Supporting Our Students :: Parent Toolkit

How do we best support the students in our lives?

That’s the question that will be addressed by parents, teachers, and community members. All stakeholder voices are encouraged and invited to share information, concerns, and  ideas. This is what it means to employ a ‘village’ approach to raising 21st Century “digital natives”.

paper doll

J oin in the national dialogue on  April 14th from 6 PM to 8 PM ET, for a special live event streamed live on the Parent Toolkit at ParentToolkit.com/Event. If you live in the Baltimore area, you can also watch on WBAL from 7-8pm.

If you would like to attend the event, you should contact EducationNation@NBCuni.com. But you don’t have to be in Baltimore to join the conversation!  And don’t forget to share how you are supporting the students in your lives NOW by using the hashtag #SOSevery1.

It’s the perfect time that we engage the “village” in all efforts to support students’ academic achievement, comprehensive development, and overall health and wellness. Families, teachers, and the communities served by our schools should be included and equally accountable for student success.

Everyone must be mindfully aware of the influence each has on life trajectory at every developmental stage, and in every setting. Whether they are at home, in the community, or at school, each environment  is connected to learning.

As we understand that WE ARE the VILLAGE, we can then collectively, and collaboratively support our children’s future and guide their experiences in directions that lead to realized potential-not broken promises.

.via Supporting Our Students :: Parent Toolkit

Metal Detectors….Where? and Why?

I am a realist and understand that tragedies occur in our nation’s schools because students are bringing guns and other weapons in through the building doors. I also understand that students, living in the ‘ghettoes of our cities, also bring guns, knives and other weapons into their learning environments, too. One point to be made and contextualized is this: The children who have brought deadly weapons to school, only to unleash their power onto unsuspecting staff, children, and even their parents….have not been students who live in poverty, or children whose skin color is of a darker hue. Incidents like these, sadly enough have been committed by children who attend schools without the presence of metal detectors, or scanning machines at the front door, before being permitted entrance.

In most middle to upper class neighborhood schools, there are no metal detectors that welcome their students to the learning process. What?!!! The parents would raise’holy hell’, pardon the expression. They would be in such an uproar and raise their outraged voices in opposition, and question the sanity of the ‘fool’ who decided that was a good strategy for safety. How could we come to believe that placing metal detectors in poorer community schools, would be a wonderful ‘deterrant’ to crime? Fear that staff would be hurt…get shot…stabbed? Well, I am not a proponent of violence, but that would be an idea to consider. Well, targeting only the genius[es] who made that poor decision.

If parental outrage alone becomes the most important determinant in deciding the fate of these ‘criminal-minded’ installations in their schools, then parents in low-income, high crime areas, regardless of location or race, should wield the same influence. These parents should be allowed to weigh in on whether they think that metal detectors are the solution to crime and behavior or discipline problems, too.

Now that I am thinking about crime, even in areas notorious for youth involved gang activity, most weaponry tends to be used AFTER- school dismissal. Drive-by shoorings aren’t happening during school hours while rival gang members are learning. Even fist fights tend to occur after school. Does the phrase,”I’ll see you at 3:00pm sound familiar to you? After school is when most violence takes place as it pertain to school-age children, anyway. So, are the parents and caregivers of the students whose school buildings adorn scanning devices, speaking out against the installation, or are they talking but no one listens to them? It seems that these decisions are not made at the community level, but from an office with cushioned leathe seats and far removed from the community affected. Is that really all that we can come up with?

So many black kids are approached, questioned and frisked by police officers every day;some on their way to or from school. This is also in their community where schools are like reminders that they ARE expected to disrupt, and incite and partake in violent behaviors. Thus, they can also expect to end up in jail, the prison system, and travel along that pipeline. They are being conditioned to internalize their own self-hatred, while filled with confusion from being told that they have great potential, if only they studied and worked hard in school. But they also receive the message that says they can’t be expected to change from survival mode in their community and transform into engaged and well behaved high performers in class.

We are telling these children just how much we believe that they cannot rise above their circumstances, and that their circumstances don’t have to define their destiny. We are not telling them and showing them that we care, recognize their present circumstances, acknowledge to them that they are not responsible for their circumstances, either. How can we treat them as though they are responsible for their present reality. They can’t even be held responsible for themselves; they can’t be relied upon to complete nightly homework assignments. Yet, as adults in the room, we yell at them when they come to class without it, or pencils and paper to complete their assignments in the first place.

If it’s behavior that brings such concern and creates or re-creates behaviors or attitudes from the community or home that’s played out in school, then work on changing those behaviors. Don’t expect an overnight attitude adjustment. That type of change happens only in jail or prison, and if we don’t intervene, it will emerge as angerMoreover, if we don’t intervene, the anger will spill out and get redirected, displaced and may jeopardize the safety of the environment or others sharing that same space.

