Guest Host: Matt McCleskey

How can you tell if a 10-year-old won’t graduate from high school? If he’s reading two years behind grade level or is chronically absent, his odds for completing high school aren’t good. On Tuesday, teachers from across the Washington region gathered to share stories, offer support and identify suggestions about how to best change the course of a student’s life by ensuring they stay in school. Join us for “American Graduate – Let’s Make it Happen,” a special town hall event, co-produced by WAMU, WETA and WHUT.


  • 13:06:34

    UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE TEACHER #1And that, you know, if students are getting low performing grades, they're less invested in school and they're more likely to drop out.

  • 13:06:42

    MR. MATT MCCLESKEYShe mentioned there in the clip that perhaps behavior, it's not that it's a bad kid. It's rather that they are having a hard time keeping up and then, as a result, acting out. Have you seen this in your classroom? Can someone perhaps who's seen that relate a story? Yes, sir.

  • 13:06:59

    UNIDENTIFIED MALE TEACHER #1As she was saying that, I turned to Pete here and I said, that's exactly -- that hit the nail right on the head. You know, sometimes it could be issue of the student will come in hungry. And if they're hungry, they can't think and so they're not understanding the concept. And it's so easy to be the misbehaved student rather than it is to be the dumb student.

  • 13:07:19

    UNIDENTIFIED MALE TEACHER #1And I teach in middle school and they're very peer-centered. And so, you know, in middle school at a peer-centered age, it's so easy to, you know, pull that negative attention. And you get -- you know, you're cheered, wow, you said that to the teacher. You did this. So it's easier to pull in that direction rather than say, I don't understand the concept. I'm not getting it. I don't understand it.

  • 13:07:42

    UNIDENTIFIED MALE TEACHER #1So behavior -- I never look at behavior as a sign of disrespect because it isn't. It's a way of saying I need help. I don't know exactly how to ask for it so I'm doing this. So if we look at it and say, it's behavior. I'm going to write you up, I'm going to referral, I'm going to suspend. That is the absolute wrong thing to do because if I write you up, I'm sending you out of your class, you're not learning. If I suspend you and send you home, again, you're not in the class and not learning.

  • 13:08:07

    UNIDENTIFIED MALE TEACHER #1So, you know, one thing that I noticed with the state is they're trying to cut suspensions, cut referrals because this behavior's being misdiagnosed. They're not bad kids. They need help and they're asking for it. They're just asking for it in a way that we're unfamiliar with.

  • 13:08:21

    MCCLESKEYWhat do you do to engage with a student whose behavior is indicating that lack of achievement academically?

  • 13:08:28

    #1Small groups.

  • 13:08:28

    MCCLESKEYSmall groups?

  • 13:08:29

    #1You know, small groups. What we do is we have rotational small groups where we have high performing students on a grade level and students below. And we sort of rotate the small groups throughout the lesson. So after I'm done, let's say the lesson I taught was on quadratic equations. Okay. I'm going to work with the high performing small group. Okay. Then they're going to go and do the lesson, the low group. And then rotate them in the on-grade level. That way they don't feel as if, oh, the teacher's saying, I'm dumb and pulling me into the dumb group. And so that's who he's working with.

  • 13:08:59

    #1By rotating and having rotational small groups, every student is being addressed and I'm getting them without them feeling ostracized, I mean, put aside those kids who need extra help. Everyone is being rotated in so they're getting the help they need without being labeled or their peers labeling them saying, oh, you're in that particular group. So that's one way we've been able to work with them and get everyone included as well.

  • 13:09:23

    MCCLESKEYI see a lot of nods. Yes, sir, right here.

  • 13:09:25

    UNIDENTIFIED MALE TEACHER #2I appreciate what he said, however, I think I lean more towards what the educator over here said in terms of getting the support. I teach at a high school in Prince George's County and some students, their behavior is so overwhelming that it's impossible to teach without addressing it. And so I do believe in sending students out because some students I haven't seen all year.

  • 13:09:48

    UNIDENTIFIED MALE TEACHER #2I won't see a student for -- until January and they come in, they have no concept of how we do things in the classroom and they want to talk about how they smoke marijuana. They want to -- I have a 19-year-old student in a 10th grade class. We're trying to do cooperative work. It makes it near impossible to do that with the individuals that are there, come in smelling like a marijuana factory. And when you refer them and you say, you know, this guy really smells like -- and are very, I would say, you know, vociferous about discussing how much they smoke.

  • 13:10:25

    UNIDENTIFIED MALE TEACHER #2Every -- I teach government and I teach advanced placement psychology. In the government class, they want to talk about, oh, well, what about if the cops catch me and I'm smoking a little? In every single -- so there is a situation in my, you know -- from my perspective, some students need to be directed towards people that can really help them get situated in terms of what is a classroom really for. What is the purpose of classroom and what is the purpose of learning?

  • 13:10:52

    MCCLESKEYI would imagine that makes it very hard also for the younger students then to keep on task.

  • 13:10:56

    #2Indeed. I have a guy -- his image is burned into my head. He likes to touch the young ladies who are sitting in front of him. And he -- I've watched him all year and I had to move the young ladies, 15-year-old girls. Okay, you know what? You're going to sit over there now. And then he would just, you know, slightly touch their shoulder, hey, can you pass me a pencil? And I was watching him the whole time. He's methodical.

  • 13:11:18

    #2And so it makes it difficult because the conversation is taken to a different level. It's no longer 10th graders talking about 10th grade things. It's now we have an 18-year-old. Or if a kid hasn't been to school in a half a semester, than he's not going to have the same appreciation. So while we try to integrate him, right, and treat him like everyone else, hey, this is what we're covering today, he's not as interested because he hasn't been there. So he's a little behind. And so we need more support and help in the classroom in terms of how do we really bring out the best in those students.

