Archives for category: Schools and Power

kim spears picThe beginning of the school year has always been an exciting time for me.  My family likes to tell the story of my older sister’s first day of kindergarten.  My parents made sure to get me a backpack and lunchbox so that I didn’t feel left out. Teaching allows me to enjoy that “back-to-school” feeling over and over again.

When most people think about starting school, they imagine teachers giving hours of lectures about rules and regulations. To be honest, we spend a fair amount of time setting high expectations for the year, but that’s certainly not all.

At City Neighbors, we embrace the fact that much of the students are reuniting for the first time in months. September is a very social time during which students have the opportunity to share about their summers, play team building games, create art together, focus on social and emotional learning, and transition back into school routines. There is special time set aside for making new connections and strengthening old ones. Some teachers and students are getting to know one another for the first time and other teachers and students are getting to know one another in new and deeper ways.

Something that I hear from a lot of parents is, “Whenever I ask my child about their day, they say ‘It was good’ or ‘It was fine.’” My colleagues and I usually laugh and feel the need to fill everyone in on all of the acting, singing, painting, dancing, reading, and writing that happens all over the building. There are many great articles online about questions that families can ask their children after school. Here is a list of ten conversation starters from Scholastic.com:

  1. Tell me about the best part of your day.
  2. What was the hardest thing you had to do today?
  3. Did any of your classmates do anything funny?
  4. Tell me about what you read in class.
  5. Who did you play with today? What did you play?
  6. Do you think math [or any subject] is too easy or too hard?
  7. What’s the biggest difference between this year and last year?
  8. What rules are different at school than our rules at home? Do you think they’re fair?
  9. Who do you sit with at lunch?
  10. Can you show me something you learned [or did] today at school?

Going back to school can bring up many different emotions for different people, but teachers and staff work together to help students start strong. The beauty of a new year is a chance to start fresh and set new goals. It’s been a long time since I was that toddler standing in the front yard, clutching my school supplies.  But I’ve managed to hold onto that same feeling of joy and anticipation. It is my deep hope that the City Neighbors community will continue to be a place that sparks that same joy in the students who walk through our doors.

~Kim Spears, 4th and 5th Grade Literacy and Social Studies Teacher, City Neighbors Charter School~

When we discuss public schools, whose voices are at the table?    When curriculum is being developed, who has real input?   When decisions at the school level are being made, who is involved in making those decisions?   When policy impacting schools is being developed, who is speaking at the policy- making table?

Anytime I have seen a successful, thriving school community–no matter how large or small–there has been a deep-rooted organizational and cultural belief that as many voices as possible should be involved in the creation of that community.   It is through those many voices that something collectively strong emerges – an identity, a sense of self-efficacy, buy-in, mutual support, community, power.

As a grassroots school here in Baltimore, we posit that real decisions should be made closest to the ground and with many voices at the table.  Whether through our parent-school cooperative, our commitment to teacher autonomy and voice, our myriad avenues for student voice and advocacy, our Boards–which are comprised of parents, students, teachers, and principals–our commitment to emergent learning, or simply the way we strive to dialog, assume the best intentions, or be in partnership, we believe in the ideals of democracy in education.

Democracy isn’t always perfect or efficient.   Sometimes it can be downright messy.   But whether it’s deciding new initiatives, creating community events, hiring staff, constructing and approving our budget, revising our bylaws, changing policy, or just having conversations about things that matter to us, it is our commitment that those of us who are closest to our students, to our mission, and to each other are the co-creators of this educational experience for children today, tomorrow, and for decades to come.

Beginning this year, we want this platform to be one that showcases many voices – teachers, students, parents, Board members, community partners, school leaders, and more.   These are the voices of our community, our creation, and the heart of public education here at City Neighbors.

Welcome to the new City Neighbors Foundation Blog.

Mike Chalupa, Director

Registration is now open for the 7th Annual Progressive Education Summit on Saturday, January 27th.  The Summit is our annual conference with over 40 workshops, 3 master classes, a delicious lunch, and this year a resource fair and ignite talks.

Why come to the Summit? There are so many reasons! Just to get us started, here are the top three reasons to come to the Summit this year:

#1
Because you are an educator who wants to keep learning. You see children as powerful, capable, and worthy of the deepest respect, and you are determined to continually hone your skills, build your network and create for yourself an environment of learning, growth and well being.

#2.
Because you love to hear from inspirational people. Keynote Ron Ritchhart is an important thought leader and you enjoy hearing from people in the field. You will come away with new ideas, new practices, new connections.  You want to be around folks who know how to put theory into practice and believe things like this:

“A culture of thinking produces the feelings, energy, and even joy that can propel learning forward and motivate us to do what at times can be hard and challenging mental work.”

― Ron Ritchhart, Creating Cultures of Thinking: The 8 Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools

#3.
You know that in the midst of the winter days it will be wonderful to gather at the Summit.  You will be at City Neighbors with hundreds of educators, non profits, parents, students, and more…and feel the warmth of being with so many people who care passionately about teaching and learning. We need each other.

Do you have more reasons you would like to add?  Please add your comments below.

Register Here!

More about the Summit on the City Neighbors Foundation Website.

See you there!

– The City Neighbors Summit Team

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