What do we do to prevent violence and an influx of guns flooding our schools? First, we start by establishing meaningful relationships with students, their families, and the community in which they live and learn and play and survive. Find the root of the problems, concerns, violence, gang activity, chronic absences, first. Get to know your students, especially the children who live in neighborhoods very different from your/our own. Establish a relationship with the people of the cmmunity-the families, visit the stores, talk to them. Let me add this: You cannot and will not get acquainted at a meaningful level from emails, letters or phone calls. Literacy levels may be low, but some things do not need to be read aloud to form an impression of sincerity. Anyone can do these things…robo-calls… But authenticity begins with an authentic desire to connect, relate and partner with your stakeholders. Since parents are critical, and pivotal to behavior attendance, and all things conducive to learning at home and school, that’s where we place targeted emphasis. Then, we gain insight into their world, and the world that your students faces when not in class. If you view the problems as ‘theirs’, not ours, then the solutions are best in their hands too.

 

Ask

What it will take for…..?

What do you need to…..?

What do you wish us to address or do to promote change in the form of….?

Ask

” What can WE do together to create the change necessary to facilitate student achievement, health and wellness, for your child and yourself,-the family unit?

Work with them, not for them.

Talk with them, not at them

Most important listen to them speak to you, when they speak, how they speak, and should you not understand anything please ask questions to clarify. Respect, reciprocal, and linguistic/culturally responsive dialogues. That’s a more effective start towards school-pupil and parent partnerships…. in school, at home and in the community. It must be consistent, continuous and must be a collective effort.

Why should black children or hispanic children be any different? Crimes occur, and they occur much too frequently, but how many times have we ever heard about a black kid who sneaked an AK-47 into their school, and began shooting off rounds? What about re-loading and continuing to injure and kill all those within ear or eye-shot?  I can not honestly recall one such major incident.

Honesty is the keyword here, remember? Think about how many violent incidents in schools that resulted in any number larger than one fatality, in which the perpetrator was a student from the ‘block’, the ‘hood’, or any neighborhood in America?  Fortunately, or not so fortunately, terms like mass murder, mass shootings, killing spree, and going ‘postal’ or on a ‘rampage’ do not typically describe a person of color, and definitely not an adolescent.

Then, why are we so insistent upon the notion that having these children pass through these devices will prevent such or any tragedies at school? The idea of placing metal detectors within our public schools is a very depressing, discouraging and self-fulfilling prophecy for the school to prison pipeline. It sends a very bad message to all within the school community-staff, families, and the students themselves. It speaks poorly to the community that exists outside of the school building. It perpetuates any existing inequalities and disparities that permeate society. It similarly reinforces negative stereotypes and what I term, immaculate perceptions, that are descriptive of implicit, unconscious  biases about a population. Parent engagement and active involvement, partnering, is severely impacted, also.

The school is supposed to be a safe and supportive environment, which may mean that they may be the only safe haven for learning students should be able to count on…a place of learning and achievement, where  success and positive behavior, character and respectful appreciation of diversity exists at high levels of expectations.  The climate and culture of the school, as the agreed upon best pathway to future life success, should not look or even feel as though the students, especially the ‘at-risk’ youth, are gaining entrance into a courthouse, with officers present to keep the peace. After all, the courthouse atmosphere is one where tempers can be expected to flare, and violence may erupt. Is that what we are communicating to them, as well?

Greatly influenced by what we do in school, as educators, no student’s future should entail entering a courthouse lest they be members of the legal profession.

Poorer students, the ones living in poverty, tend to also live in high crime areas. The idea of attending school is supposed to be seen as their ticket up and out of poverty. School is supposed to offer a glimpse into the greater society, broaden their worldviews, contribute to their dreams for life success,  help them discover their unique gifts, promote their inherent drive to pursue excellence in order to realize their potential.

What kind of message do you think it sends to children whose lives are almost certain to involve the courts system, either family, housing or criminal courts, at least once in their lifetime? That’s what the stats tell us. Many of us have NEVER seen the inside of any of these governmental controlled-agencies. Yet, many of the most at risk children have this experience, with their parents or other family, up close and personal, before adulthood. Although there should be no shame or stigma attached to these experiences, it is yet to thought of as a pleasant experience for the families involved.

And, that is before we factor the influence of school climate, implicit bias, teacher competence, under-matching, or over-representation of black and brown children’s special education program placements.

The lives of so many youth, in their home and immediate community, already places them at extreme risk for academic failure  counter-productive to their life success. On practically a daily basis they face so many challenges and obstacles and distractions that may all present themselves simultaneously….before arriving at school. So, I ask…Why must we compound the pressures and competing forces that tug at these children, by creating or erecting a new barrier to learning.

