It’s not a great picture. At least artistically speaking. There are eight of our students and only Brandon even looked at the camera. The lighting, such as it is, is purely accidental. If you didn’t know the subject you would click past it and move on.
But we can’t. We know the subject. And we know how they came to be sitting in the courtyard there in the shadows of those majestic buildings. For us there is tremendous symbolism in that picture from UCLA.
So let me ask you, as an educator, when did you first know you were going to college?
As the youngest of three wayward boys, I was the first in my family to even graduate from high school, let alone go to college—or get a degree. When I was the age of the students in the picture, I could not have predicted a doctorate. Or running a school. Or reading the blogs of colleagues on Saturday morning. I went to college by accident and only to play football. For many of you I know the story is the same. Our students have their stories too. And for most, the journey to a university campus is too often one of pure luck, or providence, or childhood fantasy, or accident.
Unless we put them in the picture.
We took all sixty of our 8th graders to Los Angeles last Spring and spent three days touring colleges and universities there. We went to Cal State LA, UC Irvine, Long Beach State University, UCLA, and of course, the University of Southern California. We stayed in a hotel in Santa Monica and I have ever been so proud of a group of students—or so inspired.
As close as we were to Hollywood and Universal Studios and Knotts Berry Farm and Disneyland-- we didn’t see any of those places. Our only side trip was to the Museum of Tolerance. The real attraction-- the power-- was in spending time on those campuses; feeling the energy, shopping in the bookstores, walking through classrooms… and seeing so many college students who looked just like our kids. 57 of our 60 students are Latino. 2 are African American. We are a low income, Title I school. Every one of those students knew how unlikely it was for them to be sitting on the wall at UCLA on a Spring afternoon when they would otherwise be back at school struggling through their algebra.
It is getting harder and harder for families to send their children to college. It is getting harder to finish, too. In fact, the US is 15th out of 29 nations in college completion rates-- just ahead of Mexico and Turkey. Moreover, Latinos like the students from our school that we call El MIlagro are least represented on our college campuses. Even though they are the fastest growing ethnic group in the US, they make up only 11% of college enrollment. This of course explains why only 12 percent of Latinos age 25 and older have received a bachelor’s degree or higher compared to 30.5 percent of non-Latino White students.
Despite such odds, there is still is a well-lit path to college if we are willing to show our students where it is. In fact, when we piled off the buses by the bookstore at USC, we were greeted by a Pre-med student who was hand picked to be our campus tour guide. He knew our students and the challenges they faced. He was one of our alumni, a past graduate of El Milagro with a little brother now in our 7th grade. (Just one more surprise — one more piece of diligent and intentional planning by our counselors Ryan and Marisol!) He wasn’t a regular tour guide and to tell you the truth he didn’t know the campus all that well. He pretty much knew where his classrooms were and the bookstore and the library. But that too was telling. He was not there to play. He knew the sacrifices that others had to make so that he could attend this extraordinary institution; to live his dream and some day return to serve his community as a doctor.
He did know where the athletic department was though-- where all 7 of the Heisman Trophies are displayed. There was the one from Mike Garrett and Charles White and Marcus Allen and Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer and Reggie Bush and yes, OJ’s is there too. We passed by and looked at each one and kids like Fernando knew exactly what that trophy represented and what it means to have so many in one room.
The next day, just before lunch, Ryan and Marisol lead their daily groups in the main courtyard at UCLA. The tours were structured so our students had some time to reflect. In the groups they could ask questions and share pictures and write in their travel journals. The group sessions challenged them to share their dreams and their personal epiphanies.
“So what have you learned in your visit today?”
“As you sit here on these steps and look around this campus, what do you think you have to do right now—in preparation to go to school here?”
“What image has created the most powerful impression on you so far?’
They all shared and listened.
“It’s not just the goals we set for ourselves,” Maria said. “We have to stay close to each other and surround ourselves with people who have the same goals that we have.”
“High school seems different to me right,” Miguel said. “I think if I want to go to UCLA, I need to start preparing today. I need to approach school in a whole different way. I need to get serious…because I can do this.”
Fernando was still thinking about those Heisman Trophies he saw the day before on the other side of town. Everybody knows that Fernando is a great football player. He has unlimited potential. As an athlete. He started to articulate what the past three days had meant to him and how no one in his family had even set foot on a college campus like this before. Something clicked, sitting there in the hallowed air of UCLA. “Those Heisman Trophies were sick,” Fernando said. “But I know, I can’t count on football to get me to college.”
Fernando and his classmates finally figured out why we wanted to load them on to buses and spend three days looking at universities when they were only in the 8th grade.
