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Stress Related to Immigration Status in Students: A Brief Guide

This brief guide is designed to provide an overview of detention, deportation, and other immigration status-related stress and its effect on children and families, as well as suggestions for how school personnel can support families in the context of this unique stressor. Please note that the information included in this document was obtained from published reports as well as suggestions from mental health professionals, teachers and other school staff. It is our hope that others might contribute to this guide; in this way it can be a dynamic compilation of practical ideas to support our community members.

Lisa M. Edwards, PhDDepartment of Counselor Education & Counseling Psychology, College of Education, Marquette University

Jacki Black, MA EdAssociate Director for Hispanic Initiatives, Marquette University

 

The Context of Immigration Stress

 There are more than 11 million individuals residing in the U.S. without legal authorization from the federal government. While the total number of unauthorized or “undocumented” immigrants in the U.S. has remained stable since 2009, there has been a rise in K-12 students with at least one undocumented parent. In 2014 estimates suggested that 7.3% (or about 3.9 million) K-12th grade students in U.S. public and private schools were children of unauthorized parents.1 The vast majority of these children (3.2 million) were U.S.-born, and therefore are citizens. These children are members of “mixed-status families,” or households in which at least one member is a citizen or legal resident and at least one is not.

The context of having a parent, sibling or relative without documentation, or not being documented oneself, is a unique stressor that cannot solely be understood as generic stress or trauma. Families with members who are undocumented often “live in the shadows,” experiencing a lack of safety and fear of deportation. Because of their relationship with students and families, teachers, counselors, and other school personnel are often on the front line of dealing with mental health concerns as they arise, and should be well-informed about the challenges that immigration status issues may present.

How Detention and Deportation Affects Children

Over the past eight years, 2.7 million unauthorized immigrants were deported, not including those who “self-deported.”2 These deportations not only affect the individual, but can also have devastating consequences for families.

A growing body of research suggests that children who experience the detention and deportation of a parent suffer from many short and long-term mental health effects, including loss of appetite, changes in sleep (e.g., nightmares), crying, clinginess, and feelings of fear. Additionally, these children can later exhibit PTSD-like symptoms, including anxiety, withdrawal, and anger/aggression, as well as academic declines at school (for a summary report about the psychosocial impact of detention and deportation see: Brabeck, Lykes, & Lustig, 2013).

In two reports about the direct effects of detention and deportation on families, researchers identified these key findings related to mental health:3,4

  • Children experienced “a pervasive sense of insecurity and anxiety,” which led to mental health concerns such as separation anxiety, attachment disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • In some cases, children didn’t know their parents were being deported and therefore felt their parents had suddenly “disappeared.”
  • Family members often had difficulties communicating with parents who were detained due to distance, rules and costs of communication, which exacerbated the emotional harm to children.
  • Spouses and partners of detained parents reported struggling with social isolation and depression after the detention, which likely negatively affected their children.
  • When parents, who are typically fathers, were detained, there was substantial financial hardship and stress on the family. This hardship often led to caregiving and housing instability for children.
  • The negative emotional, financial and housing effects led to declines in school performance for many of these children.

Toxic Stress: How the Threat of Detention and Deportation Affects Children

The stress related to detention and deportation not only affects those who have experienced the detention of a parent or those who are undocumented. For example, research suggests that children who are aware of the threat of deportation or who have undocumented parents have higher levels of fear and anxiety, as well as disrupted sleeping and eating.5 Other studies have shown that the threat of deportation negatively affects children’s grades and leads to more students missing school and changing schools.5,6 Additionally, deportation-related stress may in fact spill over to legal residents who experience discrimination and may fear for the future of themselves or their children.7,8

The notion of toxic stress provides a useful framework for understanding how the threat of detention or deportation can negatively affect the physical health, emotional well-being, and educational performance of youth. Toxic stress is the stress from prolonged exposure to serious stress that can harm developing brains and result in psychological, biological and neurological changes.9 In essence, this means that children with knowledge about the potential threat of deportation may be living in a constant, heightened state of anxiety which does not allow the body to return to baseline functioning. The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement in support of protecting immigrant children against the negative effects of the toxic stress of living in fear of deportation since this type of stress can disrupt a child’s developmental processes and lead to long-term concerns.10

