Thursday, May 14, 2009


My experiences in this class have definitely expanded my thinking. I entered the class with the impression that there was not much more to know about inner city education; I couldn't comprehend anything other than what I saw and heard. I pictured the inner city environment to be a dangerous and scary place and inner city schools to be run-down and full of disobedient students. While these things do exist, they do not represent all situations. I've been able to replace these stereotypes with the idea that urban communities are simply composed of normal people who differ economically. Before this class, I never quite realized the severity and the "ripple-effect" caused by this difference in class. I always wondered why low-income families couldn't simply put in more hours, save up, and refrain from non-essential spending. Through the readings, class discussion, and my inquiry project, I now understand how little inner-city families have, that they have "no bootstraps to pull themselves up by."

I think the most important knowledge I attained from this course was that of the parent-teacher relationship in terms of its importance and with regard to social class. I learned 1. how important it is for there to be open communication between teachers and parents and 2. of the issues that prevent parents from reaching out to teachers. If I end up teaching in an urban school, I feel as though I will have the insight to welcome parents and create a comfortable relationship that with provide me with a better understanding of my students.

Project Findings

If the failing inner city environment of America is to improve and prosper, a joint effort between schools and their communities must be present. Through this research, we found that thousands of partnerships between schools and communities are taking full advantage of this symbiotic relationship and finding unparallel success. Whether it is through a community school model, as seen in the Quitman Community School, or a community-based organization, like the Harlem Children’s Zone or Logan Square Neighborhood Association, inner city community builders are developing solutions to better the lives of their residents. The shared theme of all these initiatives is empowerment. It is not enough to provide residents with quality services and programs; Members of the community and education system must all have a hand in reform to ensure long-lasting success. Cooperation is the key to the game. Financial providers, community builders, and school administration must include and empower all local residents, especially parents, so that they gain the confidence and self-respect to enact change in all that is keeping them down. So many low-income people feel the weight of the world bearing down upon them with no end in sight. The programs and strategies mentioned above instill hope in those where there was once none.
When initiating this collaboration, we found that the parents are the keystone because of their personal ties to both education and the community. Parents have the ability to rally the support of friends, relatives, and neighbors and create a trusting environment. One of the reasons residents stay away from the public school system is because they see schools as outsiders. Parents, their residential counterparts, are seen as safe and personable. When support is established and community members are involved in the planning and implementation of programs, the community develops a sense of personal importance with regards to the success of the local children. Without this connection, there is no guarantee that a program will find the support to be successful.
In addition to community builders and school members coming together, financial support is an essential factor in the outcome of inner city revitalization. Both nonprofit and for-profit, local and national, organizations are reaching out to aid these projects, but much more support is required if changes are to be seen on a large scale. There is a shared responsibility of communities and school systems to come together and make an effort to reach out to these supporters. Only when they let their voices be heard will school-community prosperity be seen on a larger scale.


The purpose of our paper is to investigate the possible benefits of the interaction between inner city schools and their surrounding communities. We examined the literature on these relationships with the goal of identifying community attributes which have the greatest impact on schools. Additionally, we looked at community partnerships with schools that have been beneficial to both school and community. We found that reform efforts in either sphere benefit the other, but for broad, lasting change to take root, both areas should be developed simultaneously. Schools and communities across the nation have taken advantage of this opportunity, and their success is apparent. Organizational efforts have provided residents and schools with services, knowledge, and opportunities that were previously unavailable to them, resulting in well-informed, politically-active, empowered communities and well-funded schools with more effective classrooms.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Inquiry Topic

Topic of Inquiry
The inner city environment constantly struggles to survive. Non-profit community organizations work hard to assist poor and working class families by focusing on hunger, housing, and health care. While all are essential and deserving of attention, they typically overshadow education. Dangerous neighborhoods and stressful lives take students’ focus away from school. When children have to worry about survival, school is just another burden. Quality education is dependent upon students who are focused and motivated to learn. A strong educational system is essential to community development, whether it be providing afterschool enrichment, parental support, or adult education. “What sense does it make to try to reform urban schools while the communities around them stagnate or collapse? Conversely, can community-building and development efforts succeed in revitalizing inner city neighborhoods if the public schools within them continue to fail their students?” (Warren 133) A strong, partnership between a school and its community must exist if urban areas hope to improve and succeed.

I seek to better understand the relationship between schools and communities in Newark, NJ and the efforts being made to improve quality of life and education. I will achieve this by gathering information from journal articles, surveying an area of Newark within the Central Ward, observing a successful school-community environment, interviewing a former student of the Newark public school system and, hopefully, a Newark administrator and/or a professor experienced in urban policy reform, as well as administering a brief questionnaire to Newarkers with hopes of learning more about individual views of the community with regards to education.
Below are questions that will guide my research, initially
Once the location is established: What is the current state of the community? What is the current relationship between school and the community? What are different efforts being made to combine efforts of communities and schools? Which has more motivation to assist the other? When combining forces, who initiates, who “runs programs,” who takes responsibility to oversee success/progress? What role do administrators play in urban education/community improvement? What role do teachers play in urban education/community improvement? How can community initiative improve educational success, and vice versa? What are different approaches that have been taken to improve life? What are the collective goals of a community-school relationship? How are schools reaching out to the community? What incentives are necessary to or have been successful in increasing community involvement? Why have the successful programs been successful? What are some of the innovative strategies/ideas/plans in place now? What do they require? How realistic are they in a typical community? How easy is it to receive donations from foundation/non-profit organizations? How are organizations incorporating education into social reform/community improvement? How often is education included in major social reform projects? Why have struggling schools failed? What trends continue to fail?

Possible interviews – with possible questions
Ms. Jacquelyn Hartsfield, Principal of Quitman Street Community School
What initiatives were taken to develop a strong, successful relationship between community and school?
How can other schools duplicate your success?
What were some “bumps in the road?”
What was necessary to overcome?
How did you attract members of the community to contribute?
Giselle Role, former Newark public school student
How/where did you grow up (family life, economically, socially)?
What were your experiences as a student in Newark? (names of schools, locations, types of schools, quality)
Were there any signs of a community-school partnership?
Differences among school type (Magnet schools, charter schools, community schools)