The Second Line Blog

Join a Conversation on Learning and #PostCovEd

While privileged parents and pundits have the luxury of debating whether to prioritize academic or social-emotional learning, those on the front lines of exposure to the virus and job loss have little mental energy left to ponder how to keep education on the radar for their children at all.

Nonetheless, some leaders are showing the way forward, whether by borrowing established best practices from the homeschool community, bringing personalized attention to each student into remote learning or helping parents support young learners with disabilities at home. Education visionaries, brightbeam and 4.0 Schools, are teaming up to open a conversation on these practices and shine a light on students and families who might otherwise be left behind.  

Join us on Thursday, April 23, at 5 p.m. Central Time, for our inaugural Zoom web chat, #PostCovEd: How the Pandemic Is Changing Schooling Now and for the Future. Our panelists include:

Scott Frauenheim, CEO, Distinctive Schools

LeeAndra Khan, CEO, Civitas Education Partners

Christina Laster,  Parent and Civil Rights Leader

Olivia Mulcahy,  Parent and Educational Consultant

Travis Pillow, Editorial Director, Center on Reinventing Public Education

TO REGISTER, CLICK HERE. SPACE IS LIMITED.

We invite you to start the conversation in advance, here on the blog. What are you doing to prepare your students, kids, family members, or your community for an extended period of remote learning? What should happen when students return to school?

Or, jumpstart the discussion on social media. Use the hashtag #PostCovEd on Twitter to share  your thoughts on what systems, teachers and parents can learn from adapting to extended school closures.

MEET OUR SPONSORS

Brightbeam is a nonprofit network of education activists demanding a better education and a brighter future for every child. Brightbeam serves as the umbrella organization for Education PostCitizen EducationProject Forever FreeChicago Unheard and more than 20 local digital platforms that spotlight education issues around the country. Learn more at brightbeamnetwork.org

4.0 is the largest and earliest first check investor in the next generation of education innovators. Through two fellowships, we invest coaching, community, curriculum, and cash in promising leaders to test tomorrow’s learning models with students and families in their local communities.  Today, our 1,000+ alumni have impacted the lives of over a million students nationwide. Learn more at 4pt0.org

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This article was first posted on chicagounheard.org

The Future of Education: How to Prepare for the Upcoming School Year

Last week our Louisiana government officials announced that the likelihood of students returning back to school this school year was unlikely. I immediately felt for the parents and teachers who are struggling through this time with school work from schools as well as the task of working from home. Though it is without a doubt the best choice made in order to keep us all safe, the realistic demands of what it looks like for children to be home for the next four months are tough. 

Here are a few tips for parents to help prepare you function a little bit better all while facing the realities of what is ahead this upcoming school year. 

Parents: 

  1. Creating a Schedule: I am almost sure that summer camp will not be an option so the first thing you want to get around to is creating a schedule. Children may not love school but they love structure. And this does not have to be such a rigid thing. Plan your days around when you can give them time to support their studies as well as your own work demands. Now this may mean you needing to wake up earlier to have a few hours of silence but trust me, it is worth it. You will not be able to run an operation just like school and you don’t have to try. Do the best you can with school demands and do not be afraid to say, “I need help” to your school provider. 
  2. Virtual Learning: This practice may become a part of your child’s life. If possible, when you can, please invest in a computer. Even if/when our students are able to go back to school, online assignments will still be given. 
  3. Prepare for Learning Gaps: There will be gaps in learning. Remember students are missing one on one instruction especially the little ones. Grades K-3 spend much time teaching the foundational skills that need to be taught in order for students to do more complex learning. During the summer, utilize the free resources to help support your child. I have some on my page. If you aren’t into looking online, do the basics. Reading, writing, multiplication facts. You can even add arts and crafts. The local dollar stores have small canvases and water paint. There are also puzzles. Kids like those. Even the big ones. 
  4. Parental Involvement: More parental involvement will be needed more than ever when school returns. Proper planning will be a must. As soon as the school calendar becomes available, you want to make arrangements to be present at all school events.  

