Inside Chalkbeat

Colonial Middle parents receive homework tips, advice at expo

PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier/Chalkbeat TN
Colonial MIddle language arts teacher Patricia Hervey talks to student Ayante Williams and her mother, Sharon Kuykendall, about creative arts high school options.
Colonial Middle teacher Patricia Hervey talks with student Ayante Williams and her mother, Sharon Kuykendall during Parent Expo on Thursday night.
PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier/ Chalkbeat TN
Colonial Middle teacher Patricia Hervey talks with student Ayante Williams and her mother, Sharon Kuykendall during Parent Expo on Thursday night.

Yolanda Jones arrived at Colonial Middle School Thursday evening ready to gather all the information she could to help her son become a better student.

“We work on his homework every day,” Jones said.  “I have him explain it to me and show examples. I want him to take better notes and when it’s something that I don’t understand, there’s always textbooks or I can always call, text or email his teachers.”

Jones wasn’t alone.

Nearly 400 parents participated in the school’s first “Parent Expo”, where parents were given access to the school’s language arts, math, social studies and science teachers at the fine arts sixth through eighth grade school.

There were 15 educational booths for parents to visit on Thursday night.

At Patricia Hervey’s booth, students and parents received worksheets about”12 Powerful Words,” which are typically used on the annual state tests and during classroom instruction. Hervey encouraged parents and students to review the words and the definitions frequently.

Some of the words on the list were “trace”, “analyze”, “contrast” and “summarize” and are used in questions on the state test.

Other booths included demonstrations of science experiments, math games and assistance for parents of Spanish-speaking and English as a Second Language students.

Parents also had the opportunity to take a piano lesson and watch student performances in choir, piano, dance and orchestra.

Yolanda Jones and her son, Reginald, sign in at Thursday night's Parent Expo at Colonial Middle School.
PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier/Chalkbeat TN
Yolanda Jones and her son, Reginald, sign in at Thursday night’s Parent Expo at Colonial Middle School.

Attaining a high level of parental engagement is often the goal for classroom teachers and administrators. Research has shown that students with strong parental support at home, such as family reading and homework time – tend to perform better in school.

Colonial principal Marty Pettigrew advocates for what he calls the five areas of connectedness – students, staff, parents, community and programs.

“Our expo ties all of those things together,” he said.

It was a big undertaking to organize the event, but Pettigrew said he’d like to see it happen on an annual basis.

Parent Nevenia Hill said the most helpful information that she took away was from her daughter’s sixth grade language arts teacher and their discussion about Reading Plus, which is a computer-based program that monitors progress, teaches lessons and reviews with students.

“This was my first time meeting with her teachers and really getting an explanation about what they do in class and where she needed help,” Hill said. “Now I can go home and work with her in those areas. It’s better to meet with the teachers in person than it is to read a note.” 

Hill said her daughter, Mina, finds reading more challenging than math.

“I’m really pushing her in reading and getting her to do more of it at home,” she said. Hill met with her daughter’s math teacher, Terrica Conley, about exercises she can also do at home.

Colonial Middle sixth grade math teacher Terrica Conley gives Nevenia Hill tips on helping her daughter, Mina, who is in her class.
PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier/Chalkbeat TN
Colonial Middle sixth grade math teacher Terrica Conley gives Nevenia Hill tips on helping her daughter, Mina, who is in her class.

Pettigrew is counting on the work of students, teachers and Reading Plus to improve the school’s reading scores. According to the state’s report card, Colonial’s reading scores have been stagnant over the past three years.

“This year, we’ll have higher reading scores,” Pettigrew said.

Other parents at the event walked the halls of Colonial Middle hopeful that their child will receive a spot at the optional campus.

Kenneth Woods and his daughters Breanna Rosser, an eighth grader at Sherwood Middle, and Taylor Woods, a fifth grader at Sherwood Elementary, stopped at Hervey’s booth.

“We’re trying to get her (Taylor) into Colonial,” said Woods, adding that he is concerned about his daughters stressing over tests.

“I worry about them because sometimes if you’re too nervous, you can mess up,” he said. “We try to help them at home, their older sister helps out too.”

Kenneth Woods and his daughters Breanna Rosser (r) and Taylor Woods (r) reviewed 12 powerful words with sixth grade language arts teacher Patricia Hervey.
PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier/ Chalkbeat TN
Kenneth Woods and his daughters Breanna Rosser (r) and Taylor Woods (r) reviewed 12 powerful words with sixth grade language arts teacher Patricia Hervey.

 

Many parents stayed until the two-hour event was over at 7 p.m. Thursday. Jones and her son, Reginald were among the remaining group of people still in the building.

 

 

 

 

 

“As a parent, you have to be involved,” Jones said. “Parental involvement varies from school to school. I want my son to do well, so I’m here.”

Yolanda  Jones and her son Reginald, a seventh grader at Colonial Middle, arrive at the Parent Expo Thursday night.
PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier/Chalkbeat TN
Yolanda Jones and her son Reginald, a seventh grader at Colonial Middle, arrive at the Parent Expo Thursday night.

Meet us

Chalkbeat Chicago reporter Adeshina Emmanuel on race, public schools, and “tough love” in CPS

Last week, I gave you an overview of our plans for Chalkbeat Chicago and shared an inside look at our first community event in Washington Park. (Stay tuned: Several more community events are on the way.) Today, I’m excited to offer a deeper introduction to my first hire: Adeshina Emmanuel, an Uptown native who is a Chicago Public Schools grad. Ever want to talk public schools? Adeshina attended five CPS schools, graduating in 2007 from Friedrich Von Steuben Metropolitan Science Center.

Adeshina has been plenty busy since then: staff jobs at the Chicago Sun-Times, DNAinfo Chicago, and the Chicago Reporter; writing for Chicago magazine, In These Times, Ebony, the Chicago Reader, and Columbia Journalism Review; and leading in-depth reporting projects through City Bureau, a Chicago civic journalism lab. His writing and reporting about race and class is insightful and honest, and I’m excited to be working alongside him to tell the complex story of Chicago public education.

Since he’s the new guy, I asked him to answer a few questions about himself and his approach to the education beat.

You’ve primarily been writing about race and class in Chicago. Why are you diving so deeply into education at this point in your career?

It’s a natural progression. This new role gives me the opportunity to examine race and class through the lens of education, while connecting the dots to politics, finance, and other forces shaping our public school and charter systems. We can’t have a serious conversation about American inequality without considering how these dynamics help shape and manifest in public educational institutions such as CPS, especially in an infamously segregated and racially problematic city like Chicago.

You’re a graduate of Chicago Public Schools. Looking back as an adult, how would you describe your experiences?

CPS was far from perfect—but I wouldn’t be the journalist, or person, I am today without a lot of the guidance, love, and tough love from the schools I attended. That includes students, principals, assistant principals, school disciplinarians, teachers, teachers assistants, security guards, school counselors, basketball coaches, and more.

I won’t get into my whole CPS journey. But there’s a crucial moment I’d like to share. It’s a story about how one selective-enrollment school in Lake View pushed me out and how a neighborhood school in Uptown took me in—and helped shape who I am.

Third grade was a rough year for me. I was an emotional and outspoken know-it-all who clashed often with his teacher and spent a lot of time in the office accused of disobeying authority. My greatest nemesis—if a third-grader can really have a nemesis—was a sixth-grade boy who was in my older sister’s homeroom and rode the school bus with us. He had a habit of making suggestive and demeaning comments to her. The bully and I had fought one-on-one at least twice, and he beat me up pretty bad both times. I never told my parents or anybody at school.

One day, he touched my sister—again—as we rode the school bus home. We confronted the bully with some friends, and, this time, our clash got back to officials at our school. We were pressured to find another school.

My mom decided on our neighborhood school, Joseph Stockton Elementary (now Courtenay, after a 2013 consolidation). At Stockton, I found a sense of family that had been lacking at my previous school. The teachers and administrators knew my mother, and many of the mothers at the school knew each other from the neighborhood.

At Stockton, I fell in love with the written word. I remember my fourth-grade teacher, Ms. Simmons, who was one of the first to encourage my craft. My fifth-grade teacher, Ms. Zaccor, challenged me with books beyond my grade level like Native Son and The Autobiography of Malcolm X. My basketball coach, Mr. Yolich, taught me about hard work and self-discipline both in the classroom and on the court. Yolich, who grew up in Uptown like me and was very involved in the community, was well put together, respectful and laid back—but blunt—and I looked up to him as a role model.

These are just some of the people at CPS who have changed my life for the better and taught me the power of a loving and engaged school community.

What do you think is missing in the conversation about Chicago education?

I wouldn’t say these things are missing, just that we need them to be more prominent in our conversation.

We need to talk more—and with more honesty—about the ways that racism and other forms of systemic oppression have affected schools historically and today. We need more discussion about the link between poverty, trauma and violence in youth. We need to take a more intersectional view of the forces students face when they hail from various marginalized groups or identities, especially gender nonconforming people, immigrants, students with mental illness, and students with disabilities. We need more of a solutions approach to the conversation about Chicago education—and to not simply call out issues. We need more continuous focus on the resilience, imagination, and courage exercised by students and educators pushing for solutions to problems in education, not just when there’s a headline grabbing event like a walkout, a school closing or a hunger strike. Everyday efforts can be both empowering and instructive.

What is your philosophy about engaging the communities that you cover?

