Humanity First, Growth Second

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By Maya Martin

Education is paramount in any child’s journey through life. It is an essential pathway to success and improving our education system for all families is something I have fought for my entire career. Its promise is invaluable but is also just one of many factors that ensure children and families can lead full and productive lives. Equally critical is providing all families with a safe place to lay their head at night. Housing insecurity and homelessness deeply affect a child’s ability to learn and grow in the classroom. When they aren’t able to get proper sleep, eat a good meal, or live in a place that is clean and safe, they aren’t bringing their best selves to school. How can we ask them to focus, to perform on their various assignments and tests, to truly engage with their learning, if they don’t have the basic support we know they need?

In January, Mayor Bowser moved up the timeline for demolition of DC General--a shelter that houses more than 200 families--with the goal of getting residents into updated and better maintained facilities in more areas of the city. While most DC residents are in strong support of the closing of DC General, the timeline of this plan is a major cause for concern as the next steps for many families living in the shelter are still unclear. Due to delays in construction, there is not enough space for all of the residents that would need to be relocated for replacement shelters. The plan to close DC General included six additional shelters across the city. Right now, only one of the replacement shelters is on track to be completed by the fall. In the best-case scenario, two more could be completed. The motels that would serve as temporary housing are not only extremely expensive for the district to provide but are also often in extremely poor conditions.

The demolition also poses serious environmental hazards due to risk of exposure to lead and asbestos, threatening many DC families living as close as 250 feet away. The resulting side effects are irreversible, with particularly dangerous implications for pregnant women.

Earlier this week, Council member Trayon White proposed emergency legislation to stop the demolition until the city has relocated all of its residents to the new shelters. After deliberation, Councilmember T. White’s original legislation did not pass. Instead, the City Council unanimously voted to require environmental impact reporting requirements. This doesn’t change the environmental risk that residents face or address the problem of displacement.

We must find a solution for the families at risk of losing shelter and having their health put in jeopardy. The challenges the residents of DC general face are immense, and they need our help. One of our parents recently spent months moving from motel to motel. Her daughter, then in third grade, missed half of the third quarter and half of the fourth quarter because of long travel times. Even when getting up extra early, she would have to wait for the shuttle bus, transfer to the trains--sometimes taking up to two hours to get to school--and then have to travel to work. Her daughter’s teachers reported that her behavior changed: she stopped showing interest in activities. After explaining the situation, the school got involved by providing access to after school and summer programs and referred her to an organization that could help with case management, eventually placing her in DC General. Here, she received the support she needed from caseworkers who were able to help her secure her own apartment. The motels she stayed in as temporary housing didn’t have any programs to help out residents who were determined to find a better solution.

This parent is not alone in her experience: so many people facing homelessness are simply asking for the city to provide a clean and safe place to stay and a bridge to independence. With the closing of DC General, we cannot leave those families behind, without resources, or in danger of serious damage to their health. As the importance of keeping families together has become a focal point in the national conversation, we as a city must step up and take care of all of the basic needs for our residents and be a leader in addressing our pressing housing crisis. Let’s put families first and make sure replacing DC General doesn’t increases the challenges for our fellow Washingtonians, but instead supports their path to success.

Trust Kids When They Say Their Teachers Are Psychologically Abusive

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By Tanzi West Barbour

There is data that shows that mental and emotional abuse by a teacher towards a child is a real thing. There are stories of teachers who pick on certain students, call them names, berate them in front of their classmates, and tell them they aren’t going to amount to anything. In short, they are f*cking with these children’s minds, because naturally the child is internalizing what the teacher is saying. They are the authority figure that as a child I am to respect, follow, and most of all, BELIEVE.

I read this article recently in the Washington Post where a parent secretly taped her son’s teacher mentally abusing him. The teacher would say things like “I feel sorry for your mother. I really do. She’s a little lost.” She would point out when the child didn’t know the answer to certain questions or could not do whatever the assignment was. As such, the child began to hate school and anything that had to do with his school. His grades slipped and he cried every day.

He told his mom it was his teacher who was making him feel bad and not smart. He said she makes fun of me. I feel like I’m not smart.

But wait…the teacher was just named “Teacher of the Year” by her school leaders last year. She is one of the most talented and revered educators at her school. She’s been in the classroom for 33 years. Surely, of all teachers, she is not the one who could be capable of harming a child – even if it was an internal affliction.

Color me copied because I really thought I was reading an account of my family’s reality. Both of my children have had the “pleasure” of being taught by a teacher thought to be one of the best, as someone who truly cared about her students and wanted to see them excel. This past year she called my son anything but “smart.” In return, he called her everything but someone he liked. His very mature common sense told him that she was not someone who had his best interest at heart. It would be up to him to become his own advocate inside the classroom and tell mommy and daddy when it became too much for him to bear alone.

“She thinks I’m dumb mom.”

“She’s not interested in teaching me.”

“I asked for help and she said not now.”

“How many days do we have left in this grade?”

All the signs were there that something was definitely wrong in this “high-performing classroom” at this private school. It was something new that he had not experienced before in his other classrooms and it hurt.

I’m not sure which was worse – me bringing it to her attention only for her to feign surprise and act completely shocked about it. Or me bringing it to the attention of the school leadership only for them to side with one of their best teachers.

