First Person

Week of 11/29/10: Safe schools snippets

Teen cyberbully suspect can’t tweet about student

7News reports on social networking deprivation for a girl accused of cyber bullying a classmate.

Twitter logoASPEN, Colo. – An Aspen teen accused of cyberbullying has been banned from talking about her alleged victim on Facebook and Twitter.

The Aspen Daily News reported Monday that District Judge Gail Nichols issued the conditions as part of a mandatory restraining order last week for the Aspen High School student. The girl isn’t allowed to use any electronic means to talk about the classmate she allegedly victimized. Nichols also told her to ignore the classmate whenever she passes her at school.

Girl, 13, to face charges in ‘choking game’ injury

Fox 31 reports on a game kids are playing that could kill them could also leave them with a criminal record.

The station reports that Wheat Ridge Police have charged an unidentified 13-year-old girl from Everitt Middle School with misdemeanor reckless endangerment for her role in the “choking game” with four other students. She’s accused of choking her friend in a girl’s bathroom at the school last Monday. The friend passed out and fell on her face, breaking several bones.

“Choking game” videos are easily found on the Internet, the station reports. Kids choke each other, depriving the brain of oxygen, and then pass out. They say it gives them a euphoric high that leaves them feeling tingly.

Students learn ‘signs of suicide’

9News reports on a Denver Public Schools initiative to prevent teen suicide.

The station reports that not too long ago, the issue of suicide was something kids didn’t usually talk about. Now, psychologists say talking is a big part of the solution.

“I think there was a stigma around depression and suicide that you were crazy, you should man up and take care of problems yourself,” Ellen Kelty, team leader for the department of social work and psychological services for Denver Public Schools, said.

Kelty is leading a program called Signs of Suicide to teach kids from sixth grade to ninth grade across the district to talk about death in order to save lives.

The I Love U Guys Foundation seeks Pepsi Refresh grant

The foundation formed by the family of Emily Keyes, a student held hostage and murdered at Platte Canyon High School, is seeking support for a Pepsi Refresh grant as it attempts to spread the word to schools about the importance of the Standard Response Protocol in the event of a school crisis. The SRP is being adopted by more schools and districts each week. Supporters can help this progress by voting soon. 
Go to the Pepsi site. Simple text 104036 to Pepsi (73774). Or you can vote on the Pepsi site with Facebook Connect. And you can create your own account with Pepsi.

According to the foundation, the critical ingredient in the safe school recipe is the uniform classroom response to an incident at school.

Latest report on school crime and safety

Check out the recently published Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2010, which covers topics such as victimization, teacher injury, bullying, school conditions, fights, weapons, availability and student use of drugs and alcohol, and student perceptions of personal safety at school. Indicators of crime and safety are compared across different population subgroups and over time in this government report. Data on crimes that occur away from school are offered as a point of comparison where available.

More consistent anti-bullying program urged for Colorado

The Denver Post reports on a push by several ed groups this week to enhance Colorado’s anti-bullying measures.

“The Columbine High School shootings in 1999 sparked scores of anti-bullying policies, programs and studies in schools across Colorado. But 11 years later, experts say, those good intentions have devolved into an uncoordinated approach that ignores best practices in some instances and leaves state authorities with no clear picture of how well the myriad policies work.”

First Person

I’m a teacher in Memphis, and I know ‘grading floors’ aren’t a cheat — they’re a key motivator

PHOTO: Creative Commons / Shelly

Growing up, my father used to tell me not to come to him with a problem unless I had a solution.

That meant I learned quickly what kinds of solutions wouldn’t go over well — like ones involving my father and his money. His policy also meant that I had to weigh pros and cons, thinking about what I was able to do, what I wasn’t, and whom I needed help from in order to make things happen.

I sometimes wish decision-makers in Memphis had a father like mine. Because more often than not, it seems we are talking about the problems void of a solution or even possible solutions to vet.

Right now, the issue in Memphis and Shelby County Schools is the “grading floor,” or the policy of setting a lowest possible grade a teacher can assign a student. They have been temporarily banned after a controversy over high-school grade changing.

Grading floors aren’t new to teachers in Memphis, or to me, a fifth-grade teacher. I have taught and still teach students who are at least two grade levels behind. This was true when I taught fourth grade and when I taught sixth grade. Honestly, as the grade level increased, so did the gaps I saw.

More often than not, these students have been failed by a school, teacher, leader or system that did not adequately prepare them for the next grade. Meanwhile, in my classroom, I have a responsibility to teach grade-level material — adjusting it for individual students — and to grade their work accordingly.

That’s where “grading floors” come in. Without a grading floor, all of my current students would have grades below a 65 percent.

Can you imagine seeing the face of a fifth-grade boy who tried his hardest on your test, who answered all the questions you gave orally, who made connections to the text through auditory comprehension, only to receive a 0 on his paper?

I don’t have to imagine – I see similar reactions multiple times a day. Whether it’s a 65 percent or a 14 percent, it’s still an F, which signals to them “failure.” The difference between the two was summed up by Superintendent Hopson, who stated, “With a zero, it’s impossible to pass a course. It creates kids who don’t have hope, disciplinary issues; that creates a really bad scenario.”

I know that as years go by and a student’s proficiency gap increases, confidence decreases, too. With a lowered confidence comes a lower level of self-efficacy — the belief that they can do what they need to do to succeed. This, to me, is the argument for the grading floor.

In completing research for my master’s degree, I studied the correlation between reading comprehension scores and the use of a motivational curriculum. There was, as might have guessed, an increase in reading scores for students who received this additional curriculum.

So every day, I speak life into my students, who see Fs far too often in their daily lives. It is not my job as their teacher to eradicate their confidence, stifle their effort, and diminish their confidence by giving them “true” Fs.

“This is not an indication of your hard work, son. Yet, the reality is, we have to work harder,” I tell students. “We have to grind in order to make up what we’ve missed and I’m the best coach you have this year.”

In education, there are no absolutes, so I don’t propose implementing grading floors across the board. But I do understand their potential — not to make students appear more skilled than they are, or to make schools appear to be better than they are, but to keep students motivated enough to stay on track, even when it’s difficult.

If it is implemented, a grade floor must be coupled with data and other reports that provide parents, teachers, and other stakeholders with information that accurately highlights where a student is, both within the district and nationally. Parents shouldn’t see their child’s progress through rose-colored glasses, or be slapped by reality when options for their child are limited during and after high school.

But without hope, effort and attainment are impossible. If we can’t give hope to our kids, what are we here for?

I don’t have all the answers, but in the spirit of my father, don’t come with a problem unless you have a solution.

Marlena Little is a fifth-grade teacher in Memphis. A version of this piece first appeared on Memphis K-12, a blog for parents and students.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede