Tag Archives: School

The Road to College Admissions

Lost for where to start your journey to attending a top U.S. college? Wondering if you’re behind your peers? Confused about what step comes next?

We have a map to help you find your way. There are steps you can take all four years of high school to improve your candidacy for a top university acceptance. With hard work and the right guidance, you can make it to the finish line! 

This guide walks you through each high school semester, but don’t forget to take advantage of those summers, too! Even if your teachers or peers aren’t thinking ahead, summer break is the perfect opportunity to set yourself apart.

Here are some suggestions for your superstar summers:

  • Rising Freshman Summer: Reach out to friends and look at the list of clubs you can join. You can also brush up on fundamental subjects.
  • Rising Sophomore Summer: Practice target skills, take a class at a local community college or online, build good writing and study habits, and explore extracurricular and academic interests.
  • Rising Junior Summer: Take more advanced courses in subject areas that most interest you. Start participating in camps or competitions. Start narrowing down your list of schools and majors. Prepare for standardized tests.
  • Rising Senior Summer: Apply for competitive summer programs, internships, and hands-on opportunities to set yourself apart. Begin the actual college applications.
  • Final Summer before college: Some schools offer bridge classes to help you adjust to college workloads. Otherwise – spend time with your family, check off any bucket list activities in your hometown, and get excited about your new home for the next few years!

Navigating the college application process can be challenging – that’s why we recommend speaking to a college counselor. Empowerly connects you with a team of college admission experts, handpicked based on your interests & goals. Whether you’re looking to develop your extracurricular profile or need support with summer programs or college applications, our counselors can boost your admissions chances to your dream college. 

Learn more about Empowerly here or call +1(800)491-6920.

 

Tips for Learning From Home

Children face myriad challenges with remote learning, as they are unable to meet with friends and follow a normal schedule during this pandemic. They become restless and unhappy.   

You as parents may be in a conundrum wondering how to teach your child(ren) at home while balancing your work lives. Keep in mind that you have always been your child’s first teacher, You have taught your child to walk, talk, and learn many values. While you may be grateful to each certified educator in your child’s lives you need to step forward with confidence to help your child.

Here are a few suggestions to make your children’s schooling at home more streamlined. These are just starting points that you can adapt to your individual circumstances.

The first thing is to develop a weekly schedule and break it down into a daily structure that you can modify with your own work schedule and that of your children. Consistency is the key here. Wake up, have breakfast, and start the day. Regular sleep time brings about normalcy.  

Your school may teach online or provide assignments and a structured curriculum. This can be very useful for you and your child(ren) to structure your days around it. If you have a teen consider empowering them to work out their own schedule so they will feel more inclined to follow it. Share the duties of household work, teaching, so that each one gets some time and doesn’t get frustrated.

It is likely that you are not the only one dealing with this and there are others at work who are in the same situation – so find a way to discuss this either as a group or with your manager to come up with a plan that allows you to reserve certain hours to help your children with their classwork or homework.

A recess or break time for your child and yourself is necessary. Every person whether a kid or parent needs some time for themselves between tasks. At this time one can unwind, run, jump, have a snack, or just relax.

Sometimes your child may get upset and angry, unable to understand a concept. Do not push them hard or have expectations that everything will work smoothly. You as a parent are new to this and should not be hard on yourself or them. When you hit a roadblock, take a break and return to the concept with a fresh mind. 

Try and work according to your child/ren’s personality. Some children like a rigorous and planned schedule while others prefer flexibility.  Be aware and pay attention to their feelings and wants. Showing compassion is essential in these times. They will always learn and grow but you as a parent need to be by their side in these times. Life will get back to normal one day and they will go back to school but this time of learning at home will make them realize three things; the bond they have with you, the joy of being back with their friends, and holding their educators in high esteem. Till then have patience and stand by them while keeping them positive and productive. 

Technology can play a big role at this time with teaching from home. Choose quality content via the abundant resources for science activities, math, reading, art, music, and also physical education. Do reach out to your children’s teachers and your children’s school parents for more help. 

You may like to ask your child to solve the task in a more creative and exciting manner. Let them be able to imagine, think out of the box, discover, innovate, and design.  

Nutritious food is a part of keeping the family healthy and happy. Plan the week’s menu so you all can sit down to dinner and catch up on the fun, unwind and talk together. Simple, quick pre-prepared lunches would be ideal during this time. Remember to get the children involved may be in setting the table, loading the dishwasher. 

It all seems so overwhelming but you got this!!!!!! Look within and tell yourself that you are competent. We have been given this time to introspect and bond with our families, care for ourselves, learn, and grow. It is time to do our bit to help society and the world come together as one. At this time being a parent is empowering and I know you are doing your best. Thank you from all of us for making the effort to keep your family and ours safe too. 


