Archives for category: School Environment

Sean TeachingWhen I was a kid, one of my favorite books was Richard Scarry’s What Do People Do All Day? In a series of detailed drawings and simple language, Scarry illustrates a variety of jobs around Busytown.  He invites readers to be workers and reveals how different people are connected through the work they do.

I still think of that book often. Some of it may be outdated, but that essential question sticks in my mind. “What do people do all day?”

As a high school teacher, I engage with students continually, managing and monitoring learning for around 100 young people with unique interests and individual needs.  Then, in the single hour I have without students, I rush to plan lessons, create resources, evaluate students’ work, reflect on our progress and needs, design individualized accommodations and modifications, check emails, make copies, contact families, consult case managers, attend meetings, go to the bathroom, and, if I’m lucky, catch my breath. Because that hour is never enough, I work through lunch, stay late, and come in early.

Asking myself, “What do I do all day?” helps me stay efficient and motivated. What do I do all day? I work with young people and facilitate learning. What a great way to spend my time!

Now, let’s ask, “What do students do all day?” When I was a new teacher, I had a mentor who would comment on my lesson plans, “I can see what you’re doing, but what are students doing?” To find success in the classroom, I had to stop thinking only in terms of what I would do, what instructions I would give, or what questions I would ask. I had to start thinking in terms of what my students would do, what instructions they would need, and what questions they would ask. In short, I had to start asking, “What should students do all day?”

At City Neighbors High School, a typical student attends five different classes on five different subjects, takes a lunch break, and then joins her pod (an extended advisory) for an hour. Asking myself to consider what students do helps me empathize with teenagers who spend the day watching their “to-do” lists grow with limited time to organize, prioritize, or catch their breath.

Imagine working hard all day, always being told what to do, and never getting a break. At City Neighbors, we’re fortunate to have time to address as many needs as we can in our extended advisory pods. In our efforts to make every minute count, we need to remember the big picture, to consider what people do–and what they need to do–all day.

“What do people do all day?” It’s not just a question for Busytown. It’s a question for all of us. It’s a question that, while deceptively simple, is absolutely essential. At least, it always has been for me.

~Sean Martin, Teacher, City Neighbors High School~


kuanaWhat is Inclusion? By definition, it is the action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure.

What does inclusion look like at City Neighbors? Inclusion is essential to who we are. It’s woven into the very fabric of our schools. Our model has a pure inclusion form where every child, no matter of ability, is in the classroom learning with their peers as much as possible. There is no division between abilities, no “special” classroom.

Why is this important? One of the best predictors of a child’s success as a student is how they feel about themselves and their capabilities. When a child feels included on all levels they strive to excel. It allows students to learn that not all people learn in the same way or at the same rate, but everyone’s thoughts and ideas are meaningful and necessary to make the classroom the best learning environment it can be.

Inclusion Testimony: I have a child with a learning difference who attends City Neighbors Charter School.  He was diagnosed with this difference in first grade, and he has no idea that, in some schools, he would have been taken away from his peers to learn in a “special” classroom. When he sees his friends striving to make educational goals, it motivates him to reach those same goals. He understands that it may take him longer to reach the goal or he may have to achieve it in a different way, but he wants to continue to grow and push his intellect and ability. This is all possible because of intentional inclusion at City Neighbors.

~Kuana Holley-Burris, Board President, City Neighbors Charter School~

shyla picWhen Ralphie turned in his masterpiece, “What I Want for Christmas” theme essay in the 1983 film, A Christmas Story, he envisioned his teacher, Miss Shields, clutching his essay to her chest and exclaiming “

Oh! The theme I’ve been waiting for all my life. Listen to this sentence: ‘A Red Ryder BB gun with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time.’ Poetry! Sheer poetry, Ralph! An A+! He daydreamed of his classmates carrying him around on their shoulders, celebrating his enormous accomplishment.

Ralphie was seeking, as all students do, validation for his personal vision, hard work, and desires from his teacher.  Unfortunately, Raphie’s vision was met with both a C+ and a discouraging postscript from Miss Shields, “You’ll shoot your eye out.” The angelic Miss Shields suddenly became the Wicked Witch of the West in his mind, and he went home feeling dejected.

On the first day of school this year, I held back tears as each student was given a flower upon entering City Neighbors Hamilton–a tradition at all three City Neighbors schools–that was added to a vase in each classroom, becoming part of a large class bouquet. This moment was the inaugural moment of the new school year as well as the culmination of a summer’s worth of preparation and planning.

Just a week prior, teachers sat in a circle engaged in a critical discussion of the value and possible danger of the typical question, “What did you do this this summer?”  Just as Ralphie felt rejected for his honest desires and experiences in his essay, teachers worried about the student who looked forward to school marking the end of a difficult summer or the student who experienced personal traumas that couldn’t be penned in an essay. Instead, teachers brainstormed alternative back-to-school questions such as “What do you look forward to this year?” or “What did you do to take care of yourself over the summer?” Our teachers recognize that each bouquet is made up of individual flowers, some may need tending and some may need to be left alone—but all add unique beauty to the bunch.

~Shyla Rao, Principal, City Neighbors Hamilton~


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