After the election

Inside one Nashville afterschool program, homework and deportation questions happen side by side

PHOTO: Grace Tatter
Patty Madera talks with students at an after school program at Nashville's Madison Middle the day after the presidential election.

When Patty Madera woke up on Wednesday morning and learned that Donald Trump had been elected president, her mind went first to the sixth-graders she would see that afternoon.

“My heart hurt,” she said.

For months, Madera has worked with a small group of Latino students, mostly girls, at Nashville’s Madison Middle School through an after-school program run jointly by the Nashville After Zone Alliance and the nonprofit Conexión Américas, which offers a range of services to Tennessee’s immigrant community.

Some of the students are citizens, born in Tennessee. Others immigrated here as recently as two years ago. Some are undocumented; many have undocumented relatives.

And all semester, sprinkled amid homework, computer games, and arts and crafts, they also shared anxiety induced by Trump’s campaign promises to limit immigration and force out many immigrants who are already here. They said they feared being bullied for speaking Spanish, seeing family members deported — or they themselves being forced to leave the country.

So Madera — like so many educators who work with immigrant students this week — walked into the Wednesday afternoon session wanting to create a space for the students to process the election results.

“They get made fun of for being Latina, and now they have this president who seems to not be sympathetic to them,” she said. “I wanted to talk to them, give them some sense of relief.”

That relief was sorely needed when Madera asked the girls to describe how they felt. “Offended!” “Attacked!” they shouted out.

Soraya Meija looked for a silver lining to her fear of being deported. “I feel sad — and happy,” she said. “I can see my cousins in Mexico.”

The students peppered Madera with questions that students of any ethnicity or national origin might share. What does it mean to be a Republican or a Democrat? How does the electoral college work, and how could Trump have won the election even if most people did not vote for him? Why didn’t people want a woman president? Together, they googled what the ballot looked like, how Tennessee voted, the major party platforms, and discussed the difference between rumors and facts.

But again and again, the answers took a different tenor because of the girls’ backgrounds.

“One time Donald Trump said this, but I don’t think it’s true — he said Mexicans bring drugs into the country and do bad things. Is that true?” one student asked.

“Not all of us!” Meija said quickly. “Just some.”

“He didn’t say ‘some,’” the first girl said quietly.

When the conversation turned to immigration and deportation, many of the girls seemed to think that their deportation was a forgone conclusion. Trump has pledged to deport people currently in the country illegally, but many students said they were concerned that all immigrants are under threat. “Can we stay here?” one girl asked.

Madera explained that citizens cannot be deported, and that checks and balances in the country’s political system mean that a lot of Trump’s promises might never come to pass. If policies do change, she said, the students and their families will have time to plan.

“If something scary comes up, we can fight it,” Madera said. “It’s not going to happen overnight.”

Conexión Américas will have a meeting for parents about possible changes to immigration policy in December. For now, Madera is focused on making sure her students have their fears calmed and their questions answered.

“I’m here, and I’m here to help you guys,” she told them. “I don’t want you to be afraid of the person who runs our country.”

First Person

A Queens teacher on Charlottesville: ‘It can’t just be teachers of color’ offering lessons on race

PHOTO: Bob Mical/Creative Commons

In a few short weeks, school will resume in New York and I’m already thinking about how we are going to address racism within the four walls of my classroom. I’m thinking about what texts, historical and current, we can read and films and documentaries we can watch to support dialogue, questioning, and solutions for combatting that ugly, pervasive thread in the fabric of our country’s patchwork quilt called racism.

Last year we read “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass,” a former slave turned abolitionist, and juxtaposed its reading with a viewing of Ava DuVernay’s documentary “13th,” which discusses modern-day slavery in the guise of mass incarceration. Students asked questions of the documentary as they watched it and discussed those queries within their groups and with the class at large afterwards.

We do our children and ourselves a disservice when we don’t have these difficult conversations as a part of our collective curriculums. However, many teachers from various walks of life are neither well-versed nor fully comfortable discussing race on any level with their students. Not talking about racism won’t make it go away. If anything, not talking about racism in the classroom further perpetuates racist ideologies that are, at their root, born out of ignorance. Education’s goal is to dispel ignorance and replace it with truth.

With that being said, just how many teachers feel equipped to facilitate lessons that touch heavily upon race in the classroom? Not nearly enough.

According to Teaching Tolerance, “The dialogue about race should start in the classroom — the teacher-prep classroom, that is. Preservice teachers should be exploring multiculturalism and discussing ways to honor diversity in their future classrooms.”

