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levar michaelAn important aspect of educational enrichment is the capacity of students to positively engage with one another and cultivate a strong sense of communal attachment and social awareness. These attributes are the building blocks to developing a responsible and proactive citizenry. Like many City Neighbors Hamilton students, our little one was overly excited to begin this new school year as a first-grader. While to her the summer was long and absent of the friendly educators and staff she has become accustom to, that solitary disposition was alleviated by a constant engagement with her community, CNH friends, and classmates throughout the summer. Whether by participating in play-dates, running into each other at local events, or having fun at the Swan Lake pool, many of our CNH children stayed actively involved in local activities which helped to strengthen their attachment to our community and one another.

While reflecting on the importance of this type of social and community bonding, it quickly dawned on me just how important it is for our children to participate in this type of civic engagement in order to grow a firm understanding of others and the many diverse aspects of society. When we develop an appreciation for the community and people around us, we then become more inclined to support and advocate on behalf of those communities and people. But while it is important to grow interpersonal communal attachments, it is also important to supplement that with a healthy dose of civic and historical perspective. After all, how will our children become the change-makers we want them to be if they have no historical perspective or understanding of societal power structures?

It was this curiosity which led me to inquire about the civic and social education of our children when conversing with Ms. LaShawn during Meet the Teacher day. I was excited to hear that history and civics was a priority and there was a plan to have elements incorporated into the first-grade curriculum. Moreover, Ms. LaShawn also plans to include walks to the local library and reading sessions with senior citizens at Oak Crest Retirement Community. I believe this is a great first step toward exposing our children to the society around them and the components of what forms a strong community. If there was ever an example of the consequences inflicted upon a society which lacks civic and historical perspective, it would be the times we are currently living in now. Recently, Max Boot of the Washington Post wrote an article entitled, America’s ignorance of history is a national scandal . He does an amazing job highlighting the societal pitfalls associated with not knowing or understanding history. As the famous quote states, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” This is why it fills my heart with joy to know that our CNH students, thanks to awesome teachers, are on the path to becoming responsible, knowledgeable, and altruistic young citizens.

LeVar Michael, Parent, City Neighbors Hamilton

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“Why do you teach?” Back to school. Day one.  Professional Development. A familiar scene. As we gathered in a circle of introduction we were asked to answer this question. There was great variety in the answers:

 

“It’s a family tradition.”

“I’m giving back.”

“I’m a science geek.”

“I love kids.”

“For the money.” (just kidding)

All great answers that helped me get to know my coworkers a little better. But all short and sweet. My answer was no different.

Alas, time to get into the classroom to unpack, move furniture, set up and begin to check off the many items on my list required to prepare. Suddenly, I was hit by a terrible feeling of anxiety. I was completely overwhelmed! Mandates, curriculum, updates, data collection, assessments, funding, etc. etc.!  The thousands of things that teachers have to do spewed from the back of my mind to the forefront–system overload! I literally had to sit and wipe tears from my eyes. DAY ONE! I am not going to make it through the school year.

“Why do you teach?” The question came back to me. As I contemplated, I started to picture the faces in those seats I had just arranged. I saw their smiles, grimaces, thoughtful expressions, and even their tears. I recalled their dreams, accomplishments, struggles, and talents. I remembered my why. Not the short and simple version I had just given my colleagues. The real why:

They deserve it!

Every kid deserves a chance to improve their personal circumstance, to be inspired to strive for better, and have the tools to succeed. They deserve to create their own definition of success and follow their passions in accomplishing this goal. Students deserve to be taught skills to communicate, problem solve, collaborate, and have a voice in whatever career fields they choose. Children deserve the opportunity to preserve humanity. Our youth deserve assistance in becoming compassionate, active citizens in their own communities, states, country, and globally. They deserve it simply because they are kids!

“Why do you teach?” Ask yourself this question. Take your time to answer, really answer. Write it down. Laminate it! Post it where you can see it daily. On those tough days, when you are wondering if you will make it through another school year, reflect upon it. Bring yourself back to your reasoning. Remember your purpose.

What is your why? 

Michelle Tavares, Special Educator, City Neighbors High School

stephanie and flowersOn the first day of school, my phone alarm gently escalates in volume, the soothing tune nudging me awake at 4:15 AM.  My dog watches me, puzzled, as I prepare for the day, bumbling and bleary eyed.  I stagger to the end of my driveway, my trusty phone now functioning as a flashlight while I wait in the dark.  Very dark.  I see headlights creeping closer and I flick the flashlight setting to strobe, signaling the approaching car that it has reached its destination.

Mike and I drive the 20 minutes or so to the wholesale florist, he mostly grumbling about being coffee-less at such an ungodly hour and me strung out on Dramamine to battle a bout of vertigo.  But once we enter what is essentially an over-sized refrigerator, we sober up pretty quickly.  Mostly motivated by the frigid air, we fall into a rhythm of nimbly selecting bound bunches of flowers, inspecting them briefly while crudely calculating how many stems we have and how many more we need, pausing to puff hot air into our chilled hands, repeating the process until two, two-tiered rolling carts are mounded with larkspurs, sunflowers, asters, and a few that are identified only by their Latin names.

The gentlemen running the place efficiently check us out and, as they begin nestling the flowers in long boxes, Mike says, “I hope these fit in my car.”  To which one of the gentlemen replies, “As long as it isn’t a Prius.”

morning gloriesBy the time we cram Mike’s Prius full of the boxed flowers, the sun is up as is the rest of the city; pink morning glories are blooming along the rusty chain link fence surrounding the parking lot.  We head out, Mike and I barely able to see each other over a flower box strategically slotted between our seats.  We’re feeling better, relieved, reserving our enthusiasm for the actual event we have been preparing for.

We stop at each school and deliver the flower boxes, all to prepare for the first day of school ritual at each City Neighbors school:  Before entering the building, every student at every school selects a single flower, placing it in a vase in their classrooms, one by one creating a bouquet together. The symbolism clear. The ritual meaningful for everyone involved. However, this year, after having witnessed nine years of these first day rituals–although they have been happening since City Neighbors Charter School opened in 2005–I am fatigued and zombie-fied by the Dramamine.  I decide sit this one out, holed up in the office.

Later that morning, Mike sends me photos to share on our social media.  And the first picture I open makes me grin from ear to ear, which is no small feat for anyone who knows me.  The expression on this child’s face after being handed a sunflower (zoom in, if you must) made that early morning trek into a freezer worth the effort.  And, after 13 hours of sleep that night, the memory was sweeter when I woke up the next morning.

Happy 2019-2020!

Stephanie King, Business Manager, City Neighbors Foundation

first day pic

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