New Law Kicks Some Indiana Kindergarteners to the Curb

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Unfortunately, every four-year-old student currently in preschool won’t be able to attend kindergarten in the fall like their parents had planned.  House Enrolled Act 1001, signed into law by Governor Holcomb on March 19, requires that only students who are five on or before August 1 be counted in the school’s average daily membership (ADM).  What is the big deal about this change?

In many cases, students who were close to the cut-off date and attended preschool the prior school year or deemed ready to attend kindergarten were granted a waiver to enter kindergarten.  These students were counted towards ADM.  The number of students counted determines basic and complexity grant funding for each school.  According to a memo from IDOE:

  

This change means that if a school enrolls, in the manner outlined above, a student who is less than five years of age on August 1, the school may not receive state tuition support for that student. This is a legislative change, which takes effect immediately. 

  

Simply, if a school district admits a kindergartener under a waiver, the district receives no funding for that student.  The district would have to foot the $6,000 bill per student for each kindergarten waiver granted.

This leaves families with few options and a short amount of time to make a decision.  My parents experienced a similar situation with my youngest sister.  Her birth date was June 3 and the kindergarten cut off when she was entering kindergarten in the early 90s was June 1. My parents believed she was ready for school so they enrolled her in private kindergarten.  Private kindergarten is an option for preschool parents who now cannot send their children to kindergarten in the fall. Many districts are no longer granting waivers because they will not receive funding for these students, but everyone can’t afford to pay for private kindergarten.  Some parents will have to sit their children down and explain to them why they will be staying in preschool for another year.

Kindergarten in Indiana is complex.  Attending kindergarten is still not mandatory since students don’t have to attend school in Indiana until they are seven.  Despite not being mandatory, the majority of Hoosier families send their children to kindergarten even though districts weren’t even required to offer full-time kindergarten until former Governor Mitch Daniels signed it into law in 2012.  

I wish this bill would not have gone into effect immediately.  Why couldn’t we wait until the 2019-2020 school year?  This would have given families adequate time to make a plan or to save money for private kindergarten if necessary or to give districts an opportunity to see if they could look at their budgets and pay for some students who needed waivers.

Kindergarten teachers are special people.  They set the foundation for school and I believe districts try their best to only grant waivers for preschool students who are ready for the kindergarten curriculum.  When are we going to start listening to educators and school districts?  If we did listen, the compulsory school entry age would have been lowered and kindergarten would be mandatory by now.  Educators, not lawmakers know when a child is ready to enter school and schools should not have to turn students away who are ready because they won't have the funding to educate them.

 

Tracks to Add to Your Classroom Poetry Month Playlist

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Written By Sylvia Denice

As we embark on our final full week of National Poetry Month, Room 18’s classroom poetry playlist has unavoidably expanded. Through the celebration and study of song lyrics, students’ figurative language skills are obnoxiously strong. The new favorite question to and from students in Room 18 has become, “What do you think that means?”

We left you after week one of National Poetry Month with tracks from some of our favorite artists and poets, including Tupac, Pharrell Williams, Alicia Keys, Fugees, Cardi B, and Chance the Rapper. To keep singing along with us this April, pull up your playlists and add the following tracks:

“Easy,” The Commodores

Students were quick to identify the song’s hook, “I’m easy like Sunday morning,” as a simile. Mrs. Burcham followed up their figurative language identification with the question of the month: “But, what does it mean?” Some were comedically ready to argue that getting ready for church on Sunday mornings is not always as laid back as Lionel Richie makes it sound; nonetheless, the tune relaxed us as we prepared for the looming days of standardized testing, and reopened conversations on poetic elements of figurative language, meaning, and feelings.

“Angel/Better Together,” Jack Johnson

In introducing “Angel/Better Together,” Mrs. Burcham provided students with some background information on Jack Johnson’s road to success. In short, Jack Johnson started out singing and playing his ukulele casually around campfires in Hawaii. Eventually, he was encouraged by friends and family to share his gift on a broader scale. “Angel/Better Together” allowed us to explore the unique storytelling abilities of art and poetry. Mrs. Burcham also explained how we can make emotional connections with songs. This tune has particular relevance to her during the month of April: the month of her husband’s birthday. The students loved hearing what these songs meant to Mrs. Burcham, including walking down the aisle to “Angel” on her wedding day.

