Archive for the ‘Community’ Category
Six years ago I found myself packing one bag and moving from North Carolina to California to experience the life of the west. I had just graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of North Carolina. As I began to search for careers, I quickly realized that I needed more experience and education to pursue my passion of working with children, aged birth-3 years, and their families. I had always had an interest for the developing brain and its fascinating ability to rewire itself based on environmental input. In my undergraduate studies, I had had the opportunity to intern in a hospital with a developmental specialist in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit,(NICU), follow-up clinic, helping the specialist conduct developmental assessments on premature infants post-NICU through age 3. I knew then, the hospital population, particularly the premature population, was my passion.
After years of searching and narrowing my focus of study for graduate school, I came into contact with Dr. Kathleen Vandenberg, the west coast Master Trainer of the NIDCAP (Neonatal Individualized Developmental Care Assessment Program http://www.nidcap.org/). During a 2-hour conversation with her, a light bulb went off and I knew I had tapped into something that would change the course of my life. I once again packed my bags, moved to San Francisco, and began a Master’s program in Early Childhood Special Education at Mills, while simultaneously interning at UCSF Medical Center with Dr. Vandenberg . However, in between my 1st year of grad school and 2nd, the 14 year old west coast NIDCAP program was cut due to lack of funding. But luckily, another door opened up for me, allowing me to intern at Oakland Children’s hospital with a NIDCAP trainer as well. There, I learned developmental interventions along with infant massage techniques to help foster a better developmental outcome for these fragile infants despite the unnatural environmental surroundings of a NICU.
Although my journey began with a narrow focus for the premature population, Mills’ graduate program quickly expanded my knowledge immensely, and gave me opportunities to work with all types of children and families including both those with special needs and those with typically developing children. Mills taught me to look at the child as a whole and meet the family where they are emotionally. Professionally, I am now seeing how the information I attained at Mills through the Children’s School, lectures, and field experiences have prepared me, and my classmates, to be leaders in our field. We learned to manage almost any situation, and to know quickly how to respond sensitively to the family’s needs in that moment. Mills taught us to see the big picture, the whole child, and how every factor –financial burdens, parental stress, behavior concerns, speech delays– of that child’s life is important to consider when working with the family. Mills taught us to see the whole picture and how to support the whole family through the journey.
I have learned more than I could have ever anticipated from this graduate program. The rich amount of hands-on, reflective practice that Mills provided is something that you cannot get anywhere else. I don’t think students realize the richness of the program until they begin their career. You may feel engulfed with so much work that you don’t realize the implication of that 25th reflection paper until you step into the work force. Then you realize that reflection of practice is the gateway to confidence and leadership in any profession.
Currently, I am a Developmental Specialist at Rady Children’s Hospital in Oceanside, CA. I provide developmental assessments for children from birth to age 5. I also provide one-on-one consults with parents and children, providing educational play opportunities and information on how to stimulate language/development at home. I teach infant massage classes to families at the hospital and to mothers attending a substance abuse recovery center that are being reunited with their infants. I recently had the opportunity to speak at a local Early Childhood Mental Health Conference in San Diego, CA about the “Fussy Baby,” where I presented NIDCAP’s philosophies on helping the infant self-regulate. In addition, I am currently mentoring undergraduate interns. Following your passion pays off in the end. I credit Mills for where I am today, and will forever be thankful for all the experiences it gave me. It was a lot of hard work, but it was worth every lost hour of sleep.
I arrived home one day after class in 2009 and sat in front of my computer to begin my schoolwork as I had done for months on end. In fact, being in the Education Leadership doctoral program at Mills, that was all I did for months—no, I take that back—years!! Like all the other days before this one, I first opened my email longingly, yet not expectantly, to see if there were any messages from anyone anymore. (The first thing I learned in my doctoral program was that I no longer had any more friends outside of school who emailed me—in fact I didn’t really have a life outside of school.) Open-peruse-delete. Open-peruse-delete. Open-peruse-delete. That was my interaction with most of the email that I got those days. And that was my interaction with the email that I received from Teachers College Press. Open-peruse-delete.