“It’s hard retaining good educators, especially in private schools,” I’ve heard them say. How hard is it to have teachers who understand that sticks and stones may break bones, but words hurt like hell? Especially to a child who just wants to learn.

The parent in the article put a tape recorder in her son’s backpack and recorded the teacher for 4 days and 32 hours where she heard her berate her son. It was no longer her son’s word against the teacher’s. The proof was on the tape.

I wish I would have thought of that.

How to Deal with Uninvolved Parents

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By Andrew Pillow

If you are a teacher, then chances are you have dealt with many different types of parents. There are many actions parents take that teachers find annoying. You have the parents that never think their kids do anything wrong. You have the helicopter parents that are over-involved. By far, the most difficult parents to deal with are the ones from which you hear nothing at all.

Uninvolved parents are the bane of many teachers’ existence. It’s hard enough to reach children as it is. It gets significantly harder if you can’t reach their parents.  Parents who don’t answer calls or show up to conferences leave a bad taste in the mouths of teachers, but dealing with parents is part of the job. So how exactly do you effectively deal with uninvolved parents?

1.       Don’t assume it’s because they don’t care

Often time teachers make the mistake of assuming parents that are uninvolved don’t care or are uninterested. There are some parents who don’t care, but most want to see their children do well in school, even if they don’t show it the way teachers feel like they should.

2.       Examine the barriers stopping them

There could be any number of reasons parents are “uninvolved.”  They may not have a working phone to answer your calls. They may not have adequate transportation to attend school functions. They may work multiple jobs or the night shift which makes them unavailable at normal times.

Some of these obstacles, such as needing a phone, are actually quite fixable, but schools and teachers have to examine the barriers preventing parents from participating to remedy the situation.

3.       Be more flexible

Sometimes a school’s systems and methods are too rigid to accommodate parents with unusual circumstances and conferences are a good example.

Can you really hold it against a parent if they can’t take off of work in the middle of the day to show up at a parent-teacher conference? Why not allow the conference to be scheduled at a different time more conducive to their schedule? Do meetings have to take place at the school? If parents don’t have transportation, doesn’t it make sense for the teachers and admin to visit them?

These are the kind of actions schools need to think about if they really want to include uninvolved parents.

4.       Leverage other people

Sometimes that parent that doesn’t answer your calls has a great relationship with a teacher from last year or another class. What did that teacher do that you didn’t?

The father who doesn’t show up to a parent-teacher conference may occasionally show up to basketball games and has a good relationship with the coach. Why not ask the coach to pass on a message to the father?

Trying to get your disinterested parent to show up for literacy night, but can’t reach them? What about asking the parent that goes to the same church to relay the invite?

Unfortunately, varying degrees of parent involvement is simply part of being a teacher, but schools need to make sure they have exhausted all options before they declare a parent “uninvolved.”

Ripping Children Away from Parents is an Unacceptable Way to Deter Immigration

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By Cheryl Coleman

At the beginning of Trump’s term as President, there were changes to the international travel rules and regulations. These changes not only impacted traveling abroad for personal reasons, but also impacted exchange student programs and education visas. College students residing in the US may have been deported back to their countries, while others are stuck abroad. In recent news, President Trump has separated young children from their parents as a part of the Zero Tolerance Policy at the US/Mexico border.

This has created another huge uproar in communities internationally, but this is not the first time something so awful has happened in the history of this country’s government. Immigration policy was put into place to keep the borders safe, but instead of keeping US citizens safe, the Zero Tolerance Policy has led to parents being separated from their children when they are seeking asylum, seeking safety.  These families are running from violence, so inflicting more trauma on these immigrants is unacceptable. How children were removed from their parents still remains unclear. Some reports state children were removed under false pretenses and authorities told the families they were going to “clean the children up.” Parents are also reporting they have received no details on where their children were going.

This week, Trump signed a policy stating families will no longer be separated, but the policy does not address any  efforts to reunite the children that have already been separated nor does it specify how long the detainment will last. Even though President Trump has ended the separation of families, the next move needs to be focused on how to reunite separated families quickly.

Juneteenth is the July 4th for the African American Community

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By Cheryl Coleman

For many slaves in 1865, the Civil War came to close and they still had no idea they were free. The message of enslaved African Americans’ freedom was slowly shared state to state. If you were located far from Union armies, you continued to live life as if freedom did not exist. This was especially the case in Texas. On June 19, 1865, a Union General Gordon Granger informed the last group of slaves, nearly two years after they had been officially declared free, about their freedom..

Juneteenth is known as the most popular celebrated emancipation day from African Americans because it represents when the last slaves from the deepest parts of Confederate states learned of their freedom. With the obvious delay in freedom and justice for African Americans, even with Jim Crow laws following the war, many black people in the US have chosen to celebrate Juneteenth to show power against the opposition. With modern day systematic oppression, racial bias in laws, and policies across America, Juneteenth is becoming better known.

The younger generation may not have experienced lynching as black people did in the 1800s/1900s, but there is still widespread discrimination, false imprisonment, and lack of economic investment. These barriers may still remain until the United States truly faces the history of its people.