He looked at Ryan and Marisol and tried to say thank you but he just put his head in his hands and started to sob. He wasn’t alone. For Fernando and all of his classmates from El Milagro, the road to college will not be an easy one. And for some it will be improbable.
But then… there they are sitting in the courtyard in that picture from UCLA.
P.S. On June 20, 2011, I will be posting an announcement on my blog declaring where each of these 60 students are going to college. I can’t wait. In the meantime, this Spring, we are taking 60 more students to UCLA.
(Cross posted on El Milagro Weblog.)
On Thursday we made the disturbing discovery that some of our 6th graders are engaging in the most heinous kinds of bullying, hazing, intimidation and battery. Some of it is of a sexual nature. And they have taken it to extreme lengths.
Counselors, teachers, administrators, and local police met with our students this past week and some of their parents and we assured everyone in earshot that we were going to protect out children from bullying.
We were most disturbed that:
• we hadn’t seen it happening…
• that it was mostly among the girls…
• and that no one spoke up in defense of the victims.
And that the nature of the behavior was so offensive. One of the police officers recounted a similar story that took place at another middle school just the day before. He told us that a girl had been assaulted by other girls in a PE class. Her attackers had grabbed her from behind, held her, and put a condom inside her mouth.
Upon hearing the story and connecting it to our own events some of our teachers wanted to know what in the heck was happening to our children.
“What in the heck is happening to our kids?” she asked.
The answers were predictable: “It’s the media, the internet, the quest for YouTube stardom, the lack of values, violent video games, the economy, screwed up role models, missing parents…”
WAIT! Maybe it is some of those things. But WE create the climate in this school. We designed a rotating, departmentalized schedule that leads to a more fragmented day. We provide the structure and the supervision (and lack of it when we get complacent.) We established the flawed systems that reward and recognize students that abide by our rules and consequences (most of the time) for students who break them. We create the relationships. We influence the culture of our school more than any of these outside forces!!!
Bullying begins to take root in places where bullying is permitted. To find the source of why it happens, we only have to look in the mirror. Even some of our students reported that they took our advice when others were picking on them. They told an adult. And maybe the adults just blew it off because they were busy doing something else. Maybe they were overwhelmed with the alarming increase in students coming to report that they were being bullied too.
As school leaders we can say what we want about out obligation to tests scores and politicians and our quest to create the planet’s most amazing school. But job one is keeping children safe, and if we can’t do that, we need to step aside and allow our communities to hire the quality of principals that our children deserve.
(Cross-posted at El Milagro Weblog.)
I am approaching the six-month anniversary of my very first blog. For those of you who were the early pioneers of this vigorous enterprise, let me first salute you, then ask your patience while I share three personal discoveries that are having a significant impact on how I think about leadership and my school. I guess they are my “Blogging Discoveries”-- lessons that you all learned a long time ago while neophytes like me were just stumbling along.
First, as I read the extraordinarily prolific writing of so many educators I have arrived back to a familiar place—right where I started when I first completed my student teaching at Mar Vista Jr. High School thirty years ago; that strangely refreshing realization that the more I learn, the more I learn that I don’t know squat. Whenever I get to that place, somewhere between bewilderment and humility, I become open to really, really growing.
Secondly, I have discovered how much I hate to fish. I don’t eat a lot of fish, and so I have no use for sitting out on the Ocean Beach Pier all afternoon incubating pre-cancerous skin lesions. Besides, I don’t like killing living creatures. I don’t hunt either. So I blog. And I have discovered that blogging is very much like I imagine fishing to be. To catch fish, you have to have the right stuff, you have to hang it from the right hook, and you have to be ever so patient when the fish come trolling for dinner. And if they don’t come trolling, they either aren’t hungry or you have the wrong bait. That’s teaching for you. And that’s blogging too—at least when you first get started and your name isn’t Eduwonkette.
Finally, I learned form reading so many posts and joining in those blogospheric debates, that we all have one very cool thing in common-- one noble thing: we all seem to want the very best for our students. And that is where it gets really interesting.
People write and argue and fuss with a passion, and frequently – they are blinded by the utter certitude of their world view. It reminds me of that old allegory of the blind men and the elephant:
Six blind men encounter an elephant. The first touches its trunk and says that an elephant is like a palm tree, another touches its side and says that an elephant is like a rough wall. Another feels its tail and says that an elephant is like a piece of rope. Each comes into contact with a different part of the elephant and is convinced that their own explanation is correct and that the others are wrong. None of them realize that they are each experiencing just one part of the same elephant and that none of their explanations are complete.
Not even the one who touches its ear and says “an elephant is a leather blanket…roughly cut in the shape of Africa.”
They may each be wise, but their blindness has prevented them from developing a broader view of the world. They could only understand the elephant in the context of an isolated feature, rather than as a magnificent creature that was the sum of its parts.
