staying on

Middle schools start longer days with a focus on participation

Students at I.S. 30 play the strategic game of tag called one step on Thursday during their extended day.
Students at I.S. 340 played a strategic game of tag called “one step” on Thursday during their extended day, part of a city pilot program.

After dismissal on the first day of school at I.S. 30, sixth-graders filed into the auditorium, where Principal Carol Heeraman asked an important question: How many had permission to stay for two and a half more hours?

Only a handful of students raised their hands, and the rest were dismissed with instructions to have their parents sign the permission form by the next day. “This is your homework assignment,” Heeraman said.

I.S. 30 is one of 20 city middle schools to pilot an extended day this year as part of the Department of Education’s two-year-old Middle School Quality Initiative. Some schools started the year with near-perfect attendance, but others are learning that getting all students who are eligible for the programming to attend can be a complicated endeavor.

In I.S. 30’s auditorium, one student raised his hand and asked, “What if my mom doesn’t want me to stay?”

Heeraman told the student, Emad Rabah, to have his mother speak directly to her. “This is a phenomenal opportunity for each of you,” the principal said.

Afterward, Rabah said his mother needs him to pick up his younger brother from school. If he doesn’t leave I.S. 30 at the regular dismissal time, no one will be able to take his brother home.

Rabah’s family’s needs represent some of the many challenges that schools are facing in trying to get all sixth-graders to stay after the regular school day ends. In the pilot, which city officials announced in April, students will split their time between getting literacy tutoring from tutors trained by Harvard University’s EdLabs, a research institute, and participating in activities such as drama and debate that are run by the community-based organization that is partnering with each school.

In the coming weeks, schools will screen students’ literacy skills to determine which students should get the intensive tutoring, which Daniel Levitt, EdLabs’ regional director, will aim to help middle performers who struggle with reading comprehension rather than fluency. For now, students are getting to know each other through team-building activities.

At I.S. 340 on Thursday, students played games such as “one step,” a strategic game of tag where participants do not run. “Take five giant steps and two hops… and remember who’s on your team! Don’t tag your teammate!” shouted the adult leading the activity.

The sixth graders eyed one another and carefully plotted their moves so that they could tag someone on the opposite team and make sure they wouldn’t get tagged. While the activity was fun, it was also “getting them to think about critical thinking, being strategic and staying focused — all of those 21st-century ‘soft’ skills,” said Tameeka Ford-Norville, the director of after-school programs for University Settlement, which is working with I.S. 340.

Ford-Norville said University Settlement is going to great lengths to make sure that all sixth graders can participate. When a father told her that he gets physical therapy during the time his daughter would be ending the extended day and he doesn’t want her to walk home alone, she started working on a solution.

“We’re currently trying to devise a plan so we can support that family, which might mean a staff person escorting the student home,” Ford-Norville said.

The city will provide late busing for students with disabilities who require it, but other students are on their own for travel from school, which will happen after dark during the winter months. Students at only two of the 20 schools typically are bused, and they will receive Metrocards for their extended day travel, a Department of Education spokeswoman said.

Other schools have encountered different obstacles to full participation. At J.H.S. 123, City Year School Partnerships Director Annie Kessler said about 120 of the 147 sixth graders have signed up, while about a dozen families have decided to opt out. Families cited needing their older children to supervise younger siblings, past negative experiences with after-school programs, and just having a preference for going straight home after school.

“We’re currently working with the school to troubleshoot around as many of these reasons as we have control over,” Kessler said. She and other program coordinators said they think once the literacy tutoring begins, schools will be able to make a more convincing case for participation.

The efforts appear to be paying off. Less than a quarter of I.S. 30’s sixth graders stayed for the first extended day, but just three days later, more than half the grade was enrolled. Annette Scaduto, director of operations with the NIA Community Services Network, the nonprofit providing the after-school programming, said the numbers are encouraging.

But she said a couple of families had asked to opt out and she planned to strategize with Heeraman about how to get them to change their minds.

“We can’t force a child to stay … but if it’s a family that we know would be a great candidate for the program, and there isn’t much standing in the way for them to participate, then we’ll continue to communicate with them and encourage them to try it out,” Scaduto said.

At some schools, families needed little prompting to sign off on the extended day program. At Thurgood Marshall Academy, half of sixth graders had had an extended day in elementary school, according to Vanessa Portillo, who works with the community organization Abyssinian Development Corporation. At the newly opened Highbridge Green School, where parents played an instrumental role in getting the school opened and wanted the extended day for their children, said Davon Russell, who works at WHEDco, the school’s community partner. Both schools have 100 percent of sixth-graders enrolled.

At other schools, officials are promoting the idea that the extended day is just part of the normal routine. Russell refers to the extended day as “periods 9 and 10.” At I.S. 240, CAMBA’s director of youth development Christie Hodgkins said, “The message that families have gotten is that the school day ends at 4:45.” (She said about 224 out of 270 sixth-graders have enrolled.)

And at M.S. 43, the Child Center of New York’s program director Jacqueline Gutierrez said while the school can’t make the extended day program mandatory, it has told parents that it’s part of the sixth grade curriculum and the child must attend. So far, about 50 sixth graders have enrolled out of about 100 to 120, she said.

Some parents did not need much convincing during the programs’ first week. On Thursday at I.S. 340, Zuleika Johnson said she likes that school ends later because she works late and would have to pay for a babysitter to look after her daughter. But, she said, more importantly, the extra time at school would help her daughter get the academic help she needs.

On Monday, Filiez Yumasak got to I.S. 30 at the regular time to pick up her daughter. When her daughter ran out of the school and presented the permission slip to let her participate in the extended day program, Yumasak was shocked. But she quickly smiled when she saw how excited her daughter was. She said she would let her daughter stay, because her daughter loves school and would stay there all day if she could.

“It’s good because it will create more opportunities for her,” Yumusak said.

This story is part of a multi-city series on expanded learning time, with funding from the Ford Foundation, which supports “more and better learning time” in high-need communities. Also participating in the series are the Notebook (Philadelphia), Catalyst ChicagoEdSource (California), and GothamSchools’ sister site EdNewsColorado.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

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

“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.” —Laura Faith Kebede