Archive for the 'Alumni Voices' Category

You Can’t Support LeBron’s New School and Be Against Charter Schools

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By Bill Waychunas

LeBron picked a team this summer that turned a lot of haters into fans and raised questions about what the fans are actually cheering for. I’m not talking about the Lakers or even basketball. I’m talking about schools.

There has been a lot of buzz around LeBron contributing millions to open the I Promise school in his hometown of Akron, Ohio.

And, as the kudos have rightfully rained down for LeBron’s commitment, many people have qualified their support of I Promise with the point that it is a traditional public school and NOT a charter school. It’s good for kids because he’s on our team.

So, as many raise banners to support LeBron’s school, they also raise the question, do they support the education of children, or do they support traditional public schools? What kind of fans are they anyways?

But education isn’t sports. In sports, you can have a favorite team. In sports, there are winners and losers. I would argue that societal tolerance of certain students “losing” in schools is the greatest historical and current injustice in public education. When it comes to education, we can’t have teams or sides. We should cheer for all children, families, and communities, not just if they happen to be on our team.

More frustrating is the irony of those touting I Promise as a traditional public school who don’t realize that it functions more like a charter school. Like that player on other team that you can’t stand, but secretly wish was on your team (think any player from Duke or these guys), LeBron’s school is exposing many of his supporter as hypocrites as they embrace a school which they previously would have criticized if it was a charter school.  

Let’s first acknowledge the hypocrisy around philanthropy. When charter schools accept donations, they are allowing privatizers to influence schools in an attempt to destroy public education. How is LeBron’s money different? If LeBron wasn’t a basketball player, but a Wall-Street type with ties to Akron, would his philanthropy receive the same welcome, even with the same good intentions? Not likely. We shouldn’t need to rely on celebrities to support public institutions like our schools anyways, but when money is given for the benefit of children, it shouldn’t matter what team (or type of school) is cashing the check.

The I Promise model, which is being touted as a long-awaited miracle for students, is based off the successes of urban charter schools, such as KIPP and Rocketship. These include, “longer school days, a non-traditional [longer] school year, and greater access to the school, its facilities, and its teachers” with the aim of “reducing the achievement gap between low-income students and their peers.” When charter schools do the same things, they are accused of exploiting teachers, having deficit views of children, and being overly focused on standardized testing.

I Promise fans should also acknowledge that, like charter schools, LeBron’s school is a school of choice. According to Time, “[t]he school selected area students from among those who trail their peers by a year or two in academic performance,” used a random lottery to decide who was admitted, and made phone calls to the families, asking “How would you like to be part of something different, the I Promise School.”

Let’s unpack that a bit.

Giving parents the option of “something different” implies that something isn’t working with their current public-school option, a foundational argument in favor of school choice. This also means that the kids selected would otherwise be going to neighborhood public schools. With funding being allocated on a per-pupil basis, for every student who goes to LeBron’s school, they take away a little more than $10,000 from their originally assigned school. That means less money for teachers, supplies, technology, and other supports.

The best teachers from Akron are also being extracted from the neighborhood schools. They even had to approve a separate union contract for these teachers, further implying that something isn’t working with the status-quo in the school district. If these students and teachers were leaving their traditional public schools for charter schools, it would be draining resources from neighborhood schools. But again, right player, right team. That means instead of extraction or injustice, it’s opportunity.

The selection kids by lottery may most clearly expose elements of hypocrisy for some fans who support the #WeChoose movement, which is associated with Journey for Justice Alliance and the Badass Teachers Association. They claims that charter schools are a scam and don’t offer a real choice to families, in part because the “choice” of quality schools is only available to some lottery winners, while leaving the rest behind. They advocate for well-funded schools with wrap-around services for ALL students, not just the lucky ones that won LeBron’s lottery. Clearly, the I Promise school is a step in the right direction, but it surely doesn’t serve all students or all schools. What about the students that are left behind? Clearly, one can’t claim that advancing the interest of some in LeBron’s school is progress while criticizing progress for some in charter schools is a problem.  

