Archives for category: Schools and Power

hyleckThis summer I traveled with my mother and a group from her church on a service trip to Haiti. We had been told we were going to work on a reservoir project at St. Gabriel’s Secondary School in Fontaine, a small community in the rural northern region. The availability of clean water is a huge need for the community, so we were eager to contribute to their effort.

When we arrived, our group was informed the project wasn’t ready for volunteer labor. Instead, we were going to teach. Teach?! We weren’t teachers! We weren’t prepared! We didn’t have materials or books or curricula – none of the things we expect our children to have in school. Regardless, we dove in and I spent the next five days teaching a dozen 9th graders English.

My students, though they didn’t have much, were dedicated to their learning, inspired me to be the best teacher I could be to them, and demonstrated love for their school and one another. I made do in my simple classroom, one of just six concrete rooms with a couple of chalkboards and rude desks. Chalk and creativity were our only tools. Yet learning happened! And I witnessed the important space the school was for the community, with much of the magic happening in the shade of a large tree in the courtyard, a tree that reminded me of the tree that graces the City Neighbors logo.

Visiting a third-world country put our privilege and relative wealth into perspective. I couldn’t help but compare that school community with our school. My top observations include:

  • We have beautiful classrooms, though we have real needs for improving our facilities.
  • We have air conditioning and heating, though many City Schools do not and have to close during inclement weather.
  • We have clean drinking water, though it must be trucked in and dispensed from water coolers because the tap water is unsafe, like it is in Haiti.
  • We have free breakfast and lunch for all students, because of the poverty rate in our city and it is hard for children to learn on empty stomachs.

Most of all, we have a government that invests in education and a process for parent and community involvement in advocating for additional funding for schools. We have legislators who believe in the importance of this and took the first step by passing a bill, the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, to adopt and start to fund the recommendations of the Maryland Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education (aka the Kirwan Commission).

Now Maryland legislators need to pass a new school funding formula, phasing in billions of dollars of new funding over the next decade to fully support the Blueprint. Even in one of the wealthiest states in the US, we need to get involved to make sure that every school in the Maryland is adequately and equitably funded.

Learn more and get involved at www.marylandblueprint.org.

Elisabeth Hyleck, Parent & Board Member, City Neighbors Hamilton

erikaDuring my pregnancy I had all the dreams and wonderings of what my child would be like, as all parents do. I had heard the trials and tribulations of other parents ahead of me on their journey of raising children. Then we received the news that our first child, Amara, would be born with health challenges and an extra 21st chromosome causing Down Syndrome.  Our immediate focus was on her health and survival. We had frequent doctor appointments, hospital stays, and therapists helping us through the early years. It was easy to get lost and loaded down with the day-to-day, and it felt impossible to dream and wonder about the future.  

At age 3, when Amara entered the school system and a few of our health challenges had stabilized, we were able to start looking at and wondering about what we wanted our daughter’s future to look like. Around that time we created a vision statement to help guide our path through Amara’s education, to act as our “lighthouse.” It keeps us on course through turbulent waters, and reminds us to look ahead even when it feels like we are surviving a current storm. At that time we decided an inclusive education was important to our family. We wanted Amara to be part of a community, and to experience friendships and relationships with people of all abilities and interests. 

We visited many schools, both public and private, looking for an environment that would align with our vision for Amara’s education. When City Neighbors Hamilton opened right down the street from us, we felt we had found our right fit.  Amara began kindergarten at CNH, and as with all children and all schools, there were a few growing pains. We had to work as a team to make sure Amara was getting what she needed while also interacting and participating as part of the classroom community. It was nice not having to answer the question “Why is she here?” like I had so many times before at other schools. It allowed us to get right to the work that needed to be done and focus on problem-solving ways to meet Amara where she was at that time–all while including her in classroom lessons and activities. 

There have been many moments at CNH where I have felt the success of Amara’s inclusive education. There are school projects, play dates with friends, and the joy of hearing Amara read out loud for the first time. One time in particular stands out to me, a time where I just felt something click. Amara loves to dance, and she frequently will dance around at home. We had watched in prior years during the school’s annual Winter Arts showcase while Amara’s classmates danced on stage and Amara stood in the center like a deer in headlights, afraid to move and struggling to keep up–and every year hoping she would come out of her shell and perform with her peers. I vividly remember hearing Beyonce’s “Freedom” playing and seeing Amara come out on stage. She struggled, but she kept up with the steps and danced through the whole song with her class. I had to stifle my ugly cry from coming out. I was so proud of her hard work to overcome her fear and difficulty with learning the dance steps.  I shared an embrace with the principal and many other parents who had watched Amara’s early struggles and who also shared in the joy of her success that day. 

Erika Coughlin, Parent & Board President, City Neighbors Hamilton

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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