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unnamedIn Mr. Martin’s 11th grade English class, we listened closely to the stories of others, and we explored the ways stories are shaped from an initial act of listening. We investigated interviews and interviewing, and we experimented with the raw materials of questions and answers to craft coherent, meaningful stories. As our skills developed, we conducted, transcribed, and edited our own interviews as a way of peeling back the layers of another person, learning to share stories, and developing empathy alongside some other academic skills, such as inquiry and composition.

To create our portraits, we implemented a décollage art technique by gluing and then peeling back symbolic layers to create meaningful artifactual portraits of our interview subjects. In this way, both our interviews and portraits reveal the layers to be discovered beneath the surface of a person’s outer appearance.

Deon, a City Neighbors High School junior, interviews his classmate, Amber.

Deon: It is Thursday, December 12. It is 10:54. I am here with Amber.​ Amber, today I will be interviewing you and asking a couple of questions so we can get to know each other. Cool?

Amber: Cool!

Deon: What was it like for you growing up in your hometown?

Amber: Umm…I don’t really have a hometown because of moving back and forth with my parents. I’d move around a lot, and I will say every experience was different. So, I’d go from being in Baltimore where there’s always something happening to going to Ocean City where it’s kind of calm, and then to Dallas, Texas, where it was like, “I didn’t know anybody.” I was kind of like by myself and it was always quiet compared to moving back to Baltimore where it was loud.

Deon: What is your view on this society and how do you think the adults view us teenagers?

Amber: ​Umm…so…Society is a difficult one. It depends on the eyes of the beholder, definitely. When looking at it from a teenager’s perspective, you see…you see things in a different way only because we are so young. So…like…when we see people getting locked up, or kids not going to school, it’s a sad but normal thing. But to adults there are other ways of knowing other parents needed to do this or that, or it’s where they live, or how they’re treated….What was the second question?

Deon: How do you think adults view us young teenagers in this city?

Amber: They believe that we all have the potential but don’t want to say it. They always point out the bad, but don’t want to help to make the good. So, if a kid keeps getting suspended or they keep having problems with their teacher, and it’s one specific teacher, instead of just saying, “We need to have a conference between the student and the teacher and the students’ parents,” they say, “Oh, you need to fix this kid’s behavior,” because they believe that adults are always right, when really it’s adults who don’t understand the kids. So, neither of them are right or wrong; it’s just that they see things differently.

Deon: ​What have you gained from experiencing life on this earth? And what are some things you’ve learned growing up that still impact your life today?

Amber: Growing up on this earth I definitely understand diversity, that even if I may meet somebody with the same eye color or the same skin or hair texture, we are two completely different people. Like, we may like the same things, like clothes and shoes, but inside our personalities can be completely different. Umm…. What was the second question?

Deon: What are some things that you’ve learned that still impact your life today?

Amber: ​Soooo…like when I was little…my parents…my mother, definitely, believed that I was…that we were all independent. That we all are different people. My father kind of pushed us into groups. So this helps because my mother kind of still needed me to be my own person, and I do things more independently now. And because of my father, I don’t like being put in a group. Because it’s like…it was…conflicting between, “Oh, your my child, you’re Amber,” and then also “You’re with the rest of your siblings.” I would say it made me who I am because of how I conduct myself in and out of school, and the conversations that I choose to have with people.

Deon: Okay. Last question. Knowing your mother and father, how do you think they view you being an independent person ten years from now? How do you think they’ll see you working, grinding, doing whatever you have to do to survive?

Amber: I’ve told my parents that I wasn’t going to be the type to stay close to home. I just don’t want to do that. I believe in ten years I’ll be actually getting where I want to be in my life and kind of pursuing at least the start of what I want to do. I definitely see that my parents helped me. They shaped me into being independent, based on what I do. Whether it’s being a journalist or designer or a lawyer, they all depend solely on me. I believe my parents will be proud of me no matter what I do, but I think they’ll be more proud to see that I’m using my childhood to kind of see what I can learn growing up.

Deon: ​I want to thank you for your time and answering my questions. I really learned a lot from you. I think you’re a very interesting person. I think you know what you want to do as far as, you know, growing up. You have an interesting view on the city and your mindset is, just, you know… astonishing. But yeah, thank you for your time. It is 11:04. December 12th. Thursday. And this is the end of the interview. Have a good day!


