination with Nazism. Even though teachers are one of several influential voices in a student’s life, he also implied educators have a role to play in shaping worldviews.

“I admit I failed. I tried my best. But this is definitely a teachable moment and something we need to be vigilant about, because this stuff is tearing up our country,” Weimer told The Washington Post.

Growing up in a state thick with Civil War history still left me with a misleading education, and it was years before I investigated it for myself. America’s most divisive and deadly war still has ramifications today — and students deserve better history lessons to help interpret the world around them.

Laura Faith Kebede is a reporter for Chalkbeat in Memphis.

pinpoint

New online map puts Aurora school information in one place

A student works at Tollgate Elementary School in Aurora. (Photo by Nic Garcia, Chalkbeat)

Aurora Public Schools has launched a new online map that for the first time creates a central location for parents to find information about a school’s performance, demographics and more — part of an effort to make school choice easier.

“It was to let them know what programs are available at our schools and to allow schools to be able to tell their story better,” said Corey Christiansen, a spokesman for the district.

The map, based on a similar one the district introduced last year to share information about proposed bond projects, did not represent an additional cost to the district because it was created by the communications staff.

When clicking on each school’s icon, a window pops up with information about student demographics, teacher experience, programs offered at the school and a link to a video of the school’s principal talking about the school. Principal videos for four schools are up so far. (There are 64 schools in the district).

The tab that gives viewers information about school performance uses uniform-colored bar charts in soft purple to show the school’s quality rating as given by the state.

But unless parents are familiar with the state’s terminology for different school ratings, what those ratings mean won’t be clear to site visitors. For schools that earn the two lowest performing ratings, a link is provided to the school’s improvement plans.

Screen shot of Aurora’s new interactive map.

“We continue to receive feedback on the interactive map and will make improvements as we can,” Christiansen said. “Linking to (Colorado Department of Education) resources is something we will consider.”

A+ Colorado, a nonprofit advocacy group, has criticized the district in the past for not making school performance data readily available to families. The organization had suggested the district develop its own school rating system to share more data with Aurora families.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Van Schoales, executive director of A+ Colorado. “Having gone from zero to this is helpful, but it doesn’t really provide information that most families would understand about, for instance, how many kids know how to read at grade level. They need to provide a lot more information.”

The state ratings will be updated when the new ones are finalized later this fall, but Christiansen said he isn’t sure how fast district staff will be able to update any of the information when new data sets are out.

Superintendent Rico Munn highlighted the webpage at a community meeting last week when asked about how the district shares information with parents, and said it represents “a real opportunity for families.”