Geetanjali Arunkumar is a writer, artist, life coach. She is the author of ‘You Are The Cake’.

Online Classes Divide Haves & Have Nots

It’s Tuesday morning, and teacher Tamya Daly has her online class playing an alphabet game. The students are writing quickly and intently, with occasional whoops of excitement, on the little whiteboards she dropped off at their homes the day before along with coloring books, markers, Silly Putty and other learning props — all of which she created or paid for with her own money.

Two of the seven children in her combined third and fifth grade class weren’t home when Daly came by with the gift bags. One of the two managed to find her own writing tablet, thanks to an older brother, but the other can’t find a piece of paper in her dad’s house. She sits quietly watching her classmates on Zoom for half an hour while Daly tries futilely to get the father’s attention. Maybe the student is wearing earphones; maybe the father is out of the room.

As children head back to school online across California and much of the nation, some of the disparities that plague education are growing wider. Instead of attending the same school with similar access to supplies and teacher time, children are directly dependent on their home resources, from Wi-Fi and computers to study space and parental guidance. Parents who work, are poor or have less education are at a disadvantage, as are their kids.

Daly teaches elementary students with special needs. The children in her class, who have a variety of diagnoses and intellectual disabilities, are at even higher risk — they can’t work independently and need more hands-on instruction. “The more they’re not getting those kinds of accommodations, the further they’re going to fall behind,” said Allison Gandhi, a managing director in special education at the nonprofit American Institutes for Research.

Educators and families fear devastating long-term consequences from COVID-19 for the nearly 800,000 California children who received special education services. So, in early August, the state announced it was developing a waiver application process for schools, even in COVID-plagued counties, that want to bring small groups of these students back for in-person education.

“There are simply kids that will never, ever have that quality learning that we all desire to advance online, no matter what kind of support we provide, even if we individualize it,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said at an Aug. 14 news conference.

Online learning is interfering with the students’ individualized education programs, or IEPs — legal agreements among families, school districts and specialists that set academic and behavioral goals for students and the services they’re entitled to.

The gap in online learning experience is sharply visible in Daly’s class, and the parents’ role is crucial. For parents who don’t have to work, distance learning may be tense and time-consuming, but it becomes part of a daily routine to be endured until the pandemic ebbs. For others, schooling is an unworkable nightmare burdening parents already stretched to their limits.

School started Aug. 12. By day five, Daly knew which children had the luxury of a stay-at-home parent and which were being supervised by older siblings. She knew which students struggled to get online on time every day — a new state requirement for all virtual learners — and which ones needed reminding to eat breakfast before class started.

She also knew, from last spring, that most of the parents couldn’t print the worksheets she had uploaded to Google Classroom. Their printers were broken, or printer ink cost too much, or they didn’t have printers. For this semester, she set up a time every Thursday for parents to drive by the school and pick up packets for the following week.

Daly works at Emery Park Elementary School in Alhambra, east of downtown Los Angeles, where two-thirds of the students qualified last year for free or reduced-price school meals. The school has loaned about 80% of the 434 students Chromebooks because they didn’t have computers at home, said principal Jeremy Infranca.

Like most schools in California, Emery Park started the school year in virtual classrooms — the safest option for a state with a stubbornly persistent infection rate. The Alhambra school district has yet to decide whether to apply for a waiver to bring students with special needs back on campus. Infranca and Daly would like to — if they can secure COVID-19 protective gear for themselves and their students, and if families feel comfortable with it.

In the meantime, Daly is doing her best to accommodate her families, which isn’t easy. Parents have told her to limit live group instruction to an hour a day, so as not to interfere with child care schedules or the laptop needs of other children in the household. To make up for the reduced time, Daly records several 15- to 30-minute videos explaining the work to be done and plans to schedule an individual session with each child once a week.

“I choose to be positive about this experience, and I choose to communicate and do my best to reach out to the students and connect with parents and family members,” said Daly. “We just need to be proactive, and also a little patient.”

Families have different opinions about whether to return their kids to the schoolhouse. It often depends more on a family’s desperation over child care than consideration of COVID-19 risks.

Cat Lee, 44, was nervous at first when she realized she had to take on the bulk of hands-on teaching for her son, Jacob, a fifth grader in Daly’s class.

“I wondered, would I be able to teach him as well, and would he be able to learn it?” she said.

Lee is a stay-at-home mom, and so far she has been able to stick to the schedule Daly lays out. She’s there with Jacob at every Zoom session and logs onto the Seesaw app to go through all the assignments. She praised Daly for her curriculum, which she felt was better and easier to teach than what the family received back in March. But she had reservations about her son’s new normal.

“It’s really slowing down his learning; plus, he doesn’t interact with kids anymore,” said Lee.

