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!