Diversity By Design

Crosstown High School is a charter school in Memphis that was designed to be diverse in race, socioeconomics and academic achievement.  The school hopes to better represent the area and teach students how to relate to one another.

“It’s going to be ongoing work. It’s never going to be finished.”

Read more here

Ahead of the Game

Memphis students are registering for school in greater numbers this school year than they did last year.  Outreach efforts to parents are paying off tremendously.

“We’ve been trying to meet parents where they’re at. Our principals and teachers took ownership of registration.”

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Memphis school board candidates speak out on what they want to change

Fifteen people are vying for four seats on the Shelby County Schools board this year. That’s much higher stakes compared to two years ago when five seats were up for election with only one contested race.

The election is Thursday, Aug. 2 with early voting starting Friday, July 13.

To learn more about these candidates and meet them in person, be sure to attend our forum 6:00 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, July 19 at BRIDGES.

Note: School board candidates Roderic Ford, Percy Hunter, and Alvin Crook did not respond to the survey questions. We have included some general information about each of those candidates.

Read more here

Setting the Bar High

In school, Ginny Terrell was that kid. You know, the one that was called stupid. The one no one thought would achieve much. That was Ginny.  The naysayers were wrong though, because now Ginny is teaching students who are undervalued and underestimated and she is setting the bar high-not low-for her students.

“If you think you have arrived in teaching, you need to retire.“

Read more here

How to Deal with Uninvolved Parents

By Andrew Pillow 

If you are a teacher, then chances are you have dealt with many different types of parents. There are many actions parents take that teachers find annoying. You have the parents that never think their kids do anything wrong. You have the helicopter parents that are over-involved. By far, the most difficult parents to deal with are the ones from which you hear nothing at all.

Uninvolved parents are the bane of many teachers’ existence. It’s hard enough to reach children as it is. It gets significantly harder if you can’t reach their parents.  Parents who don’t answer calls or show up to conferences leave a bad taste in the mouths of teachers, but dealing with parents is part of the job. So how exactly do you effectively deal with uninvolved parents?

1.       Don’t assume it’s because they don’t care

Often time teachers make the mistake of assuming parents that are uninvolved don’t care or are uninterested. There are some parents who don’t care, but most want to see their children do well in school, even if they don’t show it the way teachers feel like they should.

2.       Examine the barriers stopping them

There could be any number of reasons parents are “uninvolved.”  They may not have a working phone to answer your calls. They may not have adequate transportation to attend school functions. They may work multiple jobs or the night shift which makes them unavailable at normal times.

Some of these obstacles, such as needing a phone, are actually quite fixable, but schools and teachers have to examine the barriers preventing parents from participating to remedy the situation.

3.       Be more flexible

Sometimes a school’s systems and methods are too rigid to accommodate parents with unusual circumstances and conferences are a good example.

Can you really hold it against a parent if they can’t take off of work in the middle of the day to show up at a parent-teacher conference? Why not allow the conference to be scheduled at a different time more conducive to their schedule? Do meetings have to take place at the school? If parents don’t have transportation, doesn’t it make sense for the teachers and admin to visit them?

These are the kind of actions schools need to think about if they really want to include uninvolved parents.

4.       Leverage other people

Sometimes that parent that doesn’t answer your calls has a great relationship with a teacher from last year or another class. What did that teacher do that you didn’t?

The father who doesn’t show up to a parent-teacher conference may occasionally show up to basketball games and has a good relationship with the coach. Why not ask the coach to pass on a message to the father?

Trying to get your disinterested parent to show up for literacy night, but can’t reach them? What about asking the parent that goes to the same church to relay the invite?

Unfortunately, varying degrees of parent involvement is simply part of being a teacher, but schools need to make sure they have exhausted all options before they declare a parent “uninvolved.”

What about those kids?

By Elizabeth Jepsen

Activism.

Protesting about poverty. Policy for political change. Picket lines and signs.

Crowds of bitter faces chanting and demanding—not asking for—change.

How does this image of activism compare to the one your mind conjured up when you read that word? If the images look similar, keep reading.

I’m very conscious of words. I remember when I was a kid, watching a movie or listening to someone talk and hearing a new word. Almost immediately, my mind would become preoccupied by letter combinations as I tried to reason out how that word was spelled. Then, I’d try to figure out what it meant based on how it was used.

