The Importance and Effect of iTAG

UrbEd is doing a series of community events that educate teachers on how to build the understanding of underprivileged students’ rights and needs in schools. These events are called the Inquiry To Action Group, or iTAG. While watching the outline of the presentation done by special projects coordinator Horace Ryans and Zoey Tweh, I was very impressed. The presentation begins with a detailed understanding of student perspective, done with a combination of videos, discussions, and explanations from personal experience. Since the main audience of these events is teachers, learning about the student perspective on school safety in classrooms is crucial. Sharing this insight provides a good platform for very interesting and beneficial discussions. There is also a brief lesson to give a deeper understanding of the school-to-prison pipeline and how deeply it affects students. The iTAG digs deeper into how to create a classroom environment that does not perpetuate the school-to-prison pipeline. It also touches on the importance of creating a safe classroom setting for students who struggle with various mental health problems. The general celebration of students is extremely important, and showing students their voices are valuable from a young age can make a huge difference in the bigger picture.They share different ways in which teachers can show students their voices are important and their voices matter. One thing that can deeply affect kids while growing up is the feeling of not being trustworthy, and exemplifying trust of students in classrooms is always necessary. Of course, the more you take, the more you give. If students feel respected, the respect will be returned. If students feel more encouraged, safe, and trusted in classrooms, they will naturally put forth their best efforts. Students who recognize their own brilliance and potential will go forth more ambitious and confident in all aspects of their life. As a high school student, it would be extremely reassuring knowing that teachers and adults in my life put in extra effort to make sure I feel welcome at school. Even if you are not going into the teaching field, I would recommend the iTAG program for anyone looking to better understand the importance of respect and mutual understanding between adults and kids, whether it be mentors and mentees, teachers and students, or anything else.

Thea Risher

Communications Associate

A Personal Perspective on the School Walkout

I usually write blog posts about horrible things that are going on in the world--and there are many--but I decided that we should celebrate a good thing that happened: the national walkout on March 14.

It was moving. Hundreds, maybe thousands of students from my school, and students from Girls’ High nearby were out of class and protesting. I stood with my fellow Central Students outside the front doors of our school while the names of the Parkland victims were read and a mini-biography was stated for each one. Then someone read a spoken-word poem, which was powerful in itself and powerful because it was student-written. Everyone clapped in that hard, impressed way that conveys the audience is trying to display as much appreciation as possible with only their hands.

I didn’t know so many people were going to walk out. I thought I’d get up out of my seat in history, receive a hard-earned shocked look from my teacher (who, to say the least, implied his disapproval of our movement--our foot movement and our activism movement), and I’d be the only person leaving.

I guess I didn’t anticipate the magnitude of the movement? But my fellow students were shuffling around the pavement and we were all together--not just in our group huddled against the cold, but in our mindset. For once, there were no lines dividing those who looked down on others, those who thought they were better. We were all together.

When we were mourning the Florida losses, Girls’ High girls came stampeding down the street holding signs and shouting. My friend said she wanted to shout with them. A few cars honked their horns at us.

After the hour-long vigil, some of us--those who could, earning yearning looks from those who wanted to but couldn’t--took to the train station, crowded into seats on the orange line to get to City Hall.

That was the most moving part. Because I realized it was all youth leading this movement. Sure, there were adult police officers guarding the streets to make sure we were okay, but the oldest people I noticed were college students. And because of that, there were people scrambling up statues and climbing on stop-sign poles, and it was chaos in its best form, people shouting out chants into megaphones and standing on top of big potted plants to be heard and seen because we didn’t have podiums? Or stages? We did this ourselves. And there was that general teen energy, that kind of sizzling happiness that comes with youth--people running up to hug each other and people’s voices, strong, parting the crowd. And it was amazing to be surrounded by people who cared so strongly, in such quantity. Throngs of them, of us, making sure the cars couldn’t meander down the streets and receiving horn-honks of support from the adults on their way to work.

One woman came up to my group of friends and told us how great it was that we were doing this; kids hadn’t done this since the war in the ‘60s, she said, how great it was that we were doing this, rising again as grandkids to the hippies from a few decades ago.

We, I’ve decided, are our parents’ last remaining memory. We are rising against all that BS being thrown in our faces: it can’t be better than this. You’re gonna have to deal with the guns and the bad education and the war. People aren’t good. People aren’t good. But we know we are--we all are. We’ve forgotten how, but we are good.

And, as that lady at the march said, we are the next generation’s leaders.

Mayana

 

Mass School Shootings - What Can We Do to Prevent Them?