Still, if she had the chance to send Jacob for in-person learning now, Lee wouldn’t take it. She has concerns about their immune systems — Lee had a kidney transplant five years ago, and Jacob was born at just 27 weeks’ gestation — and is holding out for a COVID vaccine before allowing Jacob to resume his normal activities.

Not that she doesn’t have doubts.

“My fear is that he’s going to be home for so long, he’ll be so used to it and he won’t want to go back to school,” she said.

Danielle Musquiz, a 32-year-old mother with five elementary school-aged boys — four adopted from a relative — would favor a return to school. She gets three or four hours of sleep each night because of her 90-hour workweek with two jobs, as a home aide and a cashier at a regional park.

Four of her sons receive special education services, including an adopted middle child who is in Daly’s class and has cognitive delays linked to fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. The children, crowded together at the dining room table or in the living room, listen to their classes with earphones to keep from disturbing one another, which means she can’t hear a teacher calling out to her from the screen.

The four kids have individual education programs, but it’s hard for Musquiz to oversee them “with the minimal amount of time I have at home,” she said. She’s feeling overwhelmed by having to coordinate, supervise and respond to teachers, counselors and therapists for each child.

Musquiz is working longer hours than before the pandemic, and she picks up shifts at the park when the boys’ former stepfather takes them for the weekend.

“I’m slowly starting to say — and I know that this sounds bad — I don’t care anymore about the kids’ schooling,” Musquiz laughed nervously. “I feel like it’s chaos, and I’m drowning.”

To help with child care, her mother lives with the family Monday through Thursday, and her sons spend Thursday nights at her sister’s house. On Fridays, nine kids are all streaming their classes online from that house. On a recent Friday, the Wi-Fi broke, prompting a call from the school of one of her sons asking why he had left class early.

If she had the opportunity, Musquiz would send her children back to in-person learning in a heartbeat.

“None of my kids are really going to learn what they need to,” said Musquiz. “They need hands-on, they need interaction, they need motivation, and these classes are not doing that for them.”


This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Back To The Future At School

Can schools safely reopen though the pandemic shows little sign of waning and educators stumble towards the first day of school in the absence of a clear cut strategy?

The answer is uncertain.

In early July President Trump demanded that schools “open quickly, beautifully, in the fall” for normal, in-person instruction.

The CDC responded with guidelines instructing school districts to build supportive community infrastructures to counter the onslaught of COVID-19 as schools reopened. They urged school officials to implement hygiene and social distancing practices and develop ‘proactive’ plans with health departments, parents and caregivers to deal with potential outbreaks.

A snapshot of the ‘new normal’ for K-12 schools.

Keeping active kindergartners apart; keeping their masks on; fewer students on school buses; limited class sizes; keeping staff safe; sanitizing; PPE; social distancing; online SATs; remote learning; iPads or computers for all.

For many schools, adjusting to the new normal would be a complicated and expensive endeavor.

School systems which struggled with pandemic restrictions would face even greater logistical and financial burdens meeting the new CDC requirements, leaving them with no other option than to continue with virtual classes moving forward.

President Trump tweeted his displeasure at the “very tough and expensive guidelines for opening schools,” and, under pressure, the CDC retracted its message, effectively relinquishing the decision making to school administrators. At the behest of the White House, the CDC emphasized the “importance of reopening America’s schools this fall,” and warned that extended school closures would “be harmful to children.”

This mixed messaging starkly reflects the reality that the CDC’s mission to reopen schools is at odds with the Trump administration’s intent to open at all odds, said Dan Domenech, Executive Director of the School Superintendents Association (AASA).

The Cost of Reopening

What is certain however, is that a safe return to in-person school comes with a hefty price tag – a whopping 200 billion dollars or more, or about $490 per K-12 student. At a panel discussion on how to safely reopen schools hosted by Ethnic Media Services on July 31, Domenech explained that the costs would cover laptops for students and an array of preventive measures that include sanitizers, masks, PPE and safe busing, before schools could consider opening their doors to staff and students. The expense would place an unprecedented financial burden on overstretched school district budgets in the next academic year.

So, a safe reopening would need a huge injection of federal funds (that the Council of Chief State School Officers projected would cost between $158.1 billion and $244.6 billion,) but the government is threatening to cut funds for schools that don’t fully reopen.

Many school districts cannot afford the expense, so policymakers at state and local levels are choosing to wait before making a decision on whether to reopen schools, based on assessments of COVID-19 threats in their region.

Is it safe to go back to school?

In a press briefing, the White House pushed the idea that the greater risk right now is to children’s learning, rather than to their health and wellbeing, announcing that, “We don’t think our children should be locked up at home with devastating consequences when it’s perfectly safe for them to go to school.”