What a joke. Yeah right—like Teachers College Press wants me to submit a manuscript. I knew better. I had just presented a workshop on resilience (the subject of my dissertation) at the ASCD annual conference and was so certain that what I received in my email was just a form letter sent to all presenters to see if they wanted to submit a proposal for a manuscript that would possibly be published by Teachers College Press. This is of course what all publishers do after a big conference—right? They mine the total landscape and send queries to all presenters in hopes that a good proposal may present itself. I was not going to get sucked in and spend my time responding. Besides, it also crossed my mind that someone might have even been playing a really bad joke on me—a joke that I was not going to fall for. Yeah right—send the student who is up to her eyeballs in writing a dissertation a query to see if she would be interested in writing a book. That email was now history and I never mentioned it to anyone. I just took care of it by bringing one little finger to one little key. Delete.
Fast forward two months…
Like all the other days before, I got done with school, sat in front of my computer and opened my email before knowing that I was in for a long night working on some chapter of my dissertation. Geesh…not another form email from Teachers College Press. There must have been another conference somewhere and they are mining the crowd—or once again, someone was playing a bad joke on me. Oh well, just open it, read it, and then delete it—I knew the drill. So I opened it, read it, and—oh my God!—went into convulsions! This isn’t verbatim, but the email started something like this:
Dear Dr. Truebridge,
I contacted you earlier to inquire whether you would be interested in submitting a book proposal to Teachers College Press. I understand your work focuses on resilience and we are interested in publishing a book on this subject. I never heard back from you so I am inquiring once again.
…and it was signed by the Executive Acquisitions Editor of Teachers College Press.
Yes, I was now in convulsions that lasted all night into the next day. You can ask Diane Ketelle and she will verify that I am telling you the truth, for I was hyperventilating the next day as I ran hysterically into her office. “Oh my God! Oh my God! I received this email—the first one I deleted—this email—this email—oh my God—it is from Teachers College Press—actually it is the second email I received from them—did I mention I deleted the first one?! Oh my God! Oh my God, and look…the salutation on the email says ‘Dr. Truebridge!’ He thinks I have my doctorate and I am still in the process of getting it—oh my God—how do I respond???”
Now I would be less than honest if I didn’t admit that this was not the first time I had run into Diane’s office in a manic hysterical state. Diane was often the one who, when she was not challenging me as a doctoral student, was able to smile her smile, hold my hand, and help me through some tough times. This time was no different. On this day, she held my hand, calmed my nerves, and helped me craft my response to the email that I received from Teachers College Press. That was in 2009. That was also the year when I signed my contract with Teachers College Press. I graduated the doctoral program in 2010. My book, published by Teachers College Press, Resilience Begins with Beliefs: Building on Student Strengths for Success in School, will be out in December 2013. Needless to say, looking back to 2009—finishing a dissertation and beginning a book at the same time—was quite a humbling spin on the “doctoral dance floor.”
*Just a little side note…it has been three years since I have graduated the doctoral program, and I still am getting used to being called “Dr. Truebridge.” However, I am no longer thrown into convulsions and hysterics when I receive an email that begins with that salutation. Oh…and one more thing: I am a lot more careful these day about what emails I delete. That’s no joke.
For information about the book: http://store.tcpress.com/0807754838.shtml
Find it on Facebook: (Please visit and “like”):https://www.facebook.com/pages/Resilience-Begins-with-Beliefs-by-Sara-Truebridge/669217006423284?ref=stream
Being the “new kid on the block” can often feel overwhelming, stressful, and sometimes just plain scary. However, on my first day of work in the School of Education at Mills College, I felt peaceful, relaxed, and very happy to be here. The faculty, students, and staff all bring something unique to this place. They are inspired, passionate, dedicated, kind and helpful people. I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to work here with them all.
The Mills College campus is beautiful with lush, green grass, white buildings with red tile roofs, and towering oak and eucalyptus trees. It is a paradise to behold. This beauty radiates a peacefulness which is not found on larger campuses or universities. This peace fosters creativity and innovation as well as a genuine thirst for knowledge. As I look out from my open office window on a warm, sunny afternoon, I can hear children playing outside. Every day I say to myself, “I work in an amazing place.”