Be present, listen, collaborate, and report back.

I approach community engagement with an open ear for how people describe their relationship with institutions, their personal histories, and how their stories relate to both the history of their community and the history of the institutions that serve the area. I also want to take stock of what’s working, what’s not working, and what they feel they need to solve their problems. Each person’s perspective is like a thread. It’s my job as a journalist to help weave these threads into a narrative.

How can readers reach you?

On Twitter, @public_ade, and via email, at aemmanuel@chalkbeat.org. Or, if you see me, say hi. I’ll be out there.

 

An Introduction

What’s missing from the conversation about Chicago schools?

PHOTO: Elaine Chen
A table of students, parents, educators and community members participate in a conversation hosted by Chalkbeat Chicago and Generation All.

Last week, I co-hosted a dinner for 45 parents, educators, students and community members at Walter H. Dyett High School for the Arts in Washington Park. Over some of the best chicken and biscuits I’ve had in my life, I posed this question. The list of responses was long and impassioned, but one answer, in particular, stayed with me long after we all went home.

“There’s a disconnect between the policy makers and the people on the ground. Too often, I have to bring my own chair to the table.”

I get this.

A few weeks ago, I dropped my son off at kindergarten and drove back to my home office to start a new job as bureau chief of Chalkbeat Chicago. Even in a district powered by school choice, landing a spot in a “good” kindergarten felt like a struggle: starting with testing in a hot, crowded room with other nervous parents and kids and ending with 11 waitlists.  

It’s one thing to write about school choice as a journalist; it’s another to experience it as a parent.

I’m approaching this job as both. At Chalkbeat Chicago, we plan to cover early childhood education through K-12, which means assessing everything from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s “diploma mandate” to the highly touted freshman tracking program To & Through to efforts to tamp down the district’s high debt. We will examine decisions made in the boardroom: on spending, school openings and closings, charter authorizations, leadership, and the like. But we’ll also be reporting from classrooms. As a parent, I can attest that you can’t really understand the district’s opportunities and challenges until you spend time talking with educators and seeing kids in school.

And as our dinner guests last week stressed, to get the full picture, you must engage the community, too. To get the Chicago bureau up and running, we plan to launch a Listening Tour that will take us around the city to better understand what’s working in public education and what’s not. We already kicked it off with our dinner at Dyett, which we hosted with the neighborhood schools advocacy group Generation All as part of the Chicago Community Trust #OntheTable2018.

Some questions participants raised in that conversation:

  • There are serious questions about who wields the power, from mayoral control of the district to concerns about Local School Councils. LSCs need to be supported, trained by the central office and promoted. Participants asked: Where is the accountability to the public?
  • More honesty is needed about how deeply racism shapes schools. Is school funding equitable? What does it mean when some schools have art teachers and librarians, and others don’t? Why does it seem like some neighborhoods have a say in whether they get charter schools—and others don’t?
  • We know that an overwhelming number of Chicago children suffer from trauma and stress. But suspensions, expulsions, and discipline have become the norm instead of counseling and kindness.
  • Schools used to be the center of community life. That’s why the stakes are so high when schools are slated to close. How can we return to that thinking? How can we invite the community and parents in? How can we develop more community leaders and partnerships that build up neighborhood schools?
  • Wanted: better ideas for parent engagement. How do we bring in parents into a child’s educational life?
  • The public narrative of Chicago schools is overwhelmingly negative. Let’s figure out exactly what’s working and, first, replicate it. Then celebrate it.

People kept talking, and our list of participants’ questions kept growing—even after the dinner was over, the biscuits were gone and the school was closing for the night. I’m pleased to say, though, that this was just a start. As we host more conversations across Chicago, we pledge to make public what we learn. We also plan to use what we hear to help set our coverage priorities for the year.

Tomorrow, I’ll introduce my first new hire: Adeshina Emmanuel, whose writing has appeared in the New York Times, Ebony, Columbia Journalism Review, the Chicago Reader and Chicago magazine. By the end of May, we’ll start publishing a weekly newsletter that summarizes what you need to know about Chicago schools. It will elevate some of the great reporting that’s already happening here and include our observations as well. Moving into fall, that newsletter will appear with more regularity. By June, we plan to start publishing stories on our site as we move about the city on our Listening Tour.

Getting started, I’m eager to hear from you. Tell us what you think is missing from the conversation about Chicago schools, find out more about our Listening Tour or send us a story idea or just hello: chicago.tips@chalkbeat.org.

Since our dinner, I’ve been thinking a lot about the guest who spoke so passionately about bringing her own chair to the table. At Chalkbeat Chicago, we want to invite everyone into the discussion, from the power brokers to Chicago educators to community members, like her, who feel like they haven’t been heard.

Join us. There are plenty of chairs at our table for everyone.