Archives for category: Schools and Power

fullsizeoutput_1d46I love IEP meetings! If you’ve been involved in the IEP process, as a parent or educator, you probably think that sounds preposterous. In fact, there is a whole cottage industry on Etsy of t-shirts and coffee mugs poking fun at the often contentious, tedious, and exhausting process of developing programs of support and specialized instruction for students with disabilities.

 

While they are somewhat in good fun, the tension, resentment, and frustration that underlie the slogans are evident to anyone in the know:

Sorry for what I said during IEP season

IEP: I Expect Progress

Keep Calm and Avoid Due Process

Goal: In 2 out of 3 trials I will be nice at the IEP

I’m “That Mom” #SorryNotSorry

(Full disclosure: I have pondered the purchase of two such products: (1) the gift sets of coffee cup reading IEP Prep and wine glass reading IEP Recovery and (2) a t-shirt reading Radical Inclusionista.)

But I have come to see the IEP table as a powerful place where a dedicated team of experts come together to think deeply about how to support one student. Experts in speech and language development, fine and gross motor development, teaching reading and math, building positive peer relationships, and experts about one very important child – her parents or guardians. No one is in it for the money – or the snacks. (I always plan on baking something wonderful, but never manage to fit it in to my IEP prep schedule.)

We bring ourselves as we are: overworked, underpaid (or not paid at all), sometimes emotional or overwhelmed or frustrated. We come together to share ideas and build the next part of the path. When you get beyond the jargon and MANY acronyms (PLOP = “present levels of performance,” LRE = “least restrictive environment,” ESY = “extended school year”), the team bats around ideas for accommodations and supplementary services, decides on service hours and where they should be provided and by whom. We talk about strategies – what’s been working and what hasn’t. We share anecdotes about the student in the classroom, at home, in the community to better understand how we might leverage strengths in the service of learning or track down the roots of challenges that stand in the way of progress.

When we do IEP meetings right (and in my experience, City Neighbors stands out for its commitment to doing them right), we build a powerful connected set of supports and services that can help students thrive in our school communities.

What does it take for the IEP table to a place of collaboration rather than contention? Here are few tips I’ve learned from and with my daughter’s team at City Neighbors:

  1. Assume the best intentions of every team member.
  2. Have confidence in your own expertise, including parents/caregivers! (You know your child best! Your most important role is helping individual team members to better understand your whole child – bring photos of your child from outside school doing the things they love, write an “all about me” document talking about your child’s strengths and challenges, what works best at home, what your child loves to do, what your child and your family envisions for the future.)
  3. Come prepared. Read the reports. Make some notes. Ask questions.
  4. Educators/therapists: Complete your reports on time so that parents have time to review them. (5 days before the meeting, please.)
  5. Bring a friend– or the parent of one of your child’s classmates. (I volunteer!)
  6. Start from the strengths. Keep the focus on how to leverage what a child does well to support learning, rather than focusing on deficits.
  7. Think about how the language we use around the table shapes the relationships, the attitudes, and perspectives of parents, educators, and most importantly the student. By avoiding words like “non-compliant,” “lazy,” “stubborn,” we can focus on what the we can all do to better support a student who isn’t getting what she needs to be successful.

Take a breath and enjoy your next IEP meeting! I’ll bring the snacks.

~Liz Zogby,  Parent and Board Member, City Neighbors Charter School

 

brittany brown blog“Show me what democracy looks like! THIS is what democracy looks like!” is a popular activists’ chant used during protests to make their voices heard.

However, democracy also looks like the picture above, where students have read books, news, and research articles to find out about issues plaguing their communities and came to City Hall to share their recommendations to government officials to resolve these issues and getting in the practice of being active citizens in their world. Every child deserves to be able to use their voice to share their truth.

Middle schoolers are at a prime age to tackle social justice issues. At this point in their lives they are becoming more outspoken and defiant. As educators we need to use this energy to our advantage and create literal platforms for them to be BRAVE.

During the first trimester, my students had the opportunity to study three different social justice issues: police brutality, gun violence in schools, and food deserts in Baltimore. My hope was that, by providing choices, my students would be able to access the curriculum no matter their interest.

A first step in developing a project-based unit is to create an essential question that is interesting to the students. Our question became “Do we have a right to . . . ?” The ellipsis became the heart of our conversations and produced many more questions to answer. Using the The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project Social Justice Book Groups Curriculum as an aid, students explored many fictional and real worlds through books and dialogue during student-led book discussions.