The bottom line is that the services and model at LeBron’s school would be good for kids, families, and communities no matter what type of school he opened. That’s what we should be focusing on, not the type of school.

If we’re going to be fans, let’s be fans for all kids, not just the ones on “our team.”

 

WEB and 6th grade orientation: Watching my 8th graders become leaders

Blue_lockers_at_IATCSBy Sabrina Bartels

At the end of last school year, we introduced a new concept to our 8th grade students called WEB. WEB, which stands for Where Everyone Belongs, promotes a welcoming environment in schools and encourages students to be leaders in their school community. At my school, we asked teachers to recommend students they thought would be good leaders and help us run the 6th grade student orientation. The results were, in my opinion, amazing.

There were two really great moments that stood out to me as an adult on the WEB team. The first moment was when I looked at the initial list of students being recommended as WEB leaders. There were several students I “expected” to see on the list: the kids who were always polite, responsible, and volunteered for multiple opportunities throughout the year. But there were also a good number of students who I considered “emerging leaders”: students who absolutely had leadership potential, but were not typically picked first for leadership opportunities. I think of some shyer students, or the boy who was a little outspoken during class, or the kind girl who really struggled in terms of attendance. Some of those students never believed in themselves to be leaders. Talking with some of them and giving them an application to be a WEB leader was such a rewarding moment. The smiles on their faces, and the pride they felt when they heard that teachers had suggested them, were amazing.

The second moment was seeing the leaders in action during the 6th grade orientation. I will be honest: I was a little nervous during our training days. Some of our students were still very shy and reserved. There were some students who were reluctant to practice some of the activities because they were embarrassed (we had a lot of activities that required moving, dancing, and doing things in silly voices.) We frequently discussed as a big group how all of us adults were embarrassed as well, but that we had the mindset that we were doing this for the 6th graders. Several of our students took comfort in that fact that we were embarrassed and nervous too! The day of the training, our students were fantastic. They completely surpassed my expectations.

I had students volunteering to run groups on their own instead of in pairs when the number of 6th graders exceeded our estimates (I was especially proud of one of my students with anxiety, who bravely volunteered to run her own group and did amazing with it!) There were 8th graders going out of their way to welcome students who were extremely nervous. I saw my shy students burst out of their shells and participate fully in every activity, which encouraged our 6th grade students to do the same. Many of our leaders even took it upon themselves to organize the 6th graders in the lunch line – something none of us had asked them to do, but man, were their efforts appreciated! In my opinion, the day went smoothly, and my 8th graders impressed me beyond belief.

I am excited to see how WEB transforms our school climate. We will have activities throughout the year that our WEB leaders will run, and I think the 8th graders are just as excited as we are about this. Seeing how WEB has already helped many of my students become stronger leaders makes me excited for the future. I anticipate great things for this year!

In the Shadows of the Maestros

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By Bill Waychunas

Today, I stood and waited in a line to get free entrance into The Prado art museum in Madrid, Spain. While everyone enjoys getting something for free, two things I generally try to avoid at all costs are waiting in long lines and art museums, especially modern art museums. Plus, it was HOT outside, like melt your flip-flop on the asphalt type of heat.

When I first spotted the length of the line, winding around the sidewalk and gardens outside of the Prado, the thought of turning around and going home popped into my mind. I decided to stay. Despite all the reasons I had to turn and run, I couldn’t help but feel an excitement come over me as I slid into my spot at the end of the line.

Everyone in line slowly shuffled forward, audibly groaning when the movement in the line paused and they found themselves in a spot on the sidewalk unprotected from the blazing-hot afternoon sun. At one such moment, I longingly looked behind me at the shade I had just left, trying to reconcile my conflicting desires for shade and progress towards the entrance.

My eyes followed the shadow across the sidewalk. As I glanced upward at its source, I came to the sudden realizations that I’d been standing under a statue of one of the Spanish masters (or maestros) in this case, Velasquez. A few more minutes of shuffling forward in line and I find myself in the shadow of another maestro. This time it’s Goya with a healthy smattering of pigeon crap covering his forehead as he gazes over the crowd.

My excitement grew, and I forgot about the line and the heat.

Once inside, I found that walking the gallery was blissful. But why? It wasn’t just because the museum had an excellent air conditioner; my mind drifted to another maestro but not one who’s paintings or sculptures would be found in a museum.

See, in Spanish, the word maestro has multiple meanings. One of the them can mean master, in the case of an expert, usually an artist. The other meaning is teacher, a different type of artist whose works of art are saved for the select few enrolled in their classes. Today I found myself in this museum as a sort of pilgrimage or tribute to one of my high school teachers, Señor Mendoza, my Spanish teacher for two years. He was truly a maestro in both meanings of the word.

In one of his Spanish classes, Señor Mendoza took some time to stray from the typical textbook curriculum and taught us about the most famous Spanish artists, including Goya, Velasquez, El Greco, Dalì, and Picasso. It wasn’t something that I was particularly excited about at first, but the stories he told about the artists lives and their pieces were captivating. He told us about some of the places where such works were housed and here is was, 15 or so years later, standing in the shadow of the maestros.

By my senior year of high school, I had decided that I would major in education in college and pursue a career as a teacher. This was certainly in no small part due to the excellent teachers I had, including Señor Mendoza. In fact, he was such an excellent maestro that I actually considered becoming a Spanish teacher for a short while. Thankfully, for the sake of the children, I choose to focus on social studies instead.

I found out soon after I graduated from high school that Señor Mendoza passed-away after a battle with cancer. I was lucky to have had his classes. More than just the lessons in Spanish and art history, I learned a lot from his teaching example, but in terms of the values and approaches he brought with him to class every day, including:

  • Learning should be fun – If it’s not fun or interesting, then make it fun and interesting. Part of this is remembering to laugh and smile often.
  • Be humble and honest – Admit when you make a mistake, share your personal passions and background with your students, and be able to laugh at yourself. It makes you a human instead of just a teacher.
  • Learning should be an experience – It’s not just about quizzes and tests. Change it up every once in a while. Kids won’t remember that awesome exit ticket you wrote but they will remember the projects they did and how you made them feel in class.  For example: Señor Mendoza would sometimes have us write and perform skits in Spanish using vocabulary from the unit instead of taking a test. I vividly remember playing the role of Señor Mendoza in a classroom scene where some of my friends played the role of students in our class, poking a little bit of good fun at everyone along the way. In fact, when I googled Señor Mendoza’s name, I found this comment on his rate-my-teachers profile which gives me some personal validation on my acting skills: waychunas1
  • Expose students to things outside of their bubbles – Sometimes, there’s value in being “culturally irrelevant” in the classroom and getting students out of their comfort zone. Art is not something that I would have ever been introduced to or would have sought out on my own. My world has been widened by his choice to expose us to that unit as well as some of the fantastic field trips we went on as part of his class, including one where I first tried some of my current favorite foods, tapas and paella.

On my stroll home from the museum, I stopped into a bar for a refreshing cerveza. When the waitress told me that the tap beer was out, she directed me towards their bottle selection. Like a sign from above, the first beer on display was called Maestra. I ordered one and raised my Maestra towards the sky for the maestro.

 

Counselor Book Review – Mockingbird

books-933333_960_720By Sabrina Bartels

Near the end of the school year, several of the staff members at my school decided to form a book club. However, we did not pick up the latest adult novel and dive in. Instead, we decided to focus on young adult and children’s literature. We compiled a list of books – some old classics and some newer ones as well – and picked those that we thought would help us gain insight into our students. We also chose books that we thought our students would enjoy reading, since getting students to read is crucial to their academic success. And trust me, there were a lot of books to choose from!

The first book we chose was called Mockingbird, by Kathryn Erskine, and I found myself learning so much from this novel. I’ll start by saying this: I think every educator should read Mockingbird. Anyone who regularly works with kids should buy or borrow a copy. You’ll be so glad you did.

