coveringeducation.org http://coveringeducation.org/classblog09 Fri, 29 May 2009 23:42:00 +0000 http://wordpress.org/?v=2.7.1 en hourly 1 Love and hate http://coveringeducation.org/classblog09/?p=666 http://coveringeducation.org/classblog09/?p=666#comments Fri, 29 May 2009 23:42:00 +0000 http://coveringeducation.org/classblog09/?p=666 The documentary “The War on Kids” has its ambitions, not the least of which is to convey the oppressive, abusive, suffocating and even absurd regime we call public education. School does not look much different from jail, or juvenile detention, in the hands of Cevin Soling, the film’s director.

“Public school is the antithesis of democracy,” Laurie Couture says on camera. Couture, one of several interview subjects in the film, is a mental health counselor, author of an anti-medication book and a strong advocate for homeschooling.

“Who would want to get up in the morning and go to prison?” she asks.

We learn after 99 minutes that schools not only over-medicate kids, they criminalize kids in myriad ways in their quest to keep them safe. The only logical conclusion might be to shut them down and teach all kids at home.

Laurie Couture is a counselor, author and an advocate for homeschooling.

Laurie Couture is a counselor, author and advocate for homeschooling. FILE PHOTO

“It’s been a labor of love and hate,” said Soling, before his film’s premiere at the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival on Wednesday, March 25 at Village East Cinema in Manhattan. “Hate being the content.”

The movie, despite its message against structure and regimen, is divided into “lessons” that take on subjects that might be better served as stand-alone documentaries. Soling tackles “zero tolerance” policies, school security, drug abuse and the over-prescription of stimulants and anti-depressants to children and teens, the disadvantages of homework and social dynamics at school all in one film.

The most effective arguments in “The War on Kids” come early on. Soling characterizes the absurdity of so-called zero tolerance policies and traces their application in examples as diverse as weapons and firearms in schools, drug possession and much more subjective interpretations. Familiar news reports - students getting suspended for smelling magic markers (drugs!) or others being expelled for pointing fish sticks at their classmates (gun violence!) - illustrate some of the most skewed interpretations of zero tolerance rules.

Superintendent Chester Floyd in Goose Creek, S.C., lends credence to this point of view. Suspecting widespread marijuana use in his high school, Floyd called in a SWAT team. Footage from their raid, which included holding students at gunpoint and forcing them to lay facedown, motionless on the floor, drives home the school-as-a-prison image Soling aims to portray.

This part of the film is particularly relevant. On April 21, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case against an Arizona school, where an eighth grade girl, believed to be in possession of prescription strength ibuprofen, was strip-searched.

After that, the filmmaker seems to run out of ideas and resorts to a series of like-minded talking heads and just a couple students (in a film about education?) to comment on a collection of lightly reported topics.

It goes something like this: D.A.R.E. is a sham. Attention deficit disorders were invented by teachers, parents and psychiatrists who want to control children. Drugs like Ritalin and Adderall made students in one Portland, Ore. teacher’s class drool and otherwise act like zombies. Antidepressants make teens suicidal and homicidal - just look at Columbine’s Eric Harris who took Luvox. (Explanations for Dylan Klebold’s actions were not offered.) Kids hate homework. And social cliques also make kids homicidal and suicidal-with another reference to Columbine.

Given the slew of serious issues raised in the film, the single solution-homeschooling, as expressed by Couture-is disappointing. Home schooling is the way to go, she said, noting that “unschooled” children outperform their publicly educated counterparts.

Some challenge her on this point, citing the importance of socialization, and she scoffs. People are “wired” to be social, she said.

This argument, like the film, falls short.

— Meghan Berry

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Teaching jobs? What jobs? http://coveringeducation.org/classblog09/?p=675 http://coveringeducation.org/classblog09/?p=675#comments Mon, 11 May 2009 17:12:42 +0000 http://coveringeducation.org/classblog09/?p=675

 

By JAMIE OPPENHEIM

Last Sunday, two articles in separate publications painted contradictory portraits of the state of American teaching jobs. While one offered bleak predictions in the form of layoffs, the other was hopeful. 