With the gun violence  erupting both in the country and in the minds of American society, many different things have been said. Restrictions on who can own a gun and why will make our America a safer America--these types of restrictions certainly make other countries safer. UrbEd made a statement about gun control that I unwaveringly stand behind.

But I want to tell you why education--better education--can mitigate this violence we’ve been facing.

The recent Florida shooting was done by a Nikolas Cruz,  man who was just barely that--19 years old. And while crimes like that are inexcusable and devastating, they all stem from a place of ignorance. Ignorance in our world and our system, to the fact that so many people lack sufficient education, economic support, healthcare, and other necessary aspects of society. Cruz was an orphan who was in the foster system and, at the time of the shooting, was living with a couple who revealed that they allowed him to keep weapons, including the assault rifle used in the shooting, as long as these weapons were in a locked safe.

It’s abhorrent for young people of color. Recently police from the Baltimore police department were caught carrying around toy guns to plant on innocent black victims of police shootings. Just in case a police officer was caught, in a moment of ignorance and hatred, having shot a black person unwarranted. Just so they could save their own asses, even though they have the upper hand. There are police officers and politicians and teachers and people upon people who keep their jobs after having done unspeakable things.

Why are young people without parents being put into systems where they are made to fail? The system values grades over morality. Students would rather go against their values and cheat, simply because our system thinks a GPA is a value of your worth. Some people say that it’s not about guns; it’s about morality. Even if that were true, schools don’t encourage morality. Due to a lack of funding in Philadelphia public schools for air conditioning or heating, students either swelter inside classrooms or are shivering in their layers. Lockers are small, bathrooms are dirty, lunch is rudimentary. Public schools do not create learning environments where either students or teachers can reach their full potential! Teachers are so grossly underpaid that some of them are not motivated to teach well.  Teachers are also not always given the resources they need to teach--the books for their students to read, the printer paper for handouts, the laptops for essay-writing?

Who gets all these resources? The private schools. If there were systems in place to make it so that every school was public and the money that went towards funding private schools instead was put towards bettering public schools, education would be accessible and engaging and a tool wielded to its full potential. And then the students would grow up to their full potentials, to become what they are. Good education--or lack thereof--is just part of the reason that people like Nikolas Cruz are driven to shoot up schools. All these systems are interconnected, and it will take a lot more posts, marches, laws, policies, and movements to fix them.

Mayana Ashley-Carner, Student at Central High School

STATEMENT: Enough is Enough!

In the wake of the Florida shooting, we at UrbEd want to make it clear that we with the youth throughout the country, communities and the public who are sick and tired of experiencing tragedy.. At times of mass tragedy, there is a place and need to drop divisions among all and mourn the devastating loss of young vulnerable lives. Youth being murdered is fundamentally horrific and that basic, depoliticized grief is valid.

But we also need to look at the growing frequency of these occurrences. Students going to school and not being able to return home has become our new reality. As millions of Americans have clearly articulated, thoughts and prayers are of goodwill, but if they are not followed up with tactical policies they mean nothing. There are numerous obvious solutions including common sense background checks, restricting access to assault rifles, increased training requirements for gun ownership, and many others policies related to keeping people safe. These are only some of the solution involving policies around firearms.

At UrbEd we address education in urban areas and what is missing from the conversation about gun control is the extent it would impact urban areas. Not only would these policies impact the occurrence of school shootings but it has the potential to greatly reduce the 300+ homicides seen in Philadelphia alone. Gun policy is not only impacting the more rare occurrences of mass shootings, but the literal hourly violence impacting urban students and their surrounding communities. Threats and violence as a result of firearms are a threat to many urban students inside and outside school walls.

Gun control isn’t a call to just address one issue, common sense gun control impacts multiple layers of the lives of urban students of color. From mass shootings to gun violence, to police brutality, gun control and steps within educational institutions are a must.

The acts have been a need for years, but what is different now is the student movement to change it. UrbEd invites students, educators, parents, and reformers from all over to join our team and communities in demanding real change. Student are united demanding that the people that we elect to do their damn jobs by enacting common sense gun policies and needed mental and emotional support for students. Join UrbEd and students across the nation in national walkouts this coming March 14th and April 20th, at 10:00 am students will walk out demanding reform to the broken system and emphasizing that students lives matter. Click here to learn more about the movement and join.

 

Other Actions:

  • 3/14/18, 12:30pm @ City Hall - PSU, Juntos, and other youth organizations are gathering and marching demanding for local and statewide reform around gun control and school environment. A student march for safer schools!

  • 3/21/18, 10:00am @4th and Arch - Demand the Ban coalition is having a joint action involving symbolically turning an assault rifle into a garden tool and hosting a sit in at Pat Toomey's office demanding him and all other legislators increase safety and ban assault rifles.

