Monthly Archives: September 2009

GOLDEN BELL

winner of bellMueller Charter School is a finalist for California’s prestigious Golden Bell Award.  That is significant.  It’s a big deal.  

Significant because it means that the California School Boards Association (CSBA), the organization that grants the award, still values schools that take care of kids and their families. Like Mueller Charter School and our Resiliency Quadrant System– a model for integrating sch0ol resources to more efficiently serve our  most high risk children.

Significant because it means the CSBA recognizes that we have to generate more than test scores… we have to find the way: 

To manage the  academic, emotional, social, medical, and mental health needs of all 1100 students;

to build on their assets; 

to foster resiliency in children and the adults that serve them;

to maintain morale, optimism, and efficacy that will ultimately lead to extraordinary school results!

And if you can find a school that is keeping kids whole,  you ought to recognize them with a Golden Bell award.

riskSignificant because it signals an appreciation for the inherently complex nature of teaching, and how real reform cannot come to our schools unless we overcome (or at least neutralize)  the many crises in our communities that affect our students.  And that takes innovation… finding a new way.  President Obama has urged that we stop treating unemployment, violence, failing schools, and broken homes in isolation and put together what works “to heel the entire community”.  Like the Harlem Children’s Zone. And at Mueller Charter School, the heeling power of the Resiliency Quadrant System has the potential to transform our community.

And finally, it is significant because excellence should be replicable.

In her recent article in Education Week entitled “Innovative Reforms Require Innovative Scorekeeping”, Lisbeth Schoor, a senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Social Policy argued that:

“Reformers in virtually every domain– from education to human services, and social policy– have been learning that the most promising strategies are likely to be complex and and highly dependent on their social, physical, and policy context.  Very few efforts to improve education for at-risk students, prevent child abuse, increase labor-market participation, or reduce teenage pregnancy or homelessness succeed by applying a single, bounded intervention.  They depend on community capacity to take elements that have worked somewhere already, adapt them, and reconfigure them with other strategies emerging from research, experience, and theory to make a coherent whole.”

As a finalist for a Golden Bell Award, Mueller Charter School has been acknowledged for innovation, for serving our high risk students, for creating a system to engage children and their families. It reminds us that if we stay centered, stay true to our mission, and avoid the dull temptation to surrender to the search for higher test scores for their own sake… we have a chance to be more than just another high performing public school. We have a chance to be El Milagro.

clapping

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Filed under charter schools, El Milagro, health care, innovation and change, President Obama

1000 ORIGAMI CRANES

 

logoMonday, September 21st, is the United Nation’s 27th annual attempt to promote an International Day of Peace.  We are asked to pause and reflect.  Or perhaps set aside our personal or political anger.  To cease fire.  For one day.

We are asked to inspire our students to celebrate this day of peace in their own way.  And perhaps we should.  Maybe the adults ought to all just chill for 24 hours.  Maybe we just take a break from spewing venomous hate speech at Town Hall Meetings or calling the President a fascist or the second coming of Pol Pot.  Maybe we ought to quit shouting across the great divide:  “You Liar!”  You racist!

Maybe on International Peace Day we stay in our seats when we might otherwise rush the stage and yank the microphone out of some 19-year old entertainer’s hands to promote Beyonce.  Maybe we accept the line judge’s call instead of threatening to shove the “f-ing tennis ball down her throat”.  Maybe we disarm.  Maybe we turn down the volume on our talk radio stations. Maybe we have a civil discussion without a deer rifle slung over our shoulder. 

Maybe we make this International Day of Peace about our kids.  Before someone gets hurt.

Last week the House Speaker warned that the climate of hatred towards the President is starting to feel very much like that of San Francisco in the late 70’s– when Dan White’s voices urged him to murder city councilman Harvey Milk, a gay rights activist. She was immediately vilified.  Her political adversaries accused her of encouraging Americans to assassinate the President.  But all week long cable news pundits were saying the same thing:  that we are witnessing a zeitgeist with potentially frightening consequences if some nut gets too close to those in power who were elected by the “people”. 

