Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Promising Practices 11/2/13

On Saturday, November 2nd—bright and early in the morning (especially since I live 45 minutes away!)—I attended Rhode Island College’s 16th Annual Promising Practices event.   I arrived early that morning to make sure I had enough time to get checked in and settled, but as it turned out, there wasn’t much of a check-in!  After grabbing my nametag (which I thankfully discovered had my session titles on it, because I realized too late that my ticket did not have them listed), I wound up having plenty of time to find a seat near classmates from both of my classes, and chat.  Looking around, it seemed like a large portion of those in attendance were students from RIC.  Despite some of the issues raised during our class discussion of the event, I found the day to be relatively interesting.  As we’ve already discussed our impressions of the Plenary Session (and briefly, the keynote speaker) in class, I am going to focus on the individual breakout sessions I attended.

After the Plenary Session, I headed off to the first session I selected, which was Citizenship I: “Children in Central American Migrant Families: Lessons Learned from a University-Community Collaboration” & “Building an Architecture of College Inclusion for High School Language Minority Students”.  I found this session to be very interesting.  The first presenter was Prof. Kalina Brabeck.  She discussed research on deportations of undocumented immigrant parents its effects on the children (eating & sleep changes, depression, anxiety, academic decline, developmental delays), and the effects of living in undocumented status on children (low social support, stress, psychological distress, low access to services, low rates of care, cognitive delay by as much as 3 years).  In all the political discussions surrounding immigration, I feel that the children are rarely considered.  And like the children of Mott Haven that Jonathan Kozol sheds light on in “Amazing Grace”, these immigrant children are the victims of the broken immigration system, ANDusuallypoverty.  The children are affected both personally and academically, and become stuck in a cycle that is tough to break free from.  This is tackled with workshops through the Migration and Human Rights Project, which give the community correct information over media information, help families in creating plans in the event of potential deportation, and more.

The second part of the presentation discussed Project ExCEL here at Rhode Island College.  It is a program that offers access to students who performed well in high school, but are generally discouraged from attending four-year universities because of their lack of mainstream English course achievements as non-native speakers.  The option for these students is usually dropping out, or a remedial community college education.  We learned with Virginia Collier that academic language proficiency takes 5-7 years to master, and that “academic skills developed in the first language tend to automatically transfer to the second language.”  Prof. Ramirez echoed this when he said that these high rates of drop out or remedial community college occur when ESL students are mainstreamed without access to studying in their home language.  Collier would definitely approve of the Project ExCEL program, which offers supporting courses to bilingual students to encourage a sense of community and academic success.  Also, as I mentioned in class, Prof. Ramirez commented that we can't judge the effectiveness of the system based on the achievements of the exceptions (like Mayor Tavares).  Real celebration will be when we don't need to recognize that a Latino or African American "made it."  I wrote this down in the session because it is so true and really struck me, especially after the Plenary Session panel—and then I watched the Tim Wise video!  This is exactly what Wise was saying in his interview in regards to racial equity.

The second session I attended was “Engaging Students in Anti-Bullying Efforts”, with presenters Rebecca Ferry and Joseph Pirraglia.  The presenters showed us the anti-bullying program they developed at Barrington Middle School.  Even though the presentation was not specifically LGBT focused, the “Safe Spaces” reading that we did came to my mind during the presentation.  At the beginning of the article, it says, “To the extent that teachers … create an atmosphere in which difference is not only tolerated but expected, explored, and embraced, students will be more likely to develop perspectives that result in respectful behaviors.”  This is what happened at Barrington Middle School.  The presenters commented that kids can’t achieve if they don’t feel safe, and no learning will happen.  So they worked within their teams to create an environment where students feel safe and comfortable sharing and discussing.  They did this through team building activities to create a culture, and by really listening to kids in the halls and at lunch to pick up on what’s going on, so that they could address the issues.  It started small, but the students embraced it and ran with the activities, including a pledge, video, song, skits, and more.  As a result, the students are better connected to each other, there is improved academic success, and the kids are standing up for one another and are aware of social issues that they see pop up.

The presenters acknowledged that a big part of it is a change of culture, and a challenge is getting over the awkwardness of talking about social issues.  This made me think of Johnson: “You can’t deal with a problem if you don’t name it; once you name it, you can think, talk, and write about it.  You can make sense of it by seeing how it’s connected to other things that explain it and point toward a solution.”  By creating the safe space atmosphere in their teams, and becoming comfortable with talking about the social issues surrounding bullying, the students were able to build an understanding and a culture of respect in their school.

The final session I attended was “The Central Falls School District and RIC School of Social Work Collaborative: Engaging Students in the Achievement of Academic Success”.  The panel discussed the collaboration that puts Social Work students into Central Falls High School as interns, offering additional support to at-risk students.  Prior to this collaboration, the high school had only ONE social worker for up to 800 students.  I don’t know if this is a common practice, but it seems crazy to me!  What a work load for that social worker, particularly in a school with so many issues with substance abuse, homelessness, teenage parents, and domestic violence.  It was great to see how the social work interns are able to have immersive, real-world experiences with the students and the school, and be able to go back to class and instructors for support in working through the tough problems they are encountering.  I can see how the collaboration is an effective learning model both for the high school and for RIC students, and I believe the collaboration with Secondary Education will be just as beneficial.

One thing I made note of is that the Vice Principal of CFHS said that attendance at the high school is a challenge, and that it is a community issue.  The social worker, interns, teachers, and even the VP himself have gone on home visits to reinforce the importance of regular attendance to the student and to their family.  The social worker said that families tend to be apprehensive about him at first because they aren’t sure of his role, but their relationship builds once they understand that he is there to help.  This seems very Delpit to me, because the school is making an effort to teach the rules and codes of power to the student and the families to ensure the students academic and future success.

In hindsight, even though the sessions I selected were interesting, I wish I had selected some of the other ones.  Having heard about a few of them from others, I think there were ones that I may have enjoyed more.  Christina’s explanation of the “Star Power” game sounded like an interesting experience.  Also, the Advocacy II: “Creating Caring and Committed Anti-bullying Classes” & “Trans*Action: Tools for a Transgender Ally” sounded like great and informative presentations in that final session!  Ultimately, I feel that the conference was a beneficial experience for me to have, particularly as a part of this class.  Attending the conference equipped with the insight gained from our class material allowed me to see the information presented in a different, or maybe enhanced, way.

How was your day?  :)

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