  • 3/24/18, 9:00am March for Our Lives Philadelphia - In support of the DC March for our lives, students and concerned citizens are marching in Philadelphia to show support and demand for increased gun control.

As student, advocates, and reformers UrbEd will fight for the safety and dignity of each and every student and person.

Signed, 

UrbEd Team

 

The Importance of Diverse Educators

 Here at UrbEd, one of the main things we are trying to achieve is a diverse group of educators in Philadelphia public schools. Why? you may ask. When I first read this on UrbEd’s address I wondered the same thing. Why are diverse educators necessary? Actually--why is diversity necessary?

Let’s start with something that--albeit subtly--is at the heart of human nature: community. People need community. School, family, your neighborhood--we are surrounded by our community. We are made by it. Recently I was in a discussion with someone about why people believe the things they do, why we are convinced we’re just as right as the next person with a completely different opinion. She said something really interesting: community makes people feel more sure about their beliefs, perhaps beliefs they were tentative about in the first place. When the whole school is out at a fire drill--sure, it’s cold, and annoying, but everyone is out there standing behind the school together, and somehow, there is a feeling of safety, of power, even, in that togetherness.

Fire drills are trivial things, and togetherness during them won’t ultimately help the world thrive. But education--that’s important. In Philadelphia, as of 2015, black people have made up 43% of the students attending schools in the Philadelphia School District [Statistical Atlas]. But as for black educators, only 25% of teachers in Philadelphia are black [The Inquirer]. That means that black kids from pre-k level to 12th grade are not even close to being as represented by the adults who teach them as they should be.

Again, why does this matter? Why is this important? It’s important because without representation, there can be no sense of community--or, to take out part of that word--of unity.

As I white person I cannot claim to know specifically how lack of representation in their educators makes black students feel. But as a gay person, it is extremely helpful for me to have an openly gay teacher in my school, who is comfortable talking with students about just how gay they are. To have one of our intellectuals, our role models--an admired and respected teacher--also be gay, just like me, just like a lot of my friends and peers who want representation, is comforting and important--and makes me feel a sense of community, of unity, with the world and its intellectuals.

Students, both young ones who may not have a detailed sense of the world, and older ones, who are just preparing to leave high school and enter the real world, need to feel like they are a part of a group. Which is why it’s amazing for kids of all ethnicities that there are slightly more than half as many black kids attending schools in Philadelphia as there are white kids--because with exposure to every ethnicity, walls of xenophobia between students will disappear, and they can grow up being more comfortable with each other. But it’s not all about the kids. A part of representation--an important part--is who leads said kids in their endeavors, who teaches them. Kids look up to their teachers, even older kids. If an example is set of black educators--if the people who know things are not just white people, but black people--then kids will look up to these people. When kids grow up feeling like the adults themselves--the intellectuals, the educators, the role models--can only be white, black might kids feel like they can’t be role models, educators, intellectuals. Kids in a minority group whose schools aren’t very diversely populated may feel more confidence and self-reassurance at having educators who are also in minority groups.

Everyone needs representation; everyone needs to feel like they are part of a community. Everyone of every race, religion, gender, and sexuality. Today, because it is the second week of Black History Month, I touched on why it is important for kids of all races to be taught by more black educators, but--obviously--representation for every ethnicity is not only ideal, but something we can, should, will accomplish.

Mayana, Blogger

 

Sources: http://www.philly.com/philly/education/20150917_Study__minority_teachers_underrepresented_in_U_S__schools.html

https://statisticalatlas.com/school-district/Pennsylvania/Philadelphia-City-School-District/Race-and-Ethnicity

http://neatoday.org/2014/05/16/nea-report-lack-of-teacher-diversity-jeopardizes-student-achievement-2/

Statement of Support: Black Lives Matter Week of Action

UrbEd is a strong supporter and collaborator in the Black Lives Matter Week of Action lead by Working Educators (WE). Students in urban school districts are primarily students of color and so our work is trying to uplift the voices and concerns of these students. We understand the generations of oppression and intersectional structural racism that impacts our urban schools today. We, as students, advocates, and reformers, stand with WE and organizations across the city saying: Black Lives Matter, Black Students Matter, and now is the time to mobilize and reform education. We encourage everyone to come with us to the Black Lives Matter week of action events, learn more about their demands that UrbEd has signed on to, and get involved!