We’ve been here before.  We heard Bobby Kennedy’s powerful speech on the Mindless Menace of Violence in America...  just before he too became a victim of the mindless menace of violence in America.

On this International Day of Peace,  a ceasefire in Afghanistan and Africa and Iraq and the West Bank and in the border towns of Juarez and Tijuana would be a blessing. 

But I’ll settle for a day in which our children are permitted a moment to lend their voices to the tumult– their prayers for peace.

So at El Milagro we will commemorate this Day of Peace.  And I’m sure we’ll hear about it.  We’ll hear that we should be using our instructional time more wisely and preparing our kids for the standardized tests.  Or that we are putting ideas into their heads.  Or we are teaching them to be soft.  Or to be socialists.

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But the 7th and 8th grade students in Mr. Medina’s class have already made 1000 origami cranes and inscribed them with a wish for peace.  They will wear white to signify their solidarity.  And they will lend their voices by vowing to keep a day of silence. 

Each student will carry a Pledge Card that says:

•Today I am silent.

•Today I am silent… reflecting on peace within myself.

•Today I am silent… reflecting on peace within my family, my school, my community, and the world.

•Today I will walk in silence with my classmates and we will stand for peace.

•Today I am silent… for the last time!

•From this day forward, I will raise my voice in defense of others.  I will be an advocate for peace, non-violence, and justice for all people.

 By Tuesday the International Day of Peace will be over and we will not likely have effected any real change in the world.  At least for now. 

There are still 1000 origami cranes.  The wishes they bear will be released to the universe.  The prayers they carry will have come from our children.

girl peace

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THE GUNPOWDER CHRONICLES, Part 4: “Are You Listening?”

turtle 2-1This is the 4th in a series about our partnership with the Chula Vista Nature Center at Gunpowder Point. These posts will document our progress as we move our middle school science program off campus– to a satellite classroom called the San Diego Bay!

 

huddle

Kids don’t listen.  That is my big learning for the week.

Maybe I ‘ve always known that kids don’t listen.

But this past Thursday morning, eight 7th graders from our Nature Center program met at the Chula Vista Boat Ramp and proved it.  They could not have picked a more beautiful morning to kayak.  The sun was fully above the San Miguel mountain by 8:00am when we met Harry the Kayak Guy. The marina was perfectly still. Tranquil. There were the typical cast of sea-birds calling, the lappingof the water, a distant horn… but otherwise all was serene.

Harry the Kayak Guy had finished the routine pre-boarding instructions:  how to hold the paddles properly and how to fit their life preserver and how to get back on the kayak if they fall off and which direction is North and which fish they’ll see jumping out of the water and the many different theories for why they jump out of the water…

Then he veered from the script.  

“There are two rivers that flow into the San Diego Bay… the Otay River from the south and the Sweetwater River from the north.  Can you say those rivers?”

To which our eight 7th grade students responded with a unanimous and puzzling silence.  So he prompted them a little.

“Can you say the two rivers… that flow into the San Diego Bay… that I just mentioned…?”

artAnd one student tugged at his tennis shoe while two girls continued their conversation and a third girl looked out toward the San Miguel Mountain with her eyes fixed on absolutely nothing and two boys pretended to swat each other with their paddles and one child appeared to absolutely strain to come up with a respectable answer for Harry the Kayak Guy.

“The…  two rivers…” he started to say…

Then I interrupted.

“Alright, eyes on Harry the Kayak Guy. He just asked you a question…  can anybody even tell me what that question was?”

And having struck out on the two river question, our eight 7th grade students now looked me straight in the eyes and sheepishly admitted with their blank expressions that they not only did not know the name of the rivers that he just told them about but they hadn’t listened to his question either!

I was surprised and I was not surprised at all.  

Our kids don’t listen.

But neither do the adults.

42-17772388After all, wasn’t it just this past month that we all witnessed full-grown Americans yelling at each other and threatening and pointing fingers and waving guns and shouting with spit flying and jugglars bulging? Their anger and incivility prevented all meaningful discourse.  

If our children need models for how not to listen they only have to look at the adults at Town Hall Meetings!  

Fortunately, our students were not likely paying that much attention to the Town Hall Meetings on Health Care.  

