Breaking the Cycle with High Quality and Equity in Education: Why it Matters

There are many issues and reasons when it comes to children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds not doing as well as their affluent counterparts.  Children deserve high quality education, equity and equal opportunities regardless of their origin, socieconomic status and family tree.  They deserve to realize their full potential and grow into their highest capacity.  Educators and families must have strong partnerships. This can be established when teachers treat everyone fairly and ensure children and families feel safe, welcomed, loved and cared for.  Just as there are rules in the classroom: be safe, be kind and most of all take care of each other.  I am a preschool educator at heart. When I say let’s hold hands and stick together like peanut butter and jelly I mean it.

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There are two myths about the achievement gap: low-income families have lower expectations for the academic achievement of their children and students from low-income families have much lower motivation to learn.  This is false. I come from lower class and we struggled. I never knew we were poor or how much my family sacrificed to ensure I made it so to speak.  It comes down to many influences but I will talk about two main influences: family expectations and how teacher(s) perceive their students.  Teachers must have high expectations and a belief in their students that they can in fact succeed and they are somebody.  We all are somebody. You can tell so much about a person by how they treat people…every person no matter who they are.

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Our exposure and our experiences make us who we are and who we are to become.  My family, especially my sister, pushed me to succeed and had high expectations of me and motivated me to learn.  She would stay up most nights mispronouncing vocabulary words to ensure I knew them for the next day.  At a young age, I was taught to read to understand not by anyone else but my older sister. When I was failing, my sister figured it out by asking and talking with my teachers.  A strong school family partnership is key to change someone’s trajectory in life.

I believe a family is a child’s first teacher and wants what is best for their child.  At times they may not know what to do and seek help.  Families do the best they can.  When a child has someone in their life who truly cares, anything is possible.  Children are resilient and need a dedicated role model to help them.  When a child has a handful of individuals who care and do the best they can, they are empowered and they believe in themselves.  There is no excuse why we cannot help children and families through education.  Education turns lives around and is the cure for poverty.

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Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime (Chinese Proverb).

As opposed to Jill, I grew up in a highly diverse neighborhood. Christians, Jewish, Muslims, rich, middle class and poor. There was no upper middle class then. I remember going to elementary school and being in a classroom of 32 students with only one teacher. My mom was the room parent for five consecutive years and she contiued to stay engaged in parent-school association until I got to my senior year in high school. I must say I owe my success to my parents and their ever lasting support.

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Education starts at home. First, we learn to be a good human being by treating one another with respect, understanding and showing empathy. We learn to take turns listening and speaking. We carry these personal traits to school life.  Then we start learning the academics. When I was growing up, my parents would tell me “never talk about money or what you do over the weekend or on breaks. It is rude to brag about what you have. You can hurt others’ feelings because you do not know where they come from and what they can or cannot afford”. Today, I teach the same thing to my son. There are so many other things we can talk about and share with each other. There are so many ways we can support each other, work and grow together.

Achievement gap is unavoidable in today’s world but it can be minimized. This is only possible if we work together. Shared understanding of what high quality is by all stakeholders, exposure to cutting edge information, various experiences and collaboration with others. These are some of the most crucial factors in progressive education. We are raising children in the 21st century, therefore we cannot continue to think like and use the methods from 30 years ago. Family styles, parenting styles, technology and many other things are different than the way they were in the old days. There is so much research out there, within our reach. One click of a button and information is in front of our eyes. No need to wait, no need to check out the book from the library, in many cases, no need to pay for it…So, if we know better and have more information, why not apply this knowledge into our classrooms and provide our children enriching experiences and prepare them for success?