Mockingbird is narrated by ten-year-old Caitlin, who has just lost her brother in a school shooting. What makes Caitlin so incredibly unique as a narrator is that she has Asberger Syndrome, which is on the autism spectrum. Many describe Asberger Syndrome as being part of the higher functioning end of the spectrum. Oftentimes, those with Asberger’s (and autism in general) struggle with social communication. In the book, Caitlin experiences difficulty with understanding people’s emotions based on their facial expressions. She also has very black-or-white thinking; everything is either right or wrong, with no in-between. As you go through the book, you are able to see Caitlin’s thought process for certain events, which had a huge impact on me. It really opened my eyes to how some of my students with autism may be thinking or feeling.

I remember learning a lot about autism during my undergrad years, but you can only learn so much from textbooks. This past year, I started working closely with a student who has autism. Similar to Caitlin, he is high functioning and very intelligent, but struggles with social communication. There are times when he and his teachers — or he and I — don’t see eye to eye, despite all of our best attempts. I remember he and I frequently talked about why he had to complete a certain assignment when he already knew and understood the material. I also remember an incident where he refused to give up his cell phone, even though he was using it in the locker room (where phones are not allowed.) When I explained that we can’t have cell phones in locker rooms for privacy reasons and that people sometimes take inappropriate pictures, he said that he should be allowed to have his phone because he would never do that.

Though Caitlin does not experience the same situations in the book, there are times when I feel like her inner dialogue may explain my own student’s thoughts and feelings. Being able to read how her logic plays out makes me understand my student better. Seeing how Caitlin reacts to situations – and seeing how those situations mirror my student’s situations – really helps me understand what I can do to be a better counselor for my students with autism and Asberger’s. I’ve learned that having a facial expressions chart could be very helpful for my students who struggle labeling their emotions. I can continue to demonstrate and model appropriate social behavior (looking at someone, listening with my whole body, etc.) I can continue to work with parents and outside therapists, which is a huge component to student success. By having everyone on the same page, you are better able to meet the needs of the student and ensure that you are all giving a consistent message. Finally, I learned that patience really is key. If Caitlin’s counselor, father, and teacher were not as patient, I don’t think Caitlin would’ve made the growth she did. It made me feel better to realize that I am not the only one who sometimes struggles with patience, and that I as a counselor am not alone in this.

But this book is not only for adults. I think this book could make a world of difference to a student who has Asberger’s. It shows them that they are not alone. Sometimes, my student believes that he is the only one who experiences what he does, and the only one who has to get through a school day with Asberger’s. This would show him that there are others who go through similar struggles that he does. But it also promotes empathy from other students. Children who read the book will see how Caitlin reacts to various situations. They may then later see a student in their classroom who has a similar reaction. My hope is that they will remember the story Mockingbird and be kinder to others. After all, a little kindness and understanding can go a long way.

We Hold These Truths to be Self-Evident

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By Patrick R. Johnson

As educators, we oftentimes come to this vocation by a calling—thus why I would call our craft a vocation rather than a profession. While this calling comes in different ways and at different times, the bells it rings in our heads is one of many things that unites us. My bells rang quite literally upon my first campus visit to Marquette, a very delayed one at that. I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, but what I wanted to teach was massively in conflict: do I become a biology teacher because I loved the scientific method and studying life, or do I do what many told me not to—become a journalism teacher. I heard the bells of Marquette Hall on my way to visit Johnston Hall; despite the rainy day, the bells gave light to where I belonged. I chose the road less traveled and you should too.

Journalism (and media as a greater umbrella) is the Fourth Estate—the checks and balances to the government as a whole. Journalism is the truth, despite what some who are being checked by the Fourth Estate may continue to argue. Journalism is the voice for the voiceless, the sounding board for the unspoken and the gatekeeper for all that is good and evil. Yet, especially now more than when I began my journey against the grain as a journalism teacher, journalism isn’t what it should be allowed to be and I argue that in order to change that we need to put journalism and media education back into our schools.

