New York

Highbridge Green School students present a project their parents helped design

Our recent story about the Highbridge Green School highlighted a unique collaboration between parents and teachers, who worked together to plan an English unit for the school’s first class of sixth graders.

Fueled by parents’ desire to continue shaping the new school they helped create, the co-planned unit included an interview project that students worked on at home. We visited the school last month when students shared their projects at a fair in the cafeteria.

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Aliesse Doucoure interviewed her father about his immigration story.

“It was kind of hard, but I felt like I was prepared,” Aliesse Doucoure said, describing the process leading up to the fair.

After reading “Dragon Wings,” a book about a Chinese boy who immigrated to the United States, Doucoure and her classmates interviewed parents and community members — and in at least one case, a teacher — who had their own immigration experiences to share.

“I was learning information I never knew,” Doucoure said of the interview with her father. “He’s this strong person. So when he told me he was afraid on his way here, it shocked me.”

In class, students wrote essays comparing the perspectives they read in the book and heard in their interviews. At home, with parents’ support, they made colorful posters with information about China or the countries where their parents were born.

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Haley Alonso, right, with classmates, said she’d never spoken to her father about his journey from Cuba before the project.

Standing by her poster, Haley Alonso said she had never asked her dad about his experience immigrating from Cuba until she interviewed him for this project.

“It was a little hard talking to my dad about stuff like where he came from,” Alonso said. “I don’t really talk to him about stuff like that.” She said she was surprised to learn that her dad came to the United States in a plane instead of a boat.

Adrian Serrata was seven years old when he and his mom, Margarita Serrata, moved from the Dominican Republic, so the broad strokes of her story weren’t new to him. But he said the interview helped him learn about what the shared experience felt like for her.

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Margarita and Adrian Serrata discussed their trip from the Dominican Republic to the Bronx together.

As an example, he described the plane ride, which he remembers as the scariest moment of the trip. But his mom “felt more confident,” he said, because she was older and had been on a plane before.

Margarita said in Spanish that alongside his curiosity about the plane ride, Adrian wanted to know “what was different between being here and my country and how I adapted here, to another culture and language.”

“We’ve lived it all together, and I’m still here pushing him,” Margarita added, alluding to the central role parents played in this project, sharing their experiences and helping their kids prepare posters at home.

union power

Charter teachers won big in nation’s first strike. What now?

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff / Chalkbeat
Teachers from Acero charter schools in Chicago protest stalled negotiations Oct. 24, 2018, as they readied to vote on authorizing a strike.

Some 500 unionized teachers joined in the nation’s first charter strike last week, and succeeded in negotiating wage increases, smaller class sizes and a shorter school day. Their gains could foreshadow next year’s citywide contract negotiations — between the Chicago Teachers Union, with its contract expiring in June, and Chicago Public Schools.

“The issue of class size is going to be huge,” said Chris Geovanis, the union’s director of communications. “It is a critically important issue in every school.”

Unlike their counterparts in charters, though, teachers who work at district-run schools can’t technically go on strike to push through a cap on the number of students per class. That’s because the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act defines what issues non-charter public school teachers can bargain over, and what issues can lead to a strike.

An impasse on issues of compensation or those related to working conditions, such as length of the school day or teacher evaluations, could precipitate a strike. But disagreements over class sizes or school closures, among other issues, cannot be the basis for a strike.

The number of students per class has long been a point of contention among both district and charter school teachers.

Educators at Acero had hopes of pushing the network to limit class sizes to 24-28 students, depending on the grade. However, as Acero teachers capped their fourth day on the picket line, they reached an agreement with the charter operator on a cap of 30 students — down from the current cap of 32 students.

Andy Crooks, a special education apprentice, also known as a teacher’s aide, at Acero’s Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz school and a member of the teachers bargaining team, said that even having two fewer students in a classroom would make a huge difference.

“You really do get a lot more time with your students,” Crooks said. “And if you are thinking about kindergarten in particular, two less 5-year-olds really can help set the tone of the classroom.”

In district-run schools, classes are capped at 28 students in kindergarten through third grade, and at 31 students in fourth through sixth grade. But a survey by the advocacy group Parents 4 Teachers, which supports educators taking on inequality, found that during the 2017-2018 school year, 21 percent of K-8 classrooms had more students than district guidelines allowed. In 18 elementary school classrooms, there were 40 or more students.

The issue came up at last week’s Board of Education meeting, at which Ivette Hernandez, a parent of a first-grader at Virgil Grissom Elementary School in the city’s Hegewisch neighborhood, said her son’s classes have had more than 30 students in them. When the children are so young and active — and when they come into classrooms at so many different skill levels — “the teachers can’t handle 30 kids in one class,” she told the board.

Alderman Sue Garza, a former counselor, accompanied Hernandez. She also spoke before the board about classroom overcrowding — worrying aloud that, in some grades at one school in particular, the number of students exceeded the building’s fire codes. (Board chair Frank Clark said a district team would visit the school to ensure compliance fire safety policies.)

While the Chicago Teachers Union aren’t technically allowed to strike over class sizes, the union does have a history of pushing the envelope when it comes to bargaining.

Back in 2012, when the Chicago Teachers Union last went on strike, they ended up being able to secure the first limit on class sizes in 20 years because the district permitted the union to bargain over class size.

They also led a bargaining campaign that included discussion over racial disparities in Chicago education and school closures, arguing that these trends impacted the working conditions of teachers.

“Even if you can’t force an employer to bargain over an issue, you can push them to bargain over the impact of an issue,” Bob Bruno, a labor professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, explained.

The Chicago Teachers Union also emerged from its 2012 negotiations with guarantees of additional “wraparound services,” such as access to onsite social workers and school counselors.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

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