Sometimes the only way to learn how to be better in engaging with your community is to dive into the deep end. In Baltimore, we're 18 months removed from an event that showed us just how much we needed to learn.

In October of 2012, Teach For America Baltimore hosted the Baltimore Educational Equity Summit in honor of 20 years of TFA in our city. We wanted to bring together a diverse cross-section of Baltimoreans invested in our education system—students, parents, organizations, teachers, principals, district officials—to unite behind a vision for improving educational outcomes for our city’s students. The weeks leading up to the summit were terrifying. As we convened thought partners, steering committees, and critical friends, I started to think, “This feels necessary. And challenging. And we are in a bit over our heads.”

In the end, I was proud of the event and the opportunity it created to celebrate with 1,000 members of our growing TFA family. But my team and I also came away from the day feeling that, as we entered our third decade in Baltimore, we needed to be doing more as partners with our community. The process of planning the summit not only gave us the opportunity to forge stronger relationships with many people and organizations we admired, it also illuminated where we were and were not living up to our values in terms of community engagement. 

There were two major lessons that stood out from the summit in relation to our work as a region.

In a ruling that sent shock waves across the country, a California judge deemed the state’s teacher tenure unconstitutional. The ruling came as a result of a lawsuit filed by in 2012 by a nonprofit group, Students Matter, on behalf of nine students. Plaintiffs argued that the current tenure laws occluded poor and minority students from receiving a quality education.

Despite the prevalent notion of social mobility in American society, researchers have found that children’s life trajectories are largely determined by their parents’ socioeconomic status. The 30-year longitudinal study of 800 Baltimore school children showed that overwhelmingly poor students became poor adults, and more well-off students also eventually ended up in the same income bracket as their parents.

In my role as Vice President of Corporate Responsibility for Symantec, I have the privilege of driving the global implementation of Symantec’s community investment strategy and seeing first hand how organizations like Teach For America—our longest-standing philanthropic partner—are helping to inspire leaders, encourage creativity and collaboration, and make a meaningful impact for children and families in communities across the country.

Today’s students will become our next generation of leaders and innovators. As both a parent and a passionate technology professional, I deeply understand the role that education plays in the lives of children, and am honored to congratulate the winners of the 12th annual Symantec Innovation in Teaching Awards. These awards recognize outstanding Teach For America teachers who demonstrate original thinking and teamwork while increasing student achievement. Please join me in congratulating:

Alissa Changala and Sarah Batizy—Reading scores jump from 12% to 70%

In October 2013, only 12 percent of the ninth-graders at Alissa and Sarah’s high school were on-track or advanced in their state’s reading standards. Six months later, 70 percent achieved that goal. These two innovators developed personalized, rigorous, and engaging online lessons that students move through at their own pace.

In a recent piece in The Washington Post, (“The education-reform movement is too white to do any good”), Dr. Andre Perry brings up some very relevant, viable arguments about the education reform movement today. I had the pleasure of joining him at a recent conference, where black leaders in reform gathered to discuss the issues that matter most about education and securing our children’s future.

For an increasing number of Washington D.C. students, the school dismissal bell signals the start of a journey to the local homeless shelter. Homelessness among D.C. students has jumped by 60% since 2010, and administrators are worried given that extensive scientific literature detail how homelessness can negatively affect student outcomes.

In a historic first, two Native American athletes were honored with collegiate lacrosse’s highest honor last week. The preppy sport originated from Native American traditions, making the athletes’ win even more special.

Blair Mishleau portrait

(Photo: Flickr)

I’ve always wondered how much I work a week as a teacher. Last week, I sat down with six other teachers (at different schools, different grade levels, etc.) and asked them to track their hours worked.

Two things shocked me.

Alex Fenn, Colorado '12

Alex Fenn's students. (Photo credit: Teach For America)

One of my most vivid memories from elementary school includes visiting the Denver Museum of Nature & Science in first grade. Much of my first-grade experience is a relative blur, but the image of a diplodocus skeleton is one I’ll never forget, as it sparked my lifelong fascination with dinosaurs. 

Experiences like this, ones that will make my students remember my class for years to come, are something that I strive to create in my third-grade classroom at College View Elementary School in Denver. So when I learned that Teach For America-Colorado, Subaru of America, and Leave No Trace, an organization that conducts trainings on outdoor ethics and environmental responsibility, would be partnering to bring a classroom to their Western Regional Offices, I jumped at the opportunity. This year, Subaru donated $10 million to ASPCA, Make-A-Wish, Meals On Wheels Association of America, National Park Foundation, and Teach For America as well as more than 240 local charities across the country. Teach for America regions, spanning 34 states, will receive over $1 million from Subaru. In addition to providing an environmental enrichment opportunity for my students, Teach For America-Colorado received $50,000 to help recruit, train, and provide ongoing support to teachers who commit to teaching in high-need schools and subject areas in Colorado’s public schools.

Jessica Castanon Maurer

Michelle Obama at College Week.

Together with Destination College and organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters and CityYear, Teach For America-San Antonio helped to put on College Week, a week of events for students designed to make college top-of-mind for students of all ages, from kindergarten through high school, and their parents. This was a truly collaborative effort that brought together likeminded organizations to help prepare San Antonio’s children for college. Each day of the week focused on a different age group: elementary school, middle school, and high school. 

The culminating event was the Mayor’s signing ceremony, in which all high school seniors from across the city were invited to come together to publicly commit to the college or university they will attend next year. Over 2,100 high school seniors, double last year’s attendance, packed the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Convocation Center to publicly commit to their future college. Among those in attendance were Mayor Julian Castro and a very special guest: the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama.  

The week stems from an ambitious city-wide goal that 80% of San Antonio’s high school seniors in the year 2020 will enroll in college. This goal was set as part of SA2020, a road map for working toward a collective community vision of what we want San Antonio to be by the year 2020. Eleven issues were identified as most important to address in order to transform San Antonio. Education was one of the top priorities identified.

Pass The Chalk Editorial Team

Over the last two weeks, we’ve introduced you to the 10 finalists in the Symantec Innovation in Teaching Awards. Meet the teachers who are changing the way their students learn and vote for the most inventive to win!

Travis Dempsey, sixth-grade math teacher at Rise Academy in Newark, NJ

In an effort to better meet the needs of his sixth graders, Travis implemented a blended learning system in his classroom. He created a math bar for his students to use in rotations with the small group lessons he leads at the front of the classroom.

At the math bar, students work at laptops on Khan Academy and other online math programs. Travis creates a “playlist” of objectives for each student to master independently and groups of students who work to collaborate on certain objectives. Students often choose to come to school at 6:30 in the mornings and on Saturdays to use the math bar to meet their blended learning goals.

This week, the world lost a Phenomenal Woman. Though she never attended college, Maya Angelou seamlessly weaved words into poems and stories that captured the world’s attention. Watch Dr. Angelou share a fitting life lesson about the liberating power of love.

Student-loan horror stories coupled with the seemingly depressing state of today’s job market have led many to many to question the value of a college degree. The New York Times does the calculations to determine whether a college degree is worth the costs.

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We believe education is the most pressing issue facing our nation. On Pass the Chalk, we'll share our takes on the issues of the day, join the online conversation about education, and tell stories from classrooms, schools, and communities around the nation.

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