An article in Sunday’s New York Times examined the majors of college students and the graduate programs prospective students gravitated toward, as indicators of where the job market would turn now that careers in finance held less appeal. Students were looking to several public service-oriented fields: science, public policy, community organizing and teaching.           

Education Week, which tackled the state of Detroit’s public schools, described a much bleaker landscape. The article discussed how the city planned to shutter 23 schools and layoff 600 teachers as a way to consolidate facilities in a school district, with a $303 million deficit, that is rapidly losing students.  Although Detroit may not be indicative of most American cities, it does signal an alarming disconnect between what is believed to be a safe career in times of a recession and the realities many teachers actually encounter.

In California, more than 26,590 teachers received pink slips in 2009. In New York City, the prospect of teacher layoffs is still up in the air.  Mayor Bloomberg said in late March that he would do his best to preserve teaching positions despite possibly having to make serious cuts to the city’s budget once the state budget gets approved. In New York, Teach for America will reduce its number of teaching positions from 500 to 350 next year but has yet to announce further reductions in other cities.

            And Monday’s Washington Post reported that the $100 billion from President Obama’s stimulus package going to local school districts may not be enough to prevent layoffs because of local budget shortfalls. In addition to job loss, another major worry that comes out of this predicament is that Obama may not have enough funds for the educational reforms he’s promised. An even bigger worry is that all that money slated for reforming education could be spent merely plugging leaks in school districts in need of systemic overhauls.

            So, the question still remains: Is teaching something that remains a “safe” profession during times of economic crisis, or is this merely the latest indication that our financial meltdown is entirely different than anything that’s come before?

 — Jamie Oppenheim  

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A physical fitness snapshot http://coveringeducation.org/classblog09/?p=672 http://coveringeducation.org/classblog09/?p=672#comments Mon, 11 May 2009 17:05:34 +0000 http://coveringeducation.org/classblog09/?p=672

Last Tuesday inside the gymnasium at East Brooklyn Congregations School for Public Safety and Law, six students stood in a row on the edge of the school’s basketball court and when prompted by a voice from a tape recorder ran to the middle of court. When the voice played again they stopped and ran back.

Other students sat along the wall of the gym and watched as students ran until they were too tired. The voice coming from the recorder kept prompting students to run and counted laps. After lap 10 most of the female students had dropped off. By lap 20, all but two male students kept running. At around lap 40, the final male student, slowed his run and then stopped and caught his breath. 

According to the pacer test rubric, as it’s called, a physically fit 16-year-old male student should running at least 61 laps. In a class of about 25 students, not one student passed the test. EBC physical education teacher William DeFreitas encouraged students to run despite their visible displays of lethargy.

 This exercise was part of the citywide FitnessGram, a test that measures aerobic capacity, muscular strength, endurance and flexibility to name a few other health indicators.

The test was adopted by the city in 2005 as a way to test physical fitness and was developed by the Cooper Institute of Aerobic Research, a Texas based fitness research institute.  Some of the other aspects of the test include abdominal curl ups, push-ups and the test also measures a student’s body mass index.  The FitnessGram takes into account a student’s sex, age and weight when determining his or her ranger of physical health.

According the pacer test, the number of laps a 16-year old girl needed to run to be considered on the low end of the healthy spectrum was 32. In the two groups of six runners that participated in the test, not one female student ran 20 laps.

It was unclear whether it was lack of interest or lack of ability that kept students from reaching acceptable fitness levels. One female student showed up to class wearing dress boots and had to run in those.  After all the students completed the test some students wanted to run again to improve their score. Still, no student achieved a passing score. 