Till recently, the common belief was that young children were not affected by COVID-19 and were unlikely to spread the virus. In fact the CDC reiterated that children pose no risks, stating that, “The best available evidence from countries that have opened schools indicates that COVID-19 poses low risks to school-aged children, at least in areas with low community transmission, and suggests that children are unlikely to be major drivers of the spread of the virus.”

However, new research from a pediatric hospital in Chicago that published its findings in JAMA, indicates that children carry high levels of the virus in their upper respiratory tracks and may efficiently spread infection by sneezing, coughing or shouting.

“In several countries where schools that have opened prematurely, such as Israel, we have seen a rise in cases,” said Pedro Noguera, Dean, USC Rossier School of Education.

As findings like these make parents and educators uncertain about reopening schools in a pandemic, it may be prudent for school districts to first assess the threat of COVID-19 infections in their area before making plans to send children back to school, suggested by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, in recent interviews with PBS and the Washington Post.

Inequities in K-12 Education

As schools juggle in-person classes versus online learning and hybrid models, some wealthy families are resolving their uncertainty by creating private learning pods or ‘micro-schools,’ with hired tutors to educate their children. It’s an arrangement that reflects the inequities experienced by less privileged students from special needs, disadvantaged and low income backgrounds. Without tutors or pods, and limited access to internet and laptops, these children are likely to fall further behind and “experience tremendous learning loss,” noted Noguera.

The current education crisis stems froma  lack of leadership, said Noguera, adding that “The real questions facing the US is when will leadership emerge that can provide the guidance that schools need on how to manage instruction…safely … and how to reopen appropriately, in a manner that does not place lives at risk.” He called on local and community leaders to step up in the interim. It will be up to local and community leaders to create innovative ways to deliver education and support children and families, in the short term, said Noguera.

Moving forward into the future will be challenging for schools because the scope of funding required to make changes is not forthcoming from the federal purse . Without adequate funding for health and safety measures in place, Noguera stated that school districts will have to contend with, for example, teacher unions who recently announced they will go on strike over unsafe conditions.

Eleven million children do not have the laptops they need for remote learning, said Domenech. So, even though technology offers valuable learning platforms, it can be a double edged sword, when teachers are ill prepared to use it effectively and students who have little or no access to technology lose out on their learning.

Schools will have to show teachers how to close the “digital divide,” advised Noguera, by training them “to use the technology to deliver meaningful instruction to kids.” But, whatever devices students use for learning, without access to reliable Internet and Wi-Fi, low income and disadvantaged students would face inequities of digital access, warned USC Professor Shaun R. Harper. In LA, school districts have invested in making screens and hotspots available within communities so children can access learning; but children in rural areas have even less connection and risk being left behind.

Noguera suggested that instead of trying to adapt curricula to cell phones, another option would be to go back to “old school approaches to education” using pencil and paper, adding that “they worked before technology, and could work again.”

“For now, whether our education looks like mini learning pods, pandemic pods, micro schools, or collaborative tutoring with college students….that’s still going to provide inequity in our educational system.” cautioned Eddie Valero, Supervisor for District 4, Tulare County Board of Supervisors. He was referring to economist Emily Oster’s prediction that clusters of home schooling families are going to happen everywhere regardless, and “that will create an economic divide.” 

Re-envisioning the future of schooling

Panelists offered several perspectives on when and how schools should reopen.

In working with school superintendents on reopening of schools based on CDC guidelines, said Domenech, the future could feature one of three options – the popular hybrid model, with students on weekly shifts between online learning and in-person classes seated 6 feet apart, total remote learning, or returning to school full-time as before.

However, the continuing rise in infections across the country means that most schools may open remotely. It may be possible for students to return to school only in areas where the rate of infection is below 5%, advised Noguera, suggesting that less risky, outdoor learning may be one way to address the problem. However, places experiencing a surge in cases such as the Imperial Valley in southern California, will have “to rely on community organizations like non-profits to support families and deliver education to children in concert with the school district,” he said.

Noguera’s view was echoed by Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, USC Associate Professor at the Brain and Creativity Institute and Rossier School of Education, who suggested tapping into the “huge cohort of college-ready high school graduates” and using their skills as a resource for tutoring younger students. Engaging young people as a ‘brigade  of community tutors” could help solve the shortage of people in teaching and learning, and give them a sense of purpose,” said Yang.

Professor Harper, who leads the USC Race and Equity Center warned that ‘raceless’ reopening policies from school districts  would “yield racially disparate outcomes”. He suggested that more consultation with communities of color was needed to “racialize input” into the K-12 reopening strategy. That would involve considerations like providing proper PPE, testing and contact tracing for essential workers in schools who are more likely to be employees of color and are disproportionately exposed to infection, as well as trauma and grief support  for staff and students of color, who are more likely to have experienced loss of a family or community member to the virus.

The panelists called on the private sector, specifically high tech companies and philanthropists, to step up and help avert the crisis.