That all men are created equal

It is in teaching our students that equality can only be granted when we’re willing to critique ourselves and our systems that we truly will learn. In media production classrooms, we promote social justice and awareness by challenging our students to engage with and produce content about those who have been silences—unearthing the truths that have been buried for so long.

When we teach news and media literacy, we ask our students to curiously question who produced a piece, who runs the organization, or who guides the message; what the message says and how the message says it; when the message is created and for whom it was created for; and why.

To promote and ensure the equality that was granted to us in the confines of the Declaration of Independence, we must first ask why we are afforded these rights in the first place and who helps provide us with them. Media classes do just that.

That they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights

Media classrooms are the “Four Cs of 21st Century Learning” and endow our students with the unalienable rights associated with a strong and sustainable education. Students in media classrooms learn to communicate beyond a screen and reignite a passion to care about one another. Students in media classrooms challenge the system using critical thinking skills that are developed in their analysis of media, their creation of content, and their questioning of ethics. Students in media classrooms engage in collaboration daily as they must work together to produce a product, one that is public and out there for all to see (and critique). Students in media classrooms invoke creativity not just in the work, but also in their leadership and passions. These Cs guarantee student success and push them to reach their maximum potential inside and outside of the classroom.

That among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness

In an age where journalists are under fire, quite literally as we recently saw with the shooting at the Capital Times, fastening our students with weapons of truth and language and thought are more necessary than ever. Journalism programs around the country are being cut, teachers are being released from their contracts, and kids are going without a proper education of their First Amendment freedoms because there is a fear that journalism endangers the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Instead of fearing what this experience produces, we should deeply consider what this experience can afford our students—the future of America. Instead of fearing that journalism will take away our rights, we should be embracing the unknown and pushing for our rights to be celebrated, honored and respected.

We must renew our trust in journalism, a vocation that is foundational to the American Dream. It starts with an education and it starts with us. Help champion the cause for truth by either investing in journalism or media classes in our schools, or bringing them back if they’ve sadly disappeared. We need declare our independence by reigniting our passion for and discovery of knowledge. Join the cause because journalism is going to be the only thing to make America great again.

Give Your Writing A Dash—of Creativity

writing-675083_960_720By Elizabeth Jorgensen

Earlier today, a student raised his hand and said, “You commented on my paper that I should be using the dash, but I’m actually using a hyphen. But I don’t know how to make the dash.”

I said, “I know Google Docs is not set up to make it, so you will need to modify your settings so you can turn – into — .”

Although an en (word-space-hyphen-space-word) dash and em (word-hyphen-hyphen-word) dash are automatically created in Word, they’re not in Google Docs (where my students craft and submit drafts). At this point, I paused class and asked each student to set up the em dash on his or her Google Doc preferences.

A student Googled how to do this. He said, “Go to tools, then preferences, then add the two hyphens in the left column that says ‘replace’ and paste the em dash into the right side that says ‘with’.”

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To paste the em dash, students went to “insert” and then “special characters” and typed “em dash” where it says “search.” This allowed them to copy and paste the em dash into the “with” column. I told students they could also paste the em dash from a different document or from a website that used the dash. I reminded students they needed to select “save” in order for the changes to update.

After updating Google Doc preferences, students went into a Google Doc, keyed in two hyphens and saw the dash automatically created. When some students couldn’t make the dash, others commented they needed to “hit the spacebar.”

One student with a Mac said she uses “shift-option-dash” to create the em dash in both Google and Word. I said, “Depending on your device, you might need a different keystroke.” I told my students to Google “How to make the em dash on [insert your device/program here]” if they still struggled to create the em or en dash on their device and/or document.

Then, I spent time reviewing the different dashes. I projected examples so the students could visually see the difference as well as the dashes and hyphen in context. I said, “The em (—) dash is the longest; en dash (–) is slightly shorter; even shorter is the hyphen (-). Remember, the dashes are different from a hyphen which connects compounded words like Wi-Fi or e-mail. And an en dash is used with numbers or dates (as in July–October 2010 or 1999–2002) while the em dash is what you’re frequently using in sentences.” Students then wrote sentences that used the em dash, en dash and the hyphen.