— Jamie Oppenheim

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Mayoral control, but for how long? http://coveringeducation.org/classblog09/?p=648 http://coveringeducation.org/classblog09/?p=648#comments Mon, 11 May 2009 15:27:44 +0000 http://coveringeducation.org/classblog09/?p=648 When Faith Ledger’s son started second grade, his teachers quickly labeled him a special education student. But Ledger’s son scored well on academic tests. He just had a speech impediment. Ledger said she tried to tell teachers, principals, the school board - anyone who would listen- that her son was not learning impaired.

“I went from person to person, entity to entity, school board to superintendent. I was fighting invisible people,” she said. Eventually, Ledger gave up. That was back when the Board of Education ruled New York City’s schools. Ledger said she couldn’t navigate the labyrinthine former system, then-governed by 32 separate community school boards.

“I’m done with the Board of Education. This was my fifth child,” she said. Ledger instead decided to homeschool her son. He recently graduated high school and enrolled in college.

Last month, she was one of hundreds of parents and community members who filled the auditorium at the New York City Technical College in Brooklyn. The State Assembly played host to the forum on mayoral control, the system of school governance that in 2002 abolished local school boards, granting sole power over city schools to the mayor and a school chancellor whom he appointed. State legislators must decide by June 30 whether to extend the law that allows mayoral control.

Despite her frustrations with the old way of doing business, Ledger said she supports mayoral control. Her grandchild will start school soon, and Ledger said she’ll make sure it’s a public school.

If mayoral control doesn’t continue, some say the city’s schools will regress.

Pastor David Brawley of the St. Paul Community Baptist Church in Brooklyn said that when the Board of Education ran city schools, predominantly poor black and Latino neighborhoods were education wastelands.

“They were dead, with low performance, and low expectations,” he said. Brawley represents East Brooklyn Congregations, which runs several schools under the Department of Education’s small schools initiative. The program was one of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s first-term initiatives.

Without programs like these, Brawley said, students in his neighborhood would be hopeless.

“Our children suffered the most under the bureaucratic and broken system of the past,” he said. “Our children - by virtue of location and demographics - were sequestered to the worst failing schools in this city, with no hope and no options.”

But Muba Yarofulani, whose four children attend public school, said demographics are key to why she doesn’t support mayoral control. She said it’s the parents who should have control over the schools - not the mayor.

“The word ‘control’ is a negative,” she said. “I’m a parent who believes decisions should not be made without parents being involved. New schools are coming into our community, schools are being closed down and we only know about it after the fact.”

Yarofulani said it’s presumed most African-Americans support mayoral control, but the East Flatbush resident said that even if schools do show some progress, decisions shouldn’t be made by mayoral fiat.

Another detractor, Brooklyn parent Ellen Bilofsky, said iron-fist, top-down management squelches parents’ voices.

“What we have now is essentially a mayoral dictatorship, and we don’t feel that’s a way to govern schools in a democracy.”

City Comptroller and mayoral candidate Bill Thompson agrees. He announced a plan to audit the education department’s facts and figures - both financial figures and educational figures. He says an independent body would finally determine whether or not schools are actually improving.

“This would, in fact, create an independent authority that would oversee testing,” he said in an interview, “oversee graduation and drop-out rates and come up with one number, so that everybody could have faith in it.”

— Brad Davis

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Are these the life skills students need? http://coveringeducation.org/classblog09/?p=185 http://coveringeducation.org/classblog09/?p=185#comments Mon, 11 May 2009 15:24:18 +0000 http://coveringeducation.org/classblog09/?p=185

 

 

 

From left, high school students Steven Zheng, Anthony Truong and Roger Vien go campaign door to door for a ballot measure supporting JROTC in San Francisco, Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2008. While San Francisco moves toward becoming the first city to remove a JROTC program, battle lines have hardened between the anti-JROTC forces and others, including many college-bound Chinese-American students, who view the elective course as valuable self-improvement and a social activity.(AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

From left, high school students Steven Zheng, Anthony Truong and Roger Vien go campaign door to door for a ballot measure supporting JROTC in San Francisco, Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2008. While San Francisco moves toward becoming the first city to remove a JROTC program, battle lines have hardened between the anti-JROTC forces and others, including many college-bound Chinese-American students, who view the elective course as valuable self-improvement and a social activity.(AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

In February, the Associated Press reported that 9 New York City high schools will have U.S. Army recruiters teaching life skills to students on basketball teams. It’s part of a pilot program, launched by the Public School Athletic League, a non-profit based in New York, that partners with New York City schools to offer students an opportunity to participate in sports.