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Assumptions as Jill desribes at the beginning are no different than stereotyping people. How many of us think it is not OK to stereotype? I am sure, MANY of you who are reading this right now. There are families who are fortunate and there are ones who are not. There are families who want the best for their children but they do not have the means and there are ones who do not know what is best or how to provide the best. Anytime I come across a family who is not as fortunate as I was when I was growing up, I spend more time with them. I reach my hand out farther and try to pull them closer. Why? Because I may be their only chance. I may be the one who is supposed to break the cycle for this family. Because  8 to 10 hours this child spends in my care may be the happiest and the only productive time period he or she has. Helping someone achieve does not always cost a lot of money. We only need to pay attention, listen and reach out within our means. When it goes beyond our means, we can partner with others and ask for help. Remember we said closing the gap is only possible with collaboration? Well, it really is.

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Achievement is not only for a certain group of children. It is for all. All it takes is an opportunity. Any one of us can be that opportunity for a child who then may become a doctor, scientist, teacher, lawyer, police officer, entrepreneur and who knows.. perhaps the future president.

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Changing Lives Together

Several years ago, a mom walked into my office with her twin boys who were barely a year old at the time. She looked fragile, slim with a smile on her face trying to cover a sadness that was sitting deep inside, most likely for a long time. She was in her early twenties. She said she wanted to enroll her boys to my program. There was an urgent sense of wanting to help this family that covered my mind and heart. After completing her enrollment process, I conversed with her. I asked her what she needed from the program, how could I support her and anything else that she wanted me to know. What I learned from our conversation was not unique but unsettling. A single mom who was abused by her mother’s boyfriend, diagnosed with bipolar disorder, out of high school trying to find a job and living in an apartment with roaches and surrounded by drug users. I was unsure of how to handle this young mother…what to say to her, how to say it… I admired how she felt comfortable and opened up to me, sharing that her mother reported her to the police because she was gay and using drugs. They needed to take the boys away from her. By the time she was done talking, she was in tears apologizing and I was sitting across from her trying to hold my tears in with a big knot in my throat.

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A couple of weeks later, both of the boys were having medical issues. I was supporting this mom by asking questions gently and ensuring she trusted that my goal was just to help her become strong and able for her children. She was going to the hospital every week and they were giving her the run around. I was coaching her to ask questions to the pediatrician after figuring out she did not know what to ask and she entrusted doctors as they were educated and they were “doctors” in her mind. We were spending eight hours with these boys and our observations were clear: they were not getting the care they needed!

I asked the mom to call the doctor’s office and I would put the call on speaker and I would speak. She was fine with it, in fact appreciated me taking the time to help her. I realized that all this time, a registered nurse was attending her children not an actual pediatrician. With all due respect to registered nurses, these boys needed a doctor not to mention a specialist. The RN was extremely rude on the phone trying to belittle the mom saying she did not know what she was doing with her children. She went on speaking in that “I know every thing because I am the RN” voice until I pushed back by saying I would write a letter to the hospital and I would ensure to follow up until these two children received the care they needed. When I was finished, I had the contact information on my notepad. In a few weeks, both children went through tests, one was diagnosed with autism and the other had severe gastrointestinal issues that were being addressed by specialists. The journey was not over for this family.

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Mom was extremely upset and emotional about her twin boys’ situation. I made a referral, which resulted in ABA therapy, and wrap around service that included home visits and support for mom. This was incredible. Mom stopped by my office every single morning praying for me and thanking me because I cared for her, her family, that I did not treat her differently because she had a mental illness and she was gay. As we thought things got better, we had another situation. One of the boys was working with the ABA therapist three times a week. The first one was fine but the second one they assigned him was impatient, forceful and not nurturing. I could not bear seeing this picture one more time. The second time I observed her work, I called her supervisor and shared my observations and concern. The same day mom came to my office and said that the home visitor was talking down to her and that she felt very uncomfortable. I followed up with the home visitor who was also one of the supervisors in her agency. She told me that there were roaches on the walls and that the TV was in the same room where children sleep. She added that mom needed to move out of that house if she needed her children to get better especially since one of the boys had asthma.

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The interesting part in this conversation was her tone. She was sharing these things with me with disgust. I wanted to say, “Yes genius, this family is on WIC, mom is in training to get a job and this is the apartment the housing assistance is paying for, and yes there is a long waitlist for a better place”. Well, I did not because I knew I had to keep it professional. I said thank you and asked for an in person meeting with mom and me in my office. Within that week, we met. I asked one of my colleagues who is a clinical social worker to sit in for this meeting. I wanted to make sure I was not missing anything because I was not a social worker and I had to cover all my grounds for this mom. I had to advocate! The owner of the agency, home visitor, mom, my colleague and I met. I saw exactly what mom was telling me…

  • You have roaches in your home, it is not safe for your children
  • They need to eat better food because they need better nutrition
  • You cannot let them sleep in the same room with a TV
  • You need to spend more time with them to bond
  • If you had a job …

After the last part, it was a blur to me. Mom was crying and they were still stating all the negative facts to her as if no one was aware and concerned. I ended the meeting, called the referral agency, shared our concerns and what took place. They followed up with us in person and ended their contract with that particular therapy agency. It took a little bit but it happened. This is only one family I am speaking about. Mom kept in contact with me for a while even after children transitioned to public school. I heard things are getting better for them. This is an example how we all can advocate for children and families. It may sound like social work but it is an extension and continuation of what we do: support children, educate and empower families, enable them to help their families. This is the only way we can make a difference. One family at a time.

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Like Berna, I vividly recall a set of experiences that define first who I am and who I am in the process of becoming and second the how and the why I help others. It’s never the evil people that are the most at fault in times of crises and chaos, it’s the people who never speak up and fight for what’s right.

At some point, everyone needs help. How can we teach children Blooms Taxonomy if Maslow’s needs aren’t met? It’s as simple as that. I grew up in Scranton in Townhouse projects and although our family didn’t have everything we had each other and that was more than enough for me.  Understanding this and where I come from: my roots so to speak, I get life. I get that it’s not about the money or the material things but the time, loyalty and authentic relationships. Throw in music, food and conversation and you have all you need.

When I moved to Washington, DC I walked into a small box sardine like apartment. I lived in unit 4. Koolaid stained carpet. Roaches. A defective heater that was tagged with warnings of don’t use. I cried.  Hearing gun shots my first night, coupled by pattering of sneakers on concrete I thought: what did I get myself into? The next day held my answer. I showed up to my neighborhood and found a child locked out. I let my dog Courage outside and the three of us became friends.  Everyday “Johnny” would come and ask to play with Courage. Eventually, we put up a basketball hoop to which a neighbor complained and threatened to call the police on us. The children absolutely looked forward to playing everyday. We couldn’t take that hoop down.

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My next door fiftyish year old neighbor who I learned could not read during a Home Depot run as we were trying to find water resistant liners, when hearing the name police immediately freaked out. I calmed him down and said I will call the police myself to ensure the hoop was allowed in our alley. And, it was. Then I walked over to the other neighbor’s house to talk and negotiate the hoop. My neighbor said that the hoop was going to destroy her quality of life as she was retired. I responded with “What about the children’s quality of life?” Together we created some rules of the hoop. Some were that children had to stop playing on it when the streetlights came on, absolutely no drugs and treat each other kindly.

This not only gave children something to do but created a community of support. It was by far not perfect but nowhere is. Every neighbor-hood has its problems but the question is, is what kind of neighbor do you want to be? We can all be advocates easily and it starts by being a kind and understanding neighbor.  Often, I think of how I’d like to be treated…then I act accordingly.

Yes, it is a lot of work but didn’t we all choose to do this? Belittling, criticizing, judging, isolating, pushing down and away are not the ways we will gain these individuals and show them how life can be better. It is by taking that five extra minutes to make a phone call, ten extra minutes to look someone in the eye and truly listen, speaking up for them and standing by them until we try every way and use every power we have. If we do not, who will? Never underestimate how you can change a person’s life and in return how they change yours.