The children in the more wealthy community schools don’t have to be subjected to daily searches before allowed to enter the building to learn. Behavior problems, threats of violence, and gun violence seems to prevail as coping mechanisms in their settings, on a mass scale. Why aren’t their less wealthy counterparts, largely ‘minority’, a euphemism for African American or individuals of African descent, PRESUMED INNOCENT FIRST? Instead, we already have perceived them guilty before innocent.  Are we not perpetuating stereotypes, feeding into implicit bias, and resembling a separate but unequal ‘Pygmalion’ in the classroom?

What must they think that we think of them? And, more importantly, what will they internalize, consider normal treatment, and incorporate into their own self image? C’mon!  And, don’t forget to take it home, as agents of change while making changes..one family and one student at a time! The message will spread. Let it be a positive one. Nobody will bite your head off, as long as you establish yourself as an authentic respected educator, not just respectable. That we can all do-be respectable, but more than that we want to give respect and likewise receive. Where there’s a will, three’s a way to teach without resembling a penal institution or correctional facility. It’s a school and we educate! No?

 

 

 

 

 

Virtual Reality: A Pathway to Cultural Awareness and Empathy

vr experience

Well, this begins with an idea borne out of a TED Talk. A journalist, Nonny de la Peña has been researching Virtual Reality[VR] in the context of reporting the news and other ‘newsworthy’ events deemed controversial. VR is being experimented as the next ‘wave’ in reporting, viewing and experiencing the news as we have come to know it. Emphasis will be placed on the ‘experiencing’ aspect. Watching or reading the news, in the realm of virtual reality allows a totally 3-Dimensional, front row seat. It provides the viewer with a more personal experience in connection with the situation under scrutiny and public examination.

Events that have been recorded, filmed, or reported by witnesses can be re-created in order to place the viewer on the scene…within the scene, at the same time that it unfolds.

The tragic police-involved deaths of Eric Garner or Michael Brown, repeatedly witnessed on YouTube or any Network broadcast news, can be reconstructed for a more intimate, ‘up close and personal’ perspective. Millions of Americans access some form of news every day.

With much to much frequency, there’s a report detailing another controversial, and questionable deadly exchange between law enforcement and unarmed young men ‘of color’. These ‘mistakes’, unjust acts, misuse and abuses of power and authority are not new trends or even acute, isolated events.

But for the camera-equipped smartphone and the reach of the internet, those deaths would probably be considered rational, justifiable, and sound, ‘in the line of duty’ decisions made by the police. Unfortunately, too many judgment calls  reflect errors in judgment, influenced by and borne out of fear, negative stereotypes, and implicit bias.

The beauty of VR is that we can feel and not just see the human  exchanges and interactions, and experience similar feelings and emotions as those actually involved-physically. A more complete picture leads to an empathic, HUMANISTIC perspective to fortify and contextualize the actual facts.

vr

When people are exposed to VR, they seem to have a ‘duality of presence’.  So, empathy can be evoked from others who tend to watch tragedies in society and remain detached. Automaticity, or those automatic responses or behaviors, learned through repetition and reinforced by experiences, influences and leads to actions which resulted in the tragic deaths of Freddie Gray, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and countless others. Even visual evidence seems to confound an ordinarily rational adult’s ability to recognize and acknowledge injustices and instead interpret seemingly obvious harmful and extreme actions as just. Would these determinations be different if subjected to VR, and examination of facts are coupled with empathic awareness?

What if we took the idea of VR into the classroom setting? Of course, ethically and developmentally appropriate situations must be presented, to prevent trauma or exceeding learners’ cognitive abilities. But, we should challenge them to gain in SEL and EQ, as often as possible. If we begin with relatively simple, less threatening scenarios, and allow children to feel and become a part of the scene, what might you think would happen? How might they emerge from these virtual experiences emotionally, socially, empathically? Perhaps bullying, name-calling, disruptive behaviors would pose fewer challenges for teachers in the classroom. Discipline disparities may be eliminated or minimized.

vr class

If nothing else, we may all emerge with  increased self-awareness, compassionate  awareness of cultural influences and genuine respect for diversity. We may be able to facilitate meaningful conversations about race, culture, and begin to see the world and people around us more mindful of their unique ‘humanness’.  In 3-D, we encourage and facilitate change, alter perceptions,  and broaden perspectives for greater capacity to engage one another more respectfully in this diverse universe. Empathy places us into a deeper level of consciousness. Unless we address, challenge and confront the underlying thoughts that contribute to these behaviors, those fatal judgments will continue to victimize and alter lives of families everywhere. So, let’s try to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” through VR…that’s virtual reality!

