The Importance of Flexibility

After a beautiful night’s sleep with my stomach still good of Five Guys deliciousness, I woke up refreshed and ready to start the day!  Early this afternoon, we talked with a woman who was the development and recruitment director of a charter school model here in Baltimore.  We were originally planning to visit the school, but due to state testing this week, we were not allowed in the building of the school.  The school model seemed very branded and like a corporation.  It’s a school where the staff recruits students by knocking on doors of underprivileged houses and talking to families to let them know that this charter school model is available to the kids in the family.  Families sign a contract with the teachers and are expected to be very involved in their kids education.  I think the model had some positive aspects, but definitely did not fit all kids learning styles.  It was interesting hearing about a school where everything is so strict and structured (when kids don’t do homework, they are questioned in front of all of their peers why they didn’t do it as a means of getting them to do it in the future).  The woman had us really thinking critically about this model and there were many reactions from our group about whether the model was too much like a business corporation that took away the personalization of students.

Today, at Midtown was my day to lead the group!  After seeing how effective it is to have students on their feet interacting, I changed our first activity from a discussion into skits.  We had the kids pair up, think of an obstacle that might get in the way of the future, and then write a skit about it.  They got really into it and the performances were really fun to watch.  I was reminded about how important flexibility is in the classroom when the activity took a little longer than anticipated.  We had the students write about obstacles that they have personally faced- and plans changed again when they wanted to share what they wrote with their journals.  It was really cool that they were comfortable enough with us to open up about personal life struggles.  Given that we were running behind schedule, we decided to move our financial aid presentation to tomorrow.  We had the kids experience an activity fair, where we had different stations with a bunch of different college activities around the classroom and they had to come ask us questions about the activity and fill out a worksheet about it.  They seemed to enjoy the activity and are really excited about coming to Gettysburg for a day in April and seeing some of those activities in action.  We segued into having the kids write their own resumes based on the activities they have been involved in.  Explaining formatting and reasons behind writing a resume was a little challenging, but most of our students were able to fill up a page with their accomplishments.  Our last discussion for the day was to get the kids ready for their mock interviews tomorrow.  We had them come up with questions and then talked about proper interview etiquette.  Although they were very chatty earlier in our session, they didn’t have  a whole lot to say for this conversation, so I had to be flexible again and lead it in a couple different directions.  But overall, I thought the day went well!  This week is going by so fast and I can’t believed tomorrow is our last day running the program!!!

-Liz

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We’re half way there

“There” as in the end of our Spring Break in Baltimore, and it’s probably one of the last things I want to say.

Today we spoke with the Recruitment Director of another charter school reform model. Unfortunately, we were unable to visit the school and see the model in action but I believe the class was able to get a pretty good idea of what the charter school was about. This model definitely resembled a private corporation rather than a public institutions. I previously worked for this school and can testify that I felt like I was working at a private company rather than a public school. One of main things that bothers me about charter schools is funding. Midtown Academy receives both funding from the district and from private donations. There are other models who want to achieve the best results, however, to make this all happen has to have the initial funds to make it possible. The model we learned today required students’ to do an array of academic-enriching activities but these same activities would not be able to be implemented into the public school system because there isn’t enough funds.

Initially, I thought charter schools were schools started by ambitions teachers or educational advocates who had amazing ideas to improve education, and hope to be the positive change that our public school needed. At the moment, it appears that these charter schools are not planning to share their methods with public schools or understand that public schools are not unable to do their methods. They are definitely making a positive difference on the students and families they are working with, however, there are thousands and thousands of other students who are not receiving the same academic experience. Although charter schools are contributing to closing the achievement gap, they’re not contributing to solving the problems that still exist in urban public schools.

Beside that, today was day three of our College and Career Institute and Liz did a great job with facilitating the session. She modified the curriculum to make it more engaging and interactive, and it definitely worked! We also had a great discussion on obstacles and different activities that certain colleges have. I really enjoy interacting with the students and learning more about them. It’s also a pleasure to share things about myself to them. I know I am going to miss them so much after this week and I am trying to see if I could possibly return for their graduation. I mean, I can easily get a bus ticket from Philadelphia to Baltimore — we’ll see!

What to expect tomorrow: The Urban Education class will be learning about and immersing  ourselves in another charter school reform.

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Pictures, pictures, pictures!