This toxic stress may be intensifying in the current political climate. Over fiscal year 2016, 92% of those deported from the interior of the U.S. had previously been convicted of a crime.2 Following the new administration’s directive to define deportable offenses more broadly, however, many unauthorized immigrants who previously had not been considered high priority targets may now be at greater risk for immigration enforcement action. In the first major immigration strike under the Trump presidency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) launched coordinated raids in at least 12 states, resulting in over 680 detentions of “criminal aliens” – now defined as any unauthorized immigrant – over the course of one week.11 The current administration has also repeatedly called into question the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program—President Obama’s executive order providing temporary relief from deportation action for many undocumented youth, heightening the uncertainty and anxiety felt by these “DREAMers.”

Behavioral/Emotional Signs of Immigration Status-Related Stress in the Classroom:

Though every child is different, those who have directly experienced the loss of a parent to deportation or those who are coping with the threat related to documentation status may show some of the following signs in the classroom:

  • Acting withdrawn—appearing disconnected from life; pulling away from activities and relationships
  • Hyperarousal – nervousness, jumpiness, hypervigilance about surroundings
  • Difficulties focusing in schools, learning or memory problems, and decreased school performance
  • Externalizing symptoms – aggressive behaviors, temper tantrums, excessively seeking attention, etc.
  • Somatic complaints (e.g., stomach aches, headaches, fatigue)
  • Regressive behaviors in young children (e.g., accidental daytime wetting or reports of bedwetting)
  • Crying, sadness
  • Fears of being separated from caregivers or family (e.g., not wanting to come to school)
  • Acting nervous, anxious or fearful, avoiding certain activities
  • Poor appetite or digestive problems
  • Poor or disrupted sleep

How School Personnel Can Support Students in the Classroom:

  • Be observant and establish trust. If a student is exhibiting some of the aforementioned behavioral or emotional signs of distress, do not assume the cause and do not put students on the spot by asking them directly. Rather, create an environment in which students feel safe, providing opportunities for them to disclose their stressors. Be an active listener to see what a child might need.
  • Be patient. Some students may exhibit behaviors and emotions that you have not seen before. Consider this when enforcing rules and other disciplinary actions.
  • Be willing to talk. When students reveal immigration status-related issues, don’t be afraid to talk about it. Some students may talk openly about their fears and anger, and many may have questions. Don’t hesitate to answer questions as honestly as you can, and let students know when you aren’t sure. For younger children, be sure to use language that is understandable and that does not cause more fear; young children may not be able to fully comprehend what has been happening or why they feel anxious or stressed.
  • Recognize the importance of language. Teachers and other school personnel should be sensitive in their use of language, favoring terminology such as “undocumented/unauthorized immigrants” and making known that use of the terms “illegals” or “illegal immigrants/aliens” will not be tolerated in their classrooms. “Illegal alien” is not a legal term and is not an accurate descriptor as the status of being present in the U.S. without a visa is not actually a criminal violation. More importantly, these terms can have a dehumanizing impact by effectively rendering the individual and their entire existence as “illegal.”
  • Show your support. Teachers can demonstrate their support through images showing that they are allies. For example, this painting by Favianna Rodriguez has become symbolic of the DREAMers movement:

favianna-welcome-dreamers4

By displaying this on a white board or desk, students are more likely to know that you are a “safe” person with whom they can discuss their immigration status–related stress.

  • Communicate with your colleagues. Inform school staff (e.g., counselors, social workers, administration) regarding what you are seeing in the classroom so that appropriate services can be developed and needs can be addressed.
  • Take care of yourself. Seeing the stress that your students and their families are facing can be overwhelming. Find ways to relieve stress and get the help that you need, too.