Of all the jobs that I have held throughout my career in early childhood education and administration, very few have been so positive and so enjoyable as working at the School of Education. Everyone here at Mills listens to each other, respects each other, and works together in an uncommon way that moves this school forward with a shared goal to make it even better, stronger, and “ahead of the curve.”
For people who have been at Mills for some time, it might be hard to see or remember how special this place is. For me, having just arrived, I am reminded daily of something I tell myself often: “Try not to take things for granted in your life, look at what you have with fresh eyes and be grateful for it.”
I wrote a post for this blog back in February, when I was planning to open a new school in Freedom, Maine. Shortly after writing the post, I held some informational sessions at local public libraries in the area. I wanted to see how many families might be interested in this type of school. It’s really outside of the box: three days a week, half of every school day spent outside, a truly multi-age setting of 5-10 year-colds all together, two full-time teachers, preparing and eating meals together made from local, organic foods… I just didn’t know if there would be enough interest to make a go of it.
At the first information session, one person showed up.
Three came to the second, and three came to the third. I paused to reconsider the idea. I thought deeply, talked to all my people, and decided in the end to go ahead with it. Even if I could get ten children, I figured, at least I would have a wonderful school environment for my own two daughters, and I would be able to provide what I feel is the best that education has to offer to another eight local children.
Well, The Mill School opened its doors on September 10th, fully enrolled with twenty local children, ages five to ten, and another eighteen on the waiting list. As it turns out, a lot of people are interested in exactly this kind of school. And so far, things are going as smoothly as can be expected at a brand new school. My colleague and I have changed the daily schedule about five times already. But the children are relaxed and happy, the parents are so supportive, and we have time to really get to know the children, as people, and as learners. Our first place-based curricular unit has begun, our food is delicious, and we are spending a lot of time outside, building strong bodies and connecting to the natural environment. The children are learning the daily routines. It feels to me as if this outside-of-the-box school is blossoming. As one student said to me yesterday, “It’s so weird. At my old school, the teacher was the enemy. But here, you’re just not. You two, like, seem to really care about us.” I smiled, and she paused before she added, “And the food here is so good too!”
I am always interested in hearing about other schools where things are being done differently; please let me know if you have a story to share. You can contact me, and learn more about The Mill School, at www.themillschool.org
How often have you heard someone deplore Twitter as the downfall of writing? It happened to me –again—just the other day, when a former teacher carefully explained that because of Twitter, no one stays on topic in a sustained way. I feel that this is a lot to put on Twitter. People used to blame Sesame Street for shortening children’s attention spans by creating too short intervals of drama. Maybe we move, think, and write more quickly now than we used to, but I’m not sure that Twitter and Sesame Street are wholly to blame. For example, there was a time in the olden days when we wrote in short little bursts, a time that was also known for elegant formal writing. How different, I wonder, is Twitter from a telegram?
Consider this example, from the 1960s:
MISS MARGARET BHAL= POCAHONTAS ARK=
CONGRATULATIONS WE ARE VERY PROUD OF YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENT
IN WINNING THE SOUTHWESTERN PIANO AUDITION=
WINTHROP ROCKEFELLER GOVERNOR=
If you remove the address and signature, it’s tweetable. As is this gem:
May 5th 1945
International Moscow via Mackay Radio
To: Mr Joseph Bard
We congratulate you with setting up the banner of victory upon Berlin by the Red Army = Signed Family Phillip Berdichevsky
The first telegram, of congratulations, and the second one, reflecting world events, could easily be on Twitter today, though we would write them a little differently. (If you are interested in recasting your tweets as telegrams, here are best practices.) Both forms limit how you construct your message. One big big difference between them is that telegrams were for special occasions, whereas Twitter is an every day if not every hour sort of thing. Another difference is that a telegram goes to one person, who then has to spread the news. When you tweet, you share your thoughts or news with everyone you know.