But often, Hilton Kelly, a professor of education at Davidson College in North Carolina told the site, the coursework isn’t giving future teachers the training they need to talk about race. “Even when future teachers take courses on diversity and multiculturalism,” Kelly said, “those courses don’t take the critical approach to race that future teachers truly need.”

“Food, folklore and festivals are not the same as an analysis of race in America,” Kelly argued.

But an analysis of race in America is exactly what needs to happen. Furthermore, it can’t just be teachers of color solely facilitating such lessons in their classrooms.

I don’t want to write about the events going on in Virginia. I don’t want to think about it. I’m so tired of the hatred and I long for peace, but I can’t very well in good conscience remain silent. That would be akin to protesting with those hate-mongers in Virginia last weekend. I can’t just write about back-to-school shopping, lesson planning, and business-as-usual while my brothers and sisters in Virginia are being murdered in cold blood by white supremacist American Nazis.

Are the children of Virginia safe? Are our children anywhere safe? What can I do to make a difference within the hearts and minds of the children whom I teach? If education is our best vehicle for bringing about change — which it is— how am I going to infuse the lessons I teach with critical thinking and analysis about racism in the United States for the seventh-graders entrusted in my care? How are other educators planning to address these events with their students at every grade-level?

I pose these questions to all who are reading. Whether you are a teacher, a student, a parent, an administrator, or a community member, I plead with you to work together to create answers that work toward healthy conversations and hands-on action in the fight against racism.

Vivett Dukes is a teacher at Eagle Academy For Young Men in Queens. A version of this post first appeared on New York School Talk

Consolation prize

Crosstown High wins $2.5 million to help reinvent high school in Memphis

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Newly named leaders Chandra Sledge Mathias and Chris Terrill are working to launch Crosstown High School, a charter school that will open in the fall of 2018 in midtown Memphis.

A charter school opening next year in midtown Memphis has been awarded a $2.5 million grant through a national contest aimed at reinventing America’s high schools.

Leaders of Crosstown High announced Wednesday that it’s receiving the money over five years from the XQ Super School Challenge, an initiative backed by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.

The upcoming school garnered national attention last year as a finalist for one of five $10 million XQ awards. Although Crosstown didn’t win, its leaders say the new award will help keep the school on the map of America’s “schools of the future.” (Crosstown is among 18 schools being featured on a live national broadcast on network television on Sept. 8.)

“This hasn’t been attempted in Memphis,” said Chris Terrill, executive director of Crosstown High, about creating a high school of tomorrow from scratch. “There’s energy nationwide for education reform, and we get to be a part of that.”

The new Memphis school will look different from a traditional high school. No classrooms arranged with rows of desks. No high-stakes tests. No failing grades. It will join a growing group of other U.S. schools grounded in mastery-based learning, which emphasizes student-led projects over teacher lectures.

Authorized last year by Shelby County Schools, Crosstown High will open in 2018 with 125 ninth-grade students, eventually growing to 500 across four grades. The students will be chosen through a random lottery that opens in September.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Crosstown Concourse has room for more than just the 500-student high school.

The school will be housed on several floors at Crosstown Concourse, a redeveloped high-rise building that once was a Sears warehouse. The building opened this spring as an urban village and already is home to several nonprofit organizations, community health initiatives and creative arts groups, with whom the school is seeking to leverage partnerships.

“Inside the concourse, there are thousands of different job titles,” said Terrill, whose family has moved into an apartment in the complex. “We’ll be able to listen to what students are interested in and then pair them with places that match those interests.”

Terrill arrived at Crosstown this summer from Mooresville, N.C., where he was head of a charter school. He’s being joined by another charter leader from Warrenton, N.C., Chandra Sledge Mathias, who will serve as Crosstown’s first principal.

Much of the $2.5 million award will go toward professional development, says Sledge Mathias.

“We have lofty ideas, but making it happen in real life is what we need to make happen,” she said. “That starts with teachers who understand what we’re trying to do here, which is going to be very different than the classrooms they’re coming from.”

The school invites the community to stop by Crosstown Concourse on Thursday for a block party celebration featuring the XQ Super School Bus, which visited Memphis last summer as part of the national competition. The event will be an opportunity for Memphians to weigh in on what they want to see at Crosstown High, said Ginger Spickler, the school’s director of strategic partnerships and projects.

“Being a super school means questioning everything,” Spickler said. “We have a mandate to try to do things differently. We want community input as we continue to figure out what different looks like.”