Teachers: 

  1. Summer Professional Development: Please, please, please professionally develop yourselves to use technology as you continue on. If in the event, resources become available for students to have one to one computer access, you want to be prepared. You do have some time to accept the new normal, but not too much. There are some schools who are requesting teaching samples via Zoom. Learn to use technology to work with you and not against you. 
  2. Prepare for Learning Gaps: Just as parents should prepare for learning gaps remember they are headed your way to fix them in no time. Prepare for remediation. Create your scope and sequence for those gaps. Familiarize yourself with previous grade level standards for coherence and utilize the Louisiana Department of Education website for resources when planning. 
  3. Parental Involvement System: You have some time to get creative with this one. Think of times, events, opportunities for you to create an automatic system of parental involvement. Weave it into your plans for the year. 

That’s all for now my friends. If you need help with any of these parts, parents or teachers, I am here.

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This article was first posted on askmissheard.com

I Just Found Out Millions of Children Are Being Denied Access to an Education And I Helped Do Something About It

Much to my surprise, I recently learned that even though Internet providers have signed the FCC’s Keep Americans Connected Pledge, promising to provide internet to low-income families, there are still millions being rejected from these free internet offers. 

Why do you ask? 

Well, because they might have prior debts or have applied for service before all of this hit, and because our country has centuries-worth of history connected to ignoring those most in need, namely people of color and those who are categorized as low socioeconomic status (aka the poor). (If you need further proof, check out the 1619 Podcast which outlines how the enslavement of Africans in this country built the fabric and structures of these United States, which are designed to benefit very few of us.)

This pandemic continues to highlight deeply embedded inequities in our society that have previously been ignored by the general public and our leaders, and not having access to education is one of these inequities. 

Children being denied access to education is a civil rights issue, but what can you do about it? Sign this petition, as I did. 

If you’re ready to support you can visit this link to read more, share it with your friends, make a donation, and spread the word. As the writers of the petition state, “Millions of families across the country who are facing the most economic hardship are being rejected from these free internet offers. We all need to come together to bridge the digital divide, and corporations should not be allowed to block access to the schoolhouse door in pursuit of profit.”

Here’s 3 Ways Schools Leaders Can Address Equity During COVID-19 School Closures

In the hopes of stopping the spread of coronavirus, many schools around the nation are closing for the remainder of the school year. Many K-12 schools are focused on helping families navigate this new landscape by ensuring access to online instruction and that meals for vulnerable children continue. But what about commitments to equity? In this challenging time, school leaders must envision a new urgency to attend to the equity and inclusion needs of students, too. Using leadership frameworks from education scholars Muhammad Khalifa and George Theoharis, I recommend a road map of three key actions that school leaders can take to advance equity and promote inclusion during extended school closures.

Define your school climate. The work of an equity-oriented school leader has always meant prioritizing the work that centers the lived realities of students.  Begin by reflecting upon the beliefs and practices of your school that foster belonging. Consider how your school has sought to establish equitable access and treatment for all students in a climate that marginalizes many of us by our race, ethnicity, faith, language, ability, class, immigration status, and other identity markers.  Then operationalize those beliefs and practices as tangible expectations for teachers, staff, students, and family members.  

Young students enjoy the routine of Morning Meetings where they can share moments about their lives and build community across differences.  Leaders can mobilize class parents to build phone trees and plan routine phone conversations among pairs or triads of students. With a little creativity, the phone calls can have active agendas that students complete together by solving a riddle, sharing a personal experience, or playing a game over the phone.  Older students tend to be a part of groups through classes, clubs, or sports that rely on the direction of teachers to establish equity. Educators can access free videoconferencing resources and facilitate online community time for existing school groups and open opportunities for individual students to be in community with others. 

School leaders should be included in government planning meetings to advocate for open access to local parks for youth who practice social distancing, consider making unused school space available for urgent local needs, and ensure that human services administered by the school can be delegated to local nonprofits.  If you come up against inequities in the larger community, call upon the teachers and staff to join you in challenging health, economic, and social injustices so the climate of belonging that resonates within your school can echo across the larger community.

