My Standards for My Childrens’ Education

My daughters are 8 months old, and I am expecting another baby in August. And yet, so many days, I spend worrying about how I will send them to school. They attend nursery school now (at Smart Start Academy in Grove Hall, Dorchester), and I love it. Their teachers know me, my family; they know my daughters’ interests, personalities; nothing is high stakes – YET.

High stakes education, the kind found in today’s public schools and charter schools, means testing, stress, and conformity are too often prioritized. This means that what most parents hold dear about their families – identity and values – may not be.

Today as I cleaned the house, I began to photograph objects (mostly books) that symbolize my hopes for my daughters’ education. I also thought deeply about my daughters’ emerging identities.

Why are parents often the missing voice in deciding WHAT we teach? Shouldn’t schooling reflect the values of families and communities or at least connections to the important learning that families and communities provide? I think so. I would really like to hear from parents (either as a comment, post on another blog, or via email: jenniferdines@gmail.com) about their hopes and dreams for the children’s educations. The education articles I read frequently discuss what parents are protesting or (in a majority of cases) do not discuss parents at all.  I am interested in what parents have to say. I would really like to write an article that features PARENTS’ VOICES.

My Children and Their Identities So Far

Francine

Francine is my “older” daughter; she is fourteen minutes older than her sister. She cannot stop moving. I think she would do well in a school that incorporates a lot of movement into the classroom or where the activities change frequently. I know she doesn’t have ADHD, but I worry that her future teachers might think so. She is very social, so, in that sense, I do not worry at all about her fitting into any social situation as she has a big personality. She does not sit with a book, but she likes to look at books, flip the pages, and climb up to stacks of books.

Mover FrancineFrancine climbs up to books

Sofia

Sofia is very quiet and observant. She will play with one toy or book for five to ten minutes and then she will move on to something else. She loves textures; for example, she loves to touch all different types of fabric, touch people’s hair, and pull on tags. I worry that she will be pushed to socialize, but I know she is content to play by herself for long stretches of time. I can see her excelling in art or science.

Sofia and BookSofia and Rattle

What I Want Francine and Sofia to Learn at School

1. Character: I want my children’s school to teach them right and wrong. I would like my children to attend a school that discusses social justice as well as good values. I also want the school to tell me straightforward when my children misbehave, so I can help them to correct their misdeeds.

whatdoyoustandfor

2. Love of Picture Books and Understanding of Life Around the World: I picked up this book right before the girls were born. I want my daughters to experience the beauty of having an adult present story time on the rug. I like this book Nasreen’s Secret School because it teaches children about the privilege of getting an education and how people have taken risks to gain that knowledge. Other good books on this topic are Running the Road to ABC and Through My Eyes: Ruby Bridges. My daughters are young for all these books, but they will know them in time.

picturebooks

3. Traditional Literature: There is a reason why people have told particular stories over hundreds and thousands of years. Universal messages and values are embedded in traditional literature. I don’t want my daughters to live in a here-and-now world. I want them to have an understanding of the societies who shaped the world as we know it. We have many books of traditional stories in the house, but these are a few of my favorites. It scares me that history is now minimized in school to make room for the tested subjects of Language Arts and Mathematics. Of course, all subjects are very important, but not just to take tests.

Traditional Literature

4. Arts History and Artistic Expression: I want my daughters to understand that reading and writing aren’t the only ways that humans capture history, ideas, and emotions. The arts allow us to tell our hidden stories – the ones that may be unsuited to words or the ones that need for us to transform into someone else in order to endure their telling.

art

instrument

5. How to Build and Repair Things: I so wish that I knew how to build and repair things. I am terrible at it, but yet it is such a practical skill – to change a tire on a car, to fix something that is broken instead of throwing it away. I have many former students who struggled with learning disabilities go on to be super successful in our school system’s vocational program in areas such as cosmetology, auto repair, and woodworking. But shouldn’t everyone know some of these skills? Imagine the stress it would save if we could all fix basic problems with our cars!

thewaythingswork

9. Español: Los latinos han llegado. Para preparar por el futuro en los EEUU, es esencial que todos conocen inglés y español.