Clearly the “elephant” represents the educational system, about which we each know just enough to be dangerous. I don’t know which part of the elephant I hold or you hold but I figured this out:
When it comes to blogging and sharing perspectives on this very complex enterprise called education, we need the courage to realize that just because our ideas are criticized it doesn’t mean we are wrong. And conversely, we need the humility to recognize that just because we write it in a blog, it doesn’t mean we are right.
That's what I've learned so far. How about you?
(Cross posted in living color at El Milagro Weblog).
Ok… so he didn’t really ask for my opinion on who should be Secretary of Education or what their priorities should be. Whether he chooses Linda Darling-Hammond or Joel Klein or Kennedy or Powell or Weingarten or Cornell West or Rhee or you or whomever– I know this... they will have a mountain to climb just like the president himself. And I thought about what their priorities should be. So from my perspective as a charter school principal... here are: 2.
Ensure that every child has access to comprehensive eye exams and appropriate
interventions when they are struggling just to see let alone to read; 3.
Ensure that every child has regular dental checkups and access to highly
qualified dentists so that my students’ baby teeth aren’t rotting in their
Provide the funding support and infrastructure so that all of my students can
attend preschool like the affluent kids do; 5.
Create a way for every child in America to have a laptop and access to the
Internet so that poor children aren’t pushed further behind by the technology
divide that favors their more affluent counterparts; 6.
Divert the 10 billion dollars we are currently spending every month in Iraq and
re-invest in the modernization and construction of state-of-the-art school
buildings in every community in America; 7.
Guarantee a college education of the highest quality for all children so they
are motivated to apply themselves academically; 8.
Eliminate unemployment so that the parents of my students can properly provide
the basic necessities for their children-food, clothing shelter; 9.
Significantly raise the minimum wage so that our parents are not forever
struggling against the tide…fighting the unwinnable battle to stay ahead of a
runaway economy and its stunning indifference to the working poor; and finally… 10. Eliminate politically motivated accountability
systems like NCLB that primarily test our students’ ability to take tests while ignoring all of their other
assets: like their creativity and their critical thinking and problem solving
and communication skills; or their
proficiency with technology or their ability to speak in multiple languages or lead others or
serve their community…
Ok… so he didn’t really ask for my opinion on who should be Secretary of Education or what their priorities should be. Whether he chooses Linda Darling-Hammond or Joel Klein or Kennedy or Powell or Weingarten or Cornell West or Rhee or you or whomever– I know this... they will have a mountain to climb just like the president himself. And I thought about what their priorities should be.
So from my perspective as a charter school principal... here are:
2. Ensure that every child has access to comprehensive eye exams and appropriate interventions when they are struggling just to see let alone to read;
3. Ensure that every child has regular dental checkups and access to highly qualified dentists so that my students’ baby teeth aren’t rotting in their heads;
4. Provide the funding support and infrastructure so that all of my students can attend preschool like the affluent kids do;
5. Create a way for every child in America to have a laptop and access to the Internet so that poor children aren’t pushed further behind by the technology divide that favors their more affluent counterparts;
6. Divert the 10 billion dollars we are currently spending every month in Iraq and re-invest in the modernization and construction of state-of-the-art school buildings in every community in America;
7. Guarantee a college education of the highest quality for all children so they are motivated to apply themselves academically;
8. Eliminate unemployment so that the parents of my students can properly provide the basic necessities for their children-food, clothing shelter;
9. Significantly raise the minimum wage so that our parents are not forever struggling against the tide…fighting the unwinnable battle to stay ahead of a runaway economy and its stunning indifference to the working poor; and finally…
10. Eliminate politically motivated accountability systems like NCLB that primarily test our students’ ability to take tests while ignoring all of their other assets: like their creativity and their critical thinking and problem solving and communication skills; or their proficiency with technology or their ability to speak in multiple languages or lead others or serve their community…
Generation We kids are artists, chess players, musicians, singers, designers, athletes, dancers, actors, playwrights, fashion innovators, tech-savvy inventors, engineers, space travelers, environmental activists, civil rights activists, and scholars. They are forward thinking, technologically gifted (i.e., connected), intensely socially integrated, and ethnically diverse. Many of them just helped elect the first African American president in our nation’s history. They are roughly between the ages of 8 and 30.
So is it me? Or have we somehow managed to reduce their brilliance to a narrow scope of competencies once considered appropriate for 19th century prairie schools?
They are, after all, judged in our schools on their ability to select one pre-ordained “correct” answer from a list of 4 possible choices on sterile and standardized tests designed independently by each state. States which, by the way, get to test whatever they want to test as long as they test that which is valued by one very onerous and unfunded mandate called “No Child Left Behind”.