  • 13:11:52

    MCCLESKEYI'd like to ask you what sorts of support would be helpful. It also seems like we're getting just a couple of different ideas of rather engaging with the students if there's misbehavior or in some cases, having -- if they're bothering the other students too much having to pull them out. Also the things we're hearing about is homelessness, also teen pregnancy, we heard about hunger earlier. It seems like teachers are getting asked to do a lot.

  • 13:12:14

    MCCLESKEYYeah, it can -- let's take another poll question now actually. That question will be coming in just a minute so don't text in until it comes to your phone. Do you feel your teacher training has adequately prepared you to face classroom challenges? If yes, text A and if no, text B.

  • 13:12:32

    MCCLESKEYFirst, on this idea of support. I've heard it from a couple of you. What sort of things would help? What sort of support do you need in your classroom? Yes. We've heard a lot from Maryland so far so we'd love to hear from the District of Virginia as well. But wherever you are from certainly just go right ahead.

  • 13:12:47

    KIM STAUNACKERMy name's Kim Staunacker (sp?) . I'm a 9th grade world history teacher in D.C. And one thing that I've noticed is -- we talked a little bit about why some of our students are struggling. We talked about their reading level. And one thing I've noticed, as a high school student (sic) is I have some students who have a good reading level, but are -- started to struggle maybe at the end of middle school and starting in high school because the peer culture in high school becomes so overwhelming. And also students feel such a need to get respect.

  • 13:13:21

    KIM STAUNACKERAnd so I feel one support would really be more models for that -- those students on what does it mean to be respectful, to show respect. Because I think, as teachers, we learn that actually we have to teach how to speak respectfully, what's appropriate in a classroom versus hanging out with your friends after school. Those things that we may think are obvious or that you should automatically know, but many of our students don't. And I think many of them don't have models who can show them how to be respectful and show respect that's not in a way that's disrupting the classroom.

  • 13:14:02

    MCCLESKEYWell, we do have the results of that poll question we took. And I want to get back to some of those issues a little later, but let's take a look first at our response. We asked, do you feel that your teacher training has adequately prepared you to face the classroom challenges that you encounter? And 22 percent said yes, 78 percent of you said no.

  • 13:14:19

    MCCLESKEYSo learning on the job, I guess, is what it comes down to. One other thing that we heard earlier is the age difference in some classrooms as students I suppose are held back and then continue on through. It raises another issue of social promotion and are students passed along to avoid exactly the type of situation that we heard about earlier? How many of you have seen social promotion in your school? So a pretty good number.

  • 13:14:48

    MCCLESKEYAnd of those of you who raised your hand it seems like one of the things it avoids is the exact type of situation we had here, where you have big age differences, perhaps where you have a 16-year-old in class with 12-year-olds. Has having a student who was held back affected your effectiveness as a teacher?

  • 13:15:06

    SARAH JACKSONMy name is Sarah Jackson. I teach 9th grade English and so we're all at the end of the year right now. And I teach a class that pretty much has a homogenous age group. However, in terms of the social promotion, I do see a lot of that effect in their attitude about what it means to pass.

  • 13:15:22

    SARAH JACKSONAnd just in terms of trying to maintain strong standards, trying to really push the kids all the way to the end of the school year, force them to do their best, ask for excellent work, you know, in order to get excellent grades and seeing these things watered down. Because the students are now accustomed to being able to just rip and run at the last minute and, you know, pull out those extra worksheets from the bottom of their backpacks and turn that in and say, look, I'm ready to pass to the next grade. And it's been an accomplishment for them thus far.

  • 13:15:50

    SARAH JACKSONAnd now they're -- and now I'm trying to deal with that and say, this is not adequate work. And I need you to be prepared for 10th grade. You're barely even doing my work and yet they're saying, come on, Ms. Jackson, we've been doing this our whole time. I mean, it's so apparent in their whole attitude and demeanor about school.

  • 13:16:07

    MCCLESKEYSo 9th grade. Does that seem like where often the social promotion catches up with the students? Yes, ma'am.

  • 13:16:12

    JUANITA RADDENMy name is Juanita Radden and I teach reading at the 9th-grade level at Washington Math Science Technology Public Charter High School in D.C. And we found that our kids were having a problem once they came to us. They were very deficient in reading and we noticed that beyond the 5th grade, maybe reading just did not exist. And so when I tested these children, I found out, wow, I've got 5th grade reading level second half of the year and all of those things.

  • 13:16:39

    JUANITA RADDENAnd so I know at our school, because we have a very small public charter -- well, charter high school -- for us using the Empower 3000, which is a wonderful resource tool for our kids to help them get on grade level. So it's a program that's really designed with a lot of nonfiction activities and reading articles and everything like that that actually promotes reading comprehension.

  • 13:17:07

    JUANITA RADDENAnd so when I found out when I tested them at the end of the year, oh my god, their grade level had gone one to two grade levels. And we've been using this program now for the last six years and we've seen a vast improvement in our children overall. And we use it on all of our levels at Washington Math. And so I think it's a very good tool. And if people don't know about it, you need to look that up definitely.

  • 13:17:30

    MCCLESKEYWell, thank you very much for that. Yes, ma'am, 'cause you're first and then we'll come over to you again.

  • 13:17:34

    UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE TEACHER #2Hi. I teach in D.C. public charter schools now. I used to teach 2nd grade, now I teach Spanish. I would like to speak to how the reading issue that you brought up earlier, that these issues start from very, very young. So you have students who come into school in kindergarten who are already behind. And so if it starts in kindergarten, imagine how it compounds throughout the years. Imagine how every summer when they lose two months of learning, they lose a half a year's reading level. When all these issues combine, all the issues that they may have had at home are compounded every single year.

  • 13:18:10

    UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE TEACHER #2So the problem I think is we want to talk about high school, but I think it starts at the very, very beginning when you enter school.

  • 13:18:18

    MCCLESKEYIf you're just joining us this is "American Graduate - Let's Make it Happen," a teacher town hall event at Howard University in Washington, D.C. We're talking with teachers throughout the D.C. metro area about charting a new course for students who are at an increasing risk of dropping out of school.