Some people don’t like that because it seems self-promoting and -aggrandizing. But social media can be about more than the individual –the way the School of Education’s Twitter feed, Facebook page, and blog are. You send us your individual news, accomplishments, or thoughts; we combine them with other people’s news and what we get is a picture of who we are as a community. Scroll through our feeds or check them regularly, and you will begin to see what values we hold and represent, and what goals we treasure.
I love this for two reasons. First, it puts concrete examples to fairly abstract concepts. I frequently stand on a soapbox in SOE meetings and declare that it’s fine to say that we are all about Leadership, Equity, and Collaboration, but the power of the words comes when we show how we practice these values. How do we see and define leadership? How do we collaborate and embody equity? Just as any musical group has its own sound, so we have a distinct take on these qualities. And we can share our interpretation not just by describing it, but showing it in action. Social media is the mirror that reflects that action.
I also love social media because it makes another hub of community for our school. One hub is, of course, the classroom, where you meet and learn with your colleagues. Another hub is the wide world, where you may work with other alums. But social media is broader. It is a place where current or prospective students can learn what our graduates do with their degrees. It is a place where graduates can see what their professors are working on now. It is a place where we can share a video our organization made or news of an upcoming event. From social media, we get a wonderful sense of the variety and depth of our work, both here at Mills, and in the world.
Twitter hasn’t kept me from being able to write, for example, a 700 word blog. Twitter has made it much easier for me to tap into the community I work with. It is a real and compelling reflection of who we are, and why we are unique.
Elizabeth Baker is the Associate Professor of Practice TTS/Math-Science 4 + 1 Program Director at the School of Education at Mills College.
“What we observe is not nature itself but nature observed to our method of questioning.” –Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy
In 1995, California launched the “Garden in Every School” program, and since then the Department of Education has provided standards, curriculum, and evaluative research for school gardens. In addition, the legislature has enacted several bills that promote and (partially) fund school gardens. In 2003, when I was hired to work on an NSF grant using a garden-based mathematics curriculum, there were 3,000 public edible school gardens in California. By 2008 when our grant ended, there were 6,000 schools participating in the edible school garden movement (http://cns.ucdavis.edu/news/index.cfm). Currently, the California School Garden Network reckons that there are close to 10,000 schools participating.
Our state continues to emphasize nutrition education and health through the CA Nutrition Services Department, which now manages the Garden in Every School program. Consequently, we see many raised bed vegetable boxes on typically asphalt-covered or flat green space. School gardens in public urban areas generally do not contain intimate spaces, wild spaces, or even much digging room. Often there is no place to sit or gather a group of students together. There are exceptions, most notably The Edible School Yard at the MLK garden in Berkeley, and two of my favorite spaces: Franklin Elementary and Joaquin Miller in Oakland. Although there are detractors, the most incendiary being Caitlin Flanagan (Cultivating Failure in the January 1, 2010 issue of the Atlantic Monthly), incorporating a school garden into elementary and some secondary schools continues to be on the side of the angels, and research backs up the academic and social/behavioral merits. (See, for example, Lieberman and Hoody, Closing the Achievement Gap: Using the Environment as an Integrating Context for Learning, a 1992 paper presented at the State Education and Environmental Roundtable San Diego; D. Blair, The Child in the Garden: An Evaluative review of the Benefits of School Gardening, in the Journal of Environmental Education, Winter, Vol. 40, issue 2 in 2009.)
I recently returned from an inspiring trip to England that included visits to gardens, including school gardens. I was struck by the diversity and creative use of small school garden spaces for academic use. Perhaps because there has been a long history of gardening as a national pastime, of small home gardens, and of community vegetable allotments, the educational use focused more on creating interesting, diverse, and/or beautiful spots for students to be in –in other words, the emphasis was more on wonder and less on fava beans.For example, some schools, taking their lead from the British Natural History Museum, and perhaps less worried about bee stings or law suits from bee stings, kept bee houses if they found bees near the school. If there was a source of unwanted timber, typically tree stumps, schools made “stumperies”. When I asked what were the best kind of stumps for stumperies, I was told “the ones available!” These are seeded with ferns and soil then left to be; as they decompose, they become a great habitat. Schools emphasize increasing wildlife and diversity, and the students are counting, year after year. Counting the rain, the sun, the clouds, the insects, the arachnids, the birds, the ferns, and the plants that appear. The students use data from past years’ classes, and as the years add up so do the questions and evidence about what new has arrived and in what quantities, what the climate is up to, and what change is happening. Elementary gardens don’t look so elementary. They are intensely local just as the students are.