Spanish

10. The Stories of MY Heroes: I don’t prioritize being rich and famous. I wouldn’t want my children looking up to Hollywood or the NFL. I want my children to learn about MY heroes: Mother Theresa, The Mirabal Sisters, Malala Yousafzai, and the many unsung heroes who are just normal people who stand for justice everyday.

womenaroundtheworld

Author and Activist Michael Patrick MacDonald Visits the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School

I was both surprised and thrilled when my colleague Susan Lovett sent out an e-mail about arranging a visit for author and activist Michael Patrick MacDonald. I jumped in right away to help organize this event for our school, the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School.

Years earlier, I had taken Mr.MacDonald’s book All Souls: A Family Story from Southie out of the library and read it cover to cover over the course of a single weekend. The book is a memoir of MacDonald’s early life in South Boston during the 1970’s and 1980’s, and the story that unfolds is much more than a personal narrative. All Souls offers a historical narrative with vivid first-hand descriptions of  Boston’s busing era and the influence of notorious criminal “Whitey” Bulger on the Southie neighborhood. The novel is also a spiritual journey of resistance and resilience on the part of young MacDonald, whose bright soul, curiousity, and dedication to his family and community shines through the trauma of living under the effects of poverty, crime, and death. The writing and publication of the book itself is a tribute to MacDonald’s bravery and activism, breaking the unwritten “code of silence” that long prevented the residents of the Southie neighborhood and others like it from reporting and discussing crime, drugs, and deaths plaguing their communities.

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My autographed copy of MacDonald’s first novel

 

During Mr. MacDonald’s visit to our school on Tuesday, the acclaimed author spoke to a group of about fifty of our students, who were specially selected to attend the event based on their commitment to social justice and community leadership. Mr. MacDonald talked about the City of Boston’s Gun Buyback program, and he read a passage from his second novel Easter Rising which discussed the post-traumatic stress he experienced following the deaths of his brothers. The students had many questions to ask Mr. MacDonald, and he thoughtfully answered each and every one of them.

After the presentation, students received copies of All Souls (one young man even brought his own hardback from home) and had the opportunity to have their books signed. The students were overjoyed to talk with a real author, and I saw many students reading their books in the hallways while walking back to class. In fact, I taught a class right after Mr. MacDonald’s visit, and I had to ask students to put their new books away to focus on the lesson – this is the kind of focus issue that I am more than happy to see!

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Students gather around MacDonald to have their books signed.

Two students from Academy 1 smile and show the cover of the book.

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Sixth grade student Rasha shows his beautiful smile as he stands next to Mr. MacDonald.

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7th graders Mikel and Kiajah look on thoughtfully while Mr. MacDonald autographs Kiajah’s copy of All Souls.

Over the course of the week, many teachers reported to me that students were carrying the books in their backpacks and “showing off” the autographed books to students and teachers alike. My colleague Alice Laramore commented that the students were treating the books “like a trophy” of Mr. MacDonald’s visit.  I myself have ordered additional copies to use with my intermediate and advanced ESL classes in the last quarter of the year as part of a unit on argument and persuasion – at the conclusion of the unit, students will produce argument essays about how to best prevent violence in an urban community. Mr. MacDonald sent me some photographs of toy gun buyback programs to inspire our students to perhaps organize their own drive. The note I received from Mr. MacDonald read: Jennifer, please share these images from past buybacks and concurrent toy gun turn-ins organized by middle school aged kids, in case that might inspire some local community organizing in the school with the local community. These toy gun turn ins (in exchange for non violent toys and books donated by businesses like Toys R Us and Publishers like children’s lit Houghton Mifflin) are very fun.  And it’s a great way for teens, pre teens, and the smaller children to feel a sense of voice and agency.

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Photograph of mothers from Charlestown as promotion for Boston’s third gun buyback

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Mr. MacDonald with a young activist and organizer

Mr. MacDonald’s visit was a perfect fit for our school – our building itself is a symbol of triumph over violence, as our school was built by activists on a lot that was once a hub of criminal activity. Formerly named the New Boston Pilot School, the Lilla G. Frederick (LILL-LUH, not LYE-LUH) is itself named for a Grove Hall community organizer.

