This summer I had the pleasure of teaching a podcasting camp at the Westwood Baptist Church. This year’s camp theme is Wise, creative, innovative thinkers, and Minister Elois Freeman, the last guest on the podcast, thought that podcasting could be a great medium for students to express their wisdom, creativity, and ingenuity. In this episode, you will hear middle schoolers talk candidly about their experiences in school and their suggestions for making school a better place.

Westwood Baptist Church is a welcoming, inclusive series of brick buildings right around the corner from Pearl-Cohn high school. Fifteen middle schoolers from the camp and I met several times during the month of June, and I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t a little intimidated at first. It’s been years since I’ve taught middle schoolers, and there was also a pretty glaring elephant in the room. I was a white teacher standing in front of a class of all students of color.

We began by watching the TED talk, The Danger of a Single Story by Chimamanda Adichie. I think that here in Nashville, we mistakenly believe a single story about Metro Nashville middle schools and the students that attend those schools. The common refrain is that we shouldn’t send our kids to a Metro middle school unless it is either in an affluent neighborhood, a magnet school, or a charter school.

I have news for you. I have spent the last month with middle schoolers from Metro middle schools in all areas of this city. They are some of the brightest, most empathetic, and wisest young people I’ve had the privilege of knowing. I kept our conversations open ended, because I wanted to focus on the topics that are relevant to them. The topics that emerged over and over again are race and discipline. Today’s episode is structured into four parts.

Part 1: A Tale of Two Middle Schools

Part 2: What Our Kids Think and Understand About Race and Discipline in Schools

Part 3: The Ideal School

Part 4: I Wish My Teacher Knew

Based on all I learned from hearing about these students’ experiences, I think that Our kids want to attend schools that are relevant, anti-racist, and safe. I don’t think that’s too much to ask for, do you?

Here are a few suggestions for ways to get involved in helping make our schools better places for kids.

Additional links shared by Minister Elois Freeman:

  • The consciousness gap in education – an equity imperative | Dorinda Carter Andrews | TEDxLansingED  In this talk, Dorinda Carter Andrews challenges us to consider how gaps in critical consciousness and mindsets for adults and students in schools prevent us from providing equitable schooling experiences for all students. Specifically, Carter Andrews urges educators to consider how increased critical consciousness about the role of race and culture in teaching and learning can be fostered through educator professional development and student curriculum and can ultimately strengthen teacher-student relationships.
  • Excerpt of book, Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What to Do About It by Richard Reeves, Brookings Institution Press, 2017. The American dream is of a decent home in a pleasant neighborhood, good schools for our kids, a steadily rising income, and enough money put aside for an enjoyable retirement. It is about sustaining a strong family and seeing your children off to a good college. It has become a staple of politicians to declare the American dream dying or dead. But it is not dead. It is alive and well; but it is being hoarded by those of us in the upper middle class. The question is: Will we share it?

Music used in this episode:

Artist: Lee Rosevere

Title: I’m Going for a Coffee

Album: Music for Podcasts 3

Link: http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Lee_Rosevere/Music_For_Podcasts_3/02_Im_Going_for_a_Coffee

 

Artist: Lee Rosevere

Title: Puzzle Pieces

Album: Music for Podcasts 2

Link: http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Lee_Rosevere/Music_For_Podcasts_2/Lee_Rosevere_-_Music_for_Podcasts_2_-_10_Puzzle_Pieces

 

Artist: Lee Rosevere
Title: The Secret to Growing Up
Album: Music for Podcasts 3
Link: http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Lee_Rosevere/Music_For_Podcasts_3/03_The_Secret_to_Growing_Up
Artist: Lee Rosevere
Title: Southside
Album: Music for Podcasts 4
Link: http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Lee_Rosevere/Music_for_Podcasts_4/Lee_Rosevere_-_Music_for_Podcasts_4_-_09_Southside

 

Artist: Lee Rosevere
Title: Try Anything Once
Album: Music for Podcasts 2
Link: http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Lee_Rosevere/Music_For_Podcasts_2/Lee_Rosevere_-_Music_for_Podcasts_2_-_14_Try_Anything_Once

 

Artist: Lee Rosevere
Title: Sad Marimba Planet
Album: Music for Podcasts 4
Link: http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Lee_Rosevere/Music_For_Podcasts_2/Lee_Rosevere_-_Music_for_Podcasts_2_-_14_Try_Anything_Once

 

Artist: Lee Rosevere

Title: Betrayal

Album: Music for Podcasts 5

Link: http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Lee_Rosevere/Music_For_Podcasts_5/Lee_Rosevere_-_Music_For_Podcasts_5_-_08_Betrayal

 

Artist: Lee Rosevere

Title: We’re Almost There

Album: Hold Music

Link: http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Lee_Rosevere/Hold_Music/Lee_Rosevere_-_Hold_Music_-_12_Were_Almost_There

This week’s guest is North Nashville educator, Elois Freeman. Elois is direct, authentic, and carries a wisdom that can only be acquired through a long and meaningful life. Elois grew up going to segregated schools in North Nashville and went on to graduate from Fisk University in 1970. After graduation, Elois left Nashville to teach school in different locations around the country. Since returning to Nashville, Elois has been deeply involved in education activism work.