The em dash is what I primarily focus on in my classroom. At the beginning of each semester, my students read excerpts from On Writing Well by William Zinsser. In his “Bits & Pieces” chapter, he discusses the dash:

Somehow this invaluable tool is widely regarded as not quite proper—a bumpkin at the genteel dinner table of good English. But it has full membership and will get you out of many tight corners. The dash is used in two ways. One is to amplify or justify in the second part of the sentence a thought you stated in the first part. “We decided to keep going—it was only 100 miles more and we could get there in time for dinner.” By its very shape the dash pushes the sentence ahead and explains why they decided to keep going. The other use involves two dashes, which set apart a parenthetical thought within a longer sentence. “She told me to get in the car—she had been after me all summer to have a haircut—and we drive silently into town.” An explanatory detail that might otherwise have required a separate sentence is dispatched along the way.

My students and I discuss how and why a writer might use dashes instead of commas, parentheses, or colons. We discuss the value of varied punctuation and the effect each piece of punctuation can have on readers. And on this particular day, I reviewed the differences in the em and en dash as well as the hyphen. I am hoping this mini, impromptu lesson will inspire students to dash into drafting with a greater understanding of punctuation—and how to both make and use it correctly.

 

Keeping the counselor: Why We are Important

296-1246152442owjrBy Sabrina Bartels

One of my best friends came back to Wisconsin for a quick visit, and I managed to catch her for a “girls afternoon” before she returned home to Colorado. Over lunch and a quick trip to the mall, my friend reminded me that I was always welcome to come out to visit her and her family in Colorado. Inspired by this thought, I googled Colorado to see what exciting things I could do. One of the first things that popped up today was an article from The Hechinger Report, which submitted their writings to U.S. News & World Report.

The article was entitled “Colorado Boosts Funding for School Counselors,” which I immediately began to peruse. It talks about how Colorado is spending more money to hire 270 more counselors, in addition to providing professional development training for their middle and high schools. Since the school started increasing funding for counselors and their related services, graduation rates have increased, dropout rates have declined, and more students are completing financial aid and going on to some sort of education or training beyond high school. Finally, the article touches on how many districts have school counselors on the chopping block when budgets become tight, because what they do is not always well known.

It made me proud to see that Colorado is making a move to increase the number of counselors in their schools. I may be a little biased, but what counselors do is extremely important. Between building relationships, helping teach students critical life skills, and being available for any kind of crisis imaginable, we wear so many different hats and play so many different roles that it’s hard to imagine what would happen without us! But I also understand where people are coming from in the sense that they may not know what a counselor’s job is. And from experience, there is a big discrepancy between the “typical” job description for a counselor and what you actually get to do, which makes our roles even more enigmatic.

So what is it counselors do? Well, here’s a brief list of what my coworkers and I do throughout the school year:

  • Conflict resolution (this may make up the majority of our days)
  • Coordinating 6thgrade orientation
  • Coordinating 8thgrade completion ceremony
  • Over 100 8thgrade planning conferences in two months!
  • Teach social/emotional lessons on a variety of topics: drug education, anti-bullying, safety, use of technology, and mindfulness (just to name a few)
  • Recommendation letters for many different reasons – high school scholarships, music programs, etc.
  • Crisis response interventions
  • Response interventions – students just need to talk to someone!
  • Help with standardized testing
  • Manage 504 plans
  • Teach a college and career readiness class to 7th grade students
  • Create behavior plans for students
  • Sit in on IEPs, parent meetings, and staff meetings
  • Chaperone field trips
  • Individual counseling
  • Group counseling / running small groups
  • Other committees and groups that we do! (coaching volleyball, PBIS, etc.)
  • And more!

It’s a lot of work being a counselor! But what a rewarding occupation it is. Even though I may not see/hear my success stories for years, it is empowering to know that I am helping students gain skills and knowledge that will help them as they continue into adulthood.

If you want to check out the article, click here.


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