So I realized in that moment at the boat ramp what I have known for a very long time but never put into words…

We teach children to READ and encourage them to read because it is a life skill that will determine their success at every level… and besides… it is tested!

We teach children to WRITE and encourage them to write because it is a life skill that will determine their success at every level… and besides… it is tested!

We teach children to solve problems and encourage them to solve problems because PROBLEM SOLVING is a life skill that will determine their success at every level… and besides… it is tested!

And even though LISTENING  is a life skill that will determine our  students’ success at every level and it is one of the 4 main components of the California Standards for Language Arts (reading, writing, speaking, and listening!) … I wonder if we don’t teach it because it is not tested!!!

Are YOU listening?

listen to us

So teach students to listen:

• To LISTEN with their face and shoulders– sit up straight and face the speaker…

• To LISTEN with their eyes– look at the person speaking to you…

• To LISTEN with their mouthes closed– you can’t talk and listen at the same time…

• To LISTEN with their minds open– focussed, engaged, attentive, active listening…

• To LISTEN as if to understand– like you just asked for directions to a place you really want to go…

• To LISTEN with both ears.

Listen as if your future depends on it.  Because it does.  

Maybe naming the two rivers that flow into the San Diego Bay will not be necessary to kayak on the water today.  Maybe knowing their watershed trivia won’t determine whether our students can compete in AP classes in high school or get into USC or run a business or participate in such democratic processes as… say…. Town Hall Meetings.

But being able to LISTEN when someone is speaking most certainly will.  Whether it is LISTENING to acquire facts or trivia or information or curriculum content or important dates or directions or another person’s opposing point of view… the ability to LISTEN is no less important than the ability to read and write!

So we headed out on this warm Thursday morning– Harry the Kayak Guy, Conchita and me, and eight 7th graders determined to work as hard today on their listening skills as their paddling skills. And we started something new.  With all of the distractions of being out on the glorious open space of the San Diego Bay… with the sun and water as warm as a swimming pool… with the fish jumping and the hazy skyline in the distance and the temptation to splash water on your classmates while Harry the Kayak Guy is speaking… we know we have to give our students a chance to practice attentive listening.

So now we have “Kayak Meetings.”  Whenever Harry the Kayak Guy is ready to instruct the students about the geography or ecosystems of the Bay, we ask that they circle up together and hang on to the kayak next to you.  There we sit out on the Bay, in science class, rocking with the waves and working to get better at LISTENING.

kayak meeting

 

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Filed under charter schools, El Milagro, environmental studies, public education, standardized testing, teaching

WHY PRESIDENT OBAMA WILL BE OUR GUEST SPEAKER AT EL MILAGRO

obamaokids

On Tuesday morning President Obama will be speaking to children in schools all across America.  He will deliver the messages that we have spent our careers delivering to our students:  stay in school.  Work hard.  Take responsibility for your education.  Do your homework.  Dream big.

He’s the perfect person to sing such a hopeful tune.  By now we all know from whence this man has come.  Born to an immigrant father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas, he grew up, at least for a time, in poverty.  He struggled as a youth to maintain a focus on his education. But ultimately, he graduated from some of the most prestigious universities on the planet– including Harvard Law School.  He became a community organizer to parley his education into some good for others.  He served his community.  He ran for public office.  He expanded his influence.  And in one of the most inspirational stories in our nation’s long tradition of resilient  citizens, he rose above the odds to become the first African American President of the United States.

He’s the guy that wants to step into our classrooms and tell kids that if they work hard and persevere and not make excuses they too can achieve their dream.  He’s an orator.  He is a poet.  He is compelling.  He is engaging.

