Thursday, December 15, 2011

Teaching Ambassador Update!

In August Arne Duncan, the US Secretary of Education announced the 2011-12 fellows for the Teaching Ambassador Fellowship. The mission of the fellowship is “to improve education for students by involving teachers in the development and implementation of national education policy.” There were 800 applications and only 16 were chosen. Robert Baroz, a literacy and data coach at the Curley K-8 School, and Shakera Walker, an elementary teacher at Young Achiever Science and Math School, are two of the chosen fellows. Robert Baroz is a part time fellow as a classroom ambassador and Shakera Walker is a full time fellow working in DC.

Recently, I checked up on Baroz and Walker to see how the fellowship is going.

As a classroom ambassador, Baroz participates in several types of outreach activities on the behalf of the U.S Department of Education. He has attended local events like the Blue Ribbon event at Boston Latin School and has visited Providence, Rhode Island for a town hall meeting on education. Baroz has also been part of the American Jobs Act round table discussions. He offered suggestions on how money can be used for teachers. In his role, he serves as an advisor for other educators and also provides feedback to the Department of Education. “Policy influences the classroom and this is a great opportunity for communication to travel from the school to the top,” Baroz noted and continues, “Two-way process of communication is key and listening is just as important.”

Baroz is grateful for the opportunity and encourages other people to apply within the district. “Boston teachers have a track record of getting selected. We can aim to be the model. I love to be teaching in urban schools and especially at BPS. I wouldn’t want to be in any other district,” Baroz said.

While Baroz is busy traveling in and around Massachusetts, Walker is also hard at work in DC. “Things are going great,” Walker said. She works in the early education office. As an early education teacher, she is able to share her experiences and bring her perspective to the table. “Many times, policies are being made without taking into account the perspective of the teachers, and my presence in the decision process is very important,” Walker said. It has been a great learning experience for Walker. In her role she has facilitated learning across the country and has met with many policy makers. The process has also taught her about the competitive nature of Race to the Top funds.

Walker is thankful for the opportunity to share stories with other like-minded colleagues, who have a passion for education. Although she misses her students, she feels the experience will help her serve the students better. When she returns to Boston, she looks forward to taking on more leadership roles. “I strongly recommend this programs to others and I am happy that a program like this is in place,” Walker said.

To learn more about the Teacher Ambassador Fellowship:

Monday, December 05, 2011

Getting in and getting

I attended the Education Policy Conference, Getting In, Getting Through, and Graduating, hosted by the Freedom House on Saturday November 19, 2011 and learned about the challenges facing students, families, and educators. A student spoke of his struggles transitioning into college. He felt he was not prepared. A mother spoke of the cultural barriers that exist for her and her family. She did not speak English and found it hard to navigate through the school system. Gail Snowden, Executive Director for the Freedom House told a story of a student who would leave her college campus and come to the Freedom House for the support she felt was lacking on campus. Dr. Ferguson, Senior Lecturer for The School of Education at Harvard, talked about a study done by his department which found that some students were hiding effort because they feared being ridiculed by their peers for appearing smart. Neil Sullivan, Executive Director for Boston Private Industry Council (PIC), noted that business partners want to provide students with jobs, but also want assurance that students are prepared for the workforce. “We understand that the youth employment rate has declined by 50% and the labor market for youth has in fact collapsed”, he continued, “but in order for businesses to come on board, they want to see results and how they will benefit.”

During an open table discussion, the following comments were made :

• Generate environments in which other students are encouraging their peers to learn and ask questions.
• Create safe havens like the Freedom House.
• Learn to navigate through the non-traditional forms of communication.
• Adapt to the cultural norms of the student and families.
• Teach students how to code-switch. Some students are not able to differentiate between the expectations and practices of the workforce and those of the home.
• Teach students that they have a personal stake in their success.

The ideas are in line with those of the Boston Public Schools. BPS is currently working with the English Language Learners Initiative to improve the ways in which leaders communicate with families. This means providing information in various languages, going to local community gatherings, and reaching out to local radio stations and newspapers. Parent University is a BPS program that helps parents improve their skills through classroom sessions focusing on child development, what children are learning in school, and effective parenting skills. The BPS College Readiness program makes sure that high school students are ready for graduation and prepared for college by providing workshops on college essay and SAT Prep. The 10 Boys Initiative provides males -who are at a greater risk of failing or dropping out of school-with the encouragement and support needed to achieve personal and academic success. In every BPS high school a PIC (Private Industry Council) officer is assigned to prepare students for the workforce.

All these programs brings us a step closer to closing the achievement gap. BPS understands that more work is needed and will continue to work toward more effective strategies. If you can offer more creative ways to build stronger partnerships and assist families, please forward your ideas to

To learn more about the above programs, check them here: October College Month, Parent University, Private Industry Council (PIC) and 10 Boys Initiative.