Signed,

UrbEd Team

Local Control: A Student Voice

As you know, one of UrbEd’s 4 core projects is local control. We’ve worked towards this goal for years, working with the Our City Our Schools (OCOS) coalition to abolish the SRC. We were successful in this as of this past November. Now Philadelphia is engaging in the process of setting up the mayoral-appointed board through a nominating process.

A large part of our mission here at UrbEd is amplifying student voices. We feel that because students are those most impacted by the decision-making process, it is critical to ensure they have a voice at the table. We want to ensure in this new governance of Philadelphia public schools that student's voice has a large impact in making decisions about our schools.

This is why we are are pushing to nominate the passionate student, advocate, and reformer of Horace Ryans III for the People's Schools Board.

Horace Ryans III .png

 

Horace Ryans III is a young, African-American student in the city of Philadelphia. He is currently a sophomore at Science Leadership Academy. He is the special projects coordinator for UrbEd Inc., working to bring about an equal urban education for all students. He is highly involved in the improvement of his local school and the upbringing of his fellow students. He also serves on the Youth Commission of  Philadelphia, working with council people to change policies negatively affecting our youth.  He hopes to one day teach in Philadelphia, the city in which he worked to achieve a better education. He’s seen first hand the effects of our faulty school district and plans to change it to make it its’ best version of itself. He is also the student representative on the OCOS people’s school board slate!

Horace is part of the UrbEd family and we have full confidence that he will be a great candidate for the position. It is not because he has a connection to UrbEd, but because we truly feel that his passion, commitment, and powerful voice is what we need in education right now.

UrbEd Event Highlights

The energy in the room was high on Friday, January 19th, during our official kick-off of UrbEd! Almost two hundred people gathered in the ornate City Hall chamber for a festive gathering of networking, hearing about core UrbEd concerns, meeting old friends, and celebrating young person energy. The combination of youth attendance and more powerful figures was very encouraging to see because having everyone working together in one space is the biggest channel for change. We are excited about all the students and young people who have come together around UrbEd. Especially exciting was that some youth groups from other school attended, and we connected for the first time. The crowd was an amazing mix of education advocates, city, and state elected representatives,

Co-founders Tamir Harper and Luke Risher presented all of the basic ideas behind UrbEd, including the need for an education advocacy group composed of and run by students. UrbEd intends to collaborate closely with existing groups working for school reform. As UrbEd works to give all Philadelphia public school students a strong, quality education in a system that is responsive and efficient, it will focus on four areas.

The four areas which UrbEd has decided to work towards improving were explained in detail at the event. This includes the physical improvements to decaying school facilities, some of which have high lead percentages in schools, inadequate heat, and deteriorating toxic materials. Another one of UrbEd’s core goals is increasing teacher diversity—more people of color and male teachers in the public school system, specifically black male educators. In addition to this, another core value is reforming policing in our schools, and disrupting the school to prison pipeline. Finally, UrbEd works towards regaining and increasing local control of our school board here in the Philadelphia school district. They have been instrumental in disbanding the School Reform Commission, or SRC, in the past, and are continuing to restore local control moving forward.

However, UrbEd members are quick to acknowledge the financial crises our schools are facing. In recognition of that, they presented a $300.00 gift to Tilden Middle School, given with the hope that UrbEd will always help our schools connect to more resources.

At this point, UrbEd is growing its student base by reaching out to schools for more student advocates and continuing to work with and monitor decisions around Philadelphia’s first locally based school board in almost two decades.

With so many things going on in the world that puts public schools at a disadvantage, seeing so many people interested and passionate about issues surrounding urban education in one room is an extremely hopeful sight for us to see. This is only the first step in a long plan for action and change, and everyone at UrbEd would love your help in any way possible! Please consider connecting with UrbEd to become part of the network we are building with other education advocacy groups. Or join us as a member and begin advocating for a quality and efficient public school education in Philadelphia. We will be better with you as part of us!

Dee Dee Risher

Mother of Luke Risher (Co-Founder of UrbEd)  

 

 

Repeal of Net Neutrality- What Could it Mean for Urban Education?

Net Neutrality is an Act made in Obama’s presidential term that prevents internet service providers from charging different prices for different platforms, on the premise that that internet service providers are public facilities. This means Internet Service Providers do not reserve the right to charge extra money for any sites on the internet or speed of the internet. On December 14th, 2017, The Federal Communications Commissions, or FCC, voted to repeal Net Neutrality. According to the Washington Post poll, around 80% of United States of America supports Net Neutrality, and the repealing of this Act is going to have a major impact everywhere. But what exactly will this mean for education?