I know that some of our schools are doing these kinds of things too: creating habitat gardens for butterflies; bee- and pollinator-friendly plantings that may include vegetables too, and other naturalized and native plant areas. But even though we live in a place where we can harvest strawberries in November, it is hard work and most of the work falls on the shoulders of teachers. I can attest to the community building and wonderful things that can happen on “community garden days” (a euphuism for weeding) in our local public schools, but I am hoping we can opt for a certain spaciousness of thinking and planning in our school garden spaces that allow for things to emerge –a constructivist approach to school gardens, if you will. Let’s resist the pressing urge to align all of the garden work to the standards, guidelines, and benchmarks, and justify it with the test scores. Resist imposing specific questions with correct answers. Resist imposing order to the planter boxes. Let’s instead create spaces that invite paying close attention, welcoming places for students to be idle and just observe and develop their own method for questions.
In the fall of 2012, a group of students in the MBA/MA in Educational Leadership Program (a joint program of the School of Education and the Lokey Graduate School of Business) came together and realized an opportunity for an ongoing space to discuss the intersection of the worlds of business and education. Thus the Huddle was born, providing joint degree students with resources and opportunities to learn and participate in this emerging field.
The Huddle met and formed three Tiger Teams to take on the specific tasks necessary to expand the scope of the Huddle. The Career Tiger Team presented a mind map of the education industry, highlighting the vastness of the industry while recognizing the sectors in which the joint students were interested in working. The Huddle Tiger Team invited in a professor from the Graduate School of Business and a professor from the School of Education to debate the topic of opportunity costs in education. They also heard from Professor Tom Li, who shared his experience of sitting on a school board to which he brought his knowledge as a CPA in order to address school- related issues. Students’ opinions and thoughts regarding the both the Huddle and the MBA/MA joint program are also welcomed and valued.
The Huddle has recently added the Business and Education Action Team (BEAT). BEAT will be an outward facing component of the Huddle, with students volunteering with schools and educational organizations, and providing business consulting and supplemental workshops to students.
The Huddle is a great resource for the MBA/MA joint students at Mills. It offers a motivating site for students to synthesize their classroom learning with real life situations. The group also allows students to explore career paths which align with the joint degree.
For me, the Huddle is a meeting place for my peers and me to reflect and examine the new connections being forged within the areas of education and business, as well as the challenges that may arise from that relationship. To be a part of something that is creating a significant impact is empowering, and it is amazing to be able to bring that to Mills. I hope that we can carry this conversation into action, especially through BEAT. I look forward to the continuing progress and ripples of success we will make, not only at Mills, but also within the Oakland community.
Recently, the Oakland Unified School District was pleased to announce that it had established a relationship with Oakland Rotary to adopt Transitional Kindergarten (TK) classes at ten schools (eleven classrooms) throughout the city. OUSD wrote, “The group will compensate for gaps in state funding of Transitional Kindergarten by providing the funds needed to create nurturing and stimulating learning environments for young children.” OUSD further wrote, “While the state provides funding for TK teacher salaries, virtually no money is offered for classroom modifications, furniture, equipment, books and toys designed to optimize the learning experience for these younger students.” Oakland Rotary and its partners have pledged to help fill that gap. So far they have award $22,000 for the eleven teachers to spend as they deem necessary; $15,000 worth of books; and hundreds of dollars in toys. This is just the beginning.
We wrote to EdD student Krishen Arvind Laetsch, Board Member at Oakland Rotary and its Youth and Education co-chair, and asked him to tell us a bit more. He wrote,
“Several years ago with support from Oakland Rotary, I helped to create ‘Oakland Reads’, a program that gives three books to every third grader in Oakland traditional and charter schools, to promote literacy. In addition to providing $45,000 each year in books, and reaching more than 4,000 students, the program broke socio-economic barriers by putting 100 Rotarians into schools that otherwise they would most probably not visit; many returned to provide additional support. One member decided to give each student a book bag and we donated classroom sets of books too.
