hands on

Low-scoring but not closing, CTE school showcases job training

Graphic Communication Arts juniors Lissy Alcantara and Kianne Martinez and senior Aziza Ramsay show off the video on HIV awareness they shot and produced at FACES NY.

Just days after their school was spared from closure, students from Manhattan’s High School of Graphic Communication Arts showcased fruits of the school’s longstanding Career and Technical Education program.

Founded as the High School of Printing in 1925, Graphic Communication Arts has offered students hands-on training in photography and visual arts since a time when CTE programs were called vocational schools.

Now, through a workplace learning program funded by the city’s Department of Education and the federal government, dozens of students at the Hell’s Kitchen school are working as interns at private and public sector companies — 16 businesses this fall. More than 50 students also participated in summer internships that ran the gamut from print-production to photography to legal services.

Four of the students are putting their academic-year training in photo and film editing to use at FACES NY, a social services agency that helps at-risk populations with HIV/AIDS prevention. Earlier this year the interns shot and produced a video about HIV awareness, which they are promoting via a Facebook page and a Tumblr blog they maintain for the agency.

The mini-documentary they produced was as much a lesson in professionalism as film editing, according to the three students I met Tuesday, because it required them to talk to peers about sexuality and other difficult subjects.

“It’s done, but we need to go in and re-edit it now: bring the audio levels up, fix the text,” Aziza Ramsay, a senior, said after playing the 8-minute clip — a combination of narration, statistics and interviews with classmates about HIV.

The internships are meant to instill a sense of discipline and responsibility in the students by mirroring college and career expectations, according to Jack Kott, the school’s workplace learning coordinator. The students were selected through an application process at the school, Kott said, and all are paid minimum wage for up to 10 hours of work a week.

Last year more than 100 students from Graphics were able to take paid internships, but budget cuts slashed the number of students able to participate by more than half, according to Lantigua Sime, the assistant principal of CTE and photography.

“So far we’re still getting funding, but there is a lack of support from the DOE, and I don’t know why,” he said. “The Common Core calls for career and college readiness, and that is what we provide. That’s exactly what the federal government wants.”

Graphics was one of nine schools with CTE programs whose poor performance landed them on the city’s preliminary list of 21 high schools that could be closed this year. The school got an F on this year’s progress report, down from a D in 2010, even though its graduation rate rose by 5 percentage points.

Three other schools joined Graphics in escaping closure, but the city has proposed shuttering five schools with CTE programs. Three of them are, like Graphics, among the 33 city high schools fully designated as CTE schools. One of them, Grace Dodge Career and Technical High School, was chosen as a demonstration site when the city announced plans to bolster CTE programs two years ago.

Kott and Sime attributed the school’s new lease on life to the testimony of students and recent alumni who told DOE officials that the extensive work-study programs prepared them for life beyond high school.

“That helped sway the committee to say, “Hey, we really need to take another look to see what’s going on here,'” Kott said. “I don’t think the DOE gives CTE schools enough credit for what they engender.”

The three students said the school was their first choice because of its extensive photography and design course offerings, even though its performance on state assessments is lackluster and they must travel to the West 50th Street building from as far as Kingsbridge in the Bronx and Far Rockaway in Brooklyn. They said the school’s closure would have been a significant blow to students throughout the city who want to receive in-depth arts and technology instruction.

“This is really the only school in the state that offers four years of photography,” said Kianne Martinez, a junior. “A lot of 14-year olds who want to go into this field wouldn’t be able to do that, because most schools only offer photo in senior year, and even then it’s not traditional black and white, it’s just digital.”

Lissy Alcantara, also a junior, said she plans to study psychology and design in college, though how those two disciplines fit together is an open question for her. “I’ll promote you, I’ll promote you,” she said, turning to Aziza, who wants to study film and someday create an arts-focused youth center.

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.