Needless to say, the internet is a key part of modern-day education everywhere. Over the past ten years, technology has become a crucial learning tool for educators and students everywhere. Many different schools provide laptops, have online assignments, digital grade books, and much more. Students who do not have internet access at home make use of school wifi for homework and out of school needs. The internet is the primary source for research and information for school projects. There are many online tutorial videos that can help students reinforce and better understand the subject matter they are already in class. High school students have opportunities online to take advanced courses and even college level classes.

If Net Neutrality can potentially allow the Internet Service Providers to charge schools much more for high-speed internet access, this can put all of these online resources in jeopardy. In the majority of public schools, budgets are already extremely strained, and having to pay extra for internet will take a major toll on the budget. Schools that cannot pay for high-speed internet will experience much slower speeds, which can affect how kids learn. Many educators in public schools have spoken up against the repeal of Net Neutrality, and have spoken about how it could have an extremely negative impact. One 5th grade teacher in Virginia named Molly Fuller stated, "We're trying to teach them those real-world skills," she says. Repealing the current regulations, she says, "it's going to really hinder their ability to learn." Although we do not yet know what the costs of the internet could be, many people are worried about what could happen next.

Thea Risher

Local Elected School Board

In Philadelphia, the public schools have numerous issues that are deep-rooted. The children of Philadelphia have continuously been underserved and deprived of a quality and efficient urban education. The question we must ask ourselves is what does real reform look like?

In our current time, we have an immense decision for the Philadelphia. For the past 16 years, the governing system in Philadelphia has been a State imposed School Reform Commission (SRC). This is a system that in short has to fail our students. Due to years of advocacy and political organizing, this system is coming to an end and now we must choose how our school will operate.

This debate has two sides, one calls for a democratically elected school board while the other argues that a mayor-appointed board will be the best option for the schools. A democratically elected school board would look like individuals electing representatives who would make decisions about the school system. The officials would run their own campaigns and present the public with their plans and then the public would vote. On the other hand, a mayoral-appointed school board would be set up so the mayor appoints the decision makers, the issues, and possible candidates would be presented in the process of the mayoral election, but not necessarily be the focus.

I firmly believe that an elected school board is the only system that will truly work for Philadelphia schools. I think this for 3 main reasons; accountability, involvement, and transparency. Firstly despite what some individuals may think, many studies have shown elected school boards to greater benefit students as opposed to an appointed school board. I hope to paint the logic of an elected school board and the research driving it.

The first main issue is accountability. Of course, some accountability is better than the complete lack as we see in the current SRC system, but an appointed board still lose a great deal of accountability. The most accountable public official is a directly elected one. The Center for Public Education did a nationwide study and came up with “8 characteristics of effective school boards” these characteristics include the board being “accountability-driven” and maintain a strong and collaborative relationship between themselves and the community. This data shows that the more accountability and the closer the relationship the school board members have, the more effective the board is. The accountability would be maximized through an elected board.

The second involvement. Many students, parents, teachers, and community members are passionate and committed to trying to better public education in Philadelphia. Meeting and meeting, year after year of addressing an uninterested and unresponsive SRC has shown them that without accountability their involvement and voices are not heard. They not only know locally elected is the best option for the schools but have worked to regain local control. A 2015 referendum showed that Philadelphia overwhelmingly favors abolishment of the SRC and local control. A survey conducted by Pew found that “64 percent of (Philadelphia) residents said local school board members should be elected, 11 percent said they should be appointed, and the rest had no opinion.” It is clear that the community wants to have the most involvement they can have in what happens to themselves and their families, a locally elected school board gives this involvement to the citizens of Philadelphia.

One of the largest issues facing the schools and the city is lack of clarity and transparency. If the schools. Studies show that education is the largest factor on the minds of voters in Philadelphia. This means that elections for a school board will not be swept under the rug therefore ineffective as critics say, instead the opposite will be true. If education is a pressing issue then school board elections are bound to turn out voters. If education is just one issue tagged onto the mayor's race then it won’t get the public eye and spotlight that Philadelphia voters need or deserve. The Philadelphia school system has roughly 130,000 students and the officials that run the schools for this large a percentage of the population should have their own separate election, not be linked onto an already layered mayoral election. The transparency of who is running the schools and with what values is clearly of large concern to the citizens and elected school board optimizes this transparency.

I would like to close with a finding from the Pew research study that shows the driving reasons why an elected school board will work best for students. “Governance systems that produce uncertainty, distrust, and ambiguous accountability can impede district's’ progress on any front.”  UrbEd supports an elected school board provides the accountability, involvement, and transparency that the Philadelphia schools need and deserve. Here at UrbEd, we support school reform, and we firmly believe this will be a major step towards advancements in urban education.

Luke Risher