From English Language Learners to Cross-Cultural Scholars: Perception, Practice, and Policy

Please click to download my latest presentation: From English Language Learners to Cross-Cultural Scholars: Perception, Practice, and Policy. I will be presenting this tonight as a guest lecturer in a course for graduate students in reading and speech/language pathology at the MGH Institute of Health Professions.It contains an outline of practices for teachers of English Language Learners based on the National Board Standards, and it also provides a very brief overview of the SIOP model.

Presentation

The front page of my latest presentation.

To a Thinker: An Original Poem by Jennifer Dines

An original poem by Jennifer Dines.

An original poem by Jennifer Dines.

To a Thinker (PDF download)

Boston Public Schools Student of the Week: Clayton Rodrigues

I am so proud of my 7th grade student, Clayton Rodrigues. Clayton came to the United States from Cape Verde only a few years ago, and now he is not only an excellent student, but he is also captain of the school wrestling team as well as a talented actor who has performed in two school plays.

I nominated Clayton for Boston Public Schools Student of the Week, and he was chosen from more than 56,000 students in our school system.

Clayton was interviewed by Boston Arts Academy alumni Zakiyyah Sutton, a talented broadcaster who also works in City Councilor Tito Jackson‘s office.

Clayton is interviewed by Ms. Sutton in my classroom.

Clayton is interviewed by Ms. Sutton in my classroom.

The interview was broadcast on Monday Morning as part of the Councilor’s Corner radio program on TOUCH 106.1.

What an honor for Clayton to be selected! I am so proud! Note: Clayton’s writing is also featured in our recent publication: Being Bostonian.

Clayon and Ms. Sutton pose in front of the Lilla G. Frederick’s “Celebrating Diversity” mural.

Ongoing Book Review: The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, Week 2

Before beginning The Artist’s Way, I would wake up and instantly reach for my laptop. First e-mail account. Second e-mail account. Third e-mail account. New York Times. I would start the day by drowning my brain in communication with others. Well, The Artist’s Way has changed all that, and now the first thing I do is slide out the drawer of the bedside table to pull out my gold and red Chinese print fabric-covered journal and my InkJoy retractable pen and write down three pages of whatever comes into my mind. Since I am sleeping well for the first time in years, I actually have dreams that I can remember. I usually begin by writing those down, and then I write down whatever else is on my mind. Rather than infecting my brain will e-mails and advertisements, I am beginning the day by slowly massaging the thoughts from my mind and onto paper. It feels great.

Week Two focuses on rediscovering one’s own identity.

The second week of The Artist’s Way focuses on recovering a sense of identity through exploring self-definition, creating boundaries, and exploring one’s personal needs, desires, and interests. Ironically, these themes are something that I periodically I focus on with my own students, yet it never occurred to me to take the time to examine them for myself.

On page 43, Cameron states: “As blocked creatives, we focus not on our responsibilities to ourselves, but on our responsibilities to others. We tend to think our behavior makes us good people. It doesn’t. It makes us frustrated people.”

Prioritizing taking care of others over self-care is an extremely easy trap for those in the teaching profession or any human services career for that matter. In my teaching career, I feel an extremely compelling passion for and responsibility to my students and their families. However, there came a point last year when I began to felt burnt out or, as one friend said, like I’d been put through “the old-time, old-fashioned wringer”. I had spent nearly a decade putting my responsibilities to others over spending time taking care of myself, and I found myself feeling short-tempered, moody, and exhausted. Interestingly, since focusing more attention on myself, I feel more clear-minded, energetic, and self-assured, and I am better able to assist others with my stronger sense of self.

In this chapter, Cameron carefully cautions the reader to be wary of “poisonous playmates” and “crazy makers” in one’s life. She encourages the recovering artist’s to avoid those who diminish our self-worth and increase our skepticism and self-doubt. And she asks the provocative question: “What creative work are you trying to block by staying involved [with those who make you feel terrible and insane]?”