Reading, writing and relevance
Vol. 11, No. 2
Reading, writing and relevance -- making connections between school and the "real world;" Classroom Partnership -- connecting NID friends with local classes; Monica Lyons-Jones, New Program Manager for NID; NID welcomes three new Board members; NID in the field.
Reading, writing and relevance
Making connections between school and he "real world"
8th grade student
Kim Rakosky’s 4th graders are breathless. Collectively, they just ran a marathon in front of their school, Bache-Martin Elementary, in Philadelphia’s Fairmount neighborhood. By soliciting sponsors from among local businesses, family members and teachers, they are raising money to buy running shoes for Back on My Feet – a nonprofit that promotes running as a means to build confidence, strength and self sufficiency among Philadelphia’s homeless population.
“How much did you raise?” an onlooker asks Ms. Rakosky.
“I don’t know,” she answers while ushering her high-keyed kids back into the school building. “When we get to the classroom we’re going to be doing a whole lot of math!”
Ms. Rakosky’s students are invested in the success of their Jog-A-Thon not only because they are outside the classroom, physically engaged and learning by doing. They also genuinely care about homelessness – a problem they identified as the focus for their yearlong service-learning project using NID’s student-centered framework. Michael Solomon, a Back on My Feet “success story,” inspired them with his story of courage and resilience. Their research into the causes and effects of homelessness changed many of their preconceptions about the problem.
“My students have expressed deep concern and compassion in their reflections this year,” their teacher says.
Scanning the lists of topics chosen by students in NID classrooms, one can imagine the connection between these social problems and students’ everyday lives. Five classes chose gun violence as the focus for their yearlong research, a reflection of the alarmingly high number of homicides committed in Philadelphia over the past year. These young people are afraid. But through the process of meeting adults who are addressing these problems and by taking action, they are able to establish a sense of their own power and efficacy.
An alternative to “drill and kill”
A relevant curriculum – lessons and activities that engage students in issues that concern them – stands out against the flatness that pervades the standard “drill and kill” approach to teaching. Relevance makes particular sense in schools with a disproportionate number of poor and minority children.
“Assuming that these students fail because the traditional bookish curriculum ignores and, sometimes, demeans the values and experiences they bring to school, schools will ‘work’ if traditional subjects are modified or replaced with subject matter that is personally or practically meaningful,” according to Reba Page (Moral Aspects of Curriculum: “Making Kids Care” about School Knowledge, Journal of Curriculum Studies, 30: 1, 1-26, Jan-Feb. 1998).
The fourth grade students in Jasmine Williams’ class at Logan Elementary recount graphic stories of family members and classmates hospitalized as a result of serious asthma attacks. A survey they conducted among their schoolmates revealed that about 22 percent suffer from asthma.
“Asthma is a deadly disease,” says Kaylia. “It makes it so you can’t breathe.”
The students were energized by their project because they could relate personally to the problem and believed raising awareness was important. As a culmination to their yearlong project, they led more than 200 of their fellow students on an “Asthma Walk” held in conjunction with World Asthma Day. They wore hand-decorated t-shirts and carried banners and posters down the streets of their Logan neighborhood and along several blocks of Broad Street. They took heart when people stopped to ask about their campaign or, in some cases, extinguished lit cigarettes.
When asked what he thought about this way of integrating school work (math, English language arts, science) with service, Eshaan responded, “You’re not just reading a textbook but you’re also helping people in the community that need help.”
Often the process of working together over the course of the year to solve a problem creates a synergy among the participants that leads to transformation.
Two classes this year focused on obesity. Inspired by Robin Barg, owner of Center City restaurant Day by Day, Alexis Fallen’s 6th grade class at Logan Elementary tackled the problem by developing alternative (nutritious) ingredients to a popular menu choice: pizza. Lisa Hantman’s 3rd graders at McCall Elementary School, also chose this topic. In reflecting on how their yearlong exploration affected her students, she wrote:
“One thing I have noticed is that children react differently now when we use the world ‘obese’ or ‘fat.’ They do not snicker, and they do not all turn to stare at B., who is obese and who had been subtly persecuted for it. He, himself, is making some changes however small and slow in coming. B. has shown a great deal of connection to this project.”
Olney, specifically the neighborhood surrounding Grover Washington Jr. Middle School, has been concerned this year with a number of threatening individuals reported around the school. Letters went home to parents warning about situations their children might encounter walking home.
Not surprisingly, Amy Gottesman’s 5th grade students’ anxieties surfaced when she led them in a discussion about possible project topics. She wrote down their concerns:
“When I’m walking home, I always look in every direction because I think someone is going to come up and attack me,” said one student.
Another confessed, “I feel scared and alone. Who is going to stop someone who comes up to me?”
“Listening to ten and eleven year olds talk about how scared they were to walk a few blocks was eye opening to them and me,” says Ms. Gottesman. “They were able to see that their fears were valid and that they were not alone. They decided that the only way to help themselves was to find out how to be safe, how not to be a victim. And so our project was born.”
Clearly, giving young people the opportunity to choose a focus for their project that connects to their experience and allowing them to shape its direction is empowering and has the potential to create meaningful change.
Connecting NID friends with local classes
This year Classroom Partners received regular updates on the class with which they were partnered so they could follow the progress of their class’s service-learning project. Several chose to visit their class, while others attended the Teacher Soiree or the Shout Out or participated in their class’s culminating service.
Brian Mahoney, DIrector of Advertising Sales for the Phillies is a member of NID’s Classroom Partnership Advisory Committee.
“The Phillies are proud of our affiliation with Need in Deed, and in particular the Classroom Partnership program,” he says. “Many school children come to Citizens Bank Park during the course of a season, but we feel special pride in Amy Gottesman’s class [at Grover Washington Jr. Middle School]. Their efforts and successes touch us in a way that makes us proud to invest in this program. These are great kids; sometimes they just need that extra something to help them realize their potential. NID’s Classroom Partnership provides that “something.”
Need in Deed welcomes three new Board members
Matt McClure is an associate in the Real Estate Department at the law firm Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll. He counsels developers, nonprofits and universities in connection with a full range of real estate matters. His practice includes heavy emphasis on development, land use, zoning and historic preservation.
Prior to joining the firm he handled media relations for the U.S. Conference of Mayors and worked in the office of then-Mayor Ed Rendell. In 2006 the Philadelphia Business Journal honored him with the publication’s “40 under 40” award.
He lives with his wife and two boys in East Falls.
Howard Verlin is Executive Vice President, principal financial officer and director of Xanadoo Company. He co-founded the company in 1991 and has served in a wide variety of operational and financial roles. Xanadoo is currently rolling out wireless highspeek internet services in mid-sized markets in the Midwest and Southwest U.S.
Previously the firm operated and developed broadcast, cable and satellite television properties across the U.S. Before Xanadoo, he was an investment banker with Butcher & Singer. Howard is a recent graduate of the core class of Leadership Philadelphia.
He and his wife are raising five children, ages 5 through 19, and live in Center City.
As Managing Director of the PFM (Public Financial Management) Group, Brett Matteo is responsible for marketing, training, client support and new product development. With his colleagues, he provided financial advisory services related to capital structure development, financial risk management and debt transaction management to a national cross section of higher education institutions and public power entities.
Before joining PFM, he was an investment banker in the public finance departments of two major Wall Street firms. He is a recent graduate of the core class of Leadership Philadelphia.
New Program Manager for Need in Deed
And we feel equally fortunate that Monica, her husband and two sons moved back to the area after a two year stint in North Carolina, enabling this “match” to be made. Of course, joining us as she did in May, this Mt. Airy native was immediately swept up in the annual whirlwind of wrapping up this year’s projects, preparing for the Shout Out, and taking part in a marathon teacher recruitment process.
Some might have been overwhelmed by it all, but Monica took it in stride, saying “I enjoyed getting thrown into the fire. I came in and immediately began my infusion into the organization. There was no slow process, and that worked out well for me.”
With her Masters degree in early childhood and elementary education, Monica has a passion for connecting students to the world around them, and a desire to do this in “a supportive way rather than through direct instruction.” She would like to see service-learning become more of a driving force in education, believing this approach to teaching and learning supports students’ multiple intelligences and “allows them to exhibit their strengths and uncover the many similarities that connect us all.”
For now, Monica’s amazed by how many unfamiliar areas of the city she’s getting to explore as she interviews candidates for next year’s Teacher Network. And we’re sure she’s going to be an expert on how to get to any school in the district in no time flat!
Need in Deed in the Field
Representatives from NID’s staff, Board and Teacher Network gave a panel presentation at Cabrini College’s Common Good Symposium in March. Included were Board member Dr. Marcine Pickron-Davis, of Widener University; NID’s Associate Director Ena Rosen and former program staff member Dana Twyman; former NID staff member Michelle Loucas, now coordinator for Secondary Education at Penn’s Graduate School of Education; and Gideon Elementary School teacher Jenn Wong. The title of the presentation was “Extending our reach: Engaging students with the curriculum and the community.”
In April, Director of Professional Development Kim Kirn presented NID’s capabilities to members of the School District of Philadelphia’s Education Cabinet.