How Schools Can Support Students and Families:

  • Set a tone of safety and respect.
    • Make your school a “safe space” through public statements of support such as this one from the Minneapolis school board that reaffirms every child’s right to an education. These statements are most effective when grounded in the vision, mission, or stated strategic plan goals of the school or district, and should include language around creating a safe, welcoming environment for all students.
    • Be aware of the peer dynamics in your school environment. Deal directly with any derogatory language or behaviors from peers that are rooted in condescending attitudes towards immigrants and use these as teachable moments.
  • Share accurate and helpful information.
    • Assure students that any information the school has about a student’s immigration status is protected through FERPA; the only way the federal government can obtain immigration status information from school officials is through a warrant or subpoena signed by a federal magistrate.
    • Inform students and their families of these rights, resources, and recommendations from the National Immigration Law Center and/or distribute “know your rights” cards which provide simple but important tips for how to respond to encounters with ICE agents.
    • Be proactive and hold meetings for families who may have questions. Consider bringing legal experts and other social service programs to present about relevant topics.
    • Remember that some parents may keep their children at home if there are threats of deportation raids in the community. Research also suggests that Latina/o children and families may have a distrust of authorities, sometimes conflating police with ICE officials.12,13 This may be especially true in localities that have engaged in 287(g) agreements with ICE, which deputize local law enforcement officers as arms of the federal government. As of the writing of this article, there are 38 such law enforcement agencies that have been delegated this authority14 but new immigration directives from the Department of Homeland Security have called for the expansion of this program.15 Stay informed on the situation in your community and be sensitive to parents’ fears.
  • Provide direct support and start a referral list.
    • Arrange counseling for students, or if necessary, provide appropriate referrals. Learn about the trusted social service agencies, legal supports, churches or religious organizations and other resources in your area. Collaborate with these agencies so that you can feel confident in your referrals, especially given that some families will be hesitant to access services or may not be eligible.
    • Adolescents may also appreciate the opportunity to discuss their stressors with peers in similar situations through discussion circles and support groups.
  • Encourage advocacy.
    • Adolescents and young adults may feel empowered and gain access to valuable support and resources by volunteering for advocacy organizations. Create space for students’ civic engagement through supportive school policies.
  • Stay informed and educate your faculty and staff.
    • Administrators should take responsibility for staying informed about changes in policies and laws regarding immigration and deportation. For example, a policy memorandum by ICE in 2011 established that agents are to refrain from enforcement actions (e.g., raids) at certain ‘sensitive locations’ such as schools and universities, hospitals, churches and other places of worship, funerals/weddings, and public demonstrations such as marches or rallies. It is possible that this policy memorandum may be reversed; therefore, school leaders should remain informed about possible changes.16
    • Provide professional workshops for school personnel around the challenges that students who are undocumented or who have undocumented family members face, the protections around student information provided by FERPA, the legal limits of what ICE can and cannot do, and creating culturally competent and responsive classroom environments.

Schools may not be able to address the root causes of immigration status-related stress for the children they serve, but through increased awareness, proactive policies, displays of support, and providing access to information and resources, they can do their part to live their mission of supporting our community’s students and families.

Resource Guides for Schools

 Immigrant and Refugee Children: A Guide for Educators and School Support Staff – American Federation of Teachers (2016)

https://firstfocus.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/ICE-Raids_Educators-Guide-20161.pdf

This comprehensive guide provides information for school personnel about the rights of undocumented children and parents and how to respond to ICE raids. Specific materials are provided to share with families regarding their rights in the context of detainment or deportation.

Resource Guide: Supporting Undocumented Youth – U.S. Department of Education (2015)

https://www2.ed.gov/about/overview/focus/supporting-undocumented-youth.pdf

This guide offers legal guidelines, practical tips, and resources for secondary and postsecondary institutions in fostering supportive environments and success for undocumented students.

References

 

 

 

Writing Opportunities for Your Students

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By Elizabeth Jorgensen

 Story Monsters Ink

  • About the publication: “Story Monsters Ink is a free, subscription-based magazine that gives parents and educators the latest news about award-winning and debut books, profiles on both renowned and newly published authors, upcoming book events, author presentations and more.”
  • About the contest: If you have a special teacher you’d like them to know about, email a letter to “Cristy@FiveStarPublications.com explaining why your teacher is the best, and we may choose him/her as our Teacher of the Month! It could be a principal, librarian, paraprofessional, etc. If your teacher is chosen, we will send him or her a Story Monster t-shirt and they will also get to choose a free book from our Little Five Star Bookstore. We will also print your letter along with a photo of you and your teacher in Story Monsters Ink!”
  • To find out more, go here.