“What’s Going On,” Marvin Gaye

With lyrics like “mother, there’s too many of you crying,” “brother, there’s far too many of you dying,” and “picket lines and picket signs, don’t punish me with brutality,” Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” is frighteningly relevant to our students today. Poetry on issues of social justice has spoken loudly and clearly to Room 18, inspiring much of their own poetry writing this month. Students, even as young as nine years old, are aware of what’s going on; it is close to their hearts and their homes. The poetic elements of meaning and freedom are certainly pertinent in studying Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.”

“Three Little Birds,” Bob Marley

Another relaxing tune to ease us into a day of standardized testing is Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” which allows us to explore the poetic element of imagery. Accompanied by soft rhythms and rhymes, Marley’s sweet word choice encourages us to examine the influence of vocabulary on a written work’s tone, mood, and message.

“Bright,” Kehlani

While Kehlani is relatively new on the music scene, having released her first album in 2014, I was listening to her music before I met the students of Room 18. Even so, this classroom community has completely changed how I hear Kehlani’s “Bright” from her 2015 album You Should Be Here. When I shared “Bright” with Room 18, students were first captivated by Kehlani’s incredible vocal talent. They were then drawn to the relatability of the lyrics, starting with the “little girl, watching her reflection/as she parts her curls into four sections,” and moving to the “little boy sitting in the bleachers/staring at his dirty sneakers.” Throughout the song, characters question their worth and acceptance among their peers and in the world. Ultimately, listeners are encouraged, “you are what you choose to be/it’s not up to no one else,” and “you are like the sun, so always stay bright.” Students asked for this particular tune to be played on repeat, expressing feelings of connectedness and inspiration in response to the music and lyrics. What’s more, they reveled in yet another impactful use of simile in song.

“Imagine,” John Lennon

Students were stunned by the fantasies of John Legend’s “Imagine.” The lyrics challenged their thinking and allowed them to once again explore the poetic element of the song’s namesake, imagery. “Imagine” brought students into some of their deepest poetic analysis thus far, as they peeled back layers of the verses to reach the track’s ultimate message of peace and unity: “I hope someday you’ll join us/And the world will be as one.”

Stevie Wonder

In March, we read She Persisted:  13 American Women Who Changed the World by Chelsea Clinton in celebration of Women’s History Month. We highly recommend the book, as it profiles women who dared to act boldly during times of adversity. One of the most thoughtful discussions in sharing this book came from the highlight of Helen Keller. Students were astounded with her perseverance to learn, even when faced with the challenge of being both deaf and blind. We went on to relate Helen Keller to people we know personally and in popular culture. One student brought up a peer from our functional academics program as someone who is too often underestimated by other students and even adults. “He is really smart, and people don’t know that or don’t think he could be. I bet people wouldn’t think Helen Keller could be smart when they saw her or if they knew that she was blind or deaf, but she was really smart,” the student emphasized. Stevie Wonder came up in this conversation as well because of his connectedness being both blind and brilliant. Stevie Wonder guides us in appreciation of numerous poetic elements, particularly rhythm, rhyme, creativity, meaning, and feelings.

Tracks Room 18 recommends:

“You Are the Sunshine of My Life”

“Isn’t She Lovely”

“Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing”

“Faith” feat. Ariana Grande from the movie Sing 

In the seven remaining days of National Poetry Month, it is inevitable that our playlist will grow. It is also highly likely, with the impact poetry has played in our classroom community, that our poetic celebration will not end when the calendar strikes April 30. Nonetheless, stay tuned next week for our finalized National Poetry Month Playlist. Thanks for listening with us.

Dubarry Determined

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Barack Obama said, "Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek."