  • 13:18:34

    MCCLESKEYFirst off, though, I do want to return to one -- on the topic that was mentioned a moment ago about relevance of the curriculum and what's going on in schools. Of course, in the last couple of years, we've been going through an economic downturn. Let's hear one of the teachers we spoke with in the run-up to the event had to say about how the economy has been affecting that very issue of relevance.

  • 13:18:55

    #1I think with the economy that we have now is making it easier as a teacher to show students that, hey, you really need to stay in school. Because I think they're seeing it in their homes with, you know, parents and the -- how it's difficult now to find a job, whereas a few years ago, it was a little easier. So that conversation of, I need to stay in school, is easier to have with students. And now it's, yes, you do need to stay in school to be able to get where you want to go. But how can I, as a teacher, help you? And I find that for different students, it's different paths that we have to take.

  • 13:19:37

    MCCLESKEY(unintelligible) to ask if any of you have had a similar response in your classrooms. Have you seen ways to make it easier to talk about the consequences of dropping out, given the unemployment rate having been up particularly in parts of our area, very starkly up in some areas of the region. Is that something you've encountered or has it made it easier for you to talk about relevance and consequences? Yes, ma'am.

  • 13:19:58

    DOT ARUSHAMy name is Dot Arusha (sp?) and I teach world history. And I've had the pleasure of being able to tie in current events to world history. And in a lot of cases we may be talking about one subject and I can say, well this is the way this is going to happen if you don't stay in school. For example, the justification issue, you know, and how if you don't have these skills that are necessary and for example southeast where they're building homeland security, you have to have an education in order to get a job there.

  • 13:20:35

    DOT ARUSHAAnd we also talk about the way that the economy affects even the food they eat, you know. Current events is one of the ways that I use because it's real life experiences for them. We talk about what is available for them to eat because health plays a big part in whether or not they come to school. If they don't have healthcare and every time they get sick they've got to go to the emergency room, then that may be two or three days or two or three weeks.

  • 13:21:04

    DOT ARUSHAI've got one student right now has three brothers and one of them has been waiting for two weeks for an asthma pump. So he's missing all this time in school because he can't come. Actually, he's just failing, failing, failing. And not having the availability to get those kind of resources is a big factor.

  • 13:21:21

    MCCLESKEYWe mentioned just a moment ago the standardized testing. I would just like to ask, in the poll response -- the survey response you took ahead of the event, 85 percent of you said that with standardized testing teaching to the test has become a higher priority. How does that affect dealing with your students one on one, in terms of trying to prevent at-risk kids from dropping out? Does it affect that? Does it make it harder to reach out for those relationships that so many of you have talked about?

  • 13:21:46

    MCCLESKEYLet's hear from somebody just who hasn't had a chance to contribute. Yes, ma'am.

  • 13:21:49

    MARJORIE LLOYDHi, I'm Marjorie Lloyd with the Center City Public Charter Schools and it's Pre K through 8 so there are a lot of little kids and lots of grades there. But I think, you know, anything can be done and overdone. One thing I would encourage us to understand is that for the rest of our lives we'll be tested. The question is the quality of the test and to what degree. I mean, even on your first date, you're tested, you know, you're interviewed to see whether or not they want to pick you up the second time around.

  • 13:22:17

    MARJORIE LLOYDSo, I mean, I think if we get to a place where we understand quality testing that we can use it much more efficiently. I think from Pre K through 2, there's little testing and there should be more because that's when you can really identify what the issues are with the kids. And it's because people think testing isn't developmentally appropriate for Pre K to 2 that there's far less testing.

  • 13:22:40

    MARJORIE LLOYDAnd if there was more identification and more ability grouping from Pre K to 2, I think by the time they reach 2nd grade, which they should be already reading advanced, and if they're not, most likely they won't go to college and/or drop out. So if we really develop quality assessments that tested what we really needed to know, then I think they could work.

  • 13:23:01

    MCCLESKEYYou're listening to "American Graduate - Let's Make it Happen," a teacher town hall event at WHUT on the campus of Howard University in Washington, D.C. We're here with teachers from elementary, middle and high schools throughout the Washington region sharing ideas about how to solve America's dropout crisis. I'm Matt McCleskey of WAMU 88.5. Yes, ma'am.

  • 13:23:22

    TANYA GREENFIELDHi. My name is Tanya Greenfield. I teach 11th grade English at Patapsco High School in Southeast Baltimore County. Everything that we're addressing is a part of how schools are evaluated. And I don't think that we're going to come up with productive or creative solutions to problems such as dropout rates or disciplinary measures.

  • 13:23:49

    TANYA GREENFIELDIf a school is being scored and graded by the number of students who drop out or the number of students who are suspended, or if a school is being judged as a highly competent school because it managed to see 100 kids in an AP test that year. You know, if you are striving -- if your school and your school principal and your school principal's head is under the ax. If your -- you know, if your dropout rate increases or if you suspend a certain number of kids that year.

  • 13:24:22

    TANYA GREENFIELDYou know, if your school is in danger because of these measurements that don't take demographics into account, that don't take -- so many factors, so many personal factors that we've touched on tonight, those aren't taken into account when we score our schools, numbers on paper. So what happens is, you know, a principal finds creative ways to make it look like people aren't dropping out. We give it a new title, you know. The student is temporarily -- I don't know -- taking a leave of absence or something.

  • 13:24:51

    TANYA GREENFIELDOr, you know, what happens when a school is told, oh you have -- you're suspending too many students. Well, what happens is we get creative with our discipline policy and suddenly we're not suspending the students but they're still there and the behavior's not being addressed. So the way that we measure school success outside of our school systems, and within them too at the state level, the federal level, the Washington Post's Best Schools list, the way that we are measuring what a successful school is is something that we need to address.

  • 13:25:28


  • 13:25:29

    GREENFIELDAnd so those are just going to sweep (unintelligible) ...

  • 13:25:30

    MCCLESKEYLots of hands (unintelligible) .