Today had a nice start. We didn’t have anything on the schedule until 1:30PM, so of course, I stayed up late last night and then didn’t get up until 11AM. It was super nice being able to sleep in. Then I was able to take my time getting ready and at 12PM, almost all of the people in our urban education class headed out to David & Dad’s for brunch. We didn’t get to all sit near each other, but I still had a good time and the bagel with honey walnut raisin cream cheese was delicious!

When we got back to the hostel, we had a representative from one of the many school reform models we’ve been learning about come and talk with us for about an hour. I liked what the school was doing with providing their students a whole new environment and how they would hold their students to a higher standard than what they had expected and grown up with. Parts of their program made me a little uncomfortable because it sounded almost like they were brainwashing the children. But overall, I think they instill really good values. I think even the fact that they give their children the hope of going to college is such an achievement, even if the school itself might not see it that way. Of course, graduating from a four year college is a great achievement. However, when they very idea of going to college seemed like a goal that was too high to reach, even the fact that this program lets their students grasp at being applied and accepted must be a huge step for the students. I worry a little bit whether the standards the program sets are so high that the students feel like failures if they do not graduate from a four year college. It makes me curious how it affects them and how the people who track them make them feel. As the program grows and evolves, I’m sure they will continue to improve though and I hope they begin to get more sponsors to help them.

After the representative left, we all began to head out to Midtown academy. Today was my lucky day and got to ride in the car with Professor Rinke to go to the school. I’ve missed the convenience of cars so much, so I really appreciated it. We got to the school fairly early today. Our group was doing a powerpoint presentation today and luckily, the teacher was still in the classroom and she was able to bring out the projector for us to use. Today’s theme was ‘Where are you going?’. So we talked a lot about their future. We started off with a warm-up called the three-headed doctor, which I think the kids had a lot of fun with. It’s too bad that Ivan was absent today.

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After the warm-up, we had them write out where they thought they would be in 5, 10, and 15 years from now. The kids had some really great thoughts and ambitions. Rodney surprised me by saying that he wanted to have a kid at 18 years old. I was surprised, but then I wondered if that was a cultural difference where he is just used to seeing younger people having children. We had a pretty long discussion with this though and I really loved listening to what the kids wanted to do. Kalyn has such a pure motive where she just wants to help people.

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Next, we transitioned into our powerpoint presentation where we discussed options for after high school. Doug talked about the army and being an entrepreneur. Then I talked about different types of colleges and tried to explain the importance of it. I went through four different types: Vocational, Community College, Four-year college, and university. Then I quickly explained the difference between public and private schools. They didn’t seem as involved in the presentation as with other activities, but it was probably due to the fact that they were more being lectured at than participating. Still, they did ask some good questions. After the presentation, Charrisha explained the importance of networking and we had them make business cards. Then Charrisha, Doug, Michael, and I each pretended to be a type of business and the kids went around introducing themselves to us and talking about what they could contribute. Afterwards, we gave them some critiques and praises. Finally, some of the kids did not finish using up their cameras and so we took them around the school to use up the last few pictures left since we needed to take them to develop. We finished right on time. Then, after our class reflection, we headed out.

Doug, Liz, Rex, and I all needed to get pictures developed, so we separated from the rest of the group after getting off the light rail. We tried Rite Aid first because it was closest, but it was going to take 1 week for them to develop the disposable cameras. So then we went and found the Walgreens that we had passed the night before and dropped off the cameras. They said they should have them developed by 10AM. So overall, this process took a bit longer than I thought. We didn’t get back to the hostel until about 7:30pm. We had four other people waiting for us at the hostel and we weren’t sure where to eat and so we headed toward Inner Harbor and ate at Bubba Gump Shrimp. This was my first time there and it was really delicious. We didn’t get back until around 9 or 9:30, so today was probably the latest we’ve stayed out. So tired and ready to head to bed now. I hope those pictures are developed and ready tomorrow morning!

Day 3: If it weren’t for that meddling Internet…

Today, we learned about the next reform school model, a franchise charter school, not by visiting, but by being visited. We had a Q&A with the Recruitment Director…first of all, since when did public schools have recruitment directors?? There seemed to be several conflicting descriptions about this school model: joyous but militaristic, about students and about the numbers. While the idea being highly structured sounding appealing, especially after experiencing yesterday’s public schools, some of us questioned whether this emphasis on standardized assessment performance and behavior brainwashing was actually “teaching” the students anything relevant (such as critical thinking…) and if it actually translated to life after this school, to the outside world, the real world.

