Monday, November 21, 2011

A little more sleep, a lot more education

By Caroline Seabolt

For the past month, I have been working with a kindergartener named Lynell who, at first, could not recognize his own name.  Lynell was incredibly sweet but was distracted and behind from too many absences at school.  He also does not sleep at night.  Constantly, the teachers in the classroom tell Lynell to “wake up” and to go to bed at a "good" hour.  But honestly, how much control does a kindergartener have over when they go to bed?  The other day when I was having trouble getting Lynell to focus, he responded that he was sleepy. I asked him what time he went to bed and he muttered “one in the morning.”  Unfortunately, I can’t tell whether Lynell is purposely not going to bed or his mother is keeping him up, but either way it is affecting his performance in school.  I’ve talked to some other tutors about this issue I’ve been having and they tell me that they encounter the same problem.  As DC Reads tutors, we educate parents on how to include literacy in their children’s lives outside of the classroom.  But what about getting enough sleep?  Do parents know how much sleep their child is supposed to be getting a night?  These types of facts are crucial to make sure children get the most out of their classroom experience.  I would suggest at our next literacy event, we stress the importance of sleep to parents so children, like Lynell, can finally come to school well rested and ready to learn.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Reflection on TFA Founder Wendy Kopp’s Visit to Georgetown

By Allyson Lynch

I managed to snatch one of the last available seats in Copley Formal Lounge, which was filled with people waiting to hear from Wendy Kopp, Founder and CEO of Teach For America.  As someone interested in post-graduation work in education, I was beyond excited to be present at this event.  One topic brought up over the course of the evening related to the fact that many TFA teachers do not end up pursuing teaching as their permanent career.  This comment immediately caught my attention, because, were I to participate in a program like Teach For America, I would most likely end up in this group.  I have wanted to become a doctor since I was 12, so imagine my surprise when I came to Georgetown, joined DC Reads somewhat casually, and ended up just as engrossed and fascinated by educational issues as much as I was by the prospect of going to medical school...

Friday, November 4, 2011

Fall Fest!

By Caroline Seabolt

I love the idea of Fall Fest as a way for DC Reads tutors to strengthen our relationships with the children we help.  As a morning tutor, I do not have an individual tutee but have 20 incredibly cute kindergarteners at Kenilworth Elementary to call my own, so for me Fall Fest was more of a helping and observing experience.  The atmosphere was fun and celebratory of the fall and Halloween season. Kids dressed in full costume looks so genuinely happy with their tutors as they went to games, collected candy, and stopped at my booth.  I ran the table where kids would stick their hands in jars to determine which scary body part they were feeling, it was so fun to see their reactions!  

Facts That Will Shock You

By Bisi Orisamolu 

Yesterday DC Reads hosted a seminar with guest speaker Mr. Latham who had taught second grade for the past three years at Houston Elementary School. One thing in particular that Mr. Latham said was especially surprising to me. Someone asked the question of how and when it is determined whether a student should move on to the next grade level or repeat a grade. Mr. Latham revealed that in the DC Public School system, a student can only be retained in 3rd and 5th grade and only once. If the student has an Individualized Education Plan which is a program designed for special education students, then they cannot be retained at all. If a teacher would like to hold a student back in any other grade, there needs to be a special write up consisting of a lot of paper work that must be submitted and the consent of parents needs to be given. When asked how many kids he thinks are moved on to the next grade when they should be retained, Mr. Lantham answered all of them that are not at proficient. At Houston Elementary this would be about 60%. In a system where most of the kids are failing, it seems to only encourage the problem by making it so hard to fail.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Protect the Vulnerable and Create Opportunity

By Helen Conway

Last Tuesday, I had the pleasure of attending a talk with Dick Durbin, a Senior US Senator and Assistant Majority Leader. Durbin is a major proponent of the DREAM Act. The DREAM Act would allow undocumented immigrant students who came into the country as minors to earn legal status by attending college or enlisting in the military.