Big tech firms like Amazon said Noguera, which have accumulated huge profits during the pandemic, have a responsibility to assist.

Harper described this timeframe as an opportunity for philanthropists and foundations who want to close racial equity gaps by helping finance “accessibility to learning pods for poorer students who cannot afford it.” There is also a role, he suggested, for nonprofits, youth organizations and college access providers to add to their agendas and recreate pod-like experiences for disadvantaged youth during the pandemic.

Schools are relying on Congress to pass funding that will get K-12 education back on track safely, and Domenech predicts that the majority of schools in America will start the school year with remote learning because, ‘in order to bring any children into school, dollars will be required.”

Valero closed out the discussion by inviting policymakers to re-envision what school should look like for the future by thinking “in creative ways that disrupt our everyday normalcy for something different,” but he urged, “honestly it begins with access, opportunity and fairness for all students.”

“We need to model our classrooms with our most struggling students in mind.”

Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents 

Image by Katherine Ab from Pixabay; Image by Bob Dmyt from Pixabay

STEAMPower Bridges the Digital Divide

The coronavirus pandemic has penetrated nearly every sphere of public life, including our educational system. While many students can afford the work-from-home setup, young people in rural or marginalized communities are bearing the consequences of our current digital divide. To learn more about how to support equitable education, I had a chat with Avighna Suresh, founder, and president of nonprofit STEAMPower, which offers virtual tutoring sessions to students all over the world.

What prompted you to start STEAMPower? Why is equitable education important to you? 

Growing up in a family that has always provided me with educational opportunities and having always gone to private schools, I lived in my own little bubble of educational privilege for most of my life. The first time I was really faced with the reality of educational inequity was when I worked at an afterschool program in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco called Up on Top. Seeing the vastly different opportunities these children had in contrast with the opportunities I had at their age changed my perspective on the issue completely. I quickly realized that sitting around and being complacent was not an option; I had the privilege and resources to do something, and I felt the responsibility to do it. 

Equitable education is incredibly important to me because it’s such an important asset for success and really shapes your attitude towards the world in many ways. The fact is that it isn’t enough for simply education to be a right; everyone deserves the right to quality education, and we are seeing that now more than ever. 

What is your teaching philosophy? How do you structure tutoring sessions, workshops, and curriculum?

Our teaching philosophy is centered around the student. A typical first tutoring session is preceded by contacting the student about what previous experience they have in the subject matter they want help in, asking for any resources they would like us to use, and then using those resources to craft personalized learning plans. Our other programs like STEAMChangers, our curriculums, and our videos are structured around demand: how much do students and parents want to see the topic, and how will it change the landscape of STEAM? 

All of our work is done online through Google Meetings or Zoom, and we are always open to communicate through text or email. The beauty of technology is that it widens our reach in ways that just wouldn’t be possible physically. Tutors in Brazil are able to tutor students in California. It’s a really unique and wonderful way to experience understanding of universal concepts regardless of where in the world you are.

What challenges did you face in founding STEAMPower? Do you find it difficult to establish regular clientele because you’re a high school student? What resources did you tap into to form the robust nonprofit you have today? 

Founding STEAMPower was one of the most challenging things I have ever done: from finding people to help me run and advance the initiative to spreading our reach to impact as many people as possible, there were definitely many bumps in the road to get where we are now. The first biggest challenge was finding a leadership team and tutors who were really passionate about what they were doing.

After finding a lot of students, the next challenge became organizing and matching students and tutors. I was able to do this through email and Google Calendar, which is a great way to visualize how many tutoring sessions are happening in a day, and notify students and tutors that there is a session coming up soon. Our largest challenge was scaling our initiative, and broadcasting it worldwide.

As a high school student, it was initially difficult to pitch my idea to local leaders and adults. I knew that they were the best way to get the word out about STEAMPower to communities that needed us most. I sent around 70 emails, and only got responses and help from around 5, but that was more than enough to get the support I needed. 

The main resources that helped me the most in establishing STEAMPower were: 

  1. Local leaders who spread the word and enabled us to establish local presence.
  2. Social media and Instagram that allowed us to go worldwide and help students from around the globe.
  3. A nonprofit and startup accelerator called Hack+ that helped us achieve 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit status and secure funding and sponsorships.

How did the coronavirus change the scope and purpose of your nonprofit? 

With school closures came a lot less support and resources for those who need it. Many students need structure and guidance to effectively learn, and the compromised conditions of school during COVID-19 made it difficult for a lot of students to continue studying. Due to the coronavirus, STEAMPower’s purpose shifted completely to supporting students with remote learning through virtual tutoring and free educational videos to help some of those hardest hit by the pandemic. 

Currently, you’re developing curriculums for students in India, Madagascar, and Zimbabwe. How do the curriculums differ along geographical boundaries? 