Affirm inclusion. Educators recognize the best practices for fostering inclusion in our diverse classrooms.  We affirm students’ identities, we add diverse perspectives to the curriculum, and we teach content with multiple strategies to advance all students’ achievement.  But during a time of extended school closures, teachers and leaders must collaborate to redefine inclusion to center students’ socio-emotional needs. Using the tenets of trauma-informed school leadership, school leaders can plan how to address the complex fears, tension, confusion, isolation, and frustration of the whole school community. 

Many notices are being sent from school leaders that detail issues of operations during an extended closure.  In this public health crisis, leaders can address the emotional complexity of the moment in addition to logistics.  By relying upon the existing support teams at your school, identify the students and families who need direct assistance.  Connect virtually with families across differences and strategize how to center their child’s socio-emotional needs with reminders of inclusive practices that teachers employ when school is in session.  Enlist local media outlets to broadcast socio-emotional guidance and resources from school counselors. 

Engage parents. Parents are under enormous stress and tension.  Many school leaders oversee schools with families who were already impacted by trauma, housing insecurity, food insecurity, tension, or illness. School leaders can help empower marginalized parents to advocate for their children’s needs by creating accessible lines of communication between them and parent liaisons, familiar teachers and counselors and community leaders.  Again, virtual spaces can be used, but just for parents to congregate and build consensus around the needs of their children. School leaders can mobilize local resources that parents may need, such as safe school-age day care, access to books and manipulatives, youth recreation that instills social distancing, or equipment for students with special needs.  

Failure to enact equity-oriented school leadership during an extended school closure has the potential to put our children and youth at risk in their communities.  Marginalized youth are at risk of disproportionately harsh responses by public officials and community members if they gather together, unaccompanied, in public spaces, for example.  Children and teens are susceptible to mental illness if their socio-emotional needs go unaddressed. The stability of the family home is at risk if parents are unable to meet the physical, emotional, or academic needs of their children.  When schools close, we risk losing much more than academics—we risk losing our direction to advance equity and foster inclusion. School leaders are passionate about education and devoted to student success. With planning, communication and online tools, they can stay the course and continue to work for equity and inclusion, the principles of community and the heart of every great school.  

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This article was first published on citizen.education

How to Work Remotely and Teach Your Child During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic

Parents are stressed and panicking as schools across the nation close for weeks. The governors of Indiana’s neighboring states (Illinois and Michigan) have closed schools across their entire state. Indiana Governor Holcomb decided to offer schools a wavier of 20 instructional days instead of mandating a statewide school closure. If school leaders decide to close schools, they do not have to worry about making up days to meet the minimum 180 instructional day requirement. Shortly after this announcement on Thursday, March 12, a press conference was held stating all schools in Indianapolis would be closed from Monday, March 16 with students returning to school on Monday, April 6. However, many schools closed sooner on Friday, March 13.

Not every school is taking the waiver option during the closure. My school has decided to have students complete work packets at home. As an administrator, I reported to work yesterday to print off packets that teachers submitted to me electronically. Then, I helped distribute the packets to parents when they came to school to pick them up yesterday afternoon. 

In my role as a parent, I am in a different situation. I live in Washington Township, and the district is using the waiver. I don’t have the luxury of a work packet (not that I want worksheets for my sons to complete). They sent this following guidance yesterday:

Q: What should students do at home during the closure and will there be eLearning days?

A:  As you are aware, the Governor stated on March 12th that school districts are able to waive up to 20 missed instructional days due to Coronavirus.  Due to this announcement, March 13 through March 27 will be 11 waived instructional days. WT values continued instructional activities, however, and will designate these days as At Home Learning Days for our students.  These will not be designated eLearning days, so the Indiana requirements for eLearning days do not need to be followed.

The guidance continues and states, “Your child’s teacher(s) will communicate at home learning opportunities by Wednesday, March 18.” 