  • 13:25:31

    UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE TEACHER #3First of all, without testing -- because I teach children with exceptionalities, I agree that our testing itself does not actually address what the needs of the kids are. For instance, a reading test, what exactly are you testing? Are you testing for decoding? If the child is in the 6th grade reading on a 4th grade level but can comprehend on a 7th grade level, you give them a 6th grade test and they fail it, are they failing reading? And what part of reading?

  • 13:26:00

    UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE TEACHER #3They may comprehend the material, but the test didn't ask for comprehension. They actually tested their decoding ability. And the child may have, as an educator said, an issue with decoding. So that needs to be looked at. A lot of our children have comprehension skills. They can get the material, they can give you the answer, but it's how the material is presented to them that they get -- and they get lost. They get frustrated. That being one point.

  • 13:26:28

    UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE TEACHER #3And the other thing I want to touch on was what you had asked earlier about what do you do to get children to come back in? And it is not a catchall by any means but to address the child that's disruptive -- first as the educator earlier pointed out, if the child's behavior is such that he has to be removed in order for you to teach, he has to be removed or she has to be removed.

  • 13:26:52

    UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE TEACHER #3But one thing that I do in the morning when I see my kids, I greet them, I smile at them. I try to spend two or three minutes to find out how their day went because before that day is over, we may very well be at odds with each other. One of us may want to remove the other one. So if we can get some relationship that says, okay, I haven't seen you in a week. Where have you been? How're you doing? Some type of relationship, something because we may be the only people in that child's life that care. And if we can throw out that line maybe...

  • 13:27:29

    CHERICE EDWARDSHi, I'm Cherice Edwards. I teach 9th grade here in D.C. And I kinda want to speak up for those students that I think about after the year is over. So at this point in the year I start thinking about the students that I know I could've pushed farther and I didn't. And those are the students that really stick with me and I constantly think about. I didn't serve that student well, right.

  • 13:27:49

    CHERICE EDWARDSLike, I served Daveon (sp?) well and I'm at his house and I'm talking to his parents and I'm all of these things. But what about Secena (sp?) who's sitting in my class who has had her homework every day and I don't call her name nearly as many times as I call Daveon's name.

  • 13:28:03

    CHERICE EDWARDSAnd I think -- often when I think about when you asked in the beginning who are the students -- do I have students that are at risk of dropping out? The students that I often think are at risk of dropping out are these students that I'm speaking of who are incredibly brilliant and are thinking about ideas that I didn't start thinking about 'til I was in college, right. Or like tackled tests and come back with questions that we can't get to today because I'm dealing with all of these other things.

  • 13:28:27

    CHERICE EDWARDSAnd then they get disinvested and this is a waste of time and they discover the world outside of the school, which is much more interesting and they get a lot more attention than they do in my classroom. So I just wanted to speak up for those students that we haven't really mentioned. And I think the second piece that I was thinking about is what are our expectations for our children as far as is the expectation that they will -- we'll get them to 12th grade and then they'll get a diploma. And then we can pat ourselves on the back that that student is now successful.

  • 13:28:56

    CHERICE EDWARDSAnd I don't think that that's where the endgame is for me teaching high school. I think we have to think about what are we preparing our kids for. So proficient on the D.C. CAST, for me, means absolutely nothing. I spend a lot of time talking to my children about the world has lied to you for a very long time. And we need to make this a place where we know that A is not let's clap and do a cartwheel for you getting an A. It simply means you're on track so let's keep going.

  • 13:29:21

    CHERICE EDWARDSAnd B means that you're already slipping behind. C you're not even in the game so let's not even talk about it and move forward. So I think we have to talk about expectations for our children as well.

  • 13:29:31

    MCCLESKEYMany of you talked about expectations in the survey result and said that they're very important to fostering achievement and holding high expectations. Do you find that kids live up to the expectations that you set? Yes.

  • 13:29:43

    MICHELLE HALLGood evening. My name is Michelle Hall. I'm a high school teacher for DCPS. I work with children with intellectual disabilities. I'm a special needs teacher. The system I use in my classroom that I find to be effective is the point system. And in the point system you have positive, you have negative.

  • 13:30:03

    MICHELLE HALLSo I had problems with students coming to class on time, completing assignments. So in the point system -- first of all in the classroom I have a daily routine and then we have a positive affirmation. And I'm going to say it for the audience. So after we do our warm-up we come in and they sign in and they do their warm-up. Then we do the positive affirmation and this is what we say. The children say -- I say one, two, three and they'll say, I be on time, on task and on a mission. My mission is to learn. I will not waste my time. My time is too precious to waste. I can, I will and I must learn.

  • 13:30:38

    MICHELLE HALLAnd so then we start out, I start and I have the children and we clap afterwards and then we go into, you know, the objective and start our daily routine. After that we get to the point system. So who was on time? Point for on time. So you participated? Point for participation. Who completed assignments? Point for completing assignments. And positive affirmation is important. So to me -- and if your classmate does something well, we do like the athletes. They give each other high five when they score a point and make the dunk.

  • 13:31:09

    MICHELLE HALLSo I have the children clap for each other. Sometimes they'll high five and they'll say, you did a good job. And I say that's very important that we affirm one another in the classroom. So I believe in teaching accountability with student accountability as well. So for a negative we have if you're talking out loud, using profanity and they know the three -- I have -- you have one strike and then you have two and three. Three is you're going -- I'm gonna have to write you up and you might have to be removed. Two is you get a phone call to your parents.

  • 13:31:41

    MICHELLE HALLNow some parents work very well with the students so two, it's enough at two to redirect the behavior. But I find the point system to be very effective. And then students will say, well, so and so is wasting his time or so and so -- don't give him a point. He wasn't here on time. So they buy into it. It was trying to be creative and try to figure out how to get them to buy into it. So then we have student of the week. The student who has the most points get a reward.

  • 13:32:09

    MICHELLE HALLAnd so that's something I use in the classroom for what I call student accountability, to make them accountable for their actions and behaviors and to be responsible.

