Saturday, April 25, 2009

Where should I enroll my child?

An article in the New York Times finds that the gap between urban and suburban graduations rates is astounding.
"...the average high school graduation rate in the nation’s 50 largest cities was 53 percent, compared with 71 percent in the suburbs."

So, if you had a choice, where would you want your child?

Problem is, most low-income parents don't have that choice.

Housing developments and low-income housing are usually concentrated in the city. Even if they weren't, it's often harder for families to choose to move to suburban areas due to their lack of transportation.

I hear a lot of judgment in our urban communities by people outside of the communities about what parents should/shouldn't be doing. But let me challenge that thinking.

If a parent has gone through an urban school, they are likely one of the statistics cited above. If they are one of the statistics that came out of the failed urban school systems, they likely don't have a level of education that allows them to move into high level jobs that would pay better, create benefits that would allow them to take paid vacation days to see to the needs of their child, and provide healthcare for them and their children that would create a healthier home.

A lower level of education also probably means that they may not be able to help their children with their academic needs...and are often embarrassed to admit this to their children, the school, or other people who may be able to help.

Going on these statistics, an average of 47% *did* graduate. Graduating doesn't always mean academically prepared. I know many people who have graduated from urban schools, yet still can't read or write. I can think of at least four right now. So, although there may be a 47% graduation rate, even less may be prepared to be successful in the workplace.

The majority of parents I've met are trying.

Unfortunately, they are stuck in a system that isn't providing them or their children a way out.

We can blame the parents for their parenting skills, their inability to help their children, their unwillingness to attend our meetings. But blame gets us nowhere. What are we doing to help the children? What are we doing to help ensure the next generation is able to be different?

"Blaming others conveniently lets us off the hook." ~Jawanza Kunjufu

Monday, April 20, 2009

New approach to college orientation

Sometimes I come across things that seem so common sensical, I wonder why we never thought of it before. Mount Holyoke College's new, unique approach to freshman orientation is one.

As some colleges do, Mount Holyoke offers a special orientation program (purely voluntary) to new minority students that allows them to talk about entering a predominantly White college and the issues they may face and allows them to connect with other minority students.

Though helping minority students adjust may seem positive and proactive, what about educating the White students on interacting with students of color? The approach seems to be a little lopsided.

Mount Holyoke has taken the initiative to take freshman orientation a step further. This year they plan to also have a voluntary orientation for White students as well as for the minority students. During a three and a half day orientation before the regular orientation, White and minority students will talk about race separately and together before joining the four-day mandatory orientation for all new students. The new pre-orientation program will have the name: "Promoting Intercultural Dialogue and Creating Inclusion."

Elizabeth Braun, dean of students, envisions that, "the first day of the program would have the groups in separate sessions, 'exploring their own racial identity and thinking about power and privilege.' Then the groups will have joint and separate programs."

I think it's time we start taking a second look at our approach to minorities, whether in schools (elementary, secondary, or college) or businesses, and begin developing programs that not only help minorities adjust and adapt, but to teach and encourage Whites to do adjust and adapt and learn to interact with people of color. What makes us think that *they* need all of the help??

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Would you like some knowledge with that diploma?

A friend was telling me about a professor at a top-notch college who gives every one of his students an "A".

I cringed.

Another professor letting students slide. Ugh.

But then she went on to explain. He gives everyone an "A" in his class, but they have to keep re-doing every assignment until it is "A" quality. They don't have to take the "A". They can settle for a "B" or "C" or any other grade. But every one of them has an opportunity to receive an "A" in his class, if they so desire.

It makes for a lot of work on the teacher...but just think if every one of our kids were given that same opportunity. Instead of testing a kid at the end of the year and then holding him back for failing the TAKS (state standardized tests), the child would, instead, be given the opportunity on EVERY assignment throughout the year to correct their paper until they achieved "A" level work...correction after correction after correction.

It's not a cop-out; it's a lot of work. In a scenario like that, the kids (and the teacher) have to work very hard to ensure that every child knows what they're doing. It also makes it easier (for the teacher and the child) later in the year because after re-doing it so many times they can gain an understanding of that single skill they're missing. Once the kids master their skill and realize they can't just "get by," their resulting assignments will be better...which won't take as much time to grade. So the work load is definitely heavy for both teacher and child, but when perfection is the end result, it bumps the standards up and makes it easier in the long run...for both student and teacher.

