Neighborhood Pressure: The Neighborhood’s Impact on a Child’s Decision-Making

ImageRecently, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a group of fifth graders.  Over time, we’ve developed quite a relationship where they feel comfortable opening up to me about things happening in their lives.  Often, we adults do not ask children what situations they face.  Maybe it’s because we tend to be in denial or maybe we don’t want to tackle those problems head on or maybe we just get so busy that we don’t ask children these real life questions.  Nevertheless, children are being pressured into deviant behavior whether we want to admit it or prioritize discussing it with them.

As the children I spoke to opened up, they told informed me that their peers were encouraging them to participate in illegal activities, and that sometimes they were equally as guilty for pressuring one of their friends or siblings to do the wrong thing.  For them, it is part of what they do in childhood.  You go to the store on the corner before or after school and stuff packs of gum and Now &  Laters and Hot Cheetos in your pockets.  When questioned by store staff, you blatantly lie so that now it just feels comfortable to be dishonest.  “Sometimes you do tell the truth,” said one child.  He then recalled a time he was accused of theft.  “The store cashier told me to be honest or else he would call the cops.  So I told him, ‘Yes, I did steal, but it’s because I’m poor and I cannot afford it.'”

As I listened intently to these real life accounts, it brought me back to my childhood.  I never had to shoplift for clothes at Old Navy in the local mini-mall in my county, but I absolutely remember people in my peer group doing it.  In an attempt to keep up with the changing trends and their parents lack of income, they risked getting arrested for a “best dressed” reputation.  I also remember instances where people would steal from the 711 and get into verbal spats with the employees.  More importantly, I remember where some of my peers ended up, and as my fifth graders share their lives with me, I wonder just how can I combat the neighborhood’s influence on their decision-making?

In schools across America, we teach character building through scenarios that happen on the school grounds such as playing fair on the playground, learning how to share materials during centers, or not pushing in line.  But I’m afraid we miss the perfect opportunity to bring up decisions our children face outside of school walls.

How are we preparing them to face their older brother or cousin who pressures them to smoke weed?  What about drinking a parent’s alcoholic beverage that was left unopened in the refrigerator?  These are also example of negative choices that the children I’m getting to know brought up.  Our children are constantly asked or pressured to make poor life choices on their block.  These choices can serve as gateways into even more negative behavior that could happen later in life.

Furthermore, in middle school I was involved in S.N.A.A.P (Students Notifying Adolescents About Prevention), and in elementary, middle and high school I participated in Youth to Youth.  Both of these programs helped me to combat the neighborhood and media’s influence on my decision-making.

Today, while chatting with the fifth graders, I was able to spew facts I learned about cigarette smoke and underage drinking at a young age.  They had no idea smoking cigarettes fills lungs with tar or that alcohol is a poison that can make them extremely sick, and that when adult gives them alcohol, it’s a crime.  Kids should receive all this information early on–in age appropriate doses–but definitely not sugar-coated.  On the streets, it’s not sugar-coated, and they certainly are not skipped over peer pressure because of their age.  It’s time we have this conversations or else deal with the consequences of having their peers or media lead them down the wrong path.

My questions to you:

  1. How do we get this information back into schools?
  2. Is this even being taught in health class at the late elementary level?
  3. What role do schools play in helping children make the right decisions, not just in school, but in life?
  4. How can schools address the type of pressure our kids face when they leave the grounds?  What has your school done to bring up these types of issues?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Can Our Children Have It All? The Case for Diverse Schools

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Heather Harding and I approach the education reform movement using a similar lens: as parents. Sure, you’re probably thinking, “Darla, you don’t have kids. How can you view education through a parent’s eyes?” Well, first of all, I view my students as my children. When I contemplate just what solutions I support to create better schools, I think of the type of learning environment I want for my own children. Each education policy decision created now has a direct impact on the learning experiences of my future kids. So when I read Heather Harding’s piece posted on Teach For America’s Pass the Chalk Blog, I immediately could relate with her sentiments.

Heather wants her children to attend diverse schools that prepare them for a global world. Like Heather, we are not satisfied with schools that mostly educate low-income black and Latino youth. In our ideal world, our children would attend schools with children from varying socioeconomic levels and diverse backgrounds. However, we realize that accepting schools as segregated now–even if they are high-performing–is not the way to give our kids the best education.

In Heather’s piece, “Breaking Down the Persistence of Segregated Schools,” she calls out the elephant in the room of all education reform conversations. She forces us to have the difficult conversation about how important diversity, in many aspects, is an important part of the learning experience, and how so many people are sweeping it under the rug.

Every time I see a story about high-performing urban charter schools where 98% of the kids are black or Latino, I get queasy. I worry that while the academics at these schools are superior to their peer schools, they lack what most middle-class parents want in an education—world-class academics in an environment that provides the social capital necessary to be successful in an ever-more-diverse world.

