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The season premiere of the talk show Ellen, featured a principal from Las Vegas, Nevada. Her elementary school has a high concentration of homeless students and students qualifying for free lunch. She took it upon herself to seek donations to give out clothing, school supplies, bedding, household supplies and pay electricity bills.
She talked about her first few days as a principal in this school. She says that she noticed students putting packets of ketchup in their pockets during lunch. When she asked her teachers what they were doing, they told her they were taking them home to eat for dinner.
As soon as the segment was over, I sent a tweet to @theellenshow and thanked them for highlighting an educator that understands combating poverty is key to students' success.
In an editorial for 'Education Week', Jamie Vollmer said, "The hard truth is that we cannot touch a school without touching the culture of the surrounding community."
Many charter schools do great work but the source of so much tension in my Harlem neighborhood is their disconnect from the neighborhood. Parents and children are asked to commit to the schools for extended hours and days but the charter school doesn't always commit to those not on their roster.
This is why the Harlem Children's Zone Project is so popular. Now as a former HCZ parent, I wasn't thrilled with the academic rigor of the schools but the wraparound services and resources were outstanding.
New York State just approved a charter school to be run by The Children's Aid Society in the Morrisania part of the Bronx. It will provide services to the students and their families. Gregory Morris, a staff member at Children's Aid Society told Gotham Schools that their target population is, "children in the foster care system, who are learning English, or living with just one parent." Morris said charter school experts have cautioned Children’s Aid that its school might fall short academically if it draws students from a community with chronically low attendance and graduation rates and a high population of English language learners and students in special education. “They cant just have great health outcomes — they have to have great academic outcomes,” Morris said. “There aren’t a lot of models you can look to of people that have really taken that on.”
I spent a short time on the planning committee of a new school being developed by New Settlement Apartments, another large non-profit organization headquartered in the Mount Eden section of the Bronx. They are building their own building which will eventually house students from K-12 and include a community center and access to all of the housing and social services that the organization regularly provides. New Settlement made a conscious choice to open as a district school versus a charter school.
The President and Secretary of Education has created grant opportunities for cities to receive one year funding to replicate what the Harlem Children's Zone is doing, calling them 'Promise Neighborhoods.' When you read the grant outline the outcomes seem aligned and hopeful. However, the disconnect comes in the length of the grant. Geoffrey Canada is trying to create a 'tipping point'- creating enough change in a 100 block radius so that students are surrounded by more people who are engaged in being educated, encouraging and uplifting members of society than those who are not. How is this supposed to happen in a year?
The requirement for schools has changed. And as the Heath brothers tell us in Switch, we don't have a people problem, we have a systems problem.
This post is part of the Those Who Can, Teach series.