If everyone participated in that philosophy, I have a feeling there would be a lot fewer students graduating from high school taking remediation classes in colleges and a lot more adults prepared for a competitive workplace. It could benefit employers tremendously.

Maybe then a diploma might mean more than it does today. Report cards might mean something. It might change the way we look at education.

We might be able to guarantee the value of a high school diploma. Unfortunately, right now that's often not the case.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Rappin' biology

You may have teenagers who may be struggling to learn all of the stuff in biology. I know I was one of them! Check out the video below. Pass it along to your kids. Who may either help them remember something they needed to know...or inspire them to create their own.

Testing my first mobile blog post.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Fighting for "the least of these"

President Obama is tackling quite a few issues right now. Add Pell Grants and financial aid for college students to his list.

The private loan industry, as we have seen in recent months, has benefited quite a bit by loaning people money and charging high interest rates...and then has been bailed out by the government for fear that the debacle the loan companies created would be in an even bigger mess if someone didn't help them out.

Fortunately for the CEOs of these companies, their paychecks weren't the ones that were hurt. "Just last week, Sallie Mae reported that despite losing $213 million in 2008, it paid its chief executive more than $4.6 million in cash and stock and its vice chairman more than $13.2 million in cash and stock, including the use of a company plane. The company, which did not receive money under the $700 billion financial system bailout and is not subject to pay restrictions, also disbursed cash bonuses of up to $600,000 to other executives."

Unfortunately, the recipients of these loans haven't received as much grace.

Students who are trying to further their education cannot afford the loans or do not qualify. Others strap themselves with debt without a concept of what that will mean for them 10 to 20 years down the line.

Some of the kids I know have had to drop out because college is unaffordable. Some have switched from 4-year to community colleges hoping to have enough money to live, as well as go to school.

As the "big dogs" hire lobbyists and proposition Congress to see things their way, I'm very happy to know that someone at the top...the very adovcating for the people who don't have the time, money, and access to advocate for their needs as well.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Looking toward the future of our children

First of all...sorry for being absent! I went on vacation and didn't realize how little internet access I would have. That being said, I'm going to try to get back on the bandwagon again! :)


I'm a big advocate of what technology can do for us and for our children, IF we work with it and utilize it. There's so much out there that I don't even know about. Recently, we were given a $5000 grant to use toward capital expenses. They have agreed that I could use it all toward technology. So, I have a challenge for you...

1) Watch the video below...

2) Think about...even (computer "games" like the cancer game?), hardware (Nintendo DS? TAG reading system?), and/or other innovative ways we could use that money so that our kids in the ASA and summer program would be able grasp concepts and generate ideas in ways they may not have unlocked yet. (note: this summer our theme is environment and recycling, in case you come across anything like that)

3) Offer your time or help me find others who would be willing and able... Help guide kids who have primarily been exposed to and standardized testing on the computer to this new world of technology.

Real afternoon a week. This would allow us to utilize the technology we already have (4 computers) and would help them become independent. Once they become knowledgeable and independent, they could do stuff on their own...or you can continue helping us get them to a new level so that they can be competitve in our world.

Sound exciting? It is!! Help us get there!

Monday, April 06, 2009

Making their own decisions

Ms. Anna Hill lives is the Dolphin Heights community down the street from my house. She is the president of her Neighborhood Association. What I like about Ms. Hill is that she holds to her standards. She doesn't compromise them based on how much money a group or individual wants to give. If they are in line with the community's mission, she accepts. If the aren't, she declines.

Sometimes, she's a one-woman show. It can get frustrating, but Ms. Hill understands she can't give up. Saturday she organized a community clean up. Below is the Dallas Morning News account of the event.

Thanks, Ms. Hill, for being an inspiration. I want to be like you when I grow up.

Woman's cleanup efforts renewing Dallas' Dolphin Heights neighborhood
Sunday, April 5, 2009
By DAVID FLICK / The Dallas Morning News

As she waited Saturday for the Dolphin Heights Neighborhood Cleanup Day to begin, Anna Hill prepared sloppy Joes, counted out work gloves, talked on her cellphone and kept an eye on the front door of the community center for volunteers.