 

And the Lead Goes On….Newark: Where Else?

we are the world kids

 

 

 

 

 

The news continues to uncover more incidents of childhood lead poisoning. Lead is a toxic metal that is harmful to human health; there is NO safe level for lead exposure.

Lead in Drinking Water

This colorless, odorless, and tasteless metal can go undetected in water. Excessive amounts of lead place adults at higher risk for cancer, stroke, kidney disease, memory problems and high blood pressure. At even greater risk are children, whose rapidly growing bodies absorb lead more quickly and efficiently. Lead can cause premature birth, reduced birth weight, seizures, hearing loss, behavioral problems, brain damage, learning disabilities, and a lower IQ level in children.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that lead is the most serious environmental health hazard for children under 6 years old in the United States. Blood tests for lead are often recommended for very young children to determine if lead exposure it occurring.

What does toxic mean for us or children? Lead poisoning. It doesn’t make it any less dangerous or any more palatable when it’s called ‘contamination’. Contaminants are poisonous, and that’s it. So, when we hear that word, should we be any less concerned or less alarmed? I think not!

When lead is discovered to be in the drinking water consumed by the general public, that’s bad. When lead is found any place where large numbers of  children gather on a regular basis, that is definitely cause for alarm and cause for immediate action.

Parents send their children to school to learn and the basic thought is that their learning environments will be safe from physical harm. Harm is not limited to bullying behaviors in unsafe school settings, either. Harm comes from children being placed in any  unsafe and unhealthy conditions that exist in an environment. Independent of classroom culture, school climate, or cultural competence, lead poisoning is harmful and neglectful. Language, parenting style, the achievement gap, income level, or location- lead poisoning is neglectful.

Harm comes from food prepared where unsanitary  conditions exist. Harm comes from unsafe chairs with broken legs, and wobbly desks in need of retirement, replacement or repair. The potential for harm is ever-present without precautions, preventive measures and proper maintenance performed in any environment, location or setting.

empty-chairs

Emotional and physical harm can happen anywhere. But when harmful conditions exist within learning institutions, that constitutes benign neglect, a dereliction of duties and responsibilities. Millions of parents leave their child to spend hours everyday in schools under the belief that it is in their best interest. And, it is safe!

In fact, parents are legally bound to send their children into these learning environments whenever school is in session. If they don’t, then child welfare agencies along with law enforcement will swoop down on them like “white on rice”. It is essentially a criminal offense, a crime deemed abusive and considered neglectful of parents who refuse to send their child to school on a regular basis.

So, what is it called when the schools, the officials who represent these agencies, LEA and SEA’s, don’t ensure the safety of the children who attend these schools? Aren’t they to be held equally accountable? They have licenses, professional certifications, and some are even elected or appointed to their positions of power and influence. They ARE regulated, monitored, and legally/ethically bound to KEEP CHILDREN SAFE, too. Shouldn’t they have to answer to their neglect?

Parents aren’t awarded parenting licenses, but  are often closely monitored, scrutinized, and looked at through a microscope to ensure the health and wellness of their child. If they falter, there are provisions in place that will hold them accountable, because that is..IN THE BEST INTEREST OF THE CHILDREN.

momtear

So, where do we go from here? How are parents supposed to respond, react, and how should they restore trust in the public education system, their local schools, government officials…? How and why should they trust teachers in these environments? What about the disciplinary decisions made regarding their child’s school performance, behavior or learning progress? What’s next? Where should we look for solutions, and how can we let our infrastructures in schools and public places go unmanaged and get this far out of hand?

Budgetary constraints should not be an allowed excuse for neglecting any or all places within the public domain. The public does include children and public education settings hold great numbers of children. If they represent our future, then why do we jeopardize their future instead of protecting them at ALL costs?

Flint, Newark, and if we open our eyes, and look around, it may be happening in your city, your child’s school, or your own home.

Lead Poisoning!

Re-prioritize funding, and be held accountable wherever the public health and well-being is impacted, closely target environments such as schools, courthouses and related governmental buildings, public transit subways,  auditoriums, public parks, libraries, etc…

At least many of our churches and other  institutions where families and children go to worship and practice their faith, have a ‘building fund”!

apple girls

Anyone elected by the people, to act on the people’s behalf and in the best interest of the people, must pay particular attention to the people with no voice to effect changes at all levels. These people are the marginalized, under-represented, largely forgotten, dismissed and at greatest risk….and also include children. Don’t forget to mind and watch over the children; protect the children; ensure their safety, health and wellness, and make it your business to comprehensively ensure their safety at school.

Any more questions? I definitely have a few more. What about you? Now is the time to speak out!