The primary differentiator for curriculums in different countries is the variance in classroom resources available to them to complete experiments and demonstrations that we weave into our curriculums, though we try to keep demonstrations largely accessible to everyone.

What is teaching students from different countries like? Do you face any linguistic and cultural barriers while teaching?

Having students and teachers from different countries is a great experience as it allows for a peek into the ways others live their lives, learn, and experience education. So far, there have been no linguistic barriers in tutoring. However, there are certain cultural differences as some countries and school systems may teach a certain formula that another doesn’t, or may have a different name from a concept. These small peeks into these subtle differences don’t inhibit the quality of learning or instruction, but it is interesting to acknowledge those differences.

What policies and programs do you think governments need to initiate to provide equitable education? 

It’s important that schools start providing unique, personalized support to students to help them succeed. We need to understand that students are diverse, and as a result have diverse needs. It’s not practical to assume that every student starts off at an even playing field. 

Schools need to stretch possibilities and challenge status quos that prevent certain students from achieving to the utmost of their ability. This begins primarily with teachers and faculty who are well-trained to address these issues and approach these problems with the intent to achieve the end goal of equity. There should also be specialized college access programs in schools/communities where there may be no access to college and further education opportunities otherwise. In addition, having diverse faculty to reflect a diverse student body is important. There are many steps schools can take, and while they may not eradicate the problem of educational inequity completely, any progress is a stride in the right direction.

Do you have any advice for students who want to help bridge the gap that plagues our education system today?  

My advice for students who want to bridge gaps in education is to take matters into their own hands. Whether it’s tutoring your siblings or neighbors, donating your old textbooks to those who can’t afford them, joining and supporting nonprofits and initiatives like STEAMPower, or reaching out to local representatives to propose solutions to problems you see, it’s important to turn dissatisfaction into action and do what you can, no matter how big or small. Though you may feel like you’re too young to make a difference, your voice is incredibly powerful.

With the coming academic year, schools are considering many possibilities in terms of teaching styles, attendance, etc. What are your thoughts on another year of distance learning? Should schools in the Bay Area open their doors? 

It really depends on the state of the pandemic and whether or not it is safe for students, teachers, and families. While another year of distance learning is not ideal, it may be what is necessary to protect lives and lessen the impact of the virus. In the meanwhile, it is imperative that schools ensure quality learning experiences for their students, whether it is virtually or in a hybrid environment. To me, quality learning means interactive instruction where students can get one-on-one help and clarify questions. In the meanwhile, STEAMPower is here to support anyone who needs us!

Kanchan Naik is a rising senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin California. Aside from being the Youth Editor of India Currents, she is also the editor-in-chief of her school newspaper The Roar and the 2019-2020 Teen Poet Laureate for the City of Pleasanton.

Students of Color Take a Playground Slide From Schools to Prisons

Public education needs to be at the core of the Revolution.

Understanding the function of hegemony is critical in identifying why public education in the United States is the key factor in revolutionizing ideology and challenging power structures. The concept of hegemony as an enforcer of the oppressive condition is explained best by the metaphor of a ripple effect in the water after a single drop. While moving solitarily, a single drop of liquid into a larger pool creates a succession of rings around it. Liquid large distances away, echo from the agitation of the single drop at the epicenter.

Consider interpersonal racism. One is taught biased and discriminatory ideas (often at young and formidable age) about anti-blackness, which then becomes cemented in ideology through experience, choice of social circles, and participation in the capitalist economy (jobs, buying/selling goods, etc). While beliefs and bias socially may impact the narratives one is exposed to, with the addition of the institution, those beliefs become rooted in power structures of politics, ultimately reinforcing them into tangible and measurable oppressive actions intersecting with gender, sexuality, class, ability, religion, and age. This is how a concept or thought of otherness, or anti-blackness, transposes into a ripple that now is rooted in the environment. This practice, often measured through economic means (part of the problem because we center conversations around capital and not humanity), shows a clear institutional racial bias that has rippled into every industry of our society (military, health care, sports, education, etc).

As someone who has dabbled in many areas of community organizing, I realized my calling was with the youth. I know, without a doubt, that my purpose on this earth is to work with and give space for youth to validate themselves. Working within the system is a concept many have discussed. To fix something within implies you have the power to flip a structure rooted in hundreds of years of oppression. As a 21-year-old, I was naive. I was a public school teacher at a  “low income” school with a majority being students of color, for 10 years. I taught 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 8th grade. I know for a fact that I was able to spark ideas, shift thought, and validate hundreds of students over the years. But did I change anything from within? Did I fix the cog in the gears that weren’t working properly?

No. Instead, it broke me, and many others with bodies and minds like mine.