 

 

The life skills program  is now operating at nine New York City high schools: JFK and Columbus high schools in the Bronx; Jamaica High School in Queens; Canarsie, Tilden and Sheepshead Bay high schools in Brooklyn; Curtis and Pt. Richmond high schools in Staten Island to name a few, according to Tim Quinn, co-founder for Academics in Motion, which is the organizer of the program.

Participating students on high school basketball teams are required to enroll in an eight-week study hall lead by Army recruiters. During class time, students learn certain goal oriented behaviors such as time management, study skills, organization and effective thinking. The Public School Athletic League helped fund the program.

“The purpose is that these Army recruiters are a great resource,” Quinn said. “Whether you want to be a Web developer or in the 86th Airborne, students are able to talk to someone in the real world where they are instituting these skills.”

One critic, Donna Lieberman, executive director of New York’s Civil Liberties Union, said that the program is an attempt to increase military recruiting efforts in schools. “The Army has a long track record of targeting New York’s poor black and Latino populations with coercive and aggressive military recruitment techniques and now we are seeing potentially another avenue for military recruitment in our schools — and with the Department of Education’s encouragement,” she said in the article.

Since there are so many other citywide nonprofit organizations that teach students life skills, it’s unclear why the public schools decided to partner with Army recruiters in the first place. One such program, Art for Progress, offers students arts-oriented after school programs.

Yet, the Army does have positive benefits for some students who may have veered away from the college track. Jeff Kaufman, a teacher at East Brooklyn Congregation (EBC) High School for Public Safety and Law, said that for some students that struggle with school and live in an area with few employment opportunities, the military offers a viable alternative.

In some instances, such as with Junior ROTC programs and the Reserve Officers Training Core, students have benefited from having a military presence in their schools. In 2008, San Francisco tried to ban the program in its schools, upsetting many of the student cadets. And as far as JROTC being used as a recruitment tool, it did not succeed in San Francisco. Out of 1,465 cadets that participated in the 2006-2007 school year, only two went on to join the Army.
 

While the discipline may help some children develop a stronger sense of self or help keep them from getting into trouble, it is worth asking whether there’s another, better alternative.

— Jamie Oppenheim 

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Landscape architecture http://coveringeducation.org/classblog09/?p=628 http://coveringeducation.org/classblog09/?p=628#comments Mon, 11 May 2009 15:04:57 +0000 http://coveringeducation.org/classblog09/?p=628             Increasingly, undergraduate majors and graduate degrees do not lead to a job in the field of expertise, but a related one. This is certainly true for many who get journalism degrees and end up either going into public relations or writing for trade magazines.  

 

In reporting my story on young adults who are pursuing Master’s degrees in architecture [http://coveringeducation.org/schoolstories09/?p=1460], I discovered that it is not at all uncommon for budding architects to have a Plan B — like graphic or interior design. In this way, the prospect of being without a job in the field of one’s expertise, while still a disappointment, is not as dire as it is often portrayed.

 

One related field is landscape architecture, which involves designing and building the trees, gardens and other surroundings that compliment a building. “Until 12 months ago, it was the perfect industry. It’s been a growth industry,” said Hans Hesselein, who works in the field and studied architecture as an undergraduate. “There’s always going to be too many architects and not enough landscape architects.”

 

Hesselein does a lot of coordinating of projects and some design for a landscape architecture company called Dirt Works in Union Square.

