technical assistance

Tech discounts to help state teacher centers offer digital training

Teach for America members aren’t the only teachers to start getting digital tools from a technology giant.

A new partnership between a statewide network of teacher training centers and Microsoft will give teachers access to discounted computer hardware and software, and help using them. Announced this week, the Tech4Teachers program will flood New York State Teacher Centers with new technology options at lower than market-rates. There are 250 center sites in New York City and 130 more throughout the state, offering in-person and virtual assistance to public and private school teachers.

Microsoft’s assistance comes at a time when state budget cuts have constrained resources at the teacher centers, which provide professional support in the form of online and face-to-face training to teachers across the state. The centers were cut from last year’s state budget, but this year the Assembly budgeted $20.5 million for them, approximately half of what the centers have been funded for in the past, according to Gail Moon, the state’s acting teacher centers program director.

Though the centers receive support from the state’s teachers union and some local unions, including the United Federation of Teachers, they primarily rely on the state for funding.

The partnership with Microsoft may alleviate some of the financial stress on teacher centers, staff members said, adding that the stress is particularly sharp now that the centers are  tasked with helping teachers and networks understand new instructional standards and integrate technology in their classroom.

“The way we’re looking at doing that is using technology by offering more webinars, electronic video conferencing capabilities, more professional development to more people, and then reducing the cost,” said Stan Silverman, co-chair of the centers’ technology committee.

Silverman said he will also use the program to show state legislators that teachers centers need more resources.

The teacher centers have partnered with Microsoft and Intel in the past to support teachers interested in digital learning, according to Silverman. But he said Tech4Teachers would address teachers’ needs better than before, because the training is targeted to the state’s new Common Core math and English curriculum standards.

The partnership isn’t costing the teacher centers, which work with state teachers unions to offer teacher-directed professional development programs, and most of the online training programs offered by Microsoft will be free to users, Silverman said. But teachers and schools will have to pay for the technology and some on-location training with their own budgets.

Microsoft’s donations are likely to make technology training more attainable for teachers, said Sig Behrens, the company’s U.S. education manager.

“There’s a lot of attention being drawn to the limited resources teachers have,” he said. “We’re trying to do our part to help out on the cost.”

Behrens also said the discounted technology program could expand to other states next year after the technology companies see how it is used in New York.

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.