Also, at Midtown this afternoon, today was my day to lead the lesson. I planned A LOT to cover, but I didn’t think that I underestimated how long each activity would take, and that seemed to be the case in the beginning. As long as we had questions that encouraged the kids to think, they answered. I noticed that their college questions were becoming more specific as the week went on too. However, then we were to used the laptops… We thought that by starting them up before the lesson that we were prepared against any more technical difficulties…NOPE. Even once on the internet and I wanted the students to follow along looking up different college types as we discussed them, the loading was so slow that it was almost useless, and I knew this made my plan to have each student conduct their own college search & comparison a lost cause too. At least they can keep the worksheets with the website names, and there is always opportunity for review…

Future Me

Today’s theme/focus for our Midtown Academy children was “Where are you going?” We started out by asking the students where they saw themselves in 5, 10, and 15 years. I did this assignment too, and was surprised to see where I hope I would be in those years, and how old I am going to be! I also was able to realize that I have a lot of things I just simply couldn’t get all down on the board. It was interesting to see what the students wanted to do most importantly, and how everything was centered around helping others and their community. Another thing that was done today was the “Networking/Job” fair. I taught them the importance of networking. I told them that most times “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” They understood that, so I hope they are more open minded to meeting new people whether it be a nerd, a not so well kept person, or the greatest entrepreneur. We also held a job fair, and I taught them how to make business cards. That was fun! I believe they really took well to the networking, job fair. We used skills from the interviews we did to help them in successfully networking at the fair; skills like a good handshake, eye contact, not being fidgety, etc.

Tomorrow we make our life maps incorporating all three themes we’ve explored so far: Who are you? , Where are you from?, Where are you going?. All those questions make up a person’s life! LIFE MAPS!

Day 3: Pit Beef

 

Today was an eventful day for our urban education trip.  After having lunch, we met with a PR Representative for one of Baltimore’s charter schools.  We were unable to visit the school because of MSA testing but she did a great job of describing the charter program and the school’s day-to-day.  The school seemed to produce great testing scores, but I found myself questioning the method.  The school she described seemed to be almost like bootcamp and very militaristic in nature.  I couldn’t help but envision the school’s teaching method focusing on branding rather than actual community.  What I mean by branding is that high test scores and maintaining the schools image is more important than actually helping for the sake of helping.

After meeting with this school rep, we returned to Midtown Academy and definitely made progress with our group.  We focused on exploring college websites and our group was actively participating with many questions.  We explored the collegeboard.com website and Maddy did a great job of opening the door to various types of colleges.

Following are long day we made a trip to Chap’s Pit Beef.  I have to say it was the best BBQ I have had in a long time.  The Pit Beef was phenomenal and I highly recommend it to anyone staying in Baltimore.

Pit Beef

Chap’s Pit Beef

 

3 down, 2 to go

Being able to wake up at 11 AM again today was nice, and not having to go anywhere until 2 was even better. The day officially began at 12:30, and first on the agenda was a talk session with another charter school representative right here in the hostel lobby. I was surprised to find that in this particular charter school, the students were held to much higher standards not only academically but behaviorally than some of the other charter schools we have learned about. I was particularly surprised to find that the students who failed to complete their homework were openly criticized by the rest of the students who did do their homework, all as part of the curriculum at the charter school.

After the session, we made our way right to Midtown for day 3 of our curriculum. This time around, my group focused on “where are going” as a theme for the day, and the students seemed to get very into it. One particular activity which the students really enjoyed was the job fair marketing game. The students used their newly created business cards to go from group member to group member trying to sell themselves to different job titles. They laughed and had a lot of fun with this, which I thought made them enjoy it that much more.

After Midtown, I went to Chaps Pit Beef with some of the classmates and had probably   the best Baltimore food experience of the trip. Going into the endeavor, I knew this particular restaurant was on the Man vs. Food show and was ranked best Pit Beef in Baltimore, so my expectations were very high. After I tried the food, I wasn’t disappointed, and although my stomach was a little restless on the bus ride back, I would still say it was worth it. Looks like I’ll be going to bed well nourished tonight!