 

Today, Hesselein is going in a different direction from when he first got bit by the architecture bug at North Carolina State University. He will apply to get a degree in ecological engineering by 2010, he said, so he can focus on the more technical side of landscape architecture. (Unlike some of the other students I interviewed, Hesselein will have no problem paying for a graduate degree, between his savings and help from his family).

 

Hesselein’s education plans hint at the changing nature of the job market. Unlike students of the past, who thought that a graduate degree would provide training for a specific profession, like law or medicine, recent graduates must be more entrepreneurial when it comes to making the connection between a degree and the requirements of a job.

           

            Now about that job part. 

 

— Elaine Meyer

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Keeping the dream alive http://coveringeducation.org/classblog09/?p=616 http://coveringeducation.org/classblog09/?p=616#comments Fri, 08 May 2009 20:27:15 +0000 http://coveringeducation.org/classblog09/?p=616  

 

Students from the Young Women's Leadership School showed their support for the DREAM Act at a rally in Union Square on May 1.

Students from the Young Women's Leadership School showed their support for the DREAM Act at a rally in Union Square on May 1.

As immigrant groups, activists, and workers’ advocates rallied in Union Square in celebration of international May Day, they were joined by a group of high school students from East Harlem who had made an after-school trip to demonstrate their support for a cause that was close to home: the passage of the DREAM Act, an immigration reform measure that would allow undocumented students who graduate from high school to pursue a path towards citizenship.

A group of students from the Young Women’s Leadership School braved the afternoon showers to wave handmade signs that read, “Act now. Let us have a dream.” They were members of the Student Council for Social Justice, who rallied on behalf of fellow students at schools around the country facing a similar challenge — how to continue their education lacking legal status.

“The reason that our parents came here was to give us a better future,” said Berenice Leal, a sophomore and the daughter of Mexican immigrants, who said that she was worried she wouldn’t be able to pay for college if she didn’t qualify for financial aid because of her immigration status. She also thought that colleges might be less willing to admit her if she didn’t have financial aid. “I don’t want all of my years of hard work to be wasted,” she said.

“If you are willing to do good, you should be able to contribute to society,” added Janet Ortega, a Mexican-American student.

Drew Higginbotham, an assistant principal at the school and the club’s advisor, said that every year at the school, which has a nearly 100 percent graduation rate, a handful of undocumented students graduate and are accepted to colleges but have no way to pay for it, because they don’t qualify for financial aid.

The DREAM Act, an acronym that stands for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, has been introduced in Congress a number of times over the last eight years, including twice as a part of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Acts of 2006 and 2007, but it has never been passed. It was reintroduced to both chambers of Congress in March.

The Act would give immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children and who go on to receive American high school diplomas the ability to receive proper documentation in order to work or receive financial aid.

Immigrants between the ages of 12 and 30, who were brought to the country illegally before they were 16 and have graduated from high school, would be granted temporary residence for six years. Those who complete two years of college or serve in the military for two years during that six-year period would be granted permanent residency. While it is estimated that over 65,000 undocumented students graduate from U.S. high schools each year, far fewer go on to attend college.

Advocates of the bill say that it is the first and most logical step toward comprehensive immigration reform and hope that, under the Obama administration, it will have a better chance of becoming law.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg voiced his support for the bill two weeks ago during Immigrant Heritage Week in New York. “The current system just isn’t working,” he said in prepared remarks. “Why shouldn’t our economy benefit from the skills these young people have obtained here in our public schools?”

For Cydney Cottman and Alisa David, two recent immigrants who attended the rally, the issue was not simply a pragmatic one. It was also about fairness.

“We’re all immigrants in America,” said David. “And we’re passionate about every type of justice,” Cottman added.

— Paul Stephens

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Last tango in Paris http://coveringeducation.org/classblog09/?p=622 http://coveringeducation.org/classblog09/?p=622#comments Thu, 07 May 2009 15:56:06 +0000 http://coveringeducation.org/classblog09/?p=622
Au revoir, Paris! AP/File

Au revoir, Paris! AP/File

Chalk up one more job loss to the slumping economy. This time it’s high up in the Department of Education, which eliminated a $632,000 full-time Bush-era position in . . . Paris?

