Janiceia Adams

Janiceia Adams

Janiceia Adams grew up in Baltimore and went to the kind of school that Teach For America corps members teach in. She sat in tattered classrooms where there were never enough supplies, read raggedy and outdated paperbacks, saw some of her favorite teachers get laid off. But she was lucky—she also had teachers and mentors who expected the best from her. As a result, she graduated high school and went to the University of Maryland, College Park. She then  became a teacher and taught 4th grade for three years in the South Bronx as a 2007 New York City corps member. She received her master’s in teaching from Pace University, and came back to her hometown of Baltimore as a manager, teacher leadership development for Teach For America. In her role, she supports 31 new teachers.  Her favorite thing about Baltimore is being able to eat yummy crab cakes.

All Posts by Janiceia

I recently visited Atlanta for the first time and participated in a King Center tour that included a trip to the civil rights museum containing artifacts from Dr. King’s life, a visit to the Ebenezer Church he pastored, and a stop by his childhood home.

As I went on the tour I expected a rehash of what I have learned in school about Dr. Martin Luther King: He was a civil rights leader focused on race equality who made one great speech and did a lot of marching and sit-ins.

I was surprised to find out about his radical ideas on ending poverty.

March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Joachim Prinz pictured, 1963. American Jewish Historical Society Repository via Wikimedia Commons.

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays after Christmas and Easter.  As a teacher in the South Bronx, I used to allow my students to dress up after school. We would get in on the fun as well. Each grade team would choose a theme and dress up to surprise the kids. Two years ago, my fourth grade team dressed up as witches. We had a blast!

But there’s a shadow over this year’s Halloween celebration—and I’m not just talking about the recent events of Hurricane Sandy.

Photo courtesy Janiceia Adams

Many of my friends and family members own an iPhone or a smartphone or an iPad. We all know that there are apps available to help you with everything—whether it’s starting your car or checking your bank account. For teachers, there are apps that can help with all aspects of teaching, including connecting academic content to the real world, keeping in touch with parents and families, and grading papers and assignments.

Here's a roundup of five apps that I believe will benefit educators, families, and students.

Photo by Mono (Own work) [GFDL 1.2], via Wikimedia Commons from Wikimedia Commons

1.  Dash4Teachers
(Price: $4.99, 5 stars – 13 ratings; iTunes link)
Several teachers in New Orleans, including Aliya Bhatia, created this app that focuses on parent contact and home visits. Dash4Teachers allows teachers to log student behaviors for 1 to 100-plus students, their initial contact with parents, and follow-up communication with families. Aliya emailed me about it: “This spring, I was really frustrated with my parent-contact systems and [ended] up building an iPhone app for teachers to connect more easily with students' families. I, along with teachers at the school where I intern, have been using Dash4Teachers for the past few weeks to coordinate home visits. It has been a godsend and keeps track of all the data I need to make informed calls to parents.”

2.  BrainPOP
(Price: $0 - $6.99, 4.5 stars – 4445 ratings; iTunes link)
BrainPop is an amazing animated video tool that can be used in the classroom via a projector, SmartBoard, iPad, or mobile device for on-the-go learning with an accompanying quiz. This app features a learning video for the day and a daily quiz. The full version of the app, with more than 750 videos, is $6.99. BrainPop Educators features lesson plans and other teaching tools for educators on a variety of subjects from grammar to physics. There is also BrainPop Jr for K-3 teachers. Their main site offers free materials and videos at http://www.brainpop.com/. After a free lesson on the Harlem Renaissance, my kids had enough background knowledge to fully participate on a trip to the Apollo Theater. Jahyra squealed, “I know that answer, we just had a lesson on it and that question was on the quiz!”

Class 5-04 at P.S 62. Inocensio Casanova School in the South Bronx included students with wildly differing skill levels: there were 4th graders who struggled to read basic sight words like “the” or “went”— due to learning disabilities; there were also students who read above a 5th grade reading level. I was their general education teacher, and our classroom was an inclusion classroom, where students with special needs are educated in the same classroom as non-disabled students. The truth was, many of my students were struggling, whether due to an actual disability or years of gaps in their learning of reading, writing, and critical thinking skills. My job was to provide my students with the support they needed to succeed no matter where they were academically, socially, or mentally.

A corps member and his students in the classroom.

The parents and families of my special education students worked hard to make sure their kids completed their homework and did well on assignments. Those families attended scheduled and unscheduled parent/teacher conferences, and encouraged their kids to apply the skills that they were learning in school to the real world. My colleagues and I also did our part: we attended workshops, classes, and actual role plays of conversations on how to best support students with special needs—and their families.

I majored in criminal justice as an undergraduate, and I learned that the rate of incarceration is higher for people living in poverty, especially minorities, than for any other group. After I graduated college, I became a fourth grade teacher and learned about some of the reasons for this. I became aware that there is a pipeline that makes it possible for people living in poverty to seem destined from birth to go on to commit or be accused of committing crimes and enter prison.

Here’s a statistic I shared with my fourth graders: 2/3 of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare. Everyday, my students and I fought against this statistic. After all, the stakes are high for kids living in poverty.

Photo by Christina Xu (Via Wikicommons).

Here are the 3 causes I see for the pipeline that funnels students from low income backgrounds into the criminal justice system:

My mom and I graduated from the same high school—Northwestern Senior High School in Baltimore City. She graduated in 1980. At the time, the school gym had nice paneling and the fields were immaculate with fresh grass, which bolstered school pride. The school also had new textbooks and classroom materials for  students to use to get a strong, competitive education. But 23 years later, at my own graduation in 2003, there were cracks throughout the gym floor, textbooks from the 1960s-80s, and muddy grass for a field.

Janiceia and mom at Janiceia's graduation. Photo courtsey of Janiceia Adams.

How did this decay happen? Was it solely due to a lack of funding for upgrades, or was it due to the belief that kids going to school in low-income communities do not need good facilities to learn?

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