“The program operated for four years then transitioned to Family Reading Nights. In this program, Oakland Rotarians brought books to schools in the evenings, and then read with kids, provided dinners and literacy activities for families. Unfortunately, this program generated less excitement. When Transitional Kindergarten was created (the first new grade created in more than eight decades), we saw an opportunity. I proposed that the Oakland Rotary build on its record of success and adopt all ten schools that had TK, eleven classrooms in all throughout the city. With Oakland’s Rotary motto of Service above Self, it was an easy sell. We call it KinderPrep because few understand “Transitional Kindergarten.
“I have the privilege of co-chairing the Oakland Rotary Youth & Education Committee. Oakland Rotary is the third oldest Rotary Club in the world. It has been in Oakland for more than 100 years and is the largest service organization in the city. It has contributed a great deal to education, including books, equipment, mentors, scholarships, tutors, etc. For more on Oakland Rotary and its KinderPrep program, visit http://www.clubrunner.ca/Portal/Home.aspx?cid=3190.
“On a personal note, this type of program would not have been possible were it not for the support and training I have received from the Mills College School of Education. I’m a fortunate man…but am still waiting for my ‘Pearl M.’”
OUSD notes that other Oakland Rotary KinderPrep activities planned for 2012-13 include:
* purchasing and assembling furniture
* planting gardens
* building play structures
* supporting “Emergency Prep” classes for educators and guardians
* providing classroom assistance to teachers, particularly in the areas of math and science
* launching book and toy drives
* supporting literacy in ten schools with books, curricula and reading projects
*orchestrating two field trips for all of the Transitional Kindergarten students to Children’s Fairyland for art and literacy and to the Oakland Zoo for art and biology
When I was a classroom teacher I had a poster in my room that said, “The highest fences we need to climb are those we’ve built within our minds.” I have always found this statement to be true for my students, and when I became the math coordinator for the Prison University Project I found that it was true for me as a teacher as well.
When it comes to learning math, many students enter the classroom with an internal narrative about who they are as students and what they are able to accomplish in a math class. We all know the power a good teacher can have on the success of a student. For adult learners, a good teacher can affect not only how well a student learns the material, but also how they see themselves as students. Working with incarcerated adults who are returning to the classroom I witness the change in their internal narrative. Many students have been away from school for many years or didn’t see themselves as “college material” when they were growing up. What makes my work so enjoyable is watching the transformation that takes place when adults are finally able to have the success in math that they didn’t have before.
The pre-college program at the Prison University Project works with students to build basic skills in English and Math and prepare them to enroll in college courses. But below the surface there are other changes happening as well. Students are learning study skills, critical thinking, and how to participate in class. And the dedication the students have towards their learning is exciting to watch. Having worked as a teacher in public schools, I witnessed students who took their education for granted. The students at PUP are in many ways the “dream” students for teachers because they are engaged, dedicated, and set high standards for themselves. I am continually impressed by how PUP students connect their education goals to their larger life goals and continue to persevere even when it’s difficult. Watching them overcome their past struggles in math inspired me to think about my own internal narrative.
Before working in a prison I imagined prisoners as one-dimensional, defined by their capacity to commit crime. However, the conversations I have with students, the issues that come up in classes, the skills that students struggle with, are the same as in my other teaching experiences. Very quickly after taking my job I realized I had my own narrative about prisoners to overcome. In this static environment they are taking advantage of the opportunity to change. Working with the Prison University Project is seeing teaching that changes lives in its purest sense.
The College Program at San Quentin State Prison is currently recruiting teachers to co-teach pre-college Math and English classes (Math 50 and English 99) this coming spring semester. Teachers with these classes typically work in teams, with each set of instructors covering one evening per week.
Math 50 has several sections that are held on some combination of Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings from 6-8:30pm. This course covers math from about first grade level (place value) to eighth grade level (pre-algebra) and is geared toward students needing review before moving on to a college algebra course.