Luckily, my husband is a Senior Database Analyst – Team Lead for the state of Indiana in the Indiana Office of Technology.  In this role, he can work remotely. He does this a few times a month. Typically, he works remotely alone or works remotely because one of our sons is at home sick. There is a difference between working at home while a sick child is lounging on the sofa versus working at home with children who are active. When I came home from work yesterday, my husband looked exhausted. He said, “What are we going to do with them for the next three weeks?” I think his exhaustion made him forget that he is married to an educator, and I already have plans for meaningful activities for the next three weeks. 

Below, I have included some suggestions. This is not an all-inclusive list, but hopefully, this will help parents maintain their sanity during these troubling times.

Before I get into suggestions, let me address how I am setting up these recommendations. The reality is that each family that has children at home has different levels of access to materials and resources. Keeping this in mind, I am including activities that do not involve the internet or television. I also want to note that Comcast and Spectrum are offering free internet during school closures.

Secondly, teaching means involvement. I would not give children a list of activities and walk away. I suggest that parents schedule break times into their day while working remotely to do some activities with their children. In the schedule template, I include at the end, parents can determine which activities they will do with their children and which activities they will have their children complete independently or with siblings. 

Let’s get into what people came to this page to read!

Reading

The public libraries in Indianapolis are also closed. Fortunately, my children checked out some library books recently. Since many libraries across the nation are closing temporarily, parents can order books online to be delivered to their homes if they can afford it. Below are some other options to get children reading.

Hard copy text – This option has been around for ages. Students can read books, magazines, comics, newspapers, etc.

The following includes online reading resources:

  • Scholastic Learn at Home – Scholastic has provided free resources online, separated by grade, for students to complete.
  • Scholastic Early Learners – This webpage contains books for kindergartners. At the end of each book is a quiz. There are books about jobs in the community. Children could read those books for social studies or read animal books for science. 
  • Newsela – This site is offering free access to leveled articles for the rest of the 2019-2020 school year. Parents should email their child’s teacher if they do not know their child’s reading level.  
  • E-books – E-books can be purchased online or downloaded for free through public library websites. Parents who have devices, but do not have internet, can download books on their devices in the library’s parking lot. I actually sat in the Pike library parking lot inside my SUV with the vehicle on and heat on high during the blizzard of 2014 to check and respond to email because our cable and internet were out for days. The library in Speedway, Indiana confirmed you can do this in their parking lot on their Facebook page.
  • Audiobooks/read-alouds – Parents can read to their children, have them listen to audiobooks, or watch other adults read books online. The list included below, I already had posted on my personal website, http://www.edcuatorbarnes.com, before this pandemic.
    • Animated Fables & Beginning Readers – ABC Mouse provide fables for young children to watch.
    • CBS 4 Reads – On this YouTube channel, local community members in Indianapolis, including yours truly, are reading books! Click here to view my video!
    • Grammy’s Book Nook – This YouTube channel provides stories and songs.
    • Just Books Read Aloud – This website provides 730 children’s books read aloud.
    • Bluford Series Audio – The Bluford High series is a popular urban teen book series. Children can listen to the books online.
    • Lit 2 Go – This is a free resource of non-copyrighted literature online with audio. There are plenty of classic texts on this site.
    • Storyline Online – This website has celebrities reading children’s literature.
    • Storynory – This website provides free audio stories with text.
    • Unite for Literacy – This website provides non-fiction picture books with audio.

Writing

Students can write at any time during the day, but I suggest having students complete writing after reading, so they can write about what they read.

Book summary – Children can use Reading Quest’s lesson closure summary to summarize what they read.

Writing Prompts – A writing prompt is simply a way to get a child to answer a question in written form. Parents, with multiple children, could have each child come up with five questions. Then, one could be picked each day to answer. Also, I have a list of writing prompts on my website. I will add any cool writing prompts shared with me to the list!