Autism Society of Wisconsin

  • About the society: The Autism Society Affiliates in Wisconsin are hosting the 12th Annual Autism Essay Contest, a program designed to assist all students in gaining a deeper understanding of autism and how their peers with autism experience the world.
  • About this contest: “This essay contest is a wonderful opportunity to create an open dialogue about autism, how it affects students in your school and why celebrating differences is important. We hope that you will welcome this opportunity to promote understanding and acceptance of differences in your school.”
    • Divisions: Division 1: K-2nd grade; Division 2: 3rd-5th grade; Division 3: 6th-8th grade; Division 4: 9th-12th grade
    • Prizes: 1st Place Winners in each division will receive a $100 Amazon gift card; 2nd Place Winners in each division will receive a $75 Amazon gift card; 3rd Place Winners in each division will receive a $50 Amazon gift card.
      • All 1st place winners will be honored at and invited to the Family Reception at the Autism Society of Wisconsin’s 28th Annual Conference in Wisconsin Dells on Friday, April 28, 2017.
  • To find out more, go here.

Girls Right the World

  • About the writers’ market: “Girls Right the World is an international literary journal advocating for you, female-identified writers. We believe in the power of young women, sisterhood, and creativity through writing. The editors of this journal are students at Miss Hall’s School in Massachusetts.”
  • About this contest: “Girls Right the World is a literary journal inviting young female-identified writers and artists, ages 14 and up, to submit their work for consideration for the first issue. We believe that girls’ voices can and do transform the world for the better. We want to help expand girls’ creative platforms so that female-identified people from all races, religions, and sexual orientations can express themselves freely. We currently seek poetry, prose, short-stories, and lyric essays of any style and theme. We like powerful, female driven writing and work inspired by beautiful things in life. Writers keep the rights to their pieces, but we ask to have the right to first publish your works in North America. After publication, the rights would return to you. We publish annually. Send your best writing, in English or English translation, to girlsrighttheworld@gmail.com by April 1, 2017.”

To find out more, go here.

Gazing in the Affirmation Mirror

SONY DSCBy Peggy Wuenstel

As a working mom in the early 90’s I usually managed to stay up late enough on a Saturday night to catch the musings of Stuart Smalley as played by Minnesota Senator Al Franken. As he gazed into a cheval mirror, his daily affirmations famously included the phrase, “you’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and doggone it, people like you”. His reinvention from comedy on Saturday Night Live to the unfortunate comedy on the floor of the U.S. Senate inspires me for the future. What you have been is not all that you can be. Just because something is ending in one incarnation does not mean that it is over forever and for all locations. One of the things that I know I will miss is the regular affirmations that I have received as a teacher over the course of my career. But even more importantly, I will miss the opportunity to offer these encouragements to others.

This “cheerleader” role is one of the best for teachers to take on, and the one in which impact can often be most directly observed. The child who’ll try a little harder, the learner who can celebrate what he has accomplished while reaching for more, is often the result of our explicit and implied encouragement.  There has been a lot of recent research about the value of relationship between educator and learner in increasing positive educational outcomes. Our district initiative to become more trauma informed in our teaching practice requires that we consider the role of our positive input for those students who receive little of this in their home environments. It often comes down to this, students work harder for people they like. When they matter to us, their work tends to matter more to them.

One of the most flagrant errors made in the ongoing debate about teacher compensation, union bargaining rights, and the cost of teacher salaries and benefits was that those bottom line things were the most important to Wisconsin teachers. For most of my colleagues, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. If we wanted to make more money, there were other options. The other affirmations were far more important. The biggest loss for me personally has been the loss of the other affirmations that used to be part of a teaching career. The thanks of a community for your service to children, the respect of parents who acknowledge how well you know their children, the love from our students and their willingness to try again. The last one remains in abundance, the first two, not so much, and that makes it far easier for veteran teachers to walk away from the classroom than in years past.