  • 13:32:18

    MCCLESKEYIt certainly sounds like the expectations are laid out there. What else has worked for you? Yes, ma'am here.

  • 13:32:24

    DEBRA JACKSONI'm Debra Jackson. I'm a Spanish high school teacher in D.C. public schools -- no, actually in the charter schools there. I was in the public schools. There was a class called life skills that was taught in D.C. public schools. I think in the '90s they stopped it. They just cut it out. And it really was a class that taught children the value of education. So when the kids said, well what do I need Algebra for then they can learn that in life skills.

  • 13:32:52

    DEBRA JACKSONI think it was a class that was -- I think it was a half year, one-semester course, but I think it needed to be expanded. I think if it was expanded along with everything that we're doing and then the concentration on the value of education I think that that would definitely be a very, very positive -- have a positive effect on the children and their attitudes toward education 'cause we fight that all the time.

  • 13:33:20

    MCCLESKEYAnd it gets back towards that idea of relevance that we were discussing earlier as well. Do any others of you have any idea about one class that could be expanded that might help to keep students engaged and coming to school? Yes, here in the front row.

  • 13:33:31

    UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE TEACHER #4At the beginning of today's session we talked a lot about those students that are overage and under credit. And we have those classes where there's an 18-year-old in a 10th grade class. And so what our school struggles with -- I teach an alternative school here in D.C. -- is that we have a lot of socially promoted students. We were actually just told by instructional superintendent that next year it's a possibility that we'd get 106 socially promoted 9th graders.

  • 13:33:54

    UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE TEACHER #4And so when you have a 16-year-old that's in the 8th grade there are reasons for that. There are roots, there are problems but there's not a structure in place to find the solution to what's holding that student back and why they're struggling and why they're still in the 8th grade at that age. And so we -- they come to high school and there's not a curriculum that's devoted just to help those students.

  • 13:34:17

    UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE TEACHER #4So they have to take standard 9th grade English. They're not like the special education students where they get accommodations and modifications. And so there needs to be remediation classes, enrichment classes, classes that can take -- meet the students where they are and then push them further to become on-grade level and to be on the same level as their peers.

  • 13:34:36

    UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE TEACHER #4Because right now when we socially promote our students or when we just kind of push our students through their classes because they did a work packet or because they turned in some makeup work at the end of the year, that they're still struggling. We haven't actually found the cause of the problem. And so I think we need to find a solution in our curriculum and how we can push those students further.

  • 13:34:54

    MCCLESKEYYou're listening to "American Graduate - Let's Make it Happen," a teacher town hall event at Howard University in Washington, D.C. We're gathered with a group of teachers from schools throughout the Washington area and we're learning about what America's dropout crisis looks like from ground zero, our classrooms. We have a lot of hands. Yes, here in the back row. Sir, go ahead and stand up and we'll get the mike to you.

  • 13:35:14

    BRUCE BRADFORDI am Bruce Bradford. I teach at a public charter school here in D.C. and I think I have a fairly unique situation in that I have a course that I created over 20 years ago, pre-Columbine. And the course is entitled Alternative to Violence. I stress very heavily that the word alternative means you have a choice. And I try to impart into children's minds that you have a choice in life.

  • 13:35:36

    BRUCE BRADFORDAnd what I do is -- sometime I don't know if I'm a teacher, motivational speaker or a preacher but I have a KIR session, which I call Keep it Real. The students refer to me as Brother Bradford. Not Mr. Bradford but I have an extensive background in coaching. And I realize that there's no I in team. You've heard that before.

  • 13:35:53

    BRUCE BRADFORDThe children in my class are required -- they are mandated by me and they accept it to applaud everything the children do to correct people. We use correct English, no Ebonics and I talk about the negatives that influence their lives. I talk about behavior, how it's a learning thing. And we talk about the vices -- the negative vices that we have such as TV. Reality shows are disgusting and, you know, they just tear us down. Especially as an African American I look at them and I am just humiliated by some of the things that I see.

  • 13:36:25

    BRUCE BRADFORDLike I hear some of my other peers talking about positive motivations. I teach them the poem "See It Through," by Edgar Guest and they have to learn what it means to them. And they take things out of context with the things that they see in the street and they bring it back into reality. So I think that these are the kinds of things -- it's a very kinesthetic class. We do a lot of role playing. And it just continues throughout the whole school day.

  • 13:36:49

    BRUCE BRADFORDAnd it is important that they take these instruments that we use in the class home. Their homework is to teach their parents because the parenting skills are so needed.

  • 13:37:00

    MCCLESKEYWe have a lot of hands up here. I want you to hold those thoughts for just a minute. We're going to take one more poll question because many of you in response to the survey said mentoring programs and after-school programs are really important as well. And certainly the sense I'm getting from many of you is that you do act as mentors for your students.

  • 13:37:15

    MCCLESKEYSo we actually would like to ask in this poll question -- it'll be on the screen momentarily and then you'll get it in your phone -- do you see yourself as a personal mentor to your students? And that'll come to text to you for you to respond to when the text comes in just a minute. And then let's go ahead now as that comes through and look at some of the other ideas you had. Yes, here in the back row.

  • 13:37:34

    COSBY HUNTMy name's Cosby Hunt and I teach teachers with Center for Inspired Teaching. And the mentoring question I think is incredibly important but we need to address it also from a mentoring teacher's perspective. Brother Bradford, Shariffa (sp?) , some of the techniques that I hear so many of you talking about tonight have taken you time to develop. A lot of them you didn't come up with yourself.

  • 13:38:00

    COSBY HUNTWe have incredibly atrocious teacher turnover in the district. And we've got to -- if we want to deal with the dropout crisis of students we've got to deal with the drop out crisis of teachers. We've got to do something to address teacher turnover. And I think mentoring of teachers plays a role in that.

  • 13:38:19

    MCCLESKEYVery interesting there. Let's -- yeah, come -- just go across the back here. We have not heard from this side very much.