The education of Generation We has in effect been reduced to basic skills in reading, grammar rules, math, and test taking. In response to the accountability and testing movement, we have regressed toward a narrow curriculum once quaintly defined in one-room prairie school houses as the “3R’s”: readin’, ritin’, and ‘rithmetic. (At least ritin’ requires thinkin’. ) Now the curriculum focus is defined by W.O.T.T! What? What’s On The Test. As in…”Today, class, we will study whatever's on the freakin' test”!!!!!
But if we are still capable of learning anything we should have learned by now that one of the defining characteristics of Generation We is that they are not going to be pigeon-holed in percentiles and proficiency levels.
Keenan is a perfect example. He is not particularly strong in ‘readin’, ritin’, or rithmetic”. But his short term and long term memory is so acute he memorizes song lyrics the first time he hears them. He masters technology the moment he touches it: cell phones, laptops, I-pods, video games. (I wonder why they even bother to print owner’s manuals and directions any more— Gen-We kids don’t use them!)
And he is a walking billboard for Avalon Tattoo in Pacific Beach. He is running out of space on his otherwise beautifully sculpted body to permanently ink icons or sayings or cryptic celtic designs. He designs is own tattoos because he can. It is his body and maybe after 12 years of captivity in someone else’s definition of art and literacy his designs are liberating. At one time he might have passed as an anti-social biker or a carnival ride operator or an island warrior. Today, his Facebook page has hundreds of “friends” from all over the world--most of whom have liberating tats of their own!
Throughout his school experience Keenan was warned that he has to score Proficient on the California Standards Test and pass the High School Exit Exam or he’ll be doomed to a lifetime of failure. What does a tech-savvy, socially connected, Generation We kid with a superb memory and a willful defiance of traditional school norms do with his life when he grows up and struggles with the “readin’, ritin’, and rithmetic’” that we told him was so important?
He becomes fluent in American Sign Language. It comes as natural as new cell phone protocols. He remembers every gesture and symbol from the instant he learns it. He has mastered a skill set that he can actually use in the service of others.
Seems like we could learn from kids like Keenan that our schools should not be designed by educrats obsessed with the prairie grass that they see waving in their rear-view mirror.
Now let’s see. How do you “sign” the word Gifted? It’s not on the test.
(Posted for Comments on El Milagro Weblog)
Back on October 29, Scott challenged bloggers on Dangerously Irrelevant to write an open letter to the new president. At the time, we didn't know who the new president was going to be-- even if we did pay attention to the polls. I was so inspired by President-Elect Obama's victory and the spontaneous world response to him, that I decided to write my own letter and post it on my blog. So I did.
Then I saw a CNN interview with Maya Angelou who was talking about the Inauguration Poem that she wrote for Bill Clinton called On the Pulse of Morning. She told Wolf Blitzer that she had not (yet) been asked to write an Inauguration Poem for President Obama and that she was pretty sure that she wouldn't be asked... but she was also pretty sure she was going to write one anyway!
Well I write poetry too. And while President-Elect Obama is out finding inspiring Americans to join his cabinet, I have decided to write an Inauguration Poem for his consideration. He can use it if he wants to on Inauguration Day. Or he can use the one that Maya Angelou writes, or the one that you write, or will.i.am's or anybody he chooses. He's the president.
The thing is, my day to post on LeaderTalk is the 20th of each month. (Seems like as the 20th approaches each month my brain starts churning up all kinds of ideas! I LOVE this stuff!!!)
So I am going to hold my Inauguration Poem until January 20... the day that President Obama is sworn in. President Obama will have to wait until that historic day to read it here. You don't have to though. If you want a sneak preview of "I Am Hope: A Poem Upon the Inauguration of America", I posted it on my blog just ahead of my Open Letter to the President.
In the meantime, I'll keep working on my post for the 20th!
Educators are supposed to be disciplined at presenting issues and election themes and even presidential candidates to students in a wholly neutral way. We want students to weigh the facts (what are the facts?) and think for themselves. It is an exercise in democracy and critical thinking. Even if they are only eight. We are conditioning them to one day take their place among the discerning electorate.
There are schools all across America where 100% of the students are performing at their "grade level" as they always have... and always will. They don't have to wait until 2014 or whenever NCLB shames every school into compliance or dire consequence. Your school could have every child at grade level too. By this Friday!
My apologies in advance if this post has a political edge to it. I don't mean to offend. But I noticed the other day as I conducted my walkthroughs in all of our classrooms throughout our K-8 campus, there was little evidence that we are in the final weeks of an historic Presidential campaign. For that matter, there was little evidence that we were in an economic meltdown or even the baseball play-offs.