Friday, October 15, 2010

Notes on Inner City Eduction

Student Altar in a City School

I pull off the freeway and find my way through the Oakland city streets to the school I am visiting. After checking in at the office, find the classroom, I wait until the end of the previous class, and then catch up with the intern before the students pour into the room. Some high school age students enter graciously, some creep in quietly, others are boisterous or aggressive. Some students begin at once on the “Do Now” work on the overhead– others need a reminder. The teacher greets the students, then as students continue working, goes through the routine of starting the class. This formula varies little regardless of the neighborhood…

Student art can offer a window into real feelings

I visit a few schools that remind me of the 3rd world conditions that I saw in Tanzania. There are neighborhoods where the unemployment is 20% and 10% of the males are in prison, there isn’t much to look forward to if a young man drops out of school but “workin' the street “ – …drugs, or crime. How do you build a vision of what is possible for kids that see no hope? Kids need to feel that staying is school is worth the effort. They need to feel that staying in school can be a way out of despair. To create such a system requires teachers who understand the realities of students’ lives, understand how to offer the learning that students needs, and cares enough about the individual students to follow up. Many kids have never had a male role model at home, isolation, temptation, and lack of parental guidance are daily realities. There are kids that find the violence in the street to be at best distracting, and at worst terrifying. How can a teacher with 150 students in a day keep track of the individual needs of kids that don’t have a quiet place to do their homework, who may be more concerned about avoiding gang action than learning about mitosis?

I want to testify that I see programs that are changing students’ lives.

“College Track “ is a program in Oakland and East Palo Alto that takes average but committed students as ninth graders and offers a community place where they can come in the evening to do their homework. Volunteer adults are there every night to tutor students in all subjects, counselors help students know how to be prepared for college and how to jump through the necessary hoops – The majority of students are still with College Track as seniors, they apply for, and are accepted into college … with scholarships to pay the way. This program provides long consistent support and provides a safe place to be in community outside of school. The program is funded by corporate grants. Such a program is a success due to the committed action of many people who care.

I see individual teachers who care – who treat students with dignity – who allow no one to be tuned out in class. They design class activities that produce meaningful learning and they build or review the learning skills that may have been overlooked or poorly learned in earlier years. However there is a great danger – If you build a sense of what is possible in a student… if you kindle that spark - there must be a commitment to support that student all the way through– Nothing is worse than the despair of losing hope after it has been offered. Real change requires a united action – a committed school – a community center – People that care… It happens when committed people dream, plan, implement, and follow through.