The Learning Doesn’t Stop When You Leave the Classroom

This post is one of an occasional series profiling Los Angeles high school students across the socioeconomic spectrum.  For other student stories, click here, here, here and here.

“I chose this school because I love to read and write,” says Isabel, 16, a student in Jennifer Macon’s class at Cleveland Humanities Magnet. Self-described as “having an interesting race,” Isabel comes from a family that’s a blend of Korean, Cuban and white, with highly-educated professional parents who, she recalls, read to her throughout her childhood. “My mom is really, really into education,” she says. “My parents have very strong opinions. My dad tends to rant about politics. I feel like their unabashed interested in politics and in discussing things, that’s what definitely sparked my twin interests in politics and social justice.” Continue reading

Low Tech Low

The future is here and I’m putting on my sunglasses. I’m in San Diego on my own little field trip of one, squinting into the glare and fighting amazement.

I really wanted to hate High Tech High, the famous charter system with eleven schools in San Diego.   Their reputation annoyed me when I saw it cited in books by academics about how their project-based model would give students the 21st century learning skills they needed. I’d think: yeah, wax on, tell it to TED. Right? So what if they, according to their website, used “design principles of personalization, adult world connection, common intellectual mission, and teacher as designer.” What did that even mean? Continue reading

I Can See Myself Growing Here

What makes a kid decide to turn his life around?  At the beginning of this year, I sat in on Cynthia Castillo’s English 11 class, which had 45 students on the roster. Here’s part of my description of my visit that first day:

Her students are the chattiest I’ve visited; no matter how many questions she answers, there are always more.  But a vocal group of eight or so very gregarious boys claims most of her time, along with a kid with extreme behavior issues, who just returned from three days of restorative justice circles and is continually jumping up and down announcing that his computer is broken and accusing her of having something against him.Continue reading

Why Raising The Standards Won’t Make Kids Read

I recently sat in on a class in which none of the students had done the reading. It was an 11th grade English class; they were reading a fat canonical American novel, maybe 350 pages long. And none of them had read it—at least not the chapter they were supposed to have read the night before.

The teacher, a smart, dedicated older man, stood in front of the class trying to lead a class discussion. Crickets.

As the teacher stood lobbing question after question, the kids sat at their desks making eye contact with no one, shifting uneasily in their seats and waiting for the time to pass so they could leave.

Reader, I’ve been there. Maybe not in a situation where all of my students didn’t do the reading, but often when a very substantial number did not, a situation that would inevitably put me into a panic of misery, shame and frustration. What should I have done? What was I doing wrong? If the kids didn’t read the book, how could they write an essay that meant anything? Continue reading

How Do You Create Relationships?

Jennie Carey knows everyone. At least it seems that way. She’s been the L.A. Education Partnership’s Community School Coordinator at Cesar Chavez Learning Academies since the school’s beginning in 2011; before that, she did the same job at nearby Sylmar High. “The overarching idea is that my job is to find out what are the barriers to student success and come up with strategies to try to overcome them,” she tells me as we talk in her office, an empty classroom whose walls are covered with giant post-its scrawled with notes from meetings. “I very much view my job as a strategy creator.”

Jennie started as a teacher, but after four years in the classroom, went to Harvard for a Master’s in School Leadership. “I liked the idea of studying leadership from the place of being a non-authority,” she says, a view that permeates her role here, where her main job is to connect people, listen and create infrastructures that allow constructive conversations. “My question is, how do you create relationships?Continue reading

Education Super-connectors

Remember Malcolm Gladwell’s term “super-connectors,” those people who know everyone and can hook you up with whatever you need?  I’ve just met the education version in L.A.  And I think they may be onto something.

“You’ve got to go deep into the ground and not assume anything about people,” says Ellen Pais, CEO of L.A. Education Partnership, a 30-year old non-profit whose stated mission is to “work as a collaborative partner in high-poverty communities to foster great schools that support the personal and academic success of children.” In other words, they build a network that connects students and families to the resources they need so that kids can stay in school and succeed.

I’m sitting in Ellen’s office at a window overlooking nearby downtown L.A., along with Lara Kain, senior director of their partner schools division, and they’re telling me about a program so utterly unlike the instant-results, test-score-driven, “we don’t have time to wait” philosophy of the Ed Reform world that I’m almost disoriented. A program that’s existed for 30 years? That seems to exist under the radar of almost everyone I know, including people who know a lot about education? That has grown…slowly? Continue reading