the road to chalkbeat

Go behind the scenes with the reporters of Chalkbeat New York

It’s been about a month since we announced our plans to change our name to Chalkbeat New York and launch a new website. Last week we re-introduced you to bureau chief Philissa Cramer, who talked about why she was excited for GothamSchools to become Chalkbeat New York.

The exciting evolution would not be possible without our team of top-notch journalists, who traverse the city to bring you daily news about New York City’s schools. So this week we want to introduce you to our reporters in New York — whose experience in the organization ranges from several years to just a few weeks.

Below, they share why they are passionate about education reporting, what teachers helped them get where they are today, and embarrassing stories from the job. You can read more about Chalkbeat’s Colorado and Tennessee reporters, too.

Sarah Darville, reporter
On the team since September 2013

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1. Where you worked before & why you decided to join Chalkbeat: Most recently I was writing for the Nieman Journalism Lab, and before that I was studying at Columbia. I was an intern for GothamSchools in 2011, and became really impressed with what Philissa and Elizabeth [Green] were doing. When that was over, I stayed in touch, freelancing a bit and watching the site expand. When I graduated, I was thrilled to come back and be a part of a growing nonprofit news organization focusing on an issue I care about.

2. Story you are most proud of: I’ll go with a recent one about the issues remaining for special education teachers dealing with the city’s information system for those students. Those issues affect thousands of people every day, and they haven’t seen significant improvements.

3. Teacher who most helped you get to where you are today: (Besides my two-time Teacher of the Year/all-time mom of the year?) My first journalism teacher, Mrs. Atkinson, for letting me loose upon my high school and backing me up when I inevitably got into trouble for it.

4. Your most embarrassing or funny reporting moment: I once spent a long time wandering around City Hall … looking for City Hall. Was no one else expecting a skyscraper? It’s New York City!

E-mail Sarah at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sarahdarv.

Geoff Decker, senior reporter
On the team since June 2011
geoff

1. Where you worked before & why you decided to join Chalkbeat: Freelance sports writer covering mostly competitive running and sports media; student at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

2. Story are you most proud of: The story I’m most proud of is covering a high school football game that included students who had just been through hell on account of Superstorm Sandy. The football game was the first time they had seen each other and it was an emotional reunion to cover.

3. Teacher who most helped you get to where you are today: David Lewis and Indrani Sen, my journalism co-professors at CUNY. As editors, they constantly made my stories better, as teachers they pushed me to be a better reporter, and as informal publicists, got my stories picked up in the New York Times — and on the radar of hiring editors.

4. Your most embarrassing or funny reporting moment: A month into the job, I left on my bike one morning to interview the founding principal of a new school in Bedford-Stuyvesant and didn’t come home for another 36 hours, when a judge released me from Brooklyn’s central booking. Want details? Shoot me an email.

E-mail Geoff at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @GDeckernews.

Emma Sokoloff-Rubin, community editor/reporter
On the team since January 2013
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1. Where you worked before & why you decided to join Chalkbeat: I was on a research fellowship in Buenos Aires and met a group of high school students on the night they staged a takeover of their school building. They were protesting changes to the national curriculum that they said had been made without student input. Over the next month, students across the city joined the protest and occupied more than 50 high schools. I tried to piece together as much of the backstory on education in Buenos Aires as I could in a short time, but I’m sure I missed many details. Joining Chalkbeat gave me the chance to learn and write about education as an ongoing, evolving story, this time as part of a dynamic and talented team.

2. Story you are most proud of: As Chalkbeat New York’s community editor as well as a reporter, I’m always on the lookout for stories like this one that highlight local efforts and priorities.

3. Teacher who most helped you get to where you are today: Fred Strebeigh, who teaches creative nonfiction writing at Yale University. He saw that I loved writing and interviewing and convinced me to give journalism a shot.

4. Your most embarrassing or funny reporting moment: When I stopped by a newly-occupied high school in Buenos Aires and was turned away at the door by three 15-year-olds who told me, “We haven’t developed our press strategy yet.”

E-mail Emma at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @emmarsr.

Patrick Wall, reporter
On the team since October 2013patrick

1 Where you worked before & why you decided to join Chalkbeat: DNAinfo, covering the South Bronx. I decided to join Chalkbeat because it’s a smart, dynamic, growing news organization covering a topic — education — that I believe is vitally important and fascinating.

2. Story you are most proud of: I’m proud of our recent story about some students who have been trapped in a sort of graduation limbo, where a few points on an exit exam has kept them from earning diplomas. I think it illustrates the unintended consequences that can sometimes accompany well-intentioned policy changes — in this case, the move to raise graduation standards.

3. Teacher who most helped you get to where you are today: I’ve been fortunate enough to have had amazing teachers at every grade level since I started pre-school. That being said, I still think about lessons I learned from a few of my graduate school journalism professors just about every day on the job.

4. Your most embarrassing or funny reporting moment: In my last job I was covering a news conference where the New York City mayor was touting a new parking app for smartphones. I asked whether that posed any distracted-driving dangers and he replied, without missing a beat, that there were many instances when people should avoid using the app, such as while driving their cars … or taking a shower.

E-mail Patrick at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @patrick_wall.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.