Elois and I met at a book discussion of Making the Unequal Metropolis by Dr. Ansley Erickson. I am so glad that she agreed to come on the podcast to talk about her first hand accounts that correspond to the overarching account that Dr. Erickson presents in the book. In our conversation, we discuss the strong community ties in the North Nashville community, how the interstate construction in the 1960’s intentionally divided and damaged Jefferson Street (where Elois’ family still resides today), whether or not desegregation should be a current goal for Metro Nashville Public Schools, and why data is the one topic that Elois will not discuss.

For more context about North Nashville, check out Steven Hale’s recent Nashville Scene piece, History Repeats Itself in North Nashville.

“If the story of the last 60 years was this perpetual, creative, varied pursuit of economic growth, well, the city got it, clearly… but it’s also clear that that growth doesn’t inherently create equity. It doesn’t close wealth gaps, it doesn’t produce of itself… equally distributed opportunity. In some ways you have an economically strong and growing metropolis. What a wonderful position to be in to really ask what it would mean to try to shape that city in favor of greater equity.” -Dr. Ansley T. Erickson

I was thrilled to get to interview Dr. Ansley T. Erickson, author of Making the Unequal Metropolis: School Desegregation and its Limits. Ansley is an Associate Professor of History and Education at Teachers College Columbia University, and I think her book should be required reading for anyone interested in how politics, policy, housing, power, and privilege shaped Nashville’s schools.

In the interview, we discuss the early days of desegregation in Nashville, how local, state, and federal policies shaped our unequal landscape, vocational education, misconceptions about busing, and much more.

Mentioned in this episode:

Dr. Mary Crnobori is the trauma-informed coordinator for Metro Nashville Public Schools and she is doing incredibly important work to raise awareness about trauma-informed practices and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).

Common ACEs are violence in the home, divorce, a parent with mental illness or substance abuse problems, abuse or neglect, or a parent who is incarcerated. Not to mention the skyrocketing rate of childhood poverty in Nashville. While poverty rates have gone down citywide, as of 2016, childhood poverty is currently above 60 percent in 4 council districts

When I told someone I was doing this episode, he said “Isn’t aces just kind of a buzz word at this point? Don’t we already know this stuff?

I thought that was really interesting point, and I think that he’s probably not the only one who has this misconception. What we commonly hear about ACEs is that a high ace score is correlated with poor educational outcomes, behavior issues, and even health problems. 

The part of the conversation that I feel like is often left out is that there are concrete actions that we can take to mitigate the effect of ACEs. Edutopia recently did a series on how Fall-Hamilton Elementary, MNPS’s trauma-informed pilot school, is doing this important work. 

I hope after listening to this episode, you will know more about what trauma informed schools look like, the importance of building relationships, and how we should support educators in this work. 

Further Reading:

The Deepest Well by Dr. Nadine Burke-Harris

ACEs Connection

Treating Childhood Trauma – 60 Minutes segment with Oprah Winfrey

What do you say when a student asks, “Did you vote for Donald Trump?”

In this episode, we discuss how to respond to difficult questions, how to get students to engage in civil discourse in these turbulent political times, and what happened when Tarana Burke, the founder of the #metoo movement, led Hume-Fogg students in a walkout to protest gun violence.

Amanda Smithfield is a librarian at Hume-Fogg Magnet High School, and in her words, she is the “proudest Democrat ever to sponsor the high school Republicans.” In addition to starting clubs for both the high school Republicans and the high school Democrats, Amanda has started a movement called ProjectCivAmerica, where she hosts monthly bipartisan discussions on topics such as gun control and net neutrality. Amanda provides resources for anyone who wants to host their own ProjectCiv discussions.

Holly Korbey is my special guest cohost this week. Holly is an education journalist who is passionate about closing the research to practice gap. She has written groundbreaking pieces about dyslexia and social and emotional learning, to name a few. Currently, Holly is working on a book titled, How to Raise a Citizen, to be released in 2019. Sign up for Holly’s civics education newsletter to learn more about raising citizens in today’s political climate.

Whenever I tell someone that corporal punishment still happens in Tennessee schools, the reaction is typically shock. People can’t believe that kids are still being hit in schools as punishment in the year 2018.

Investigative journalist, Alanna Autler was similarly surprised to learn that this practice is still commonplace. She was shocked most of all to learn that students with disabilities are corporally punished at a higher rate than students without disabilities in Tennessee schools. Click here and here and here to read some of Alanna’s groundbreaking journalism on this topic.

In this episode you will hear my conversation with Alanna, as well as gain a greater understanding of the policies and laws in place that allow educators to continue this very controversial practice.

If you want to see corporal punishment banned for students with disabilities, please contact your legislators and ask the to support HB 2330. This bill, sponsored by Nashville Representative Jason Powell, is coming up in a House Subcommittee this afternoon at 3:00. The corresponding SB 2330 is coming up in the Senate Education Committee tomorrow. Here is a link to the House Subcommittee members to call and here’s a link to the Senate Education Committee members to call.

If you are involved in public education in Nashville, you are probably familiar with TC Weber’s blog, Dad Gone Wild. TC publishes new posts every Monday and Friday (and sometimes in between) that explore the ins and outs of what’s happening in Metro Nashville Public Schools.

Love him or hate him, TC fearlessly informs our community about things that are happening that we might not otherwise know about. In this conversation, we talk about the moral implications of overworking and underpaying teachers. We also talk about his blogging journey and what sustains his work.

Finally, TC discusses his decision to run for the District 2 MNPS School Board seat. He shares his priorities: teacher recruitment and retention, capital needs, making sure we’re spending money wisely, and having honest conversations about restorative practices and discipline.

 

 

In this episode you will hear Alison McArthur and Hank Clay discuss the community schools model and how their organizations are transforming schools here in Nashville.  Alison is the Coordinator for Community Achieves and Hank is the CEO of Communities in Schools of Tennessee.

Communities in Schools of Tennessee (CISTN) is part of the national Communities in Schools Network, and they serve over 2,000 students in six schools within the Metro Nashville Public School District. I first became aware of CISTN’s work at a site visit. One of their main goals is to decrease chronic absenteeism, and they are actually making it happen. On my visit, I saw how the site coordinator greets students when they arrive every morning and how he immediately notices who is absent. He calls their homes and checks in to see how he can help. Does the student need a ride? Do they need help finding standard school attire? Is there some type of illness or family emergency? He forms real relationships with students and families and the results are amazing. Statewide, schools affiliated with Communities in Schools last year saw 96% of students stay in school, 90% improve their behavior, and 93% make academic gains. Click here to view the full 2016-2017 Impact Report

I was similarly moved at a Community Achieves site visit to Pearl-Cohn Entertainment Magnet High School. The Community Achieves initiative places special focus on fostering partnerships between Metro Nashville Public Schools and non-profit organizations. Pearl-Cohn is one of 17 Community Achieves schools within the MNPS.

On my visit, I witnessed how students at Pearl-Cohn have access to social workers, trained mental health professionals, and trauma specialists. Dr. Sonia Stewart, the principal at Pearl-Cohn, has also clearly made restorative practices and social and emotional learning an integral part of the school’s culture. Pearl-Cohn is showing amazing growth as a result of these initiatives. Attendance is up, achievement test scores are up, more students are graduating and more are going to college. They have also received numerous awards and have been featured on Edutopia’s Schools That Work series. If you’d like to read more about the work Community Achieves is doing, I recommend reading this Evidence-Based Strategy Brief.

Here is a list of ways that you can get involved:

 

I prepared this episode before the horrific mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. I hope you’ll consider joining me at March For Our Lives Nashville on March 24. I believe that we owe it to our children and our teachers to show that we won’t stand idly by and do nothing. In the words of survivor Emma Gonzales, “The thing that caused me grief, the thing that had no right to cause me grief, the thing that had no right to happen in the first place, I have to do something actively to prevent it from happening to somebody else.”

 

 


I had a lovely chat with Leticia Skae-Jackson, the Literacy Teacher Development Specialist at Martin Luther King Jr. Magnet School here in Nashville. I reached out to Letitia after reading her Edweek blog post, 4 Steps to Becoming a Culturally Responsive Teacher. Leticia’s enthusiasm for teaching and learning is contagious and she shares many gems of wisdom in this episode.

We begin by talking about Leticia’s childhood experience of immigrating to Nashville from Malawi, Africa. Next, Leticia describes her journey towards becoming a more culturally responsive educator as well as insights and suggestions for educators who wish to become more culturally responsive. We also talk about how brain research should support teaching and learning, and finally Leticia gives advice to teachers on how to maintain their sanity when new initiatives are continuously being introduced.

Here are some great resources if you’d like to learn more about culturally responsive teaching.

Culturally Responsive Teaching: 4 Misconceptions

 

I had a nice chat with Chris Weber, the Director of Student Assignment Services for Metro Nashville Public Schools. Chris has been with the district for a long time so he was able to provide some interesting insights into the past, present, and future of different initiatives. He was also very forthcoming and it is apparent that he truly wants to help families navigate this sometimes confusing process.

I think you will enjoy listening if you are a parent navigating the school choice application process or if you are a community member who just wants to know more about how it all works.

Here are some of the topics we explore in the episode:

  • The historical context of magnet schools
  • The past, present, and future goals the district has for magnet schools
  • The updated admission requirements for academic magnets
  • Transportation options for students not attending their zoned schools
  • Why all parents should visit their zoned schools before making assumptions
  • Zoned option schools and schools with geographic priority zones, such as Glendale Spanish Immersion and Lockeland Design Center
  • Changes in the works for next year, such as the creation of new federally funded magnet schools and the revamped application process for transferring juniors and seniors

Still have questions about the process? Chris graciously offered to follow up with anyone who needs help/clarification. Leave a comment or send me an email and I will pass it on to him!