Durbin’s talk focused more on the contested issue of immigration and not on education. However, Durbin said one thing in support of the DREAM Act that stood out to me: “Protect the vulnerable and create opportunity.”

Since arriving at Georgetown, I’ve thought a lot about opportunity. I graduated from a failing public high school. An impoverished community run by a highly politicized and inefficient school board made for lack of resources, lack of community involvement and a lack of vision. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Book a Day Keeps the Doctor Away!

By Justine Achille

Not exactly the phrase we’re used to hearing— but reading one book per day might be just what the doctor prescribed for our DC Reads tutees. Living in a society where the majority of adults are functionally illiterate* leads to low expectations for the future generations and unfortunately, it has also been proven to lead to decreased life expectancy. *(Do not possess the reading/comprehension skills necessary to fill out simple forms such as a job application.)

It may seem strange that the ability to read and understand what you are reading can be tied to your health—but it turns out that there is a direct correlation between literacy and wellbeing. Up to a certain degree, the more literate you are, the healthier you will likely be. But why is this so?

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Waiting for Superman and Our Responsibility

By Matt Buccelli

This past Monday, I was riding a bus back to DC from New York and happened to be sitting across the aisle from a GW student who had been in New York for an interview and became my friend for the trip.  After we exchanged the usual pleasantries (school, major, class year, etc.), and I mentioned that I worked with DC Reads, my new travel companion (David was the kid's name) asked me about what it was like to work in the DC school system.  Immediately this set off a very interesting conversation that I think says a lot both about the state of education reform in this country and about our broader responsibility as people who work in schools.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Christie on Earned Tenure

To be frank, although I am not the biggest fan of Chris Christie or his policies, I actually support his proposed reformation of teacher tenure. Teacher tenure remains a contested issue in education policy throughout the United States, mostly because it makes it extremely difficult to dismiss terribly ineffective teachers. I think every public school student experienced being stuck in a class taught by an awful teacher who had been teaching for thirty years—a teacher who the school would never be able to fire, no matter how unsuccessful her teaching methods were. 

The Right to Write

By Bisi Orisamolu

Something that was said at the educational panel last night really resonated with me. For those who did not attend Thursday night’s panel discussion, it consisted of five teachers and administrators who had taken an alternative route to teaching. One of the teachers who works in tenth and eleventh grade classrooms said something that I thought was truly inspiring. To paraphrase, he said that educational reform is the new civil rights movement. Stop and think about that for a second. If you let it sink in, then you feel the full impact of this statement.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A "Duhh" Moment

By Tierra Evans  

Thursday, March 31st, Georgetown University and Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools for Public Policy hosted an education forum focused on the importance of character development within the realm of student achievement. The conversation was carried by a distinguished group of panelists including: Tim King, who is founder, President and CEO of Urban Prep Academies, James H. Shelton III, Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement under the Department of Education, Abigail Smith, Chief of Transformation Management Office of DCPS, Irasema Salcido, CEO and founder of the Chavez Schools and driving force behind the DCPNI, and Paul Tough, New York Times Magazine former editor and author of Whatever it Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

DC gets hosed, Gray gets arrested

By Matt Buccelli

I'm taking a class on Washington, DC history this semester, and a couple weeks ago we had a local talk radio host (Mark Plotkin for WTOP FM) come and talk to us about local DC politics and other related issues.  Mr. Plotkin has lived in this city since he was a student at GW in the 1960s, so he had plenty of perspective to offer.  When the conversation turned to DC voting rights, and the injustice of living in a city that is federally taxed but not federally represented, the class talked about how people here and around the country seem to be complacent toward, if not completely ignorant of, the voting rights issue.  Mr. Plotkin gave his opinion that it would take something dramatic, something eye-opening, a we're-not-going-to-take-this-anymore type of moment, to raise public awareness and actually change the predicament here in DC.