When I took over Tindley Summit Academy in October of 2017, I wanted to do more than lead a school. I wanted to make an impact in the community. I wanted Tindley Summit to become a beacon of hope and change in a community that seemed to be neglected for years. I hinted at such change at the beginning of the school year. My blog post, “To The Top: Tindley Summit and the Rebirth of Dubarry” was about how this elementary school would inspire a revitalization of a neighborhood. I wanted to get to know the staff, the students, and the parents. I started out one parent at a time with Ashley Virden.  After several conversations, I realized she was committed to the same vision I had for Tindley Summit Academy, especially the community component. Ms. Virden was not only a parent of two Tindley Summit Academy scholars, but she was also a resident of Dubarry. She now lives in the house that she grew up in, continuing her lifelong residency in the Dubarry neighborhood. She has a vested interest in ensuring this neighborhood strives. She remembers growing up with friends in the neighborhood, and she wants the same for her children. 

Ms. Virden and I decided to start a neighborhood committee. The committee would meet weekly at Tindley Summit, and the school would be a vested partner in this committee. We sought help from the Mayor's office neighborhood resource center. At our first meeting, we did not have anyone show up; however, we decided to carry on with the meeting. After that meeting, we chose to put boots on the ground and hit the neighborhood to do some canvassing by knocking on doors. At our next meeting, we saw attendance increase and also the awareness that a neighborhood committee had formed. I remember telling Ms. Virden at the end of that meeting, "This will not be easy; however, nothing worth having is ever easy." We both decided to stay committed. That is when Dubarry Determined was born. Dubarry Determined was about revitalizing for our present and future neighbors. 

All of that brings me to this past Saturday. Over the past couple of weeks across our city, there have been neighborhood cleanups taking place. The cleanups are a part of Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett campaign #ItsMyCity. The campaign is about residents taking back their neighborhood and their city and loving the place where they live and work. On Saturday, our Tindley Summit Academy, in partnership with the Dubarry Community Revitalization Committee, put on our Dubarry Determined Neighborhood Cleanup. It was a fantastic event because we had forty volunteers including seven teachers from the school, five parents, our CEO/Chancellor, and fifteen students from the school volunteer and spend three hours cleaning the neighborhood. The Mayor even came out to help with the cleanup. The Mayor spoke before our cleanup began and talked about the importance of individuals taking care of their neighborhood. Ashley and I both were humbled by the amount of support for our Dubarry Determined Campaign because it is just the start of what we want to do in partnership with the school. 

When the clean up was over, Ashley and I sat back and took a moment to admire the work we had done. Not just the amount of trash bags we filled, or the people that participated, but for the movement that only a few months prior seem hopeless. I asked her thoughts, and this is what she said:

With just a pair of gloves, trash bags and buckets we were able to get out in the neighborhood and make a huge impact by cleaning up some of the blight that negatively affects our community. It felt amazing to be surrounded by so many awesome people who stood up to make a difference and be the change that we need in this world. I hope that through our acts of stewardship, others will notice the difference and be more mindful the next time they litter and will be encouraged to join us as we continue our cleaning efforts monthly. Gone are the days where we are just going to sit back and let our community get treated like a dump. We are taking our community back and showing the rest of our city that we do care and we will rise to the top.

I am completely humbled by what happened Saturday, but I am also now motivated more than ever. Dubarry Determined is alive and well and people are committed and I would like to reemphasize my thoughts from my blog back in August.  This year Dubarry has reappeared and is beginning to flourish. This year there has been an increase in the community presence and awareness. Tindley Summit and Dubarry Determined have allowed Dubarry to be reborn, and we are going straight, "TO THE TOP."


 

Comment

David McGuire

Mr. McGuire is a middle school teacher in Indianapolis, Teach Plus Policy Fellow, and currently enrolled in a doctoral program at Indiana State University for Educational Leadership. Driven by the lack of having an African American male teacher in his classrooms growing up, David helped launched the Educate ME Foundation, which is geared towards increasing the number of African American male teachers in the classroom. A born and raised Hoosier, he is dedicated to improving educational outcomes for all students in Indianapolis. He describes his educational beliefs as a reformer grounded in the best practices of traditional public schools, where he was mentored by strong leaders. David graduated from Central State University with a degree in English and also holds an MBA from Indiana Wesleyan University.