Reflection journal – Students can create a primary source documenting how they feel about what is happening each day during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Math 

Flashcards – Parents can buy, make, or have their children make flashcards to practice math fact fluency. 

Recipe doubling – If parents have recipe books in their home, they can have children take a book and figure out the math to double or triple recipes. This a good way to practice work with fractions.

Shapes hunt – Younger children could go on a scavenger hunt to find shapes around their homes.

Geometry – Have children use a tape measure to measure items. Then have them calculate the area.

Online math – Below are a list of activities students can do online:

  • Brain Genie – Students can practice math skills such as fractions, place value, ratio, time, and more.
  • Counting Songs – Students can learn to count and skip count to music with Jack Hartmann.
  • Creature Capture: Fraction Games – Students can play math games to help understand fractions.
  • Get the Math – This is an interactive website to help middle and high school students learn math through real-world problems.
  • Learn Zillion Math – This website provides over 1,000 free math instructional videos.
  • Multiplication – Students can master multiplication facts through games and activities.
  • Multiply by Music – Students can master multiplication facts through music with Jack Hartmann.
  • Khan Academy – Students, K-12, can practice math (this site also covers other subject areas).
  • XtraMath – Students can practice math and parents can track the progress.

Science

Cooking – This is a perfect time to teach children how to cook. Mixing ingredients together is science. Children will also be able to use math, and maybe even learn grandma’s recipe.

Moon journal – Students can record a drawing of how the moon looks each night.

Here are some electronic science resources:

Social Studies/History

Discuss family history – Get out a photo album and share stories about your family or even yourself.

Biographies/Autobiographies – Children can read biographies, autobiographies, or memoirs. They could also call a relative and interview him or her and write the relative’s biography.

Here are some online social studies resources:

  • History for Kids – This online resource provides information about various historical topics. There are even quizzes and worksheets.
  • Census Coloring Book – Count Me INdy has posted a coloring book about the census. Even if your child does not want to color, he or she can read the information.
  • This Day in History – This website provides information about what happened on different dates in history. As a bonus, children could write their own ‘this day in history’ about the coronavirus. 
  • Government Career Videos for Kids – This website provides videos of different jobs.

Art

Think outside the box – The art teacher at my school does think outside the box Thursday every Thursday. Students get a picture of a shape with the line, “This is not a (fill in with the name of the shape).” The students are tasked with taking that shape and making it something else. The last one I saw was a shape that looked like a shark’s fin. The paper said, “This is not a fin. Think outside the box.”

Visual journal – Children can draw pictures to express how they are feeling while at home instead of writing about it.

Paper airplanes – Children could make paper airplanes and have a contest with their siblings to see which one flew the furthest. 

Coloring sheets – If you Google coloring sheets, there are tons online that could be printed to color.

Other 

Learn a new chore or perfect an old chore – Let’s keep it real! Kids can be messy. 

Now, they have plenty of time to contribute to housecleaning.

Learn or practice typing  – Check out Typing ClubTurbo Typer, or Nitro Type.

Learn or practice a language – Duolingo is a good resource, and Mango Languages is making its resource free.

Break

This is a time for your child to have a choice. Disney is even providing Frozen 2 on its streaming service three months early.

  • Eat
  • Play with toys indoors
  • Play outdoors or go to a park for a walk
  • Exercise
  • Listen and/or dance to music
  • Nap
  • Go Noodle – This is a free website where kids can dance or complete calming activities
  • Watch television or stream a show
  • Social media – Older kids with cell phones will want to chat with their friends or classmates. Parents should monitor social media usage.

Schedule 

Children need routines. Parents need to create a consistent schedule for their children to follow. This is a sample schedule we plan to use with our sons on Monday. Please note: I included a couple of activities not listed above that they have access to through their school.