Although the ramifications of DC Mayor Vince Gray's arrest on Monday remain to be seen, it at least may have provided the optic that people like Mr. Plotkin have been waiting for. 

Reflections on Waiting for Superman

by Mallory Widell

Tonight I watched the screening of Waiting for Superman as a part of Education Week. Some of the statistics and facts presented in the film are astounding. The movie lists countless problems in the American education system but two of the biggest problems that stood out to me were those of teacher tenure and teacher unions. Of course there are both positive and negative sides to these concepts, and they were mainly positive when teachers' unions  were first founded. For instance, unions can help protect teachers from being fired for arbitrary reasons and from being mistreated. On the other hand, many uncaring teachers are kept around because of these practices. The film stated that only 1 in 2500 teachers lose their credentials, while the number of other professionals who lose their credentials is much higher. I think Michelle Rhee's idea to give teachers potentially higher salaries on a merit-basis is a good one but teachers' unions were unwilling to accept this proposal. Rhee's response to this was, "it all becomes about the adults," which is so true. The movie demonstrates how effective charter schools are for the most part (top charter schools send 90 percent of their students to 4-year colleges), but show us that there are not enough spaces for all the children who need them. The movie explains that the education system is broken and fixing it is not going to be easy.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Morning Miracle

By Kate Newman
When my alarm goes off at 8:00 A.M. every Tuesday and Thursday morning, my immediate desire is to groggily grab my phone and press SNOOZE for at least another five minutes of much-needed sleep. However, knowing that this battle with technology would continue for at least another hour, I don’t try. More importantly, knowing that some very special second-graders are waiting for me at Houston Elementary School, I actually get out of bed.
It doesn’t matter how tired I am as I walk down to the McDonough parking lot, or if my eyelids start drooping in the van ride from Georgetown to Houston. Once I sit down with Da’Mion or William, I somehow find a sudden burst of energy. They make me want to wake up in the morning and be there for them.
Although I’ve been tutoring with DC Reads since my first semester at Georgetown, this is my first semester as a morning tutor—and I have to admit that I’ve never left in the morning feeling frustrated or unaccomplished, as I have in the afternoons. I’m sure this is partly due to the fact that students are more concentrated during in-school time than during after-school care. However, I believe the main reason is that I’m more concentrated.
As a morning tutor, I start my day with D.C. Reads. I don’t let myself dwell on the events of yesterday, or the things I have to do once we get back to the Hilltop—I allow myself to fully embrace the new day as a fresh start. I wake up with a purpose concerning something bigger than myself. When our van arrives back on campus, I already feel as though I’ve done something with my day. I’ve accomplished something for my tutees, and learned something in return—whether it’s the fact that I apparently look like a “very, very small 20-year-old,” or that a second-grader can come across the word “compassion” and relate it to the earthquake in Japan all on his own.
My experience as a morning tutor has revealed the benefits of fully immersing myself in the time I spend with my tutee. It has also taught me how to be a more engaged and more effective afternoon tutor. Most importantly, it has shown me how essential it is to start every day with a larger purpose. My suggestion to anyone who has an open schedule in the morning: skip the sleep and sign up for morning tutoring—you won’t regret it. Dealing with the alarm is worth it for the students of DCPS. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Love & Trust = Priceless

By Tierra Evans
Today, I stepped outside of Randle Highlands Elementary School with a valuable lesson. As a tutor, if you are fortunate enough to gain the love and trust of your tutee, that is a reward in itself. When I initially began working with my student, Jerome, I was a little uneasy. The student I had before him did not work well in the program and had to explore other options outside of D.C. Reads. As his tutor, I felt unwanted and even a little incompetent. I asked myself, “Am I doing something wrong?” When I began working with Jerome, he resisted because he wanted to stay in a group with his friend. He also felt disliked and unloved because he changed tutors a lot. More than once he told me that he thought I didn’t like him and that I was just going to leave him like everyone else.
After today, I can honestly say that Jerome is like a completely new student and has even helped me regain my own confidence with tutoring. Initially he came in sad, but after talking with him and explaining that I was never going to leave, he opened up to me. He expressed his sadness and shared tough issues about his life at home that affect him every day. I shared some of my own issues with him and then we connected instantly. From that point on, I knew that we developed our own unique bond of love, and of trust. Jerome has given me a sense of belonging because I now have a new tutee that appreciates me. Jerome also knows that I care about and that he can always count on me. All in all, the most productive environment is one in which the tutor and the tutee can feel comfortable. The mutual exchange of love, and of trust is priceless…