Betsy DeVos Is Dismissing Hundreds of Civil Rights Cases to Be More “Efficient”

   By Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America (Betsy DeVos) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America (Betsy DeVos) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

One of the biggest responsibilities of the Department of Education is to examine equity issues with regard to issues like race, gender, disabilities or religious affiliation. As one could imagine, it takes a lot of resources for the Department of Education to investigate all of the claims and complaints it receives over the course of the year.

In a stroke of genius, Betsy DeVos has come up with a creative way to tackle the caseload: Summary dismissal of claims.

The Department of Education has recently updated it’s manual for its Office for Civil Rights and one of the new provisions changes the way in which the department deals with civil rights claims: 

A complaint is a continuation of a pattern of complaints previously filed with OCR by an individual or group against multiple recipients or a complaint(s) is filed for the first time against multiple recipients that, viewed as a whole, places an unreasonable burden on OCR’s resources.

This provision is worded in such a way that makes it sound rather benign if not even practical, but there are three critical problems with this new procedure:

1.       The Department of Education is not allowed to pick and choose.

The Office for Civil Rights is not the Supreme Court or Department of Justice. Unlike those two entities, the Office for Civil Rights is not supposed to “pick and choose” which cases it handles. If there is sufficient evidence a law has been broken, then a case needs to be opened.

2.       It targets advocates and advocacy groups.

According to the Department of Education, the new changes are meant to unclog the complaint docket by allowing them to prioritize or ignore claims from “frequent fliers.” This includes people or organizations that submit a large number of claims to the Office for Civil Rights. The problem is these people and groups are working on behalf of others. Submitting a civil rights claim takes time, resources and know-how that the most vulnerable people often don’t have. The only way many of these people can access the system of justice is to work through a person or group who specializes in such matters.  

By targeting “frequent fliers” in the system, the Department of Education is cutting off access to people without means to file these claims themselves. According to the New York Times, the provision has already led to the dismissal of 500 disabilities rights complaints.  

3.       This is compounded by other changes that already make it more difficult for affected groups.

The Department of Education is claiming this change is to lighten the load of the department. Since DeVos has taken over the Department of Education, she already created or rescinded a host of other regulations that should have done just that.

They have already reversed the Obama-era policy on sexual assault. They have already rescinded over 70 documents that outline the rights of disabled students. They have already rescinded some guidance documents in regard to minority students and they are currently considering rescinding even more.

With the amount of scaling back the Department of Education has been doing, they shouldn’t have any capacity issues. Additionally, all of the scaling back, combined with throwing out claims from advocacy groups all but ensures many students with legitimate claims will be left in the dark.

There is a student in my class I can always count on to tell on other students when they do something wrong. He loves to point out bullying, even when someone else is the victim. While his tattletale nature is annoying, most of the time his complaints and gripes about other students are legitimate reports of rule violations. Therefore, it doesn’t make sense for me to simply ignore him simply because I’m tired of hearing him tattle, but unfortunately this is the line of logic DeVos is taking with this new provision.

While it is certainly possible for government agencies to get too bloated and redundant, the Office for Civil Rights is not where DeVos should be trimming the fat, especially not in the manner that she is going about it. It is plausible that some overzealous advocate is clogging the docket with similar sounding claims, but that doesn’t mean those claims aren’t valid or shouldn’t be heard.

Comment

Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.

School Is Not Supposed to Teach You Everything

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If you read a lot of parenting and education blogs eventually you are going to come to an obligatory post about, “All the Things They Don’t Teach You in School.” Many writers use this as an opportunity to criticize absent minded teacher or “silly state standards” about how they could forget something so important. That is where this argument goes downhill.