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~Amber and Deon, Students, City Neighbors High School~


ooOn Wednesday, during the morning circle, I posed a two-part question to my homeroom: “What is the difference between shame and guilt?” Sixth graders, on average, are about 12-years old. I believe thought-provoking questions are developmentally appropriate when guiding students in their transition to upper grades such as 9th-12th. When middle school is treated as a transitional state verse a destination, we view the way to support a child in theses grades differently. The questions I asked the sixth grade were to support their social development, particularly the City Neighbors’ value of taking responsibility.  

Before we dove deeper, I asked students what these words were. I thought to myself, “Well, if we are going to have a conversation about these two concepts, I want them to know what these words mean.” Many students shared, but one particular student said, “Guilt is making a mistake and feeling bad for that one thing done. Shame is making a mistake, and someone keeps bringing it up like that’s who they are.” At that point, I thought that was a perfect time to segue to my next question, “Would you rather have shame or guilt?”

Before students were given a chance to respond, I asked them to take fifteen seconds to think about their choice. I passed the talking piece to the first student, and they said, “Well, I rather have shame because I would feel sick in my stomach all day from guilt.” With my best poker face, I was crushed on the inside and internally screamed “NO! They still do not know what shame means.” Maybe I should have defined it myself, so they were clear. Keeping the nature of the circle, I neither responded nor flexed an eyebrow to question the correctness in their response. The talking piece passed to the next person. “I’d rather have guilt because I could lie once and feel bad. With shame, if I lie once, people would always think I am a liar, and I am not.” Then the next student said, “Yeah, I had a bad day. I am not bad.” There was a pause before the next student shared. “Well, I’d rather have shame because regardless if I did the thing or not, people will say I did something. No one believes you. It is more disappointing when you do not believe yourself.  That’s sad, that’s guilt.” My heart shattered.

Taking responsibility is a City Neighbors’ value we rate students on every day. As educators in the building, we must practice those values. It is equally essential for guardians to exemplify those values. As adults, we should take responsibility for our word choice and be reflective of our biases. In doing so, we can support the holistic growth and development of our students.

~Olayemi Olugbuyi, Teacher, City Neighbors Charter School



gwendolynThis being a leap year started me thinking and pondering about leaping forward and what that really means:  leaping (jumping or springing a long way, a forceful jump and/or quick movement). Annually, for nine years, City Neighbors Foundation has hosted the Progressive Education Summit!  It starts with dreaming about what this day could be, look like, feel like, what issues are bubbling to the top around learning, education, teachers, the community, the nation, the needs of children and educators.  This leads us to researching experts and the impactful work of those making a difference that could be shared at the Summit. Then we start to create flows of the day, keeping in mind at the end of the day what we want people to leave experiencing.  This requires giving these ideas space to be changed, reconstructed, deleted, and reformatted. Then we begin to dig into the details: offering opportunities for keynotes, workshop presenters, storytellers, student speakers, master class facilitators, resource fairs, student work, authors, volunteers, and more.  It’s a leap!

Presently, we are fighting for the full funding and implementation of the legislative Kirwan Bill with favorable amendments for students.  This was a dream, then it was created, and now we are in that space between creating and implementation. This is a moment where there could be a huge leap in solidifying the future of children in Maryland.  If Kirwan is approved and fully funded, it could provide early childhood education for all children, high quality and diverse teachers and leaders in education, college and career readiness pathways, more resources to ensure success for all students. And this could have real governance and accountability.  This could make students and families whole and provide a much needed forced leap forward to a successful future with a solid foundation. This is a continuous fight for what our children need and it will not happen naturally. It’s a leap!

Upon reflecting on what it takes before the implementation and taking the big leap of a memorable, impactful day or policy change, there are many small details and moments that take place. A leap year happens every four years, but there are a lot of impactful and meaningful things that happen during the subsequent three years.  This parallels with these events, actions, and milestones that seem so significant. But what happens during the time and years when there are no milestones is just as important, even though it is not as celebrated with intentionality. There is much work that takes place during the dreaming, creating, and implementation phases. There are real sacrifices made.  When most things align there is a leap forward that we will never forget. It’s a leap year!

~Gwendolyn Unoko, Parent and Director of Community Programs at City Neighbors Foundation and City Neighbors High School


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