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative

By Danna Khabbaz
This past weekend, some members of DC Reads attended a second retreat organized for the DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative (DCPNI) (Be sure to read Tierra Evans' reflection post below to learn more about the retreat). The above link leads to the DCPNI website, which explains in more detail the Promise Neighborhood Initiative, started by the Obama administration. The Parkside-Kennelworth neighborhood in Ward 7 was one of 21 neighborhoods to win a $500,000 grant that will go towards planning initiatives to improve all aspects of the area, including education, health resources, and safety. President Obama has set $210 million dollars aside in his 2011 fiscal budget to invest in 5-year grants towards these initial Promise Neighborhood plans. (An earlier post- "Back in Action" also describes the DCPNI in more detail)

"Dropout Factories"

By Olabisi Orisamolu

I found this article on the CNN website about certain high schools being “dropout factories.” As many people know, the dropout rate for wards 7 and 8 is about 50 percent, so the high schools in these wards would fall under this category.  The article talks about Vice President Joe Biden’s goal of having the greatest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020. While I think it’s good that people are looking to improve high schools in rural and urban areas, I think the optimism expressed in this article is premature.

 It is true that the quality of education received in high school has a positive correlation to the proportion of students that go on to college. However the way to fix the problem is to get to the root of it. It is harder for high schools to help kids get into college when kids have been performing below the national standard for years. Therefore, before we can address the problems in high schools, we must look at the problems in middle schools and elementary schools. They key to success in education is a solid foundation of learning which is built at a young age.

Raise Teacher Pay?

By Mallory Widell
I read this article in the New York Times last week about why we should pay teachers more.  And I completely agree. The writer mentions that almost half of American teachers come from the bottom one-third of their class, as opposed to teachers in Singapore, South Korea and Finland.  In those three countries, teachers actually come from the top one-third of their class and are paid much better than U.S. teachers.

Of course, there are also brilliant teachers in the United States, but there are too few of them these days, especially in public schools, where the pay is often not as good as it is in private schools.  And some people who go into the profession of teaching are not that concerned about the welfare of children and may enter the field mainly for the benefits or some other reason, as we discussed in one of the D.C. Reads seminars.

In the film Waiting for Superman, I learned that simply pouring money into schools is not always the most effective way to increase student achievement. Only slightly positive correlations have been found between state funding for schools and test scores. It's no secret that running a school is expensive and that most of the money used for schools goes towards necessities, including paying the salaries of faculty and staff. But maybe we should put even more of that money toward teachers' salaries.  This may help improve society's perception of teachers and hopefully attract those from the top of their class to the profession.

Thomson Elementary Incident Raises Concern: How we can Respond

By Craig Melcher
This was big news in the last few days for DCPS:

It details an incident of a DCPS fourth grader allegedly bringing in cocaine to school. I don't think our tutors have had one-on-one interactions with kids who have committed such actions, but he would be around the age of most of our students. The article further reflects the type of environment a lot of these students are raised in, in which standards are set far too low, and one might find drugs invading the playground even at this young age. Although this particular incident is not the norm, it also forced me to question whether, nine or ten years from now, which students of our own might fall victim to peer pressure and lose sight of the goals we work so hard to help them establish. This incident will encourage me to talk to my tutee even more about the next few years in addition to reading and writing activities. To quote the prophet Uncle Ben from the groundbreaking film Spider-man, "With great power comes great responsibility," It is our responsibility to use our relationships and influence over these students to steer them in the right direction.