Contrary to popular belief, school is not supposed to teach students every single thing they need to know in life. Nor was it ever intended to. However, that doesn’t stop people from complaining.

This idea isn’t just a product of the blogosphere. My grandmother, an avid gardener, often questioned why schools were no longer teaching gardening.

Over spring break, my wife and I had dinner at a fancy restaurant. The family sitting next to us had two teenagers. The mother was teaching them which utensil to use with what dish. When she finished she lamented the fact that her sons hadn’t “learned proper formal dining manners in school.”

As a classroom teacher, I always find these reflections amusing. When exactly are we supposed to teach these things? We barely have enough time to teach the actual items that need to be covered in our content area let alone the extra stuff people feel like we should cover.

I would love to teach students how to eat at a formal dinner. I’m just too busy making sure they understand how the electoral college works. That’s not to say that formal dinner manners aren’t important. However, that specific lesson probably falls into the category of things you need to learn outside of school, like at a cotillion.

While there is not necessarily a finite amount of learning someone can do, schools do have a finite amount of time and resources to teach. That means many worthwhile skills get tossed to the side in favor of more standard based learning goals.

If you are one of the people that believes young people are missing some critical skills they don’t learn in school feel free to “be the change you wish to see.”

You think students need to learn more gardening skills? Start a gardening club at an after-school program? That’s the solution my grandmother came up with.

Feel like your child needs to learn how eat at formal dinner and dance at a ball? Well put them in a Debutante ball course.

Want your students to learn more ACT/SAT testing strategies than they already do? Enroll them in an ACT/SAT prep course.

If you feel really strongly that something has to be taught at school, then lobby the state to include it in the standards.

But don’t sit back and take shots at teachers because they aren’t teaching kids everything under the sun. Because we all know that when the state test scores come out, teachers aren’t going to be given any leeway on their math and reading scores just because they taught table manners.

Comment

Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.

Indiana Student Receives Perfect AP Calculus Score

When students are applying to colleges, advanced placement classes and credits are one of the few accomplishments that makes them stand out above the rest. 

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Since 1955, The College Board AP program has existed. The rigorous tests are often used as a key benchmark for academic performance. So much so, that when a high school student scores a 3 or higher, they receive college credit in that specific content area. However, many students struggle to score well enough to get the college credit…which makes one Indiana high schooler that much more impressive.  

The AP Calculus BC exam has the reputation for being especially tough. According to College Board, over 133,000 students took the test, but only three received all of the points possible on the test. A local Carmel High School senior, Nikhil Raghuraman, was one of those students.

Nikhil Raghuraman earned every single multiple-choice question correct in addition to getting perfect scores on the free response part of the test.

Nikhil isn’t just doing math for a credit either. He genuinely finds it fascinating as he told the Indy Star:

"The thing that I realized is that math is like the basis for everything, like the fundamental knowledge of anything," he said. "I've always just been really amazed at how mathematicians come up with stuff... it's pretty much 100 percent from your own mind."

In addition to being a wiz at math, Nikhil was also selected for The U.S. Presidential Scholars program which honors students that exhibit “exceptional talent” in various fields. (Pictured 5th from left)

Nikhil plans to go to college and is currently weighing the options. Purdue, Stanford, and Illinois are all on the list.

Read more about Nikhil’s feat here. (Indy Star)

Comment

Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.

Why I Write: Sylvia Denice

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Written by Sylvia Denice

My first year teaching was filled with an abundance of blessings I carry with me even still today.  Frankly, the bulk of the blessings surfaced from the abundance of mistakes I made.  Don’t be misled--I have not stopped making mistakes.  They just look much different in year three versus year one.

My favorite lesson I taught my first year teaching, maybe even to date, was a writing lesson on perspective.  I gathered a bag of twenty-one shoes, one for each of my students, and brought them to school.  The class sat in a circle as each student pulled a shoe from the bag.  The assignment was simple and mostly parameterless: Tell the story of the shoe in your hand.  My fifth graders rushed back to their seats and feverishly wrote about the experiences of the shoes.  The room was silent, aside from the scribbling sound of pencil lead.  It was the most engaged I had ever seen them.

