community editor

What we're doing to listen more closely and feature new voices

ESR new headshotLast month we began previewing the changes underway as we transition to Chalkbeat New York. Here’s the latest: more chances for you to shape the conversation about New York City schools.

We’ve always invited readers to comment on our stories, contribute to our community section, and attend our events. But we think it takes more than that for our coverage to reach new readers and reflect diverse experiences with the school system.

My job as community editor, a new position we designed with these goals in mind, is to create more opportunities for you to interact with reporters, share your experiences, and deepen our coverage of public schools. Here are four ways to get involved:

Talk to us

Chalkbeat Conversations are open-ended conversations between Chalkbeat reporters and community members, hosted by organizations in neighborhoods throughout the city. Instead of setting the agenda by interviewing participants about stories we already plan to write, we ask, “What most excites and frustrates you about the schools in your neighborhood?”

We held four conversations with parents this fall in collaboration with community organizations such as the New Settlement Parent Action Committee in the Bronx and La Union in Brooklyn. I attended each meeting, along with at least one other editor or reporter. If you’re interested in hosting or participating in a conversation with parents or teachers, email me at emmasr@chalkbeat.org.

A Chalkbeat Conversation hosted by the New Settlement Parent Action Committee in the Bronx.
Parents discuss the challenges facing local schools at a Chalkbeat Conversation in the Bronx.

Hold us accountable

For three years, our team has been meeting with a reader advisory board made up of teachers and other education professionals who help guide our direction, give us feedback, and keep us responsive to what readers actually care about. I keep in touch with our advisory board members and plan and facilitate meetings every other month. Steve Lazar, Sanda Balaban, Andy Snyder, and Chad Gleason are the founding members, and I’ll introduce each of them in more depth next month.

Write about your experience

When we launch our new website, this section will be renamed “First Person” to highlight what Philissa Cramer originally designed the section to provide: informed perspectives based on first-hand experience with the school system. There are limits to what we as journalists can know and understand. The First Person section is a place readers can hear directly from teachers, administrators, students, policymakers, and soon, we hope, from parents as well.

At a Chalkbeat Conversation in Brooklyn, reporter Patrick Wall hears about participants' varied experiences as parents of English Language Learners.
PHOTO: U.S. Department of Education
At a Chalkbeat Conversation in Brooklyn, reporter Patrick Wall hears about participants’ varied experiences as parents of English Language Learners.

Email me if you’re interested in writing a First Person post, or if there’s a perspective missing from the section you’d like to see. As the editor of this section, my job is to build a diverse and dynamic network of contributors and edit the submissions we select for publication.

Bring students into the conversation

For the first time this fall, we teamed up with three teachers who wanted to expose their students to education reporting and encourage them to write about their own experiences in school.

One teacher built a unit on education journalism into her English class, another is teaching a journalism elective, and a third is helping students in the newspaper club she advises think about how to connect their articles to broader conversations about education.

As part of this project, I run workshops for the participating teachers’ students, who then write and submit their own pieces to First Person. We’ve received submissions from other schools as well, and I’m currently working with several students to edit their work for publication. Keep an eye out for their posts in the next few weeks, and for updates on all of these projects in the new year.

A student journalism workshop at DeWitt Clinton High School.
DeWitt Clinton High School seniors brainstorm article ideas at a GothamSchools student journalism workshop.

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

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.”