"I count five this morning," she said. "We need more. But we'll work with what we have."

Hill, the strong-willed president of the Dolphin Heights Neighborhood Association, has worked with what she has for five years in this modest area just east of Fair Park – with promising results.There were 59 reported crimes in the neighborhood last year, down from 84 the previous year and 103 at the peak in 2005.

Dallas police Cpl. Sandra Obaze, who has been assigned to work with the neighborhood association, gives Hill much of the credit."She keeps an eye out for anything that's going on, and she alerts us by calling," Obaze said. "And believe me – if she sees something, she will call."

Besides the falling crime rate, Dolphin Heights residents note with pride that land for a community garden has been secured, that several developers have promised to build affordable housing and that ground is scheduled to be broken on a senior center next month.

Working alongside the cleanup volunteers Saturday were employees of several municipal departments, including code enforcement."I called down to City Hall yesterday, and I wasn't very nice," Hill said. "So they're all here."

Hill has lived in the neighborhood for more than 30 years. Once predominantly black, it is now largely Hispanic. But the changes have gone beyond ethnicity.

When Hill arrived, she said, Dolphin Heights was a family-oriented neighborhood of small, neat homes. Many of its residents walked to work at the Schepps Dairy plant on the north side of Haskell Avenue, returning home for lunch.

During the 1990s, soon after her husband died, she said, the original residents left, died or were placed in nursing homes. Their children moved to the suburbs.The owner-occupied houses were converted to rental property. Crime, especially drug-related incidents, increased.

When her grandchildren, sitting on her front porch one day, were exposed to the sight of someone across the street shooting up, she decided she had had enough.

"I owned my own house, so I was more or less stuck," she said. "But I thought that if I was going to live here, I wanted it to be presentable."

In August 2004, she and some other neighbors decided to form a crime-watch group."We had a meeting, and they elected me president because I did the most talking," she said.

Their first goal was to target drug dealers, an activity Hill continues to this day."They know who I am, and they know I take pictures. They know if I look at them, they need to move on to somewhere else," she said.

Does the 68-year-old, 5-foot-tall widow ever fear for her safety?"I pray. That's all you can do," she said. "But I'm not scared. It's like a dog running after you – if you let them know you're scared, they'll bite you.

"Today, all but the most elusive dealers are gone, she said.The Dolphin Heights community center is in a former drug house. Hill hopes to use it for a children's reading program this summer.

This fall, she wants to offer etiquette lessons there for neighborhood kids.

Esmerlinda Contreras, one of Saturday's volunteers, said she's noticed the difference since moving to Dolphin Heights two years ago."There used to be prostitutes here," she said. "You'd hate to look down the alleys because you never know what you'd see. But it's better now. It's safer for kids.

"Private donors, many of whom have asked to remain anonymous, also have stepped forward to help the neighborhood, Hill said. One such donor purchased the land for the community garden, she said.

"We're not just sitting around waiting for people to give us a handout," she said. "We're doing things for ourselves, and that makes people want to come in and help us."

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Acknowledging the work of César Chávez

It's not hard to figure out that we value the things that we know and are most familiar with. Unfortunately, it has not been until fairly recently that the contributions of people of color have been deemed important.

In 2009 we still live in a segregated society. Sometimes we don't even recognize how segregated we are. Look at your neighborhood. Count the people on your street who don't look like you. Go to church. Count the people at your church who don't look like you. (before you answer that you have diversity in your community or your church, let me clarify. Having one or two families does not count as diversity.).

It's not that people of color haven't contributed any knowledge to society. We simply don't recognize their contributions. Our history books and other text books are slowly getting better, but they, for the most part, credit the major contributions to White males.

In a blog post on March 29, I showed where technology is headed. At the end of the video, you can see the guy who created the amazing system. I'm guessing he's Indian-American. I have heard little about him or his amazing innovation, but much about Bill Gates. It's just the way we work.

All of that to say that it's good to see more people of color in leadership who will challenge us to recognize the efforts of so many others we have disregarded all of these years. So I thank Dr. Hinojosa for pledging to make March 31 a recognition day for and education day about César Chávez. I hope the rest of us will follow this lead and learn more about the depth of what he contributed to our country.