As I grew older, I began to notice that sometimes words could have a meaning different from their literal meaning, based on how they were used. For example, like when my older brother looked at me from across the breakfast table and said “Nice hair, Lizzie!”—emphasis on the word nice and subsequent laughter.

To state the obvious, my brother didn’t really think my hair looked nice. Instead, it was his way of making fun of me without deliberately saying “Your hair looks ugly,” which most definitely would have garnered more attention from my mom, if she had happened to hear. This way, he could get in his little jab and defend it, albeit weakly, if I decided to tell on him.

When I was younger, I recognized obvious connotations, such as the aforementioned example. Yet, as an adult, I’ve begun to notice that there are many more subtle connotations that are not so innocuous as sibling banter. Like when I was asked how “those” kids’ behavior compares to others. “Those” referring to the predominantly black and brown middle schoolers I teach. For a minute, I wasn’t sure why I instantly felt annoyed by this question. The person asking hadn’t blatantly said anything rude.

Later, as I was pondering this question and trying to understand why it had bothered me, I realized that it was the connotation of the word “those” when placed in front of the word kids. It was the tone and emphasis placed on the word “those.” It was the expectancy with which the person seemingly waited to hear something negative and the mild shock when I laughed and said, “They’re pretty normal 7th graders. Kind of hormonal and all over the place at times.”

Sometimes, the connotation of a word is more powerful than the word itself. It gives the speaker a cloak of innocence to quickly pull on when questioned because he or she didn’t “technically” say anything wrong.

Back to activism…

This word often seems to carry a negative connotation. However, I don’t think this connotation stems from how the word is used, but from how people see it portrayed. When we think of activism, the images that are most readily accessible are those that tend to triumph in the headlines of newspapers and on the covers of magazines – images that show hordes of people marching and shouting with picket signs and posters. Activism does exist elsewhere, though, and in different forms.

As a matter of fact, when I think about the social and political change that needs to happen on a large scale, I see that there is not just one way to make it happen. Consider social justice leaders Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—both were civil rights leaders and activists, but with vastly different approaches. Many say MLK was too passive and others say Malcolm X was too extreme. Nevertheless, both men undeniably had a profound impact on the previous and current generation of our society.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with the above described type of activism, there is more to it. You don’t have to possess a megaphone and rally large groups of people to be an activist. An activist is someone who fights against the status quo for political or social change—and there are many different ways to do that.

We can practice activism when we put aside our pride, prejudice, and biases and thoughtfully engage in a courageous conversation where we question what we have implicitly accepted to be the truth.

Or, in reference to the comment about “those” kids, instead of responding in annoyance for the connotation it carries, I humble myself and discard the air of righteous indignation when I remember that I, too, have made similar thoughtless comments based on ignorance—and then, after coming to this recognition, respond with kindness and the intent to build a bridge,not burn one.

A Metaphor For Metaphor

This article was first posted on https://eajepsen.wordpress.com

My mind was preoccupied as I briskly cut to my classroom through the middle school cafeteria as 7th grade lunch was dismissing. Out of the corner of my eye, a quick movement caught my attention and I spun my head in the direction of the movement, which was now accompanied by squealing and yelling. At this point in the school year, my eyes and ears were trained to discern sounds abnormal from the regular din and activity that middle schoolers bring with them. My mind rapidly calculated that some sort of fight was breaking out and with lunch bag in tow, I sprinted to the huddle of students from where the noise was coming.

Surprised, I saw one of my female students—a generally quiet, conservative, and respectful girl—hitting another student who seemed to be cowering on the wall.

“Hey! Cut it out and get to class!” I yelled.

When the student doing the hitting disregarded my instruction, I was both annoyed and confused. This was not like her. I stepped closer, ready to intervene and much more loudly shouted,

“HEY! Get your hands off of her and get to class!”

This time, the student turned and looked at me, startled. She opened her mouth and began to attempt an explanation, which I abruptly cut off.

Once I saw that the fight was successfully dissipated, I hurried back to my class, where I now had students waiting. I was peeved, but honestly, stuff like this happened at my school all too frequently. I resumed my lesson and didn’t think much of it for the rest of the day.

With the final dismissal bell ringing at 3:30 p.m., I found myself sitting at my desk, exhaustion kicking in as my mind continued to reel with the many things that I still needed to accomplish before tomorrow. I snapped out of my tired stupor and began muddling my way through the eighty-something papers that I needed to grade before I left school.

