Archive > September 2012

September 28, 2012

With today's nation-wide release of Won’t Back Down, Hollywood is shining a spotlight on some of the challenges facing families raising kids in low-income communities. The movie, which includes a character who is a Teach For America alum, also raises complex issues about the relationships among parents, teachers, students and administrators.

Here are some WBD-related links that caught our eye:

The movie is inspired by actual events and stars award-winning actresses Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal as two determined mothersone a teacherwho join forces to turnaround a failing school, relying on a Parent Trigger law to achieve change for their kids.

Photo by Joella Marano via WikiCommons

Vanessa Descalzi
September 27, 2012

Vanessa Descalzi is Manager of National Communications for Teach For America.

Trending surprise of 2012: school lunch. From salad bars funded by Whole Foods to palm scanners that pay for meals, cafeteria coverage is popping up all over the media. Thanks to some innovative Pittsburgh students dissatisfied with their smaller portions, it even has its own hashtag: #brownbaggingit. While lunch is enjoying it’s time as the “it-meal” of the moment, another meal is going largely unnoticed. This is my nod to breakfast – the most important meal of the day, at risk for millions of our country’s kids.

Photo credit: Jean-Christian Bourcart

Robert Rigonan photo
September 26, 2012

It’s the first Friday of the school year, and I’m perched on my desk, screaming at the top of my lungs. My students’ jaws drop; has Mr. Rigonan lost it already?

“I AM THE LORAX AND I SPEAK FOR THE TREES,” I yell in my best Mario Salvio-exhorting-Berkeley-students voice.  The teacher next door knocks to make sure everything is OK (“I thought you were in trouble already,” she told me after school). I hear giggles, and 37 sets of eyes are glued to my next move.

“Remember to take observations on this mythical creature,” I whisper, switching from Lorax mode back to Mr. Rigonan. After 15 minutes of this one-man Seussian show, my students recite the Lorax’s final words in a rousing chorus: “UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

Though reading a seemingly juvenile book to sixth graders who want so badly to grow up didn’t make sense to many of my friends and colleagues, I wanted to share my favorite piece of literature with my life science students. The Lorax introduces essential scientific concepts like note-taking, observation, systematic thinking, and the scientific method. More than that, I saw Dr. Seuss’s book as a foundation for the distinct culture I want to see in my classroom.

Photo by David Bjorgen via WikiCommons

Jarell Lee
September 25, 2012

Jarell Lee is a proud member of the 2010 New York corps.

At the NBC Education Nation Teacher Town Hall on Sunday, some teachers argued against evaluations and standardized tests, saying that teaching students in poverty makes it harder to reach evaluation and testing goals. My stomach churned, my insides burned, and my mouth whispered, “No.”

Yes, there is a correlation between poverty and student achievement. But it’s just that, a correlation, not causation. It’s disrespectful to poor students to believe that they cannot meet our academic expectations. It’s unjust to not hold teachers in poor communities to these same high standards. What would lower expectations mean for these students? What would lower expectations mean for their future, our nation’s future?

Photo by Brian Collins via WikiCommons

Brittany Packnett
September 24, 2012

Brittany Packnett (D.C. Region ’07) is the Director of Government Affairs in Washington D.C.

I am not a black man.  

My brother is.  My father was.  So are Derrick, Nikko, all three James’ and 32 of my other 3rd Grade Superstar Scholars at King Elementary in Southeast D.C.

And in a country which still regards most of them as failures or threats, I still wonder, three years after leaving the classroom, whether I did enough for those brilliant young men entrusted to me (and whether, as a black woman, I ever could).

Photo credit: Kandace6 via WikiCommons

September 21, 2012

Five links that made us think this week: 

Think you have what it takes to be America’s next big YouTube celeb? YouTube’s Next EDU Gurus program is looking for the next education superstar, and they want YOU! (video)

Although our country is becoming increasingly diverse, new data from the Department of Education shows that black and Latino students are isolated in classrooms, while white students overwhelmingly study alongside other white students. Not surprisingly, this classroom segregation affects students and society as a whole.

The government is taking steps to stop the brain drain from some of the nation's top universities. For example, this article reports that more than 20% of graduate students at Duke University are from other countries. Here’s more on the status of the bill that proposes potential changes to visa requirement to keep highly skilled foreign students in the U.S.

Photo by Jean-Pierre via Wikicommons

Lauren Secatore
September 20, 2012

Lauren Secatore (Chicago Corps ’03) is director of knowledge management for Chicago Public Schools. Her opinion is reposted with permission from her Facebook page; links were added by Pass the Chalk editors.

Lots of people have noticed that I have been uncharacteristically quiet over the past few weeks in regard to the Chicago teacher strike. I have lots to say on this issue, but for the first time in my life, I sat out of a debate. And here’s why:

What should have been a substantive discussion about education became reduced to a shouting match. What should have been a nuanced conversation about policy became politics. What should have been discussions ABOUT children became adults acting LIKE children while arguing ABOUT adults. What is a comprehensive, complicated, and critical issue became simplified to choosing sides. And the amount of coverage the strike received was inversely related to the quality of that coverage. It was enough to make me consider changing my life’s work to reforming journalism.

Photo by firedoglakedotcom via WikiCommons

Oscar Perez
September 19, 2012


Oscar Perez works for the California recruitment team at Teach For America and recruits at his alma mater, the University of California, Los Angeles.

This past week, I had the distinct privilege of joining other Teach For America staff members at our first-ever Latino Summit and Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Conference. The conference was a phenomenal opportunity to reflect on issues of education, healthcare, immigrant rights, and countless other topics that affect our Latino communities every day. I walked away with plenty to think about, but moreso a deep urgency in me to advocate further for our Latino students, who often get diverted from their educational path. 

Having taught in the Washington, D.C., area for Teach For America, I was fascinated to hear community leaders, congressional representatives, and Teach For America staff talk about the state of Latino America just miles from where I had been teaching 10th grade English not long ago. When listening to policy experts talk about burgeoning Latino communities and statistics, it was impossible not to connect these facts and figures to the faces of my own Latino students, who mostly represented the growing El Salvadorean population in D.C. 

Amid all the conversations about identity and public policy as it pertains to Latino communities, two major points stood out to me:

1. A massive demographic shift is occurring in this country, and many school systems are simply not equipped to serve this changing population.

It is expected that by 2036, 1 in every 3 school-aged kids will be of Latino descent. When considering the unique challenges facing Latino students, I doubt school systems with growing Latino populations are ready to address issues of bilingual education, the citizenship status of their students, and culturally relevant curricula. Unfortunately, I think the mind-set of policy makers is that this is a problem in the future, when in reality this is happening NOW. School districts and policy makers alike should begin making the necessary mind-set and resource shifts now, because all of our students should have access to a great education—they shouldn’t have to wait until 2036.

Photo by Jean-Christian Bourcart

Genevieve Guyol
September 18, 2012

Genevieve Guyol (Chicago '11) is in her second year of teaching in Chicago.

Most mornings over the last 9 days, I stood at the corner of 47th and Ashland  dressed in red and holding a strike sign with my fellow teachers.  As cars and  trucks drove through the intersection, we waved our signs and encouraged them to sound their horns.  We chanted “Res-pect!” and implored people driving by to show their appreciation for our work.  One family of eight children stood dressed in their new red t-shirts (purchased just for the occasion) and held signs that said, “I support my teachers.”

From the media and countless family members and friends, I have heard comments that teachers are asking too much.  They mention that the city of Chicago is broke and that we receive health benefits far superior to the benefits of private sector employees.  They cite the union leadership’s request for a thirty percent raise in a budget crunch as evidence that the teachers are greedy and have unreasonable demands.

Photo credit: Firedoglakedotcom via WikiCommons

Aimée Eubanks Davis
September 17, 2012

Aimée Eubanks Davis is executive vice president of people, community, and diversity at Teach For America. You can find her on Twitter at @EubanksDavis.

Much of the nation has been watching Chicago for daily updates on the teachers’ strike in our schools. But long before the strike, it had become a part of my routine as a Chicagoan to brace myself for a different kind of daily update—the latest death toll from gang fights.  I find myself getting anxious, wondering if any children I know are on the list of the deceased. I say a quick prayer that my own children will be safe.

Photo credit: By Victorgrigas (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons


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