A Proud Day for Dallas...
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
By Alberto E. Ruiz

Starting today, Dallas ISD students will celebrate the legacy of one of our nation's great civil right leaders by learning about his important life's work. Julian Resendiz of Al Dia reported that César Chávez would no longer be a mystery for students in the 5th grade of Dallas public schools. "Every year on March 31st", stated Michael Hinojosa, DISD superintendant, "our young people will be given special lessons on service and learning through school curriculum." The entrenched superintendant added, "There are things that I can control and this is one of them." He told a crowd at the Latino Cultural Center during the Cesar Chavez Arts Tribute on Sunday.

"It was something that the community sugested. People came to us, some of our administrators studied it and said, 'Claro que sí, sí se puede hacer'", said Hinojosa. "It's a good recommendation and right on time, since we are celebrating his birthday."

While Dallas ISD plans to implement Chávez in it's curriculum, the Mayor and City Councilmembers proclaimed March 31st as César Chávez Day in the nation's 9th largest metropolitan area. The detailed proclamation was read by Councilmembers, Dr. Elba Garcia an Steve Salazar, during the event that the LCC. Dallas remains the only city out of the nation's top 10 without a major thoroughfare in honor of the civil rights icon.

A mass also took place at the Cathedral of Guadalupe on Saturday morning, which was followed by a march led by LULAC District 3 and the Dallas Peace Center. After arriving at the Farmer's Martket against a strong and cold wind, students and adults listened as Ft. Worth State Representative Lon Burnam stated, I'm not your representative but on behalf of your sister city to the west I want you to know that you deserve to be heard and to have the street that you desire for César Chávez."

Pondering the May elections for city council, the state of our economy and our nation's renewed trust in social justice advocates and unity coalitions. Indeed, it is a proud day in Dallas, where despite a heavy hand over the mouth of residents, together we shouted: Si se puede, Yes we can!

Below are details of the Tribute that took place on Sunday, March 29 at the Latino Cultural Center.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Making education possible

President Obama has continued to talk about and focus on education, despite his critics who say he should focus solely on the economy. I am glad that President Obama sees a much larger and further reaching picture than today's immediate needs. As a result, President Obama has pushed for expansion of the Americorps program.
AmeriCorps is a U.S. federal government program partnering with non-profit organizations, public agencies, and faith-based organizations that was created under President Bill Clinton by the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993. More than 70,000 individuals currently join AmeriCorps annually, totaling more than 500,000 past and current members since 1994. The work done by these groups ranges from public education to environmental clean-up. ~Wikipedia
Americorps allows us to recruit people living in the neighborhoods and communities where we serve. There isn't a lot of pay attached...a small stipend each month and an educational award once the service hours are completed. But I have found that the people in the community *want* to be able to give back to their community. So often, jobs exist far away from their community so they are forced to travel to the other end of town to do something positive.

Americorps provides the opportunity for jobs within the community, as well as providing hope for paying for their education. I am so excited to know that not only is President Obama pushing for an expansion of the program to "employee" more Americorps members, but that the educational award will increase by $500 to provide $5350 toward an Americorps members' college education once they have completed their service hours.

I applaud President Obama's efforts and foresight....and I look forward to receiving more Americorps members to help us run our education programs at Central Dallas.

If you are interested in applying to the Central Dallas Americorps team (and/or would like to apply to work with our After-School Academy in particular), click here.


Bill Tripling Size of AmeriCorps Heads to President's Desk

Washington — The U.S. House of Representatives gave final approval today to a bill that would expand the federal national-service programs by the largest amount in 50 years, sending it to President Obama for a signature.

The bill, recently renamed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act (HR 1388) in honor of the longtime Massachusetts senator, would more than triple the size of the AmeriCorps program, to 250,000 slots, up from 75,000. The Senate passed the measure last week, and the House, which had earlier approved a separate bill, adopted the Senate version today.

The legislation would also increase, to $5,350, the education stipend that volunteers receive for each year of service, bringing that award in line with the maximum Pell Grant. Older volunteers could transfer up to $1,000 of their stipend to a child, foster child, or grandchild.

Finally, the bill would create, but not finance, a grant program to encourage service learning. As many as 25 institutions would be named “colleges of service” and would share a $7-million award, which would have to be appropriated by Congress. —Kelly Field