Mais, oui! Since 2003, the federal Department of Education has maintained an office at 2 Avenue Gabriel (just off the Champs Elysées near the chi-chi Hotel de Crillon and Place de la Concorde) for an educational policy attaché at the U.S. mission in Paris to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO.
The organization’s mission to promote international cooperation in the fields of education, science, culture and communication was a pet-cause of First Lady Laura Bush, who served as UNESCO’s honorary chair after the U.S. rejoined the group after a 15-year hiatus. So, while President Bush’s conservative backers were eliminating the word “French” from government cafeteria menus in protest against France’s refusal to support the Iraq war, the government was funding a cushy Paris job for administration friends.

The total cost of maintaining the position could have bought a lot of freedom fries. The expenses included:
- $150,000 to $160,000 in salary and benefits
- $170,000 for office space and other office expenses
- A housing allowance of up to $80,000
- Education costs of up to $60,000 for up to two of an attaché’s children (up to $30,000 each)
- Up to $60,000 for moving expenses
- $5,000 for parking
- Between $96,554 to $106,554 for travel and other miscellaneous expenses

The cushy job was last held by Sally Lovejoy, who stepped down on Jan. 15. Lovejoy previously served as the senior education policy advisor, then the director of education and human resources policy, and for the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce. Before her tenure, the position was held by a former journalist, Gail Randall, who was a speechwriter for the Bush statehouse in Texas after a career as a reporter for The Rocky Mountain News, The Colorado Springs Gazette and The Anchorage Daily News.

My math is a little rusty, but let’s see here: $632,000 . . . that would hire 13 U.S. teachers at a salary of $48,600 each, or 334,391 orders of large fries from McDo — as the French call McDonalds. Hmm. We could always use more teachers, but free freedom fries for the people of Paris might be a brilliant diplomatic move toward repairing Franco-American relations. Tough choice.

Alexandra Fenwick

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We’re all education reporters now http://coveringeducation.org/classblog09/?p=606 http://coveringeducation.org/classblog09/?p=606#comments Wed, 06 May 2009 01:46:26 +0000 http://coveringeducation.org/classblog09/?p=606

Education reporting is tough. Here at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, we frequently swap cautionary tales about reporters being shooed (or even physically removed) from school buildings or even from the public sidewalks outside of school buildings. Other times we hear that education reporting is “too niche” or that no one’s interested in reading it. Paul Tough, who covers education for The New York Times Magazine and wrote a book on Geoffrey Canada’s network of charter schools in Harlem, says he doesn’t even consider himself an education reporter.  

But the fact is, education reporting is everywhere. And people are interested in reading (and watching and listening to) stories about children, families and schools. As the spring semester winds down at the journalism school, I’ve been poking around other student sites, and I’ve been impressed with the amount of education journalism and reporting on children and families that has turned up by reporters who are not writing for School Stories.

Here’s a roundup of some of the great reporting on kids, families and schools that has been produced by Columbia students outside of the Covering Education seminar. 

From Columbia News Tonight:

Teens talk about their new, easier access to emergency contraception  (Last week School Stories’ Meghan Berry blogged about the lack of teen voices in coverage of this news — glad to see that Columbia journalists are stepping up!)

One early education center in the Bronx is cutting day care and kindergarten classes in the face of budget cuts to the Department of Children and Family Services

Hunter College students respond to tuition increases at CUNY schools

Adults head back to the classroom to brush up on their English language skills

The looming specter of deportation threatens family unity for Liberian refugees in the United States. 

Sex education gets a makeover through song and dance

The Manhattan School of Music brings opera into New York public schools

PS 125 to phase out 5th Grade? 

