Every day at Summit is an experience: Finding myself and fostering independence, by Sumayo Hassan

Every day at Summit is an experience: Finding myself and fostering independence, by Sumayo Hassan

Today’s planet faces many tough challenges. High school has helped me understand that while challenges can be daunting, they can be overcome by hard work and innovation. I’d like to study bioremediation, which is learning how to clean up the environment from toxins that degrade our ecosystem and the organisms that live in them.

One of my most memorable experiences at Summit Sierra was seeing — in real-time — the impact bioremediation can have. We conducted an experiment in science class that demonstrated the process of cleaning up radiation from nuclear fallout where we planted mustard seeds. To see this powerful process in-person reinforced my interest and determination to improve our environment and that it’s possible to work toward a sustainable and more livable planet.

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What happens when a school district breaks its own rules?

What happens when a school district breaks its own rules?

What happens when our schools make promises they can’t keep? What happens when a school district breaks its own rules?

I’m not sure, but my oldest son came home from his first day of school last week with a yellow pamphlet entitled “The Basic Rules of Seattle Public Schools 2018-19.”

Listed very first, for example, are the “Student Rights” as laid out by Seattle Public Schools, none of which they can honestly promise to uphold for all students.

It’s an interesting read.

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SOAR Academy in Tacoma ‘blows the roof off the myths’ about charter schools

SOAR Dancers Get Up
SOAR Academy students get up and get down during Erricka Turner's dance class in September 2017.

SOAR Academy students get up and get down during Erricka Turner's dance class in September 2017.

Walk through the front doors of SOAR Academy these days and you’ll find the building teeming with life and energy, like a dream realized.

In many ways, that’s what the public elementary school in Tacoma represents: the manifestation of a set of beliefs and ideas about what’s possible in public education.

SOAR Academy’s founders sought from the outset to design a public school that would reach students being neglected by the larger system, those who are typically on the wrong end of the opportunity and achievement gaps. 

Just two years after first opening its doors to students, those ideas have become a way of life at SOAR Academy, and the dreams of a nurturing, equitable school open to all have become reality for an engaged, grateful community of students and families.

“Here at SOAR we’ve seen tremendous growth and a fulfillment of the whole concept and vision of the alternatives and options that charter schools can provide in a publicly funded setting,” said Dr. Thelma Jackson, chair of the SOAR Academy Board of Directors. “Those of us that have been with SOAR from the very beginning, we’re just pleased as punch to see the school, to see the full classrooms, the waiting list. As I was driving up, just the smiles on the children’s and parents’ faces — they’re glad to be here! They’re here by choice.”

In many ways and from many angles, that’s the key word here: choice.

More than 70 percent of SOAR students identify as students of color, and Black students make up 56 percent of the student body. Fourteen percent receive special education services, and at least 12 percent are homeless or housing insecure. They all chose SOAR Academy, and they did so despite the hyper-political climate that surrounds the charter school sector.

School choice can be an especially foggy issue in Washington, where propaganda and repeated legal attacks led by the Washington Education Association — the state’s teachers union — have attempted to undermine the ability of schools like SOAR to work hard and innovate in an earnest effort to close the gaps created by our traditional public school system. In spite of that, many parents are seeing SOAR for what it is: an ambitious, free, public alternative that just might work for their student where other schools have fallen short.

“We’ve been up against so much ‘fake news’ about what charters are and aren’t, and we’re defying all of that,” Jackson said. “Anytime they say, ‘Oh, they won’t take kids of color; oh, they won’t take special needs kids; oh, they’ll cream the crop,’ [SOAR Academy] just blows the roof off of all those myths. And against all those odds, SOAR is thriving. The kids are thriving.”

Far from creaming, SOAR’S school leader Jessica Stryczek readily acknowledges that many of the school’s students arrived having already experienced such significant trauma as abuse, neglect and domestic violence. Yet thanks to a trauma-informed approach to restorative justice, not a single SOAR student was suspended or expelled last year.

In Seattle Public Schools, on the other hand, disproportionate discipline rates show up from the very beginning, as even kindergarteners of color are suspended and expelled (yes, expelled from kindergarten!) at a rate far beyond their white peers.

Seventy-seven percent of the student body at SOAR is eligible for free or reduced lunch as well, so community meals are available to all students through the community eligibility pool.

SOAR’s staff, meanwhile, reflects the diversity of its student body. More than half the staff at SOAR are people of color, Jackson says, upending yet another myth.

“The traditional line is, ‘Oh, we’d like to hire them, but we can’t find them.’ So, where are the charter schools finding [teachers of color]?” Jackson asks. “And again, they are here by choice. They’re not here through involuntary transfers and the dance of the lemons and all that stuff.”

Enough people have chosen SOAR now that the school’s journey from vision to reality is all but complete, and the early results are showing that the young charter school is delivering on its promise.