TimeSubjectActivityIndependently
or with sibling
With adult
8-8:30BreakEat breakfastx
8:30-9OtherChoresx
9-9:30ReadingRead a bookx
9:30-10WritingComplete writing
Prompt
x
10–10:30BreakSnack & TV show
of choice
x
10:30-11ScienceNASA Science:
Space Place
x
11-11:30Science/
Math
Help make lunchx
11:30-12BreakEat lunchx
12-12:30Social StudiesRead a biography of choicex
12:30-1:30BreakPlaytime outdoors or indoorsx
1:30-2ArtThink outside the boxx
2-2:30BreakSnack & TV show of choicex
2:30-3MathProdigy or Dreambox (resource from school)x

Last, since I believe in working smarter and not harder. There is a list of free educational resources that are being updated daily at http://www.amazingeducationalresources.com/.

Hopefully, this is helpful. We can all get through this if we work together. Last, don’t forget to follow social distance guidance and wash your hands for at least 20 seconds.


This article was first published at indy.education

A Letter From Brightbeam in Response to Coronavirus

Dear Friends and Fellow Activists,

Our brightbeam team cares about your safety and ours. 

Like you, we are closely watching the national news and government reports about the coronavirus (COVID-19) so that we can act appropriately.

We are fortunate that our organization converted to being a completely virtual team 18 months ago, which means we have the ability to keep working (so long as we’re healthy) while states, cities, and school districts take steps recommended by scientists to ensure public safety.  

At the same time, brightbeam exists to shine a light on the condition of children living at the margins of their cities, and we are deeply concerned that when schools close it will have an outsized impact on large populations of economically insecure or unhoused families. Many of our brightbeam parents and students fall into this category and we want to do all we can to make sure a tough time for all of us isn’t an even tougher time for them.As you make plans to keep your family out of harm’s way, we hope that you will keep less fortunate families in your plans. One clear way to do that is to use your voice where possible to influence local leaders to ensure there is food for students who rely on school meals for daily nutrition, and there is care for them when their parents are not able to take consecutive days off of work.

We’ve collected some actions you can take. If you have other suggestions for how we can support children and families during this time, please add them to the comments at the bottom.

  • Meals on Wheels America delivers nutritious meals, friendly visits and safety checks to seniors so that no one is left hungry or isolated. You can make a donation or see if there are opportunities for you to (safely) volunteer to make an impact in your community.
  • Save the Children has set up a Coronavirus Response Fund to reach children in coronavirus-affected areas and other countries at great risk. Your donations will help keep children healthy and safe, train health workers worldwide, and supply the protective equipment and other supplies frontline health staff desperately need. 
  • RIP Medical Debt will take your monetary donations and eradicate the medical debt of those most in need. This helps people who are uninsured or inadequately insured to get the medical assistance they need sooner rather than later.
  • The Red Cross is in urgent need of blood, platelet or plasma donations to avoid shortages as they respond to the coronavirus outbreak. Donating blood is a safe process and you should not hesitate to give or receive blood (while paying careful attention to social distancing recommendations).

We believe the power of activism changes the world, and during this time it could potentially save lives. 

Best,

Chris Stewart and the brightbeam team

Toxic Teachers Need to Go

This article was first published on indy.education

There is not enough self-care in the world that can shield a person from a toxic work environment. I had a few jobs before I became a K-12 educator. I worked in my dorm’s cafeteria, at Villa Pizza in the student union at Purdue, and at a church daycare. The work environment was nice. People were supportive, kind, and courteous. When I accepted my first professional job, I was shocked to learn how toxic the workplace environment could be. 

In schools, there are two components that make a workplace toxic, the leadership and the teachers. If you’ve read my viral piece, Teachers Quit Principals, Not Schools, you know I do not think administrators should be let off of the hook. However, it’s time to address those teachers that make the school environment a difficult place to work.

You would think that a person who enters the education profession would have a certain type of character, a personality that meshes well with others.  Shouldn’t teachers have a servant attitude and assume the best of others? In some schools, this is not the case. It is war, and some teachers are out for blood.

