First Person

This week's safe schools snippets

NBC film explores issue of bullying, ways to respond

WASHINGTON – Kit Johansen has been working on anti-bullying initiatives in the Diocese of Palm Beach, Fla., since 2006 to raise schools’ and parishes’ awareness about the problem and to let children know they are not powerless in the face of bullying. Read more in the Catholic Review.

Police, fire, SWAT at Front Range schools for drill

DENVER — Police cars, fire trucks and other emergency personnel will be at two high schools in the metro area on Wednesday for training exercises.

At Fairview High School in Boulder, the Boulder Police Department, the Boulder Fire Department, Pridemark Paramedic Service, the FBI, Boulder Valley School District officials and students and administrators from Fairview and Boulder high schools will be conducting a bomb training exercise. Watch the 7NEWS report.

Arrest notifications inform parents, raise questions

DENVER – Parents should keep an eye out for new notifications from your child’s school telling you when school employees get in trouble with the law. This is the first week under the new State Department of Education requirement. Watch the 9NEWS report.

LGBT in school: ‘I lost a lot of my friends’

“Mama thinks you’re gay,” Tempest Cartwright’s younger sister told her as they walked to Wendy’s one day.

“That’s … ’cause I am,” Tempest, who was 15 at that time, told her. And with that admission, relief and joy flooded over Tempest. She’d spent much of her life hiding how she felt about girls; she’d made sure to have a boyfriend whenever she could, but secretly would inevitably have a crush on his mother. Check out the CNN report.

Facebook iconAge verification not stopping kids from joining social networking sites

LOS ANGELES – You can access the Internet from just about anywhere. But to help keep the pre-teen set safe, most popular social networks have a minimum age requirement. But many parents are letting their kids log on anyway. Watch this ABC News report.

New social media monitoring tool created to protect children

PredictivEdge today announced the Proactive Parenting Network’s (PPN) partnership with i-SAFE to become the e-Safety expert, providing valuable e-Safety information and resources for parents through their newly launched website,www.proactiveparentingnetwork.com.

The Proactive Parenting Network is a solution that empowers parents to provide a safe online environment for their children in an ever-changing digital world.  PPN delivers a comprehensive, proactive solution with premier online safety tools and educational resources.

In addition to educational resources from i-SAFE, PPN offers inSight, a unique, proprietary social media monitoring and alerting tool that utilizes patent-pending Natural Language Processing technology and behavioral modeling to analyze online conversations, extract insight, and help solve a problem.  It accurately identifies the problem, alerts parents, and provides appropriate educational resources, such as i-SAFE content, to help solve the problem.

According to i-SAFE, more than 83 percent of parents believe their children are sharing personal or identifying information on social networking sites.

Hick to sign new law aimed at improving school crisis response

HIGHLANDS RANCH – Gov. John Hickenlooper will sign a new bill on Friday that ensures schools will have quick and reliable communication with first responders. Senate Bill 11-173, “Interoperable Communications in Schools,” is the first in the nation to envision statewide interoperability that includes all schools. Read more from the PR Newswire.

Taiwan mulls school cellphone ban amid cancer scare

TAIPEI — Taiwan will consider banning mobile phones from schools following a recent health warning that users may face an increased risk of cancer, officials said Wednesday.

The education ministry is planning to host a meeting with experts and school representatives to discuss the issue after several lawmakers called for a ban, an official told AFP, adding that the timing of discussions had not been set. Read more at AFP.

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