High heels endured a rough day at the office, only to be kicked off at the door once they arrived home at night.  Tennis shoes carried a marathoner across 26.2 miles of hard pavement to the finish line.  Snow boots dashed through a wintery Indiana evening after an intense day of learning at school.  Sandals were sprinkled with sand and salt water along the shore of a beachy sunset.  Slippers lounged on the couch in front of a televised football game with a bag of potato chips for a lazy Sunday afternoon.

When we reached the “Share” component of the Writer’s Workshop lesson, students were eager to expose the stories of their shoes.  A few were hesitant, wanting to run their work by me before sharing; some of their shoes had endured trying times.  The advice to “walk in someone else’s shoes” took on a new, tangible meaning that day in my classroom.  Perspective, sympathy, and understanding were celebrated in an environment where prior, they had undeniably been lacking.

When I write, I am reminded of the Writer’s Workshop lesson on perspective that brought empathy to my fifth-grade classroom.  Today, I write to offer others opportunities to try on my shoes: to feel beneath their feet the soles that have carried me from the onset of my education in suburban Chicago to the bulk of my schooling in northeast Indiana to my higher education and teaching experiences in central Indiana, and any diverged paths I have taken along the way.  I am not you, and you are not me, and this will always be true.  But, when I write, maybe someone else can see, feel, learn, or connect with something new.  I write for this sense of unity in diversity.

In the same vein, I write in the interest of others’ shoes.  Writing has allowed me opportunities to try on shoes of wearers varying in age, race, ethnicity, zip code, religion, socio-economic status, education, culture, family structure, and general life experience.  I write because it makes me a stronger educator, opening doors to learn, share, and grow beyond the limitations of my personal experiences.  I am challenged to step out of my role as a fourth-grade classroom teacher and into the roles of student, parent, caregiver, counselor, administrator, politician, other teachers, and even people seemingly disconnected from education.  When I write, my work as a teacher becomes connected, relatable, purposeful, and relevant.  For me as a writer, writing is all about perspective.  It is my form of advocacy for oneness in this beautifully diverse world of education.

Related Reads:

Why I Write: David McGuire

Why I Write: Cheryl Kirk

Why I Write: Andrew Pillow

Why I Write: Shawnta S. Barnes

Why I Write: Barato Britt

 

 

Why I Write: Barato Britt

I suppose as a writer I should contribute to this series a flowery soliloquy which paints this predestined fate of leading through written communication.

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I could paint a picture with my words some tale that suggests I may have known all along this form of advocacy to be my calling.

But truthfully, it’s much simpler than all that.

I’m not an athlete, even less an entertainer, I’m mature enough to know my own strengths and weaknesses…and I write pretty well… 

On the subject of education reform or community empowerment in general, it’s easier for me to put thoughts on paper than for me than to speak them into existence. In that vein, writing is more of a “how” than a “why,’ as I don’t view advocacy as an option, rather a responsibility for those with the capacity to do so.

The why, I suppose, is a bit more complex.

For me, the writing skills for which I’ve been blessed are only justified if channeled for good. Good, as I define it, is using those God-given assets to enrich the lives of others, thereby enriching oneself spiritually, emotionally and sometimes financially (selfishly…). Honestly, who cares frankly what I have to say if it does not serve the interests of others? Anything else is just words in print.

As a member of the great Indy/Ed Team, writing provides the vehicle to stimulate understanding and perspective on an issue for which I have worked most of my professional life. Far too often, the contention and ridiculously partisan nature of discussions surrounding our children’s futures give way to peripheral issues that only deepen divisions. What’s worse, often leaders of color do themselves a disservice in this arena by not leading the educational choice movement through advocacy and most importantly creation and maintenance of high-quality educational options.

Writing, and writing as part of this team, allows us to tear down false notions, in favor of honest discourse on an issue for which no one solution or policy prescription can resolve. And if, as a result of this humble writer’s musings, folks can be informed and compelled to act, then the writing is well worth it.

‘Cause I can’t get it done singing.

Related Reads:

Why I Write: David McGuire

Why I Write: Cheryl Kirk

Why I Write: Andrew Pillow

Why I Write: Shawnta S. Barnes

Why I Write: Sylvia Denice

 

Why I Write: Shawnta S. Barnes

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On April 26, 2016, I had my first op-ed “Why I do this work” published by the Indianapolis Recorder.  Prior to this, the only other work I had published was a poem in a college newsletter and gardening blog posts I wrote on my gardening website to share with my family.  

I can’t remember exactly when I started writing, but I have been writing since I was a young girl.  I only wrote for myself, for my enjoyment and to unleash the thoughts I had floating around in my head.   I never thought much about sharing my work publicly until I was encouraged by Patrick McAlister to write the op-ed the Indianapolis Recorder published.  I didn’t believe I had much to say that would resonate with others and that’s why I mostly kept my writing to myself.  The response from readers to my op-ed shattered that notion.  People encouraged me to write more.  I starting submitting my work to various publications and then I was asked to join the Indy/Ed team and I’m glad I did.  

I write about education because too many times the education stories that need to be told don’t get told.  I want to help share those stories.  How I believe I add the most value to our Indy/Ed team is I am able to speak from various lenses that I have outlined below:

I’ve been an Indiana student.

I write about education as an Indiana resident because I have lived in the state of Indiana my entire life, including college.  Unfortunately, some pitfalls of the education system that were taking place when I was a child are still happening today.  I write to bear witness to those travesties and remind lawmakers and community advocates that although we have come far, we still have farther to go.

I’m an urban educator.

Although I student taught in rural Indiana and my first teaching job was in the suburbs, I have taught the majority of my career in urban schools that served mostly minorities and students in poverty.  In Indianapolis, I have worked in a charter school, township schools, and for Indianapolis Public Schools.  When people want to tell half-truths about circumstances in those various types of schools, I am compelled to tell the truth based on my personal experiences to counter those false narratives.  

I’m a parent.

Believe it or not, in fifth grade I wrote a short story that was included in our 5th grade Writer’s Fair called Twin Trouble (...and I still have that story too).  Fiction became reality because I’m a parent of first grade twin boys, who attend our neighborhood boundary public school.  As a person who also engages our education system from the parent side, it allows me to help other parents navigate the complicated education system in Indianapolis.  There are racist teachers in Indy schools who don’t care about black and brown kids and would rather be teaching in the suburbs where they live, but Indy pays better.  I write to help parents advocate for their children when barriers such as racism and failing schools seem insurmountable.

I want our stories told differently.

Shortly after my “Why I do this work” op-ed was published, I was interviewed by Chalkbeat Indiana for their “What’s Your Education Story?” series.  The article was titled, “‘Even though I didn’t see my dad except on Saturdays...I felt his presence’” and my father hated the title and did not care for the article.   He felt the title was just click bait and made it seem like he was an absentee dad. He thought people would see the title and want to read the article because the title made it seem like it was another one of those black child overcoming stories.  He said, “When they write about the black man, they always make it seem like we aren’t there, even if we are.”  When I told my father, I would be writing for Indy/Ed he said, “Tell the truth and lift us up in your writing.”  Indy/Ed is part of the Citizen/Ed network and the majority of our writers are of color and that makes a difference in how we tell the stories of people of color.  Honestly, there are not enough writers of colors writing about education.

It’s my gift.

My husband and I are part of a financial literacy ministry at our church where we help people learn to manage their finances using DeForest Soaries’ dfree curriculum. We met with our pastor last week to discuss the course and if you know anything about meeting with a pastor, you know they always want to know how your personal life is going and that led us into a discussion about my writing and this what my husband said to our pastor:

Shawnta is a talented writer.  Writing is second nature to her.  She doesn’t struggle to write; it is her natural talent.  If I had my way, all she would do is write because I believe she could become a successful writer and make a difference through that platform.