I chose to be a teacher because of the opportunities it offered to be of service. My faith life requires that I find work to do on this earth to make the world a better place. I have always felt fortunate that I could do that without taking off my teacher hat. We can always do more than the job requires, go beyond the expectations, love a little more, provide what is needed, and advocate for what we cannot personally offer. Now we must often do this without discussing it in the general public because of the preconceived ideas and misconceptions that the public has about the kinds of affirmations that teachers need.

I was invited to blog in this forum as a result of winning a teaching award back in 2010. It is telling that the reason this occurred is paradoxically because I was not unique that year. Three of the four honorees that year had Marquette ties. (Please follow Claudia Felske a fellow Wisconsin Teacher of the Year and fellow blogger). One of my overriding emotions about this process and the opportunities that have been subsequently afforded to me is the wish that many other deserving teachers could receive that same type of affirmation. I had never really been able to characterize my feelings about this until I read TV producer Shonda Rimes talk about “award as encouragement instead of as accomplishment”  in her book Year of Yes. Awards are not really about what you have already done, they are about what you still have the power to do. They are not an ending, but a beginning. Hopefully we can engage students in their own learning to create that same kind of forward momentum.

I have warned my husband that in retirement he is going to have to take up the slack in my affirmation mirror. I have been blessed to work in a place that has provided me with the kind of positive reinforcement that makes coming to work a joy. Students, coworkers and parents have always been quick to offer smiles, compliments and encouragement. I can honestly say that I have laughed aloud nearly every day of my 15 year tenure here. Coworkers have been encouraging, parents grateful and students genuinely loving. I have rarely had to look into a mirror to find affirmation. I was able to look into their eyes and find it there.

 

Teach·er ˈtēCHər/: 1. Instigator of Truth.  2. Agitator of Critical Thinking. 3. Provocateur of Free Thought.

By Claudia Felske

Ah, predictable me. If you’ve at all been a reader of my blog, you can probably predict my dilemma right now. These days, I suspect I am hardly alone in this quandary. I’ve written about it in the past: the push and pull between the public school teacher me and private citizen me.

SO here’s my (utterly predictable) dilemma: How does one teach in these politically-charged, complicated times when “fake news” masquerades as the truth, when “real news” is labeled “fake news,” when Orwellian terms such as “post truth” and “alternative facts” are no longer the stuff of Dystopian novels, but mainstream discourse?

fake-stampAnd to those of you who are about to call me out for bringing politics into my classroom, let me say this:  When language itself is being altered and manipulated, when knowledge itself is being distorted and undermined by the highest offices in this country, politics has clearly forced its way into our classrooms, not vice versa.  

Let’s take English class, for example. In English class, we talk about words: what they mean, what impact they have, their origins, their connotations. In English, we research and write. We teach students to be skeptical readers, to find reliable sources, to verify facts, to examine multiple sides of an issue or topic. We do this so our students become good readers and critical thinkers capable of making credible arguments and discerning reliable information in their post-secondary studies, in the workplace, and in the larger world. We do it so they become effective communicators and responsible citizens.

Enter “post-truth,” “fake news,” “alternative facts”; enter a presidential administration which openly disputes easily verifiable facts, which calls the media “the opposition party,” which maligns and berates those who question and attempt to fact-check.

If we are truly “teachers” is it not our responsibility to “teach” students to examine, to question, to discern the truth, to navigate through the complex world of politics, the media, the blogosphere, and propaganda?  

lincoln

It seems to me (I’m primarily speaking of English teachers and Social Studies teachers here) we have three options:  

  1. Do nothing. (Welcome to the path of least resistance and least responsibility).  
  2. Go for it. Lay out the evidence: let videoclips of Spicer, Conway, and Trump speak for themselves (And be prepared for the fall-out).
  3. Navigate somewhere between 1 & 2. (Provide a path for students to investigate this critical topic for themselves).   

Last week, I attempted #3.  I amended our Debate unit in Freshman English to include a few days examining Fake News and what has become the murkiness surrounding “the truth.”