When we relegate some kids to a singular racial and cultural experience but extol the virtues of our growing global society, we are decidedly not closing the achievement gap. As a parent who enthusiastically embraces school choice, I cannot accept that common response to calls for racial desegregation in our urban charter schools: “Well, should I turn these poor kids of color away in favor of non-poor white kids?” My answer is likely to be “Maybe.” I want it all: quality education and diversity. This is the only recipe for true excellence. We shouldn’t settle for less.

Is Heather asking for too much? I don’t think so. I’m glad someone is courageous enough to bring it up. How about you?

Read more of Heather’s piecehttp://www.teachforamerica.org/m/blog/breaking-down-persistence-segregated-schools.

Mississippi’s School to Prison Pipeline

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Colorlines recently published “The Shocking Details of a Mississippi School-to-Prison Pipeline,” which gives readers a peak into the serious injustice happening in the state. Check out an excerpt below:

Among the infractions that landed Green, who is black, in juvenile detention were talking back to a teacher, wearing long socks and coming to school without wearing a belt. He was behind bars for stretches of time as long as two weeks, and the real rub, his mother Gloria said, is that weekends didn’t count as days served. A 10-day suspension stretched to 14 actual days; time for Meridian juvenile justice officials apparently stopped on weekends. All that back and forth out of school and in juvenile took a real toll on Green’s education, and he was held back from the eighth grade.

“It was mind-boggling,” Gloria Green said. “My son loved school and to be kicked out as much as he was, one year he just couldn’t catch up.”

“We did everything we know to do. I went over to the school and got make-up work, and he still failed two subjects and at that point I didn’t know which way what my child was going to go.”

“We talk about the school to prison pipeline and it’s often an abstract thing,” said Shakti Belway, an attorney who worked closely with families on the Meridian case for the Southern Poverty Law Center. “But here it is literally happening over ridiculous, minor charges.” Indeed, children as young as elementary school students have been taken directly from school and forced to serve school suspensions inside a jail cell. In its complaint, the DOJ charged the city’s police department with operating a de facto “taxi service” shuttling students away from school and into youth jails.

In parts of Mississippi, the extreme measures to curb minor infractions in schools are labeling youth and putting them on a path to confinement. As educators, we must be thoughtful in how we invest children in school policies in order to create a positive learning environment.

Reading the stories highlighted in this piece bring me back to my childhood experiences in school. I’ve had family members and peers become victims of the judicial system at early ages. We must support children, not use excessive force to encourage them to want to learn at school. Effective relationship building by partnering with mentorship organizations, an appropriate ladder of consequences, strong school wide culture initiatives and student support staff are just a few ways schools can meet the needs of all students.

In my experience, I learned that my most challenging students are the ones who need the most love and guidance. Their disobedience is a cry for help. Spend more time with them and steer them in the right direction because shoving students into the judicial system is a sign that we’ve given up on them. We cannot give up on our kids. The kids are our future.

Read more about what’s happening in Mississippi http://m.colorlines.com/archives/2012/11/school_prison_pipeline_meridian.html.

First Book-DC Featured in Local Spotlight

I co-lead First Book-DC with Angel McNeil–an early childhood curriculum guru and instructional coach!  Recently, Angel and I had a chat with Jalisa Whitley, founder of Non-Profit Help, LLC, to discuss a variety of things centered around our experience with First Book-DC.  Here’s one of the questions and responses:

Tell me a little bit about your path into First Book, what sparked your passion for literacy?

Darla: I found out about First Book as a corp member with Teach for America in New Orleans.  I participated in a professional development workshop on nonprofit board leadership, and the presenter was a woman who ran First Book’s local advisory board in New Orleans.  As a teacher, I saw the benefit of the program.  I taught third, fourth, and fifth grade English and Social Studies in a “failing school,” and was faced head on with the reality that so many kids cannot read or do not have the basic phonemic awareness and foundational skills to propel them to be critical thinkers and readers in later grades. I had to purchase many supplies out of pocket and I found that I could not afford all of the books and educational supplies that were required in order to ensure that I met the needs of my students.

My personal experience as a teacher really sparked my interest in First Book because the organization supports teachers and nonprofit organizations working to fight illiteracy and put quality resources into classrooms. I initially joined the First Book board as a volunteer board member without a title. I had the opportunity to learn from board members of various ages in a variety of different roles. When I made the decision to move to Washington, D.C.I knew I wanted to be a part of the First Book board here, but found that it had dissolved.

The previous DC board was run by members of Sun Trust Bank’s Mortgage Department. Unfortunately, the previous board fell right along with the mortgage department during the crisis. During my transition from New Orleans to D.C. I stayed in touch with the national First Book organization and they ended up tapping me to lead the effort to establish a new First Book board in DC. As a result of my previous volunteer work and involvement, I was able to transition into a formal leadership role when the opportunity presented itself.

Angel: I have been in education for about six years and it is easy to get wrapped up in work, so I wanted to find a meaningful way outside of work to give back to the community that had provided me with so many great opportunities. I found out about First Book while doing a Volunteer Match search where I found a listing for a position on the Advisory Board. It aligned with my beliefs in terms of literacy and providing resources to children and I had the opportunity to begin as the DC board was in the process of re-launching.

Access to resources was never an issue during my childhood, my parents read to me every day. I loved to read, a fun day for me was going to the library and I was always known as the girl with books in her backpack. So, finding out that many underprivileged schools lacked resources was shocking to me. Access to outside resources is essential for children to learn how to read and write, especially in a time when libraries are closing down, teachers aren’t equipped with the funds to constantly purchase books, and the top priorities of parents may not be going to Barnes and Nobles to buy books.  I know how far the books and resources I’ve been given have taken me in my life and I want that for all children.

Check out more of the spotlight here.  Follow @FirstBookDC on Twitter! LIKE us on Facebook.

Recap: Buying Books on My Birthday! \o/

 

I made a wish for public schools. Now I can't tell you exactly what, or else my dream won't come true. :)

I made a wish for public schools. Now I can’t tell you exactly what, or else my dream won’t come true. 🙂

For the second year in row, I used my birthday to give for good and benefit an organization where I volunteer my time:  First Book-DC!  This year’s Literacy Movement raised over $1,400 to provide book grants for teachers and literacy programs serving children in need.   Held on November 9th, at Ulah Bistro on U. Street, my birthday friendraiser brought together over fifty young professionals in the DC Metropolitan Area united to fight illiteracy.

My friend and founder of Capital Media USA, Garrett James, served as the night’s photographer and wrote a great piece on the event.  Check out pictures on his website and amazing recap.  Below is a snippet:

Quick Story: I grew up in the great state of North Carolina; home of chopped BBQ (not that ‘pulled’ stuff yall northerners eat), tobacco, and some of theeeee BEST universities this side of the galaxy. And with that, we also have/had pretty good public schools systems. So when I came to the DMV and heard that public schools had a different reputation, I wasn’t happy about it but I understood how that could be. What bothered me most then and even today, was knowing that some kids didn’t have books to read at school or at home. Like really? How can we have high expectations for youth if we don’t prepare them properly? It was challenging for me to accept. It seemed like a hyperbole statement someone created to make a point, but it’s not; it’s true. Even now, it bothers me and it bothers Ms. Bunting also. This is one of the reasons she supports First Book; she’s also the Co-Chair with Angel McNeil.

Darla shared some of the org’s model with me recently: “We give out book grants to teachers and nonprofits serving children in need twice a year–once in the fall and spring.  Since we are volunteer-led, 100% of your donation goes to our book grants.   First Book has partnerships with major book distributors like Harper Collins and Barnes and Noble, so our book grantees use their grants to purchase books for at significantly discounted prices.  The average book costs $2.50 on the First Book Marketplace.  Your donation goes a long way. Once the teacher or nonprofit receives the books, they use them in the curriculum, and then the books become the property of the kids.” #winning

Check out the full post here and browse around Garrett James’ site while you’re there!

Ensuring the Success of Great Startups

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Mark Hecker, Founder and Executive Director of Reach, Inc. published an honest and critical piece on the role privilege plays in the success of our nation’s most innovative solutions. From afar, I’ve always admired Mark’s candid approach to addressing a cause we care about: America’s public education system.

The first time I heard Mark speak was at First Book-DC’s Literacy Bonanza–an event that highlighted nonprofits with innovative solutions to address illiteracy in DC. Mark doesn’t sip the Koolaid of trendy reform. That was evident to me that night as he shared the story of Reach, Inc’s creation and how we all share a responsibility to support the ideas of Reach, Inc and the other startups that night. But what stuck out most to me was his appeal for funding. He didn’t dance around the issue. He was very blunt about the fact that we do need money to make a difference.

After reestablishing the First Book-DC volunteer-led advisory board, I am now in a position where the success of the board is determined by how much money we raise to support our book grant program. As the child of a first generation college student, I know that my network of wealth is slim. When I decided to reestablish the board, I knew that I would have to find a way to tap into DC’s elite philanthropic sector. Slowly, but surely, my board of committed volunteers and I are doing just that. Nevertheless, this is an uphill battle and we’re using all the resources we have.

Moreover, when I read Mark’s piece called “The Power of My Privilege,” I knew that Mark had done it again. He spoke candidly about funding. Yet, this time he spoke not to individuals with small amounts of disposable income who want to make a difference. He called out the huge grantors who truly decide which nonprofits survive the crucial first years.