Students read books like The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, Ghost Boy by Jewell Parker Rhodes, Give a Boy a Gun by Todd Strasser, #Never Again by the Hoggs, Chew on This by Eric Schlosser, and Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan to become subject matter experts.

Students participated in jigsaw groups learning the history behind their social justice movements. They read about solutions other young people had enacted to make changes in their communities. In many ways, students learned from each other by relying on one another to meet their page goal, finish their research for a presentation to a classmate, etc. Students became increasingly more responsible to the whole group since they were the experts as opposed to the teacher. Students even wrote literary essays about their books and argumentative essays about the climate of the issues.

Tbbbloghe unit culminated with a “Speak Out” at City Hall. While the event did not happen as it was originally planned (that’s a story for another day) it was an amazing experience. I worked with Councilman Brandon Scott’s office to create a platform. However, once we got there it was the students’ responsibility to share their truths. Councilman Scott even offered to share the students’ moving speeches with other elected officials in Baltimore and across the state.

My students left with official resolutions from Councilman Scott, had a chance to take a picture with the Mayor, and much more! Project-based learning helps give PURPOSE back to the student, allowing them to take the reins and steer their own learning. The best learning happens when students don’t even realize it is happening. Project-based learning creates authentic opportunities for students to engage with their own realities. We must aim to make education practical and life changing! “THIS is what democracy looks like!”

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~Brittany Brown, Middle School Humanities, City Neighbors Charter School~

 

 

At this time of year, hallways are filled with a plethora of sounds: voices chattering, heels and soles tapping or dancing against the linoleum floor, and the unique clamoring of lockers opening and shutting to signify the start of each new day as students make their way to art or music or lunch or a Friday afternoon All-School. And while many in our community who celebrate the holidays are busy hanging ornaments or decorating their front yards, teachers are busy hanging pictures of students learning in action and decorating walls and stairwells with the latest artifacts from a recent project.

Despite the thriving, bustling, and ever-changing scenery throughout the school, one activity remains the same: reading. In our school community, although reading is taking place anywhere at any given time throughout the day, it looks different for each student. Reading is assigned and accepted in various ways. You may walk in and notice students reading in small groups, in pairs, or independently. They may be lying across a couch as they read, or under a table, in a chair, or on a window sill. You may find students reading inside in the classroom, in the hallway, in every available nook and sometimes, even on the playground. Reading happens all times of the day: in the morning, in the afternoon, and believe it or not, reading even takes place in the evenings. It is acceptable, expected, and even encouraged that students access reading in various ways: reading aloud, reading along, popcorn reading, or paired with an audiobook. Among the options, that to many, seem like a luxury, are just a part of our culture. Something that remains constant at City Neighbors is the commitment to fostering the love of literacy and learning through literacy.

In fostering this love of learning through literacy, teachers take the time to identify quality books that highlight the cultures of our students and also expose them to the cultures of others. Overall, reading has a way of bringing families and friends together in ways that celebrations often do. And let’s face it, anytime a great book is discovered, whether it is written by a classic or modern author, it’s worth celebrating! With quality, interesting books and just a snippet of time, a culture of reading can be cultivated and sustained. We encourage you to carry over the love of literacy at home over the break and hope that it will be sustained for weeks, months, and years to come.

Our teachers and students have suggested a few books with quality writing and even better messages for you to enjoy at home, in the car, or at the laundromat, anytime, anywhere, and anyhow.

Kindergarten – Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes

1st Grade – Knuffle Bunny and Elephant and Piggie Series

2nd Grade – Poppleton and Frog and Toad

3rd Grade – Wild Robot

4th Grade – Zoe in Wonderland

5th Grade – Smile and The Amulet

6th Grade – The First Rule of Punk

7th Grade – Brown Girl Dreaming

8th Grade – The Hate U Give and Long Way Down

 In addition to great books, there are exceptional websites that can guide you in fostering a culture of literacy in your home and give tips to support reading:

Brightly – Helping Parents Grow Lifelong Readers

Understood – A Site to Guide Parents with Reading Support

Have a wonderful break, filled with love, memories, and lots of reading–audiobooks included!

~Kayisha Edwards, Special Educator, City Neighbors Charter School~

 

 

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