Tuesday morning when the sun rises on the first day of school across most of America, children will meet their new teacher and new classmates and the televisions will click on and the President will welcome them back.  At least some of them.

gunzjpegAs is the case with all things now in American politics, this too has been spoiled.  The President has been demonized and his intentions sullied by another fight.  The same group of unhinged people who question our President’s legitimacy as an American citizen (Dred Scott?), who challenge his authenticity as an elected official, who carry guns to his public appearances, who freely and publicly characterize him by the twin hot button n-words: “nigger” and “nazi”, who muse that he “is not one of us”, who simultaneously suggest he wants to kill our elders… now suggest he wants to get his hooks into our children’ minds. Christians… sowing the seeds of hatred.

beckKnuckleheads from the far (and not so far) right wing of the Republican Party have managed to cast so many shadows on the President’s address to school children, that most will never hear the message.  Even elected officials have gone so far as to suggest that the president intends to use his “bully pulpit” to foment socialism and spread his radical ideologies  to an unsuspecting captive audience of school kids who just want to know where to store their lunch pail in their new classrooms. 

“As the father of four children, I am absolutely appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama’s socialist ideology. The idea that school children across our nation will be forced to watch the President justify his plans for government-run health care, banks, and automobile companies, increasing taxes on those who create jobs, and racking up more debt than any other President, is not only infuriating, but goes against beliefs of the majority of Americans, while bypassing American parents through an invasive abuse of power. While I support educating our children to respect both the office of the American President and the value of community service, I do not support using our children as tools to spread liberal propaganda.”  —  Jim Greer, GOP Chair, Florida

“As far as I am concerned, this is not civics education — it gives the appearance of creating a cult of personality. This is something you’d expect to see in North Korea or in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.” — Oklahoma Republican State Senator Steve Russell

North Korea?  Are you freakin’ serious?

What is it about these people?  How far does their hypocrisy go?  I remember when their guy was in office… if you questioned his judgment (?)  or direction you were no less than a traitor to America.  I remember him trying to string two coherent sentences together on any topic.  I remember all the members of his party suddenly running for office on the “family values” ticket… then demonstrating none of the values most families I know would ever espouse.  

I remember their education showhorse called No Child Left Behind.  It was going to spur school reform in America once and for all.  It was going to resurrect our schools and get us back to the basics.  We would be able to expose those schools that aren’t taking care of children– fire the teachers and the principals and allow parents to cut bait if need be and send their kids to schools that were really teaching.  We would even close the achievement gap across racial and socio-economic lines.  And the truth would be told in test scores.

And it was.  And the truth is that No Child Left Behind was never intended to close the achievement gap nor improve the quality of public education for children in all communities across America– which may explain in part why it has done neither.  

So while parents fret over whether they should “allow their child to be exposed to the message from the White House” on Tuesday– the irony is most schools won’t have time to air it anyway.  

And the “lesson plans” and other prepared materials designed to assist teachers in framing class discussions after the President’s address?  The one’s that really have created a collective aneurism among Republicans?  The ones that actually have the audacity to challenge kids to think… that prompts them with such radical questions as “How might you help the president?”  

I can guarantee that schools won’t have time to delve into those either. They will be far too busy with drilling students on basic skills and jumping through the hoops crafted by NCLB.  They will be preparing students to answer the standardized test questions that they will confront in May.  

obamaWhat a shame.  What a loss for those children and their naive parents.  They will miss the point that Barack Obama did not rise to the station of the American Presidency because he can take standardized tests or survive a curriculum so narrowly tuned to reading and math.  He rose to the presidency because he can THINK. He is a reader, a writer, an orator, a lover of art and music and people.  He is a leader.  Spiritual.  Self disciplined and self made.  He is the embodiment of Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences. He is the very model of what our public schools should strive for. And perhaps that is the biggest fear of all for those on the right:  That our public schools might actually work!  That we might, if untethered from the yoke of mindless standardized testing, reach across the great socio-economic divide and actually raise children from every community and race and ethnicity and gender group– to compete.  Anywhere.  Against anybody. Even to be President of the United States.

DSC_0260This Tuesday the televisions will be on at El Milagro.  We told teachers if they can fit it into their schedules they should.  But it is up to them.  And if parents don’t want their children exposed to this man…  they can opt out.  It is their call.  Their conscious. They can be complicit in the very blatant educational malpractice that began during the Bush presidency if they so choose.  Or they could actually seize the teachable moment and model for their own children that rarest of gifts these days:  the ability to THINK for oneself.

political-pictures-barack-obama-library-cool


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Filed under El Milagro, President Obama, public education, resiliency, school reform, standardized testing