I find it interesting that we preach that teachers should give students a fresh start each day, but then some teachers will not give a fresh start to their colleagues each day. They operate on assumptions and do not bother with seeking out the facts. I worked at a school where a cake would be purchased for your birthday. My birthday is in August. Once I realized this would happen, I requested to not have my birthday celebrated at work. The response was to gossip about me and spread rumors that I must be a Jehovah’s Witness. Here’s the kicker. They decided to buy a cake anyway and told me I did not need to get any since I did not want to celebrate my birthday. I was told my refusal to celebrate my birthday at work was denying them the opportunity to have cake which is why they got cake despite my request. Did anyone apologize for assuming I was a Jehovah’s Witness? Nope! This may seem like a small incident, but small incidents over time pile up. 

At this same school, a teacher kept calling me by the name of another black teacher. This other black teacher was petite, had long hair, and wore glasses, but that is where the commonalities ended. She was a different shade of black, taught math when I taught English, and taught on a different floor. Finally, I had enough. I told the teacher to not speak to me. I said, “You are an elective teacher and have everyone in the building. You can remember hundreds of students’ names but for some reason, you can’t remember my name.” Her response was, “I don’t understand why you are being so aggressive and rude.” Oh, I’m rude. Oh, okay. I just had to walk away at that point. I said, in my head, Lord, not today.

How many times have teachers had to have an inner-dialogue, Lord, not today, just to make it through the day? This should not be a norm which made me think about a theme I heard last night at the Comunity Conversation: Retaining Teachers of Color.  It was toxicity. Teachers, especially teachers of color, do not want to work in toxic environments where they are mistreated, overlooked, and not heard. Many of the panelists shared experiences that I also had experienced.  

The words of Latina panelist Idalmi Acosta resonated with me. She shared how colleagues thought she would not be capable of teaching English, especially grammar. I’ve been there. “Shawnta, was using slang with students. I don’t think she should teach grammar if she’s going to talk like that. English teachers should use Standard English.” It’s called code-switching. I can move from African-American Vernacular English to check students and put them in their place in my black momma voice and then switch back to standard English to teach students how to write compound-complex sentences.

It is not only the comments and assumptions. Some teachers actively try to get you in trouble or undermine. They report everything you do, hoping you’ll get in trouble even if you are not doing anything. They will also veto every idea you have until they share it, and then it is okay. Dr. Dennisha Murff, a panelist last night, shared that she also faced a similar experience of white colleagues suggesting ideas after she had previously presented the same idea. 

Who wants to go to work day in and day out and work with people who are against you and who don’t think you have the skills to do your job? At the end of the day, I have to circle back to school leadership. For some reason, toxic teachers seem to be survivors at schools. Their presence pushes other teachers out the door, and yet, school leaders do nothing. I don’t need an administrator to fight all my battles, but I need the administrator to have my back when it gets tough. I need an administrator willing to coach a teacher out of the building or fire a teacher, if that’s what it takes, so the school environment is not toxic. 

The students know. The students notice how staff members interact with each other. It is not worth it to keep a toxic teacher especially since that typically always means that good teachers will be pushed out the door.

Schools at Work

This week I had the honor of chatting with two school leaders. Jasmine Bergeron of Elan Academy and Javonni Ramos of Foundation Preparatory School. Both highlighted their schools in pure joy when sharing the great work happening in their school communities. Grabbing our delicious treats of king cake and PJs Coffee specialties, I could tell that this interview would be full of energy so we began with brief introductions of the schools and their locations.  

Elan Academy sits quietly on the westbank of New Orleans and grows every year in size. Currently serving pre-kindergarten 4 through 4th grade, next year, they will grow to grade 5. And one year at a time, Elan plans to increase by one grade until they reach grade 8. 

Foundation Preparatory, currently serving kindergarten to 6th grade, is nestled in Gentilly at the long time home of what was Medard H. Nelson Elementary school. Since moving into the school site, Foundation Prep has grown to 250 students in size. 

Both schools are apart of the #SchoolsThatCare campaign run by the organization Black Education of New Orleans (BeNOLA). This initiative is in hopes to shine a spotlight on smaller but promising schools working to develop children’s unique gifts, talents, and personal needs. 