I’d argue too that after gaining all of my experience and this knowledge that there isn’t any validity in attempting to “change” or “fix” something from the inside. Especially when schools are the core of the perpetuated hate. It’s 2020 and several people were hanged from trees in California. Nothing has changed, because the schools haven’t changed. They are functioning exactly as intended, and it’s working. People are dying.

ASHA educating through poetry.

My story is not dissimilar to others. I could reach kids in ways that others couldn’t, and students found safety in my classroom regardless of enrollment. I taught histories that exposed institutional bias, we held space for healing, and students developed agency in a matter of months. Each year the impact of my teaching improved as I focused on my craft, but so did the impact of how the district targeted and abused me.

And without the support and allyship, the mission to “change the system from within” just isn’t sustainable.

My career started by just doing my own thing in my four walls. I would literally close the door, turn the blinds, and talk to the kids with authenticity and honesty. They saw me for that too. Even young students knew I was treating them with more respect than education had ever provided and that felt affirming to them. They knew they could take risks with me. Then I was challenged by a coworker to expand my practice and offer to train others, allow peer observations, and train the staff, because then the impact becomes exponential. I was certified through Teaching Tolerance and did several trainings when admin found it useful for their public relations. Even though there was occasional push back, I felt like I was doing good work.

Slowly the admin write-ups and reprimands began to add up. Essentially the “radical” work I was doing at the elementary level validating students’ identities was “not age appropriate”. I was being pushed out. Because I didn’t want to continue to fight against my admin, I decided to move up to the middle school level in the same district. Since I taught 5th grade at the time, that meant following my students to middle school. I was so excited to continue to do the work and build, and now, I had confidence that I could start on some institutional practices as well.

The first year there was amazing. I facilitated several trainings both at my site and regionally, including one for administrators on restorative practices. I felt validated and affirmed. But with a change of administration brought a change in leadership ideology and now, the new mission of the person in power was to cut off my mic. They immediately let me know that the path I was on was not going to continue. I fought. Hard. Union. Grievance. All of it. I won, too. But I didn’t realize the toll it took on my mental health and that the road was only going to get harder.

The year after, I watched student after student be criminalized, marginalized, suspended and expelled, and some, locked up. The same students who had found refuge with me for a decade. I stopped having anything positive to say to them. How could I tell them it was going to get better? I realized very suddenly, it wasn’t. Then, the district really waged war against me when I spoke out, and sought media attention, because atrocities against students were being ignored. They isolated me, silenced me, and removed me from the one thing that reassured me of my purpose, my time with students.

Speaking out against police abuse on a school campus was like trying to call the cops on the cops. Participation in the public education system requires complicity in causing harm against the most vulnerable. Teachers of color become sacrificial to the cause of supporting youth of color as they navigate the system themselves. It’s just not sustainable.

The concept to describe the relationship between the success of students of color in schools and the prison industrial complex is the school to prison pipeline. However, in 2020, it has undoubtedly turned into a playground slide. The increase of police presence in schools whether as an SRO, community partnership, or some fake notion of safety like with the “Safe Schools” program, has exponentially increased the rate at which students of color are criminalized. The pipeline has been shortened into the slide and even painted a bright color to attract youth. Any teachers that stand in the way are subject to severe injury.

Defund and dismantle the police. Abolish prisons. Abolish ICE. But honestly, without a complete overhaul of teacher staff, redlining, curriculum, anti-racist training, restorative practices, school design, libraries, and community resources, the single drop of racism will continue to ripple throughout society; through friendships all the way to board rooms. If we don’t directly focus on rebuilding public education in the United States, none of this will change.

In Hindi meaning hope and Swahili meaning life, ASHA is an Artist, Educator, and Revolutionary. Through her decade of teaching, performing poetry, and speaking at community events, Asha consistently uses her platform to voice out against injustice and to speak up for those who have been marginalized and silenced for centuries.

No Academic Competition, No Problem!

Eighth-grader Navneeth Murali was “totally shattered and devastated” when he learned in April that the Scripps National Spelling Bee to be held the following month was canceled. He has aged out of the competition and under current rules cannot participate next year. Like other competitive spellers, mathematicians, geography whizzes, and young scientists, it was a season of disappointments, as practically all academic competitions have been canceled.

When competitions are stopped and there seems nothing to win, it seems the students committed to these institutions do not stop studying.

We often think of studying after school to be a chore. The assumption is that youth want to do “fun” activities rather than academic ones. A school principal I spoke with said, “I can’t believe you’re going to find kids who are passionate about long division. I just don’t believe it.” The cancellation of these competitions presumably would give these kids a reason to finally relax.

Having interviewed dozens of children who compete in spelling bees and/or math competitions in elementary and middle school for my book, Hyper Education: Why Good Schools, Good Grades, and Good Behavior Are Not Enough, it is clear that they are passionate about what they are pursuing. Yes, studying is tedious. Even the most committed youth feel staring at worksheets can become “utter toil” at times. They put in hours each weekday and weekend — on top of homework — to these pursuits. 