In addition to a joyful atmosphere in a building full of well-cared-for elementary students, the school is home to impressive academic rigor as well. Just last year, more than 70 percent of students showed accelerated growth, testing beyond national grade-level expectations on the STAR Early Literacy assessment.

“The concept has taken on a life of its own,” Jackson said. “The proof is in the pudding.”

Should Seattle Public Schools have an ethnic studies curriculum?

Should Seattle Public Schools have an ethnic studies curriculum?

That’s the question facing the Seattle School Board right now as it considers a resolution that would embed ethnic studies throughout the city’s K-12 education system.

Many of us have already moved beyond wondering about this question. In fact, Seattle Public Schools already has an ethnic studies task force working to make recommendations for teaching ethnic studies at the high school level by October 2017. I was chosen to be a part of that task force, and so far it’s been an encouraging experience.

Our schools should absolutely include a rich ethnic studies curriculum. This is a concrete way for the Seattle School Board to improve student achievement while providing a more well-rounded, honest education. It’s also a genuine investment in closing the opportunity gap. Multiple studies have shown improved academic outcomes for students of color who participate in ethnic studies courses.

See, in acknowledging the need for ethnic studies in the first place, you subtly acknowledge a deep-seated, rarely mentioned truth of our education system: in our schools, and in our country, white is officially considered “non-ethnic.” The board resolution takes the subtle but important step of acknowledging the current white-centric reality of our schools, and how white students will benefit academically as well.

From Paige Cornwell of the Seattle Times:

 

The Seattle School Board, the resolution says, acknowledges that textbooks, curriculum and instruction overwhelmingly include a European-American perspective.
It also states that the board “recognizes that students whose history and heritage is taught, understood and celebrated will learn better, be more successful and develop positive aspects of identity,” and that ethnic studies helps white students better appreciate the “democratic ideal of equity and justice that the United States was founded upon.”

 

Instead of leaving that truth hidden and unspoken, the the task force has explicitly said that our schools and all their building blocks are very white-centric to begin with. It’s out there. Those words have power, just as there’s power in publicly acknowledging the truth — even if it is a truth that to many sounds like old news. The school board will follow suit if it adopts this resolution.

So, good onya for starting to discuss ethnic studies in a good way in 2017.

But … what took so long? It's not like the district hasn’t known there was a problem. We’ve been talking about Seattle’s appalling achievement gap and the segregation within our schools and programs for years now. As recently as last year, a study showed that Seattle’s Black students are on average three and a half grade levels behind white students. We’ve also known about the positive effects of culturally relevant curriculum for quite some time — there are scholarly articles about it dating back to the 90s — and Washington adopted a statewide Native American curriculum in 2015 for the same reasons.

"that's the tricky thing about accountability. You can't just talk about it, you have to act on it." Seattle Public Schools has known about this issue for some time without acting on it. Now we have to make sure they follow through on what they’re saying they’ll do.

Let’s be clear: Ethnic studies is a band-aid, in this situation. It’s a much needed band-aid over a gushing wound, yes, but it’s only the beginning of solving this problem. It’s not the solution itself. It’s maybe the second inning in a long game. Let’s make sure we get this right, and then keep going—all nine innings—until we have an equitable system that helps all students thrive.

 

KIRO-7 News accepting applicants for internship program for students of color

KIRO-7 News in Seattle is accepting applications for an internship program for students of color interested in broadcast journalism. Here's the full press release:

 

In partnership with the Northwest Journalists of Color, KIRO 7 will offer one recipient the opportunity to be an intern for the KIRO 7 News Department.

An internship at KIRO 7 provides the opportunity to be embedded in the news environment to learn about the behind-the-scenes workings of a TV and digital newsroom. Interns will assist the producers in researching stories and writing show scripts. Interns will also have the opportunity to accompany KIRO 7 news crews in the field on occasion.

In addition to learning in the newsroom, this intern will be able to meet people from other departments to understand the business of the television station as a whole. The program is open to college students.

The intern will be selected by a three-judge panel, including members of the KIRO 7 news staff and NJC program volunteers.

Download the application at http://www.aajaseattle.org/scholarships/

Internship Requirements:

  • The student must be registered at a University, College, Community College or Vocational-Technical Institute.
  • The student should have junior or senior status, or be in the last year of a Community College or Vocational-Technical program.

All internships require 20-30 hours per week covering a period of 10-16 weeks, depending on the school’s quarter or semester length. The internship starts in June.

While KIRO 7 considers the internship program format valuable in observing the student’s attitude, talents, and skills, it is understood that no guarantees are given for future employment.

Students will only be offered an internship after completing a pre-employment drug and background screening. Proof of eligibility to work in the U.S. will be required upon employment.