Full disclosure here: Designing these lessons was cause for much anxiety and reflection. I teach in a predominantly conservative community which, like much of his country, is deeply divided and deliberately silent in public on many critical issues that matter to us all.  

Long story short, here’s what I did and why. If you feel so inclined to use any of this in your own classroom, please steal it outright:

Day 1: Students reflected on their own experience with Fake News and examined how its created.  

  1. Small groups of students discussed examples of fake news they’ve encountered on social media or elsewhere.
  2. Students shared out with the class.
  3. Assignment: Students researched the concept of “Fake News”

Day 2: Students participated in a class discussion on the making of Fake news and its impact on Democracy and “Truth.”

  1. Students shared their thoughts about From Headline to Photograph: A Fake News Masterpiece.
  2. Students reflected on (wrote and then discussed) James Madison’s quote: “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”
  3. Students then reflected on (wrote and then discussed) Serina Taverse’s quote: Fake news, and the proliferation of raw opinion that passes for news, is creating confusion, punching holes in what is true, causing a kind of fun-house effect that leaves the reader doubting everything, including real news.” – New York Times

Day 3: I took dictation in a class K-W-L (Know, Want-to-Know, Learn) exploring the terms “Post-Truth” and “Alternative Facts,” and I introduced the “Triple-Washed Facts” process.

  1. With a KWL chart on the Smart Board, I presented the terms “post-truth” and “alternative facts.” For each, I asked what we “Know.” I typed as they spoke. Then I asked what we “Want to Know” and I typed out their questions. Then, I had them use their Chromebooks to answer those questions. Finally, I typed as they told me what they “Learned.”
  2. I introduced the “Triple Wash” Process. This is the process they  would use for researching all facts used in this debate unit. 1) Check the Source: reputation, experience, respect 2) Check for “Fishiness: (use your BS detector) Is it too surprising? Is it too fantastic? Is it too convenient?  3) Verify it Elsewhere with that “elsewhere” being a separate reliable source.

15-fake-news-w190-h190-2x

Over the course of these three days, I never told  them what to think. This was very much by design. I orchestrated their own exploration and examination of Fake News and its fallout. I was pleased with the depth of their skepticism, interest, and connection-making. And I was pleased that none of their conclusions came from me.

So now, I’m requiring my students to triple-wash every fact they use in our debate unit and beyond, and I’m imploring them to employ similar rigor to the greater network of information and social media streams in which they live.

In yesterday’s New York Times, Charlie Sykes, former WISN conservative radio host, articulated the necessity of such scrutiny: “The real danger,” he asserted, “is that, inundated with ‘alternative facts,’ many…will simply shrug, asking, ‘What is truth?’ — and not wait for an answer.”

That’s where educators enter the picture. We must be instigators of truth, agitators of critical thinking, provocateurs of free thought.

We must teach students to hold everyone accountable, to relentlessly seek the truth, to look for the larger narrative.  As citizens in a democracy, it is our job and theirs to hold none above such scrutiny.

Using an Exemplar to Develop Student Creativity and Voice

6342247835_688a9c2fcd_bBy Elizabeth Jorgensen

I frequently use professional exemplars in Creative Writing. One of my favorite authors is Sandra Cisneros. Her novel, House on Mango Street, is particularly effective in inspiring my students to write specifically, creatively and with a variety of stylistic devices.

In one assignment, students read the chapter “Hairs.” Then, I ask students to identify when Cisneros uses the following stylistic devices: metaphors, similes, personification, alliteration, repetition and sensory details. In the 158 word chapter, students identify 32 stylistic devices.

After, students discuss the effect of each stylistic device and the chapter’s content. Students explain how Cisneros reveals information about the narrator’s family through a discussion of one physical trait: hair. Students note in her first paragraph, she describes the hair of the narrator’s father and the hair of her siblings, using descriptions to give the reader insight into each of their personalities. Students also recognize that Cisneros reveals the narrator’s feelings towards her mother in the passage, using a variety of stylistic devices to achieve this effect.