But while many start their academic pursuit because parents drag them, those who stick with it have a sincere interest. As one spelling contestant at a national finals competition told me, “I just viewed it more as fun than work.” Years later, former contestants appreciate how much they learned not just in their particular subject but also about the process of learning. They had confidence that they could tackle major challenges.

Stopping would give the wrong message, that the only reason to bother reviewing German-origin words and quadratic equations was to win the championship. Educators know that the emphasis should on the studying process and effort, not the outcome. The best way to alleviate the sense that all that studying was a waste is for youth to keep studying, for it affirms the fact that the youth has an interest in the subject and gains through the process of studying.  

Just as a child should not stop practicing baseball or softball in the backyard because their championship game has been called off, the same applies to those training for academic competitions.

Rather than stop preparing, kids should study in a more relaxed manner. Children should find a new routine, one that dwells on the enjoyable parts of the subject rather than geared towards what weaknesses they need to work on in order to win. This should be a time to remind them what they enjoyed about their academic pursuits in the first place, before the pressure of the national competition came on, just like the ball player remembering what playing catch in the backyard used to feel like before the drills and practices for the big game got intense. 

What’s more, one never knows what the preparation will lead to. A few weeks after feeling devastated, Murali was crowned a spelling bee champion in a national virtual bee hosted by two former Scripps National Spelling Bee finalists. He has another chance later this summer to do it again in another national bee. The South Asian Spelling Bee (which Murali won last year) may also host an annual competition this summer.

Take it from a former Scripps National Spelling Bee finalist who has since coached spellers. Dev Jaiswal offered, “My advice for current eight-graders is to continue studying at a comfortable intensity. I would have been very disappointed if the spelling bee was ultimately canceled, but I would not think of my extra time spent studying as a waste.” 

Pawan Dhingra is a professor at Amherst College and author of Hyper Education: Why Good Schools, Good Grades, and Good Behavior Are Not Enough. He appears in the Netflix documentary, Spelling the Dream.

17 Minutes of Silence

On Wednesday morning, March 14, Mount Madonna School (MMS) middle and high students participated in the National School Walkout day, with a short hike to a nearby fountain on their campus. At the same time, MMS fifth grade students, with parent permission, held their own silent vigil outside of their classroom.

“Watching 10-year-olds think of others and make this choice to sit in silence really sealed my belief that our youth is what will change the world for the better,” commented teacher Jessica Cambell.

“We participated in the National Walkout because the administration and faculty wanted to provide the space and opportunity for students to express themselves,” shared Upper School Director Shannon Kelly. “We talk to them so much about social activism and engaged citizenship, it was important to give them the space to practice both of those things.”

“Sometimes, it takes a community loss to bring us back together,” reflected Dean of Students Bob Caplan.  “Yesterday morning at 10:00am, the students, faculty and staff of Mount Madonna School took 17 minutes out of our bustling, busy day to stand still by our lake, in the rain.

“In solidarity with many thousands of students, faculty, staff and families throughout the country, we stood silently, allowing our hearts and minds to ponder the loss and injury of those Parkland Florida youth and adults, as well as so many other losses for so many reasons around the world. As we dropped flower petals into the lake after 17 minutes of silence, the names of those killed in Florida were read.”

“Theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking died yesterday,” said teacher Tiffany Wayne, addressing the assembled group. “He studied the universe and he once said, ‘It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love’.

“These people were loved:

Alyssa, Scott, Martin, Nicholas, Aaron, Jaime, Chris, Luke, Cara, Gina, Joaquin, Alaina, Meadow, Helena, Alex, Carmen, Peter

“These are the people who were loved and lost.”

The vigil closed with the reading of one of Maya Angelou’s poems in which she seeks to inspire people to summon the courage to face each new day with possibilities of new choices and new outcomes.

Teacher Haley Campbell read aloud the second portion of Angelou’s poem, beginning with the line, “The rock, the river the tree, your country.” The entire poem follows:

Lift up your hearts.

Each new hour holds new chances

For new beginnings.

Do not be wedded forever

To fear, yoked eternally

To brutishness.

The horizon leans forward,

Offering you space to place new steps of change.

Here, on the pulse of this fine day

You may have the courage

To look up and out upon me,

The rock, the river, the tree, your country.

No less to Midas than the mendicant.

No less to you now than the mastodon then.

Here on the pulse of this new day

You may have the grace to look up and out

And into your sister’s eyes,

Into your brother’s face, your country

And say simply

Very simply

With hope 

Good morning. 

“Sometimes we need a solemn moment to help us return to the joys of life,” reflected Caplan, “and a renewed reverence for the well-being of others.”