Teachers are Our Greatest Asset 

We quickly moved towards a conversation about the teachers. As a former teacher of the New Orleans charter school movement and now serving as a professor to teach even more teachers, this is a question I wanted to dive right into. I was pleased to hear how much both schools love, respect, and support the craft of the educators in their buildings. 

Both schools utilize a co-teaching model of two teachers in one room. Class sizes cap off at 25 students per room. The co-teaching model promotes a novice teacher or newer teacher to the profession to work with a more seasoned or veteran teacher who can model the skill of teaching and then allow the teacher to practice and hone skills for themselves. It also supports students receiving more personalized learning instruction by working in smaller groups. 

Ms. Bergeron informed us of their efforts to concentrate on professional development stressing that this work begins early. Professional development happens for four weeks during summer and continues every Friday of the school year. Friday’s students take part in a shortened school day so that teachers can take part in their own teaching and learning. And once a month, teachers are able to leave at 2 p.m. in support of what they call a “Health Day.” During this time teachers are encouraged to take care of themselves by heading to the doctor or fulfilling any other needs in order to take care of themselves. 

Mr. Ramos went on to explain that the teachers at Foundation Prep undergo professional development that helps them to support their students and their social-emotional lives. Students are not apart from their home lives or the traumatic experiences that may have occurred outside of school. Foundation Prep has partnered with the Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies (I-WES) to train and support teachers in their work with students and mental health education. This professional development helps their teachers to learn about 1) Impact of individual and community trauma, 2) Adverse Childhood Experiences, 3) Self-community- care and resilience, 4) Restorative Justice Practices. With the help of I-WES, Foundation Prep helps to build teachers who are equipped to support their students if social-emotional issues arise. 

A Typical Day 

When asked about what a day in the life of a student looked like, Ms. Bergeron explained that every day is a new beginning at Elan Academy. The morning starts with being greeted by a school leader, followed by breakfast and brain work to get their juices flowing. Then there is a morning meeting pow-wow and classroom morning chants and affirmations that set their intentions to have a great day of learning. 

Students there also partake in learning Latin as a second language in efforts to build their capacities to learn even more words. And finally, at the end of the day, students are given a choice hour where they are able to make choices in fun activities with their peers or on their own. 

Mr. Ramos jumped in and explained that students at Foundation Prep began the day somewhat the same though the younger students were supported by the 5th graders during the breakfast hour. Students at Foundation Prep were also heavily focused on Literacy. That includes all facets: reading, writing, speaking/listening, and language arts instruction. And apart from the normal school day, students there partake in yoga classes, an effort to move their bodies and breathe in order to center themselves and continue learning. 

Parental Involvement

One of our final questions of the night was about parents and their involvement. Elan Academy has a Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) but prides themselves on their open-door policy as well as keeping their parents close and asking them what they want and need from the school. This open communication helps the staff serve their students best to build a community fostered in connection and working with each other not just for one another. 

Foundation Prep leans into their Parent Association by having it run by the school’s teachers. Parental involvement is so important to the work with student progress that the teachers have taken on that task with pride. Mr. Ramos also gave big kudos to Foundation Prep’s parent liaison who has been apart of the school since it opened. She set the foundation for the teachers to follow her lead in making phone calls to each and every parent and guardian to create the connections needed to continue the work inside of the school. 

Work and Progress 

With so many choices and so little spotlight on smaller schools and their offerings, I was happy to have met these two school leaders. While we as parents work with the changes and may not have as much time as we would like to, to do school visits or are just inundated with the emphasis on letter grades, this interview was encouraging. There are schools in the city doing the work that matters that want to offer you and your child a place to grow together in education. 

Though it seems that equitable education is out of reach for us and our children, that is not the truth. There are school sites that are continuously working and approaching school in a non-traditional fashion tailored to serve our non-traditional New Orleanian children. Let’s continue to do what we can do by asking the questions and viewing our options. You just may find the diamond in the rough you were hoping for.

This article was first posted on askmissherd.com