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When its Time to Fly Away From the Nest: On Raising Independent Children

Posted by Jill Telford and Berna Artis

How are you raising your child? What is important to you? If you don’t have any yet what first materializes in your mind when you think of how to raise a child? We almost always think about safety, health, well-being, education, success, opportunities children will have to be well-rounded. We want them to ultimately be a good person.

What about independence?

One of the most important things in life is to be self-reliant. Children who are independent and rely on themselves grow to be more successful and happier. Of course, during the early years they are highly dependent on parents and other adults in their life including teachers. From feeding, diaper changing, dressing to reading, doing homework and taking them to basketball games or ballet lessons.

Then something happens when you least expect it. Like, clockwork. They reach a magical age when they are a bit more independent. This is the warm up time for adulthood. They make choices, they don’t cuddle with you that much, they ask you to drop them off a little further away from the school gate. They are capable of doing some chores, being in before the streetlights come on and you feel that they need you less.

Different types of parents raise different types of children. Seems like a no brainer right?

If you are a controlling parent and you do not give your child the opportunity to take responsibility, to do chores, to share his or her thoughts, to make choices and decisions, chances are you are disabling your child. In fact, these types of children grow to be adults with the potential at making poor decisions, blaming everyone else for their mistakes and in need of reassurance in order to feel happy and gratified.

On the other hand, parents who respect children’s wishes, seek their feedback, ask what their thoughts are helping children grow to be happy, responsible, self starters, capable and competent in taking care of their needs. This is a collaborative and positive relationship rather than controlling. As always, it is paramount to have a well-balanced style.

Here are some ways to raise independent children:

  • Provide guidance instead of telling them what to do
  • Give options instead of making the choice for them
  • Listen more
  • Show affection and love
  • Show empathy
  • Catch them doing good and reward for big accomplishments, not for every little thing.
  • Provide encouragement
  • Give them responsibilities and hold them accountable
  • Appreciate and acknowledge their efforts and verbalize it
  • Never make fun of their shortcomings and or mistakes
  • Set limits and clear expectations
  • Understand that they will make mistakes
  • Help them enjoy their success and admit their mistakes
  • Let them know that you are there to provide safety but eventually they need to fly away from the nest to explore the bigger world and test limits

 

 

We Need Help! Understanding Mistaken Behaviors to Help Children

Posted by Jill Telford and Berna Artis

Tell me and I will forget.  Teach me and I may remember. Show me and I learn.

-Benjamin Franklin

Often times, adults forget that they were once children. We all forget something sometimes. When grown ups listen and are present in the moment with children, children teach us how to be one again. Children notice when we are present in the moment and are intuitive of who we are and will act accordingly. Grown ups often set high expectations for children that are unachievable, unrealistic and age inappropriate. How many times do we hear an adult judging a child’s behavior without having all of the facts and details? Most of all, hearing an adult labeling a child without trying to really know or understand the child or his/her family. Most of us hear and experience bad days our children and students’ have. It hurts to see a child being labeled without an understanding or an attempt at understanding his or her challenging behavior. When we are attuned, we pay attention to the facts and details. Some of them are:

  • Child’s age
  • How they learn
  • Who they are
  • What interests them (what do they care about?)
  • Type of family or household he or she comes from
  • Limitations and other special situations of the child
  • Temperament
  • Capacity
  • Ability
  • Cultural differences

When we envision the world we want peace and happiness. This is unrealistic. This is the same for a classroom of preschoolers! We are human. Our classrooms are filled with humans. Humans are filled with feelings, thoughts, ideas and emotions. We are all so very different and are all in a process of becoming during childhood and even throughout adulthood. Remember this when a child spills something, “talks back”, makes a mess or cannot control his or her emotions. Do we want statues and followers? Or do we want leaders, movers and shakers?