  • 13:38:25

    UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE TEACHER #5Yeah, I want to talk about the joy in the classroom. And I think that that's an important key to unlocking the hearts and minds of our students. I think it's about connection. Connection to me and to each other, that we form a community. Connection to the text and the material that the students are learning, that it's really there for them to connect to their lives. And also connection of this point in time in the classroom to their future.

  • 13:38:53

    UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE TEACHER #5I want to be a doctor, I want to be a lawyer, I want to be a teacher. How do I get there? What is the step that I need to take for 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th so that I can achieve my dream? It's not a fantasy. It's a reality. So I think it's all about connection and I really, really think it's important to use humor and have a great time with your students. And the connection comes through when you do that.

  • 13:39:18

    MCCLESKEYThank you very much. To have it here in the front row, it's...

  • 13:39:21

    MARJORIE EDMONDSMarjorie Edmonds again with Central City Public Charter School now but I used to work with a stem school. And one of the things I want to do is broaden the definition of at-risk students. And the young lady back there reminded me of that about her advanced students that she hadn't thought about all year long. Because often is the case in urban communities where really bright students get left behind because it's not cool to be bright. It's not cool to get good grades. And that starts around middle school too.

  • 13:39:50

    MARJORIE EDMONDSAnd so, in fact, I think from a systemic approach right at the very beginning of birth if we could -- I mean, we say it takes a community to raise a child, but we also -- I use with -- you know, the people that I'm in leadership over right now, you know, please prepare the copier. Like don't leave it broke with paper stuck in so that when somebody else comes up to it they have to do all this work when they just came to copy like five pieces of paper. And we do that with our children.

  • 13:40:20

    MARJORIE EDMONDSI mean, we talk about social promotion, and yet if we're all honest, we've been responsible for socially promoting kids. We talk about the administration and assessments and those kinds of things, but if we had to own our authenticity, we've all participated in that process, and when I'm not being authentic, I remind myself that hell is reserved for those in times of great moral crisis stood by and did nothing and just sort of passed the buck.

  • 13:40:45

    MARJORIE EDMONDSAnd so I think for me, I'm trying to really listen to what everybody is saying, and what everybody is saying is absolutely right because there is no one size fits all. All of these solutions are for all the various different voices that we have in our classrooms in Washington D.C. and in the broader nation, and actually, if we're preparing our kids to be global participants, then we really even have to think beyond our nation in terms of what is an educated person in the 21st century. What jobs do we need to prepare them for.

  • 13:41:16

    MARJORIE EDMONDSHow can the collective union of educators at the administrative level, the state, federal, and in the classrooms on the front line really begin to partner and collaborate in such a way that we are having conversations vertical and horizontal about the kids that we claim are our own, because really no child left behind really means no adult left behind, and there are a whole bunch of young parents that she just spoke to who will be young parents, not get the education they need, and they will become older parents and their kids won't be really well prepared either.

  • 13:41:48

    MARJORIE EDMONDSAnd so the whole dynamics of education has really changed, and we really have to see ourselves as a community versus just schools and teaching, and we also have to realize that universities, corporations, non-profits, for profit, really have to enter the conversation around what education is for our American people.

  • 13:42:09

    MCCLESKEYThank you for that. Let's go to this gentleman here as well.

  • 13:42:12

    DAN BROWNHi. My name's Dan Brown, and I teach at a public charter school here in D.C. I teach 11th and 12th grade English. And for the past three years, students from Harvard University on their spring break have come to my school for a whole week and volunteered. It's call alternative spring break, and it's being done on more and more campuses around the country, and the effect of 11th and 12th grade students, or actually all the way down to sixth grade at my school, seeing students just a little bit older than them who look like them who are excelling and showing them that this is possible and really building dynamic relationships that they maintain online or even in person, it's invaluable.

  • 13:42:55


  • 13:42:56

    BROWNAnd I feel like we don't have the spirit of volunteerism in our college students where we could. It's like a sleeping army of talent that could reach into our K to 12 world and really have a huge impact. I mean, what if part of getting a bachelor's degree was fulfilling some sort of requirement to work in a local public school. We might not have young people so totally obsessed with themselves. It'd be more directed towards, you know, helping out.

  • 13:43:31

    MCCLESKEYAnd providing a very real example. And hang on just a second, hold those thoughts. We have the results of our poll on mentoring -- our poll question on mentoring. We asked you how many of you see yourself as a personal mentor to your students. The vast majority of you said that you do.

  • 13:43:48

    MCCLESKEYI'm just hearing 97 percent of you actually said that you do, so that's a big number there. Now, do those mentoring interactions happen in the classroom? Are there outside activities? I know that when I was high school the French teacher was also the Quiz Bowl instructor. Sometimes coaches also were teachers. Are these things that happened just in your classroom setting with your students, or are there other opportunities outside of that as well? Yes, ma'am. You first here.

  • 13:44:14

    UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE TEACHER #6Besides my teaching responsibilities, I also teach in the aftercare program. I coach a chess program, I coach a debate program, and on the one day a week when I'm not coaching something, I'm just kind of there for the students.

  • 13:44:27


  • 13:44:28

    #6And it really, you know, it puts a whole other dynamic on things having kids who are not successful in the classroom, having them come in and be successful at something else, especially something as hard as chess or debate.

  • 13:44:39


  • 13:44:39

    #6You know, and they see that, you know, they can be successful at this really challenging thing, it really carries over to the classroom, you know. I have a student who -- he's identified special ed and he really -- the situation at home is not great and I said, you know, why don't you come in and see us in aftercare, you know, and I know you like chess. Let's give it a shot and see what happens.

  • 13:45:00

    #6And his behavior and his perseverance really improved in the classroom because he was coming to after care and he was involving himself, you know, with those other programs.

  • 13:45:12

    MCCLESKEYIs that something else that others of you have seen as well, perhaps extracurricular activities? We'll just move across here, thanks.