Reflections on DCPNI Retreat: Tierra Evans

This past Saturday, I got the opportunity to attend a community retreat through the D.C. Promise Neighborhood Initiative, or DCPNI, which won one of the $500,000 grants from the federal government to launch the promise neighborhood in the District of Columbia. Residents from the targeted area were given the chance to participate in the planning stages of the process and  discuss the things that they feel deserve attention in the schools, homes, and communities where they live. I can absolutely say that I left with a new sense of hope, commitment, and knowledge about the true purpose and meaning of education. During the discussion sessions, words like "family", "community", "unity", and "responsibility" resonated in the air from students, parents, seniors citizens, and various community leaders. One could sense the urgency, the gratefulness, and the  determination in the air. They taught me that education is not just going to school, getting good grades, and going to college. Yes, it has these kind of manifest functions but it also signifies awareness. Awareness of what is going on around you and the recognition that what you do should benefit yourself as well as others. When I think about the major lesson that I learned, I'm reminded of a quote from Cornel West which says,"You can't lead the people if you don't love the people. You can't save the people if you don't serve the people." To me, that means taking the "I" out of certain sentences and replacing it with "We" and being the change that you want to see. It only takes one person to speak up, go that extra mile, and inspire others to do the same.  That type of mentality has the power to change neighborhoods, cities, states, countries, and the entire world that we live in. 

Tierra Evans

COL 2014

Monday, March 14, 2011

Back in Action

DC Reads is back, in more ways than one.  For starters, we're back from a spring break that saw many of our dedicated tutors and coordinators participate in alternative spring break trips helping to build and further communities here in DC and around the country.  On a greater level, we're back from a two-month hiatus from blogging that has been filled with a lot of exciting action that we can't wait to fill you in on. 

Tutoring is off to another good start this semester, with young learners across all of our different programs continuing to make strong progress in literacy decoding, reading comprehension, and writing skills.  We're putting an unprecedented emphasis on the comprehension portion of our curriculum, insuring that our students are not only reading words correctly but also understanding them at an appropriate level.  In the 4th and 5th grade program, we've moved into a unit centered around the many different future careers potentially associated with our students' emerging interests, and the skills and hard work it takes to get to those careers.  On Saturdays, we've continued to see solid and growing attendance for the free tutoring we offer at the Deanwood Community Recreation Center in Northeast. 

One of the more exciting partnerships we've forged throughout the year and that continues to be cultivated this semester is with the DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative (DCPNI), the comprehensive plan to improve educational outcomes for students in the Kenilworth-Parkside neighborhood in Northeast by building the community on a broader level and insuring that its children have all of the out-of-school resources and services they need to succeed in school.  We blogged about DCPNI earlier in the year when some DC Reads coordinators attended a celebration barbeque after the plan was chosen to receive federal grant money -- it is modeled after Geoffrey Canada's success with the Harlem Children's Zone in New York City, and people in Kenilworth-Parkside are really excited about it.  Recently our coordinating staff volunteered on a Saturday at an all-day planning retreat for DCPNI with the residents of Kenilworth-Parkside, serving as notetakers for breakout discussions among residents and facilitators and generally serving as a helpful presence at this event.  Our partnership with DCPNI continues to grow, and it has been a great way to build our profile in a community that includes Kenilworth Elementary School, where we tutor students in all five grades. 

(For more on the DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative, check out this recent feature in the Huffington Post!)

In the waning weeks of the semester, we'll certainly keep you posted on these developments and more, but we also envision our blog becoming more of a forum for more opinions and discussion on current events in the world of education, so we will be posting articles and continuing to follow up on that promise accordingly.  

We're excited to get back to tutoring this week, and we look forward to having you along for the ride!