All sections of English 99 meet on Sunday, Tuesday and/or Thursday evenings. This pre-college composition course prepares students to write college level essays.
The Prison University Project provides incarcerated men at San Quentin with higher education opportunities through our College Program in partnership with Patten University. Our teachers are volunteers from universities around the Bay Area including UC Berkeley, Stanford, and University of San Francisco. There is no minimum education requirement to be an instructor for the pre-college classes, but those with an education background or previous teaching experience are strongly encouraged to apply. We receive no state or federal funding, so major expenses like textbooks and supplies are funded entirely by donations.
If you are interested in working with the pre-college program, please contact Regina Guerra at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
As a white, middle class, single mother, there was never a time during my son’s childhood when I worried that his behavior would result in incarceration. While building a life for us did not come easily, the burden borne by the mothers of African American, Latino, Native American and South East Asian youth in the school to prison pipeline overshadows any challenges I faced raising my son. From a young age Lucas had access to multiple forms of capital: cultural, aspirational, linguistic, familial, social, and navigational. This web of capital and privilege made it possible for him to bypass the trauma and barriers placed upon young boys and men of color that have become an almost seamless path to incarceration. How our schools became the conduit for this pipeline demonstrates multiple levels of social and economic failure.
In my role as a writing instructor from 2008-2011 at San Quentin State Prison in Marin County, California, introduced me to the lives of young and old men as they spread their rage, frustration and indignation across pages. There were also times that the most tender words imaginable and loving ideas possible flooded those pages as well. In 2011, I taught violent male offenders in weekly life writing and reading class at the Alameda County Juvenile Hall. Earlier in my career as public school teacher I had been prepared as a Reading Recovery teacher which profoundly shaped my understanding of how reading and writing growth occur. My former experience informed how I assessed my student’s needs while working to keep the curriculum responsive to their needs and relevant to their interests. Currently, I am teaching a life writing class at Ralph Bunch Alternative Academy, part of the Oakland Unified School District. That class is comprised of students who have been expelled or failed out of comprehensive high schools in the district.
Through my varied experiences teaching in correctional and alternative settings, I have found much of the writing produced to be evocative and transformational. The efforts of my students to restory their lives drew my attention to the need to create a new narrative around prisons and the pipeline to prison in our society and the need to work to create social justice instead of imprisonment.
Many public schools have become pathways to incarceration rather than opportunities to educate and empower. The economic reality of the school to prison pipeline has extraordinary implications for school leaders, as it affects everything from what we teach to how we build community in our classrooms. We need to alter how we deal with conflicts within and among students, how we build coalitions and what demands and values we identify as central to fight for social justice. The school to prison pipeline undermines the possibility for our country to truly become great because of the way we treat a certain demographic in our human capital.
The way school leaders and teachers respond to the behaviors children bring to school is one way the pipeline is fed. It is important to recognize the role that harsh discipline policies play is sustaining disparities in incarceration. California leads the way in suspensions and expulsions from public schools. In 2009-2010, California school districts expelled roughly 21,000 students and handed out more than 75,000 suspensions. In a recent study from the Council of State Governments, California’s annual suspension rate exceeds the national average.
Zero-tolerance policies are another way the pipeline is perpetuated. Such policies impose severe discipline on students without regard to individual circumstances. Even the American Bar Association has condemned zero-tolerance policies as inherently unjust. There is no evidence that zero-tolerance policies make schools safer or in any way improve student behavior. On the contrary, research suggests that the overuse of suspensions and expulsions may actually increase the likelihood of later criminal misconduct.
Decker Walker and Jonas Soltis, esteemed scholars in the area of curriculum studies, note, “Even one mismatch or denial of opportunity for a person to grow in one direction rather than another would be a moral transgression against an individual that might change a whole life.” Advocating for and implementing practices that guard against such moral transgressions is imperative to ending the school to prison pipeline. Empowering learners to take responsibility for their learning while scaffolding positive social interaction in a democratic learning environment should be the sort of schooling experience every school age child in America can access.