Then, I ask my students to think about the people in their lives—their family, friends, co-workers, teammates. I ask them to think about the characteristics they share with the people in their lives and those that make them distinctive. Although Cisneros chose to write about hair, I tell my students they could write about any physical or personality trait. I prompt students with suggestions: eye color, height, personality, sense of humor, cooking ability, athleticism, hands. I ask my students: Is the trait you want to write about one you share with your family/friends/teammates or yours alone? How might you present your piece like Cisneros did with metaphors, similes, personification, alliteration, repetition and sensory details?

Using “Hairs” as a model, students then write a vignette about their own life, discussing an important trait and how it reveals something about the person who possesses it and their relationship to him/her. Although Cisneros used six stylistic devices for a total of 32 times, I require 12 in each student’s vignette. Students share the vignettes and then we submit them to Teen Ink, a national teen publication. Here are two students who had their vignettes published: 1 and 2.

What students tell me they enjoy about the exercise is that they practice skills in a creative way. Students also say they enjoy writing about their own lives. What I most appreciate is how specific, poetic and interesting the pieces turn out—and how students are able to effectively implement stylistic devices and creativity in a vignette about their own lives.

Public Education- An Endangered Endeavor?

save our tudentsBy Dhanya Nair

Education, one of the most basic services that should be made available to children and youth by society, is often the cause of much debate and controversy. Providing quality public education is challenging, even in developed nations like the United States. However, the benefits of free k-12 education are immense and are often reflected in the quality-of-life of a nation’s citizenry. Political leadership has a direct influence on public education through funding and curricula. Having grown up in a nation where public schools lack funds and quality teachers, and where warring political parties propagate their viewpoints by altering textbooks, I feel strongly about the need for citizen-participation in matters of education.

Public education is meant to provide a level-playing field for children from different racial, socioeconomic and social class backgrounds. Education should be an equalizer, not the fiefdom of a select few. If the people making decisions about public education in this country or any other are not committed to achieving its actual goals, there is cause for concern. As a mental health professional, I interact to some extent with the urban school system in this city and within the scope of my limited interaction, the disparities between urban and suburban schools are clear to me. Inequalities are meted out regularly to those children who come from minority, low socioeconomic and low social class backgrounds. Common sense dictates that the achievement gap can be narrowed largely by affording equal opportunities to children cross this nation. However, it remains to be seen if new educational policies will bow to political ideologies or the best interests of students.

A Chance to Say Thank You and a Shot at Publication

060417-N-8157C-162By Elizabeth Jorgensen

As a teacher, my goal is to offer students authentic writing opportunities and the chance at publication. Last year, I found a project called “Defining Freedom” through the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight and Milwaukee Brewer Jonathan Lucroy. For 20 weeks, the MJS published a different student essay in the Sunday newspaper. Each 200-word essay defined freedom. According to the MJS, the goal of the program was “to connect our greatest generation, and their stories to the youngest generation, and what freedom means to them.” My students participated, and 10 were published. This year, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is again publishing essays.

In this year’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel project, Adam Weidman, a Marketing Project Manager at the MJS, who helps coordinate both programs, said, “The program is called Mail Call, and once again, it’s another writing based initiative to honor veterans. We’ve renewed our partnership with the Honor Flight, and on return trip of every Honor Flight there is the ‘mail call’ portion of the flight where veterans receive letters from loved ones. Through this program we are extending the opportunity to anyone to write to a veteran (non-specific) and send them a personal letter, thanking them for their service.”

The week before Thanksgiving break, my students drafted letters. The servicemen and women will benefit from their writing, but so did my students: 1) Each letter had an authentic purpose, as each went to a veteran on the Honor Flight; 2) For each letter received, the MJS made a $10 donation to the Honor Flight; and 3) Students had the chance at publication in the MJS.

My students took the letter writing seriously. Students wrote about how thankful they are for service members; they wrote about sacrifice and patriotism; they wrote about freedom and liberty. Because this year’s program is not limited to students, I also wrote a letter. When I wrote alongside my students, not only did they see an example, but they also watched me work through the writing process. After students drafted letters electronically, I provided feedback and suggestions. Then, students finalized letters and decorated and hand-wrote final copies.

Additional details can be found at http://jsonline.com/mailcall.

My students’ examples:


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