Parents in Morningside Heights struggle to find daycare options 

An unusual mariachi helps Mexican American kids

Karate instructor inspires Harlem youth

Program seeks to prevent homelessness by finding permanent adoptive homes for teens and preteens in foster care

New Yorker tunes Cubans into music education 

From Uptown Radio:

Fifth graders at P.S. 75 are on a first-name basis with Emily Dickinson

Is the English as a Second Language Achievement test the right way to measure English language skills?

Juniors at Brooklyn’s Urban Assembly School of Music and Art discuss whether the election of Barack Obama will have any real impact on their lives

From the Bronx Beat:

 http://128.59.96.140/bronxbeat09/www/category.asp?id=39

From NYC24:

Kids heal through play therapy

Bronx kids and mixed martial arts

Adopted children search for their birth families

From the Brooklyn Ink:

A season in the life of the Canarsie High School football team

A day in the life of Brooklyn Family Court

The Edward R. Murrow High School chess team are champions 

Brooklyn Parents on Emotional Roller Coaster at Charter School Lottery

And an hour-long radio special on education in New York City

Maura Walz 

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Life on the reservation http://coveringeducation.org/classblog09/?p=601 http://coveringeducation.org/classblog09/?p=601#comments Tue, 05 May 2009 14:06:41 +0000 http://coveringeducation.org/classblog09/?p=601

HANNAHVILLE, Mich. – The 13 students in Kristina Hansen’s third-grade class want students in Detroit to know they do not live in teepees.

The students at Nah Tah Wahsh Public School Academy, a tribal charter school on the Hannahville Indian Reservation, spent 15 minutes toward the end of the their second to last class of the day scribbling pen-pal letters to other Detroit third-graders about their lives in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Another popular item on the list of what separates these students from their urban counterparts is that some of the students — the ones who live on the reservation — live down the road from the Island Resort Casino.

Not all of the charter school students live on the reservation. Some of the kindergarten through 12th-grade students live in neighboring towns like Escanaba, the largest city (with 13,000 residents) within several miles of the Potawatomi tribe, or in Gladstone, a town with a population of 5,000.

The school, which started as an Indian school in 1976 and became a charter in 1995, is nearly two miles down a wooded road. It now serves about 150 students. A few houses and the Potawatomi Cultural Center dot the path from the main highway, Highway 2, where the Island Casino Resort also sits. The casino is a multi-story, white building, and its large concrete parking lot and towering size make it look out of place with the rest of its surroundings.

Nine miles to the east of the reservation is the city of Escanaba. Other than that, the road to the reservation from Escanaba is sparsely populated. A few tourist gift shops, motels and camping grounds lay sleepily on the roadside, waiting for summer traffic.

The leaves of the deciduous trees still haven’t bloomed, and a slight winter chill lingers in the air. In the months of June, more cars of vacationing families looking to spend time at the lake should pass through the area and fill up the empty parking spaces.

Although the school accepts any type of student, there are indications throughout the hallways that the primary population served is American Indian. Near the front office hangs a large dream catcher, and the red, black and white tile floor mimics a native design.

In the school’s culture classroom the smell of burnt sage lingered. Around the top walls of the room hung posters representing the Seven Grandfathers. Each Grandfather stands for a different behavior tribe members should strive for, including respect, truth, honesty, patience, humility, bravery and love.

On Mondays students participate in weekly cultural ceremonies and learn lessons about the Seven Grandfathers, said Gloria Wandahsega, one of the school’s culture teachers.

Students also learn the basics of the Potawatomi language, an Algonquian language that fewer than 100 people speak. The school originally taught the Ojibwe language, but fear that Potawatomi may die out prompted some of the teachers at the school to try to preserve the Potawatomi culture through language, Wandagashega said.

Most of the parents of Potawatomi students do not speak the language either, because Potawatomi was not taught in schools and tribal children were forbidden to speak it.

The tribe, which is the only Potawatomi tribal school to teach the language, has made a greater effort to spread the language to the adult tribal members by offering language classes at the cultural center.

Lori Boulley, the school’s other high school teacher, said if students learn their language, they will understand the backbone of their culture.

— Jamie Oppenheim

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