In the Little Prince, the narrator has a hard time comprehending grown-ups in the same way I believe grown-ups have a hard time understanding children. A huge lesson and quote from this story is how “Grown ups like numbers. When you tell them about a new friend, they never ask questions about what really matters. They never ask: What does his voice sound like? What games does he like best? Does he collect butterflies? They ask: How old is he? How many brothers does he have? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make? Only then do they think they know him.” The lesson is ultimately summed up by “Children should be very understanding of grown ups.” Likewise, grown ups should be understanding of children (and this can count towards each other as well). Understanding, connection and building a strong reciprocal, caring relationship is key without judgment or labels.

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However, adults can be quick at judging and labeling the behavior and child; as hyperactive, aggressive, slow, incapable, apathetic, troublemaker, bad, disrespectful…the list is long and goes on and on. While these labels are extremely hurtful to the child and his or her family, it is also damaging to his or her self-esteem, personal growth and sense of self worth. In reality, they are children who lack experience in that particular area, they do not know the difference between right and wrong therefore they make mistakes and false judgments. Nine out of ten children do not know any better. Children are learning and in a process of becoming. They are not motivated and challenged enough. Especially when they are labeled, constantly told that they can’t do something coupled with consequences right away. 

Like any other human being, children want to be a part of a group. They want and need the sense of belonging. They want to be understood. They want to impress others especially the ones in their immediate circle such as family members, friends and teachers. They want attention and a lot of it! They develop skills and behaviors according to their social relationships. Sometimes, they act like a super hero because it is cool to save the world, fly or to destroy the enemy. How about a child who is coping with a family member’s death, his dad’s violence at home, or being bullied? How about a child who does not get enough sleep because parents work long hours and it is late by the time they go home to eat and do homework? Imagine what can happen when a child lacks experience to deal with frustration, fear, and inability to identify and or control feelings.  Imagine a grown up in your life whom lacks coping skills as well. Children grow into grown ups.

Often, adults misunderstand these challenging interactions and behaviors. At times they are not understood at all. In the end, the child is punished in the learning and developmental stages. Rules and setting limits are necessary but a constant power approach is not. What can we as adults do to understand each child, let it be in our homes, in a classroom or a school? Patience, understanding, compassion and guidance are four significant constructive corner stones of forming a relationship with a child. It is trying different ways to reach him or her where he or she is. Then guiding children where they are going. Giving opportunity and support to children is crucial in developing their self-esteem, self confidence, love of learning, respect for others, courage, resiliency, creativity, empathy, sympathy and trust.

Any time families, educators or communities are faced with challenging and mistaken behavior rise up to the challenge, show compassion, care and let’s ask questions to understand. Questions we can ask are: where is Johnny from? Who is Johnny? What does Johnny like to do? When did Johnny start this challenging behavior? Why is Johnny doing this? What are we going to do about it? For some, a simple answer is to reprimand leading up to removing the problem. That’s the easy way out. However, if we work hard at understanding, connecting with, helping, supporting and reaching Johnny then we can change his whole trajectory. If we teach him to solve his problems as opposed to running away he will become one powerful man. When we are there for the good times and the bad times then we pass that kind of thing on to Johnny and then Johnny passes that kind of thing on to someone else. Frederick Douglas has said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Often we hear: “My son’s/daughter’s teacher said they were disruptive and misbehaving” leading to a consequence. “I have to go in for a meeting with his/her teachers”.   When do we hear: “My son’s/daughter’s teacher said they created something incredible and were proud of it” or “You know he/she is quite the conversationalist! Let’s set up a meeting to talk about it!”

When a child acts out, those disruptions and misbehaviors are really mistaken and challenging behaviors. There is often and always a reason a child is doing something. Even as adults we can relate to when we are not ourselves or we need help. Let’s help our children who are still learning how to ask for help. Next time you see a child’s mistaken behavior know it is his or her way of saying “I need your help!” Let’s work together to advocate, understand and help our children. Then they will understand themselves. When we do this we are helping our world be a little better off than it once was.

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