My classroom door creaked open and I heard a soft voice.

“Hey, Ms. Jepsen!”

I looked up and saw Ciara, who frequently stopped by my classroom around this time to simultaneously pace around my room while playing on her tablet and chatter about her day. Generally, the topics of conversation ranged somewhere from what happened in math class, to how her younger sister annoyed her, to the list of boys she adamantly claimed she did NOT like.

Without fully entering my classroom, she hung close to the door and continued,

“I got yelled at by a teacher today!” I looked up again.

“What? You got yelled at? No, you didn’t.” Smiling, she nodded.

Curious, I prodded, “Who yelled at you?”

Ciara laughed, “You did! In the cafeteria!”

Understanding quickly dawned on me and I remembered the small debacle at lunch time.

“Oh yeah.” I had meant to follow up with her.

“What was that all about? You completely ignored me and none of that is like you at all.”

Ciara now stepped in the room and explained that the girl who she was playfully hitting was her friend, who had jokingly stolen something of hers. I came on the scene when Ciara had apparently figured out what had happened and was “getting her back.”

It made sense now. In retrospect, I pondered the situation and it made sense why nobody involved in this little altercation had been overly upset and why the girl being hit casually walked off when I broke it up.

From my vantage point, the now laughable lunch time incident, appeared to be a fight. From Ciara’s, it was nothing more than the delivering of a good-natured retribution. Because of our differing perspectives and involvement, the same incident appeared to be two completely different things. Not surprisingly, this is a common “phenomenon,” if you want to call it that. Look at the extremely disparate political, racial, and economic ideas and theories held by American citizens.

I know, this isn’t radical or new. I think most people have this very basic understanding of perspective:  it changes based on where we are standing, sitting, crouching. It changes based on who we are with or whether we are with someone at all. It changes based on our prior experience.

Now apply this concept of perspective to metaphors. The metaphors we choose to define our experiences and views are shaped by our personal piece of reality: our lives. Your reality is different than mine, because we are not same. Profound. Not really, but somehow at the age of 24, I am just now beginning to more completely understand how experience influences what we perceive.

I wished someone would have interrupted me and explained this to me when I was arrogantly spewing something about another something I knew nothing about. Or when I was applying my limited experience and knowledge to a situation so foreign to my own, that I shouldn’t and couldn’t possibly use my vocabulary to adequately define or explain. But that’s the whole point—not just the error of youth—but that our experiences or lack thereof, determine how we innately define the world around us.

Let me use this metaphor about metaphor to talk about metaphor. Now, we’re really getting “meta” as some liberal arts college major (like me) would say. Metaphor is lens shaped by perspective. A lens created not by fragmentations of plastic or glass, but by our experiences.

When we think about metaphor this way, we might understand why two students asked the same question of “What metaphor would you use to describe school?” could respond with such opposing answers as “prison” and “adventure.” One has a negative connotation and one has exciting, if not positive connotation.

Metaphors are an attempt to gain understanding by framing the unfamiliar in familiar terms. In this way, metaphors are tidy, because each new thing is then assigned to an attribute or object of something that is already understood. It’s convenient, which also means it is something to be wary of doing glibly.

Becoming Three Kinds of Mothers: Biological, Adoptive, and Foster

This article was first posted on memphis.citymomsblog.com

It’s funny, I never wanted to be a mom.  I was the one who aways said, “I don’t want any kids.”  It wasn’t because I didn’t like them. I loved all the kids in my life so very much, but at the end of the day, I was able to send them home. I wasn’t the one having to make decisions for them. I wasn’t solely responsible for their well-being. It was fun just playing aunt like role : “TT Sabrina” to be specific!

That all changed in December of 2008. Although I was married at the time, bringing a baby into the mix was not in my plans. My appointment that winter’s day was to change the form of birth control I had been using. I didn’t think twice about the routine pregnancy test; it was just a mandatory thing they did. I was already using birth control, so there was no way I could’ve been pregnant, or so I thought.  As I sat in the room waiting, the doctor walked in with a big grin on her face. I thought she looked a little overly excited to administer a shot. Then came the words I was not expecting or ready to hear, “You’re going to have a baby!” Many emotions came into play.  There were lots of tears and fears but at the same time the biggest revelation came over me: I knew God gave me this baby and that I would love and protect this child fiercely, no matter what.  In an instant, I went from being the girl who never wanted kids, to “Mama Bear.”