Is my husband biased?  Yes, but we are incredibly honest with each other.  If I’m wearing something that doesn’t look right, he will tell me and I’m not offended.  We are just that honest with each other.  He reads what I write.  If a piece seems off, he’ll let me know.  Over the years, teachers have told me I’m a good writer.  I even wrote an essay about Jane Austen and explained why Pride and Prejudice is a lame novel for a class where the teacher loved Jane Austen and I earned an A- on the paper.  I might be a quiet person, but yes, I’m really that bold.  Maybe arguing a point about a literary work has value to someone somewhere, but how much of a difference does that really make?  Really, I could write about anything, so why education?

I believe you should not waste your gifts or talents and that your gifts should be used to help others.  I use my writing talent to make a difference and to improve outcomes for others especially for minorities and the least of these and that’s why I write about education.

Related Reads:

Why I Write: David McGuire

Why I Write: Cheryl Kirk

Why I Write: Andrew Pillow

Why I Write: Barato Britt

Why I Write: Sylvia Denice


 

Why I Write: Andrew Pillow

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I was not a very good student in school. I was told by my mom that I actually got good grades when I was younger for whatever that’s worth. Not that grades in 1st and 2nd grade don’t really mean as much but I don’t remember them. For all of my adolescence, I can remember, I was a well below average student. I didn’t really have anyone to blame for my bad grades. My poor performance was a solo effort, in spite of the efforts of teachers and admin at my school.

I went to the same school from 1st to 12th grade. Teachers tended to stick around so there was little turnover at my school. Because of this, teachers “knew” me before I got to their class. While I was never disrespectful or rude to adults, I had become legendary for my tendency to disrupt or fall asleep in class. As one teacher told me I was the very definition of “hot and cold.” I was either making class extraordinarily difficult to teach by cutting up and telling jokes… or I was passed out snoring, using my sweatshirt as a pillow.  I slept so much that many teachers thought “Pillow” was a nickname and didn’t realize it was my actual last name until I came to their class. 

At one point I was actually kicked out of my school because my grades fell below a 2.0 GPA. Luckily, I was allowed to return after a summer school session.

I can’t really say I ever completely turned it around and became a star student. However, I did graduate thanks to teachers hounding me at every turn. I graduated with a 2.1 GPA which obviously wasn’t good. Lucky for me, my high school, The J. Graham Brown School, had a great academic reputation. This, in conjunction with a pretty good ACT score, was enough for me to be accepted to my dream school, The University of Kentucky.

I have to admit, even though I had never cared about my grades, I was worried about how well I could do in college. I knew college was harder and that this time if I fell behind, I wouldn’t have a safety net of teachers that knew me for 12 years to work overtime to help me catch up.

To my surprise…college wasn’t really that hard for me. Pretty much the same, maybe even easier than high school. It looked like my high school’s reputation of being an academic powerhouse was well deserved. This did not match the experience of other people in my freshmen class. Many of my peers were struggling to adapt to the college lifestyle and coursework.

College was different for me. I was prepared for the work, but I also found myself trying harder. Not only did I do significantly better academically, but I was even able to mature behaviorally and socially.

This is the reason I write about education.

At some point around my senior year, I was contacted by a Teach For America recruiter. They sold me on the idea of reaching students like myself. When I started doing the research, I realized that everyone doesn’t go to a quality school in a good district like myself. Everyone doesn’t get 12 years of great teachers that give them 2nd chances over and over again. I became a contributing member to society but that was not solely through my own effort, and I was extremely lucky to go to a school that was good enough to give me the tools I needed for life in spite of my insubordination and lack of interest.

Every child deserves that chance.

I can’t teach at every school, but I can reach thousands maybe even millions of people and influence policy through writing. I write to encourage best practices. I write to bring awareness to issues. I write to pressure people into making our educational landscape better.

Related Reads:

Why I Write: David McGuire

Why I Write: Cheryl Kirk

Why I Write: Shawnta S. Barnes

Why I Write: Barato Britt

Why I Write: Sylvia Denice

 

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Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.