Below is an excerpt:

For three years, I have been learning the ins and outs of the philanthropy game. And, though the work is often challenging, the community of philanthropists I have discovered are both well-meaning and generous. However, as “data” and “impact” have become larger factors in funding decisions, a frightening selection bias is emerging.

It has become commonplace for funders – corporate, foundation, and individual – to require “proof” before any money is provided. Often, institutional funders will not even consider a request before an organization has been operating for a number of years. So, how is an organization supposed to survive those first few years? How can a great idea see the light of day without the support of the philanthropic community? To this point, the answer has been stated without question. Those in the philanthropic community often say, without reservation, that early organizations must “bootstrap it” or “start off with friends and family.”

I encourage you to read the rest of his piece at Unsectored and share your thoughts.

Additionally, First Book-DC kicked off our Fall into Reading Online Giving Campaign yesterday. I’ll take a page from Mark’s book and ask you to consider making a donation! You can donate here.. 100% of your donation goes to ensuring First Book-DC can continue providing schools and nonprofits with high-quality books to use in their curriculum and ultimately become the property of the kids!

Richard Rothstein Challenges Joel Klein’s School Reform Autobiography

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I’m home in New Jersey visiting my family. Each time I come home, my mind seems to reflect on how my family has supported me each step of the way in my life’s journey. As a critical thinker, I always compare and contrast my life to this point to others in my hometown–a town crippled by poverty. Unlike many of my peers growing up, I have a father who was a first generation college student. It is this, along with other fortunate life situations that I was born into, that has great influence of my present level of success.

This morning, I read a piece by Richard Rothstein titled, “Why Education Reform may be Doomed.” I believe his entire piece pushes us all to reflect on how our level of individual privilege and social capital impacts our life’s outcomes.

Rothstein, born with similar privilege of Klein, argues that Klein misrepresents his family’s economic situation in the name of pushing his type of education reform: one that believes that poverty is not destiny. That he was able to overcome poverty by the hand of a teacher. Therefore, teachers can singlehandedly life children out of poverty. I will post my response to his piece next week.

Here is an excerpt:

Children like Klein and me were privileged, not perhaps in money but in what sociologists term “social capital.” Nobody I know of from my special-progress class dropped out of school; my fellow students typically went on to become college professors, doctors, business executives, accountants, writers, and lawyers. Sure, we loved to play street stickball, but we were not “kids from the streets,” as Klein would have it. We were surrounded by peers with middle-class ambitions and goals.

It would be obscene for me to claim I overcame severe hardship and was rescued from deprivation by schoolteachers. It is more obscene for Klein to do so, because his claim supports attacks on contemporary teachers and a refusal to acknowledge impediments teachers face because of their students’ social and economic deprivation. It’s a deprivation that he never suffered but that many children from public housing do today.

A few superhuman teachers may lift a handful of children who come to school from barely literate homes, hungry, in poor health, and otherwise unprepared for academic instruction. But even the best teachers face impossible tasks when confronted with classrooms filled with truly disadvantaged students who are not in tracked special-progress classes and don’t arrive each morning from families as academically supportive as mine. Instead, they may come from segregated communities where concentrated and entrenched poverty, unemployment, and social alienation over many generations have been ravaging.

The rest of Rothstein’s piece can be read at Salon.. I do encourage you to read it and post your thoughts. As you’re reading, I want you to take a hard look inside and ask yourself just how did you get to where you are today?

Apply for a Capital Cause Microgrant!

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Is your nonprofit doing work to address the issues of hunger, homeless and poverty in the DC Metropolitan area? If so, your organization may be eligible to receive a Capital Cause Grant!

Capital Cause is pleased to announce its second grant cycle of the 2012 year! Capital Cause is an organization that invests young professionals in philanthropy through collective giving of monetary donations (Capital) and time (Cause). Since 2009, Capital Cause has awarded nearly 20 microgrants to deserving nonprofits across the Washington Metropolitan Area, and your nonprofit could be next!

This year, Capital Cause Young Philanthropists selected poverty to be ourcause of the year. As such, all microgrants we award will be used to assist nonprofits and causes doing work in this area. According to the United Nations:

“Poverty is defined as ‘a condition characterized by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and informations. It depends not just on the income, but also on access to services.'”

During our second cycle, Capital Cause will award monetary grants focusing organizations that aim to eradicate poverty.

The deadline to apply is Wednesday, October 17th at 11:59pm.

Microgrants will be awarded in $500 and $1,000 increments. Nonprofits who meet the requirements below are encouraged to apply:

1. Be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit as defined by the IRS
2. Aim to address poverty
3. Complete the Capital Microgrant Online Application

Qualifying organizations can complete our online application here:http://www.capitalcause.com/capital-bank/apply

Please send any questions, comments, or concerns to Darla Bunting,Capital Director, at capital@capitalcause.com.

Yours in Philanthropy,

Darla Bunting
Capital Director,
Capital Cause