My son was born in August of 2009 and my world changed completely. Fast forward to 2014. My divorce had been finalized and, after living with my dad for a couple of years, my son and I had finally moved into a home of our own. I’m not even sure why, but I began to feel a tugging in my heart to become a foster parent. I didn’t understand it. It made no sense at all, especially as a single mom. I tried to put the idea out of my mind, but after a while  I couldn’t ignore it any longer. That summer I started the PATH course, which are classes for those wanting to foster. I learned that the main goal of fostering was to reunite the children with their family. This sounded good to me: love them and send them home!

I fostered my first baby later that year and I loved on him dearly.  Three months later he went home. That was extremely difficult for me. The goal had been met but I hadn’t expected it to be so tough. I thought I would be ready to let go and help someone else, but I no longer wanted to foster. I wasn’t sure why God had asked me to do something that would hurt so much. However, after some hard soul searching, I realized that I was still meant to do this, even if it meant enduring some pain in the process. After all, most of the kids who need fostering are enduring more than we can even imagine.

I met Jazzy on July 17, 2014. Although fostering/adopting hadn’t even been a conversation regarding her just yet, I felt like she was mine the second I laid eyes on her. Months later, the conversation was had, and Jazzy legally became my baby girl in August of 2015. 

Being a single mom of 2 kids and fostering hasn’t always been easy, but every day is worth it. Since then I’ve had 2 sets of sibling groups that I loved on while I had them, and then sadly let them go with a hopeful heart for their future.  There are still many tears during the fostering process and after the fostering process. Each child is different with a different story. I can’t save or adopt every child I encounter; however, what I can do is love them fiercely while I have them. My faith has been a major part of this journey and so I am doing what I feel like God is asking me to do and then trusting Him with the rest.  

I have learned about myself, that motherhood is just in my nature; much more so than I ever realized.  Whether they are my Sunday School kiddos, biological, adoptive, or foster, I accept this calling with a grateful and willing heart, and with arms wide open.  There have been some HARD days, there have also been many SWEET days. There will be many more of both, I’m sure. Either way, I know I’m meant to do this and I have no regrets.

Black with Kids: Not Like Everyone Else

By  Cheryl Kirk

I am a mother of three black children, two are boys who are eleven and eighteen. Along with all the fears that all mothers have for their children of getting in a car wreck or breaking a bone on the playground, I also fear racial profiling and how life could end for my sons. So on top of teaching manners, there are other important lessons I have to teach my black boys:  take your hood off, keep your hands out of your pocket, if you are pulled over keep your hands in your in the air until told otherwise; the list goes on. 

Recently, my children and a few of their friends participated in a long school tradition, a senior parade. They enlisted me to drive a friend’s truck for their “Back to the 90’s”  float. Once the float was all decorated, the girls opened the back and and jumped in and my son and his friend both stood on the running board on either side of the truck as I drove around to get in the line with all of the other creative floats, some with pools in the back of pick up trucks and a ping pong table just to name a few. 

When I was pulling around to get in line, a police officer on the main street made a u-turn,  pulled onto the school’s campus and walked up to our truck. He appeared to be getting ready to ask the boys for ID. At the same time, the school’s principals were walking up and telling me where to pull in. It wasn’t until that moment that the cop saw the parade of floats with teens on the back of pickup trucks, and trailers with BBQ grills, etc. They were in plain view from the street, but my children’s school is predominantly caucasian and my children and their friends were the only black seniors who chose to participate in senior parade. Although they were doing exactly what their classmates were doing, they drew attention that their caucasian classmates did not. 

This situation will inevitably happen again for these young men. Next time, they will be away at college and I pray they remember all the lessons they’ve been taught about dealing with law enforcement, but even then will it be enough to keep they alive? Watching the video police released by Milwaukee police of Sterling Brown’s arrest was heart breaking. I see my eighteen year old in him, making careless mistakes. I think we all agree that he deserved the ticket he received. He shouldn’t have parked illegally. What he didn’t deserve was to be treated so horrifically for a minor offense. 

Parents of black children don’t want special treatment for our children; we just want the same treatment as our caucasian counterparts.