  • 13:45:18

    UNIDENTIFIED MALE TEACHER #3I'd say very much, yes, and I think it sort of helps define what a full high school experience is. My school, unfortunately, has had a lot of teacher turnover. I've been three years and I'm considered a veteran. Yes. And last year, my club, the Gentlemen of Dunbar, was the only club at Dunbar because we had had yet another principal turnover, morale was down, we were sort of belittled by the administration, and so no one wanted to stay after school. But what bothered me the most, I had a kid my first year say, why should I care what you say, you won't be here next here.

  • 13:45:53


  • 13:45:54

    #3You can't expect a 14-year-old to plan on when they're 40, but you can expect them to plan on when they're 16. But if everything will have changed by the time they're 16 because 50 percent of the teachers will have left, then I think you have not given them a full high school experience to mature in the debate team so that you went from being, you know, the cautious freshman to the champion senior and, you know, to be perfectly honest, I don't think that's one of our DCPS priorities.

  • 13:46:23

    #3That we're, you know, we keep hearing put the right teacher anywhere they can make miracles happen. It's like okay, but they can't run a four-year program if they're only there two years.

  • 13:46:33

    MCCLESKEYIf you're just joining us, this is "American Graduate: Let's Make it Happen." I'm Matt McCleskey. We're talking with teachers throughout the DC Metro area about charting a new course for students who are at an increasing risk of dropping out of school. Yes, sir, here in the middle.

  • 13:46:48

    DOUG LAYMy name is Doug Lay and I'm an elementary school band director in Howard County, Md, and I think it's critical that we offer a broad curriculum at all levels within the student day that really is key for student engagement. So some of my kids, they're favorite thing of day is to play in band, and I get them twice a week for a half an hour if I'm lucky. But I take every second that I get with them, and I use it, but, you know, the math scores and the reading scores, that's not what life's about, you know? We have to get some broad well-rounded people coming out of our schools in order for our society to prosper.

  • 13:47:32

    MCCLESKEYMm-hmm. Let's hear in the front row. Ma'am, go ahead and stand up. We'll get you a microphone.

  • 13:47:36

    KAMESHA LEEHello. My name is Kamesha Lee, and I teach art at a Center City public charter school, and I just wanted to mention -- nobody really said this except for the band director, how important the arts are just on all levels. I teach pre-k through eight, and a lot of students are not good in anything else but the arts, and so when they come into my classroom, or the go into the music classroom, the dance studio, even PE, they get this sense of I am somebody, I can be somebody, there's something that I am good at.

  • 13:48:08

    KAMESHA LEEAnd so I think that we should now ever forget that and don't take the arts out of the schools. So I'm very happy with our school district where the arts are very important. Thank you.

  • 13:48:18

    MCCLESKEYMm-hmm. There's another here that's in the back row.

  • 13:48:21

    GENEVIEVE DEBOESI'm Genevieve Deboes (sp?) . I'm a middle school language arts and social studies teacher, and I'm also a national board certified teacher, and I want to talk a little bit about passion -- bringing our passions into our classrooms, and the mentorship piece. And so I think a huge piece of teaching is bringing who we are to our kids, and so thinking about the arts, I was lucky enough to work at a school where once a year we had an arts week where every adult in the building had to teach an arts class, and it could be anything that you wanted.

  • 13:48:48

    GENEVIEVE DEBOESAnd so as a dancer, I would teach a particular dance class one hour a day for four days, and then we would have an end of the week, you know, performance, and that was a way for us to bring our passions as teachers and to give our kids something that they may not unfortunately get every single day. But thinking about the mentorship piece, I think we are mentors regardless of whether we think we are or not, or we identify ourselves as such, and it makes me think of two students, one a student Tyis (sp?) who I had last year.

  • 13:49:16

    GENEVIEVE DEBOESI had a radio program at a local community organization all about education called SOS, State of Schools Radio, and Tyis was a student who was having kind of a hard time in my class, but also in our after school program. So I invited her to come in and be my co-host, and she was my fifth grade co-host, and it gave -- it really solidified our relationship, and also gave her this sense of empowerment to see something that she could do that she didn't necessarily think she could do.

  • 13:49:45

    GENEVIEVE DEBOESAnd the second piece was, I had a student who found me recently on Facebook, a former student, who was my first year of teacher. I taught sixth grade in Los Angeles, and she was in my first year class, and she just told me that she just graduated from college with her teaching certification and that she will be teaching second grade next year, and that I was a huge -- I had a huge impact on her.

  • 13:50:06

    GENEVIEVE DEBOESI hadn't known this for the last ten years, but it was amazing that I got this Facebook message from Geraldine, who I hadn't heard from in years about the impact I had had on her and how it propelled her to want to be a teacher. So I think we're mentors regardless in the work that we do every day.

  • 13:50:21

    MCCLESKEYMm-hmm. Thank you for that. You also mentioned community involvement. We're getting toward the end of our time here for this event, but I do want to ask what would help from the community, what you -- what would help from the community, whether the community immediately around your school, the public broadcasting community perhaps. What sort of things would help within your schools from a community involvement to keep children in class? And here we have a response right here.

  • 13:50:44

    DONNA LAUERHOUSEMy name is Donna Lauerhouse (sp?) . I'm a national board certified teacher in Prince George's County. I work for H. Winship Wheatley Early Childhood Center, and one thing that we've done in the infants and toddlers program, it's been a big push in the last couple years, in our section of Prince George's County, there are not a lot of natural environments and community offerings for two year olds, and the state of Maryland is saying that's where most kids who are two should be.

  • 13:51:12

    DONNA LAUERHOUSESo what we've started to do is we've started to do some community environments offering library groups, a Monday community music group that I lead, sports and learning group for kids in the community so that our children with special needs benefits from the language and the social peer models. The families become involved, it increases our referrals so that we are reaching those kids who might not know about our program, so we open it up to the entire community. Everybody's allowed to come, and it gets the parents, the kids, the community word of mouth involved just to know about our program so that we can start to get those kids into the system while they are young, while they are birth to three where we can make the most difference.

  • 13:52:03

    MCCLESKEYOkay. So they're starting very young. Yes, here.

  • 13:52:07

    KIMBERLY GAINESHi, my name is Kimberly Gaines. I'm the director of youth development and leadership at an after school program at (word?) in Columbia Heights. But what we try to do in our after school program is kind of try to bridge what you've done during the day. In our program we focus on media, so we do graphic design, we do photography, music production, and so those things that they learn in the day time in your classrooms, we try to help them create media and visual arts projects that center around those topics that they discussed.

  • 13:52:40

    KIMBERLY GAINESAnd you would be amazed to see your young people after school like figuring out well, my teacher said X, Y and Z, so I want to put that in this project. You know, I've had students go on to participate in the national history day and get to finalist level from a project that this young person has done gentrification, and in our program has learned how to produce a film to take it to that next level to do a presentation for the national history day.

  • 13:53:12

    KIMBERLY GAINESI mean, and the stories go on. So I think we do need to think about the developmental outcomes of our young people. I mean, we've already talked about the hunger issues, the homeless issues, and just everything that they've already, you know, that they go through before they get through anyone's door. You know, what they go through to get from their door to our doors is sometimes a challenge that I don't think any of us would necessarily want to do ourselves.

  • 13:53:40


  • 13:53:40

    GAINESSo we have to keep that into -- or take that into consideration and make sure that we're serving our young people holistically so send them to the program after school and, you know, to help them become well rounded people.

  • 13:53:54

    MCCLESKEYMm-hmm. And we're gonna take a couple more comments in just a minute, but first we do want to look back at some of the takeaways from this evening's conversation. One, engage families to support our students. We've certainly heard that a number of times. Have tutors or guest speakers for the students to relate to, and we also heard about good examples, whether it's college students or others coming in from the community. Reading is critical to success in school as a fundament building block that can affect, of course, any other lessons as well.

  • 13:54:24

    MCCLESKEYStart intervention early. We heard that for whether it's early childhood care or even starting as young as birth to two years just a moment ago. Break classes into small groups to help at-risk students and to target the teaching towards students at different levels. Also, daily positive affirmations and rewards system for student accountability, and remediations and life skill classes should be added, both for those who have been held back, and perhaps are older, and also looking at the idea of relevancy and trying to tie the classroom subjects to the skills that they'll need as they get on into life.

  • 13:55:02

    MCCLESKEYSo those are some of the things you've suggested. As we wrap up, I'd be interested to ask, is there anything we've missed?

  • 13:55:08

    DEBORAH SERVETNICKHi. I'm Deborah Servetnick from Patapsco High School in Baltimore County. I teach English 9. Everything that was on that list, that's everything that alternative school used to be in 1970, 1975. What happened? When did alternative school become jail school? That's the question that I have. We used to engage families, we used to have independent learners, we used to have arts programs, small classes. All the teachers I know are overburdened.

  • 13:55:33

    DEBORAH SERVETNICKWe're trying to solve bullying when really and truly what we're missing is the relationship. We've all talked about the relationship and respect and the love for learning and how they get higher level thinking, you know, all the time, not just sometimes. Engagement, how to get people believing that education really is where there want to be. That's what alternative school used to do. It solved the problems for kids that didn't just fit in a general place. Everyone that I know that went to alternative school when I went, because I'm alternative school graduate, we went to college, people that went to alternative school.

  • 13:56:04

    DEBORAH SERVETNICKWe loved education. We loved our teachers, and I think that's something we really need to get back to that this problem with alternative school as jail school is really missing the mark. We take the kids that disrupt the classes, we don't really find a place for them, we put the burden on the teacher, we don't ask their parents to engage. These kids can be readmitted to school without even a parent. That's the law. Instead of really find something that really makes them happy and makes them useful and makes them functional in society and teaches them social skills. So I think until we address that, we're just gonna keep coming to this dead end. Those kids aren't going away. We have more and more of those kids every single day.

  • 13:56:42

    MCCLESKEYI want to ask one final question. We've heard about joy in the classroom. We've heard about certainly a lot of things that are used to try to bring students back in. As you face your classes, what makes you optimistic, because it's easy to get bogged down in this discussion in a lot of things that seem very negative. But what does make you optimistic as you get into your classroom? And yes.

  • 13:57:02

    UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE TEACHER #7I think that one of the things that makes me optimistic is that there's someone in my classroom that reminds me of me. I may not actually know who that student is, but I know that there is. My mother had four children. Two of us graduated from high school and two did not. Two of my siblings dropped out in tenth grade. And so I'm optimistic that what I'm doing is having a lasting impact on someone, and sometimes I may not know their personal situation, but something that I may do on any given day may change someone's life for the better.

  • 13:57:36

    UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE TEACHER #7And so when you speak about the arts program and extracurricular activities and how someone, even one of my fellow educators mentioned earlier how that may be the very thing that keeps students, you know, sometimes they are not good at math. Sometimes they are not good in English, but keeping them involved in extracurricular activities, and I think that's what saved me, and as the theater director for my school, and having worked with some of the most challenging students and seeing how they've shined on the stage when they didn't shine in the math classroom, or the English classroom really motivates me and inspires me to continue to do what I'm doing.

  • 13:58:10

    MCCLESKEYWell, thank you for that, and you've certainly all shown on the stage here tonight, so thank you for taking part. We are out of time. A lot of brain power in this room for all our teachers. I want to thank you for coming, for sharing all your experiences, and most of all, for sharing your ideas about how we can work together to try to chart a new course for our students. But this conversation doesn't have to stop here. It's our hope that you'll keep talking to each other whether in smaller work groups after you leave here.

  • 13:58:36

    MCCLESKEYYou will be getting an invitation soon to take part in some of those. You can also visit the website if you're looking to connect with more either resources or information, or to keep this conversation going with other teachers. Thank you again to our partners taking part in the broadcast, WHUT TV, also WAMU radio, and WETA as well our supporters, the Corporation for...

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