Sunday, March 25, 2012

Providence Schools and way, way beyond this week

Now that I have resumed posting here regularly, I'm going to take a week off. I am in Israel for my cousin Elisheva's wedding. Yay! So, no blog posts planned until the week of April 2. Shalom!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Persuasive Essay

Hot enough for you out there? It was hot enough for my 9 year old today, hot enough to want to wear shorts to school. This is a topic that comes up every year, of course, usually in May or June and then again in the fall. We have a clear, well-understood policy on shorts to school: if it's above 70 degrees before we leave for school, shorts are fine. Otherwise, shorts are not fine. End of subject.

It's worth noting that I am not known among my children for my desire to negotiate with them about anything. If I err, it tends to be on the rigid side. So I was not at all prepared to entertain conversation about the shorts issue. However, somehow, the 9 year old got to me. Not that I wanted to debate this issue with him. But there was a part of me, the part that had looked at online weather reports and knew that is was going to be above 80 degrees (!!!!!) before the day was out, that was willing to consider letting the kid wear shorts.

At dinner last night, when Leo attempted yet another one of his countless verbal assaults on the shorts policy, the solution came to me. He had to write his way toward a policy change - specifically, a several-paragraph persuasive essay. I let him know that when he produced a credible essay, I would consider his arguments. Here's what was waiting for me this morning:
Why I Should Wear Shorts: It Is Getting Hotter
Mom, in the morning here this time, it's in the 60s. And it gets hotter near recess time and wearing pants is uncomfortable. And it gets you even hotter than normal. And when I have gym, you get even hotter then when you're outside.
Because of this reason that I told, how it will get hotter and then I will be too hot, you should let me wear shorts. Today, it's 61 degrees outside, same as yesterday, and it got hotter then, and the weather report says it's going to be 77 degrees today, so I really want to wear shorts.
His writing fell short of what I thought the standard should be, but not too bad for a first draft, and yes, I was persuaded and he was delighted. Perhaps we can use the time we had spent dealing with the shorts issue in better ways, such as fun mom-son bonding over clarifying first-perosn vs third-person pronoun usage. Good times! Or maybe we'll just put on shorts, pretend that writing skills, parental consistency, and global warming don't really matter, and go play in the sunshine.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Trayvon Martin's murder: so sad and so infuriating

This was Trayvon Martin. He was 17. I didn't know him, but every time I look at his picture, I see the kids that I love in the schools in which I am lucky enough I spend time. I see my kids' friends. And I see my own sons.

In Sanford, Florida, Trayvon was killed by a "neighborhood watch" vigilante on February 26 while walking from the corner store after getting candy and a drink.

I am not well versed about whether it will make a difference, but I urge you to sign the petition that Trayvon's family has created that asks that his murderer be prosecuted. I did, and was grateful for the opportunity to add my voice to the many thousands who are outraged that kids aren't safe on the streets because of the color of their skin, because of what they're wearing, because of any reason.

Many people are speaking up and speaking out to protest the outrage that Trayvon's killing has sparked. I listened to "The Lingering Memory of Dead Boys," an NPR commentary yesterday from writer Tayari Jones. I urge you to do the same if you need any reminder that Trayvon is one of so many who were scared, hurt, and killed while walking black, while being black, while being themselves.

My heart goes out to his family, and I hope that somehow, this reminds us to value all of our kids in ways that make them safer in this world.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Parent Involvement in School Reform event - March 22, 4:30pm

I am passing on information about an event happening this Thursday afternoon that will be of interest to those of us eager to know more about the impact of parent/community organizing on school improvement efforts. Sadly, due to a conflict with work and MLK Elementary's PTO meeting that evening, I can't make it to this. I hope some of you can!

Click on the flier to the right and/or read on for more:

Superintendent Susan Lusi and the Providence Public Schools invite you to join in a conversation with nationally recognized parent organizers Joanna Brown, Leticia Barrera, and Christina Torres from Chicago’s Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

Date: March 22, 2012

Time: 4:30 - 6:00 pm
Location: Providence Family Resource Center 379 Washington Street, Providence
For more information and to RSVP, please contact Janet Pichardo at or (401) 456-0686.

Light refreshments, Spanish translation, and children’s activities for ages 5-12 will be provided. Traducción a Español, refrescos y actividades para niños de 5-12 estarán disponible.

The Logan Square Neighborhood Association, which turns 50 this year, serves the 80,000 population of its Northwest Chicago neighborhood. In the past 15 years LSNA has built a national reputation by transforming schools into 'community schools' with deep parent engagement fostered through its Community Learning Centers and Parent Mentor programs. LSNA's members consist of 44 neighborhood organizations, including 10 public schools with over 7,000 students, most of them from low-income Latino immigrant families. The Parent Mentor program was the subject of A Cord of Three Strands: A New Approach to Parent Engagement in Schools (pub. 2011), by Prof. Soo Hong of Wellesley. LSNA also has a Grow Your Own Teacher program which has expanded into a statewide program with 16 sites around Illinois.

Leticia Barrera, LSNA Education Organizer, began at LSNA as a Parent Mentor in 1997 and is now a Lead Parent Trainer. Since 2000, she has been on full-time staff at LSNA, mentoring at least 600 parents and building relationships with school staff. Formerly a teacher in Mexico, she is studying to receive her teaching credentials in Chicago through LSNA’s Grow Your Own project. She is bilingual in Spanish and English. She is part of the new Parent Engagement Institute which is developing new parent mentor programs in 13 new schools outside the Logan Square neighborhood.

Joanna Brown is Lead Education Organizer at the Logan Square Neighborhood Association in Chicago, where she has worked since 1993. She has 30 years of experience in community organizing, community journalism and public relations; urban affairs and politics. She was professionally and personally involved in Chicago’s first school reform elections, serving two terms (1989-93) as a Local School Council member. Her two children attended Inter-American, a Chicago public dual-language elementary school.

Christina Torres is a parent activist with the Logan Square Neighborhood Association and a trainer with LSNA's new Parent Engagement Institute. Christina began her involvement in the Logan Square community as a Parent Mentor in her children’s school. She is a leader in her children's school and in Chicago school reform campaigns.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Providence's high school basketball outcomes - Central H.S. Boys' State Champions and more

In old news with which I am catching up, congratulations to Providence's Central High School's Knights, Rhode Island state boys' basketball champions! On March 10, they beat Hope High School for the title per the ProJo story below.

Central overcame an 11-point halftime deficit and Jerelle Washington scored a game-high 28 points as the Knights defeated Hope, 66-59, for the boys basketball state title at the Ryan Center. 
Jarrell Lawson added 16 for Central while Daniel Mendez and Brownell Dennis each had 11. 
Hope was led by Manny Kargbo's 16 points. 

In girls' basketball, Providence's Juanita Sanchez High School beat Middletown in the Division III finals and Classical lost to Narragansett in the Division II finals.

And a question for readers into high school sports: what's the best online source for RI high school sports coverage? Cox's Varsity Blog is useful - wondering if there are other good sites.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Plugged In - on technology integration

April 2012's East Side Monthly column is on technology integration in education. The well-edited online version is here and in the print publication which I haven't seen but I suspect has been distributed around the neighborhood.

Turns out that I overwrote by 100 words or so, and since word count isn't my issue in this setting, here's the original, verboser, and linkier edition.


For over two decades, I have worked to improve schools and their support systems. At the same time, I have dug into the ways technology facilitates community building. The intersection of those paths defines a cool place to hang out with compelling visionaries and amazing ideas about the ways technology can transform education. However, there has not been much of that coolness in the day-to-day lives of my children and their teachers. Though I am sure that exceptions exist, for the most part, teaching and learning in the Providence Public Schools have been largely separate from interactive technologies.

But this year, finally, I am seeing evidence that a collision between technology and education is heating up in our schools. Curriculum, assessments, and individualized systems of student support that occupy both physical and virtual space are taking root and spreading, driven by the adoption of curricula and classroom content management systems that have significant online components. This has sparked conversations within school communities and among district staff about the urgent need at nearly all schools to update technology infrastructure, access, and training for students and educators.

There’s statewide momentum, too; the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) is pushing ahead with substantial educational technology initiatives that have the potential to create conditions for teaching and learning that are more equitable, meaningful, and effective as a result of smart technology integration. In February 2012, RIDE hosted the “Innovation Powered by Technology” conference, which convened local and national experts and innovators to help our state’s educators move forward with technology integration. The conference brought resources to RIDE’s $470,000 Model School grant that will fund the design or redesign of a school that will use technology to transform teaching and learning. It’s great to see RIDE thinking so boldly and setting a context for innovation statewide.

So perhaps we really are having a moment here, one of those moments that have the promise to change everything. However, several factors could imperil universal access to the benefits of technologically mediated teaching and learning and reduce the impact of interactive technology in education.

One of the central practices that allows teachers and students to harness the power of technology in education is called blended learning, which the Innosight Institute defines as "any time a student learns at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home and at least in part through online delivery with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace." One result of blended learning is a “flipped classroom,” in which students access content online via lectures or other means outside class and can then use class time to sustain more meaningful, interactive exchanges and explorations with their teachers and each other.

One key to making blended learning and flipped classrooms happen, of course, is online access. Such access is limited in many schools, in many homes, and within many communities both by availability of high quality computers and by inadequate internet access. Blended learning is a powerful idea that cannot work if young people can’t access online content. And it cannot work if they don’t have the resources not only to access that online content but also to control it in meaningful ways. This means that students need to have systems that allow them to log onto personalized environments, save work, interact with teachers and other students. They need quality time on quality devices for blended learning to be effective. The equity implications are sobering; it’s clear that in communities in which young people have consistent, personalizable access to computers and sophisticated infrastructures, they will accrue benefits unavailable to students who lack such access. Obviously, this would happen along economic lines unless we aggressively intervene and find ways, both in school and out, to provide adequate resources to all children from all communities. The equity issues associated with technology are no different than those that affect other aspects of school, such as the quality of academic programs, extracurricular offerings, and facility quality.

Because we know that such inequity is rampant, we need to come together as a community to assure that it doesn’t create a malignant digital divide as well. Working at the community level, we can go far to assure that resources are in place for one-to-one computing at school and computer labs systematically integrated with curriculum easily accessible in our neighborhoods. Providence is proud of its creativity and innovative spirit, and I suggest that we bring that spirit to bear to think together about how to provide our young people with the resources they need to learn in more exciting, engaging, and effective ways that also prepare them for the technology-infused world that they will enter into as adults.

Overly prescriptive curriculum and pedagogy pose another threat to the potential of interactive technology to transform education. Computer-based technology can and should be more than another method of content delivery. Learners, in order to be true learners, need to be active co-constructors of knowledge. This is true, of course, whether or not interactive technologies play an active role in (and out) of school. In order to learn to use our minds well, we all need to be able to explore, investigate, inquire, argue, and engage. In order to realize not only the best aspect of technology but the power of human connection in education, we need policies and practices that support and defend authentic relationships between students and teachers.

It is truly possible that we will look back and identify this time as moment when technology and education united to create powerful new ways for teachers and students to share and synthesize information with each other. Let’s not miss this opportunity.

Hi friends,

My apologies for my extended and unexplained absence. I haven't abandoned Providence Schools and Beyond, all appearances to the contrary. However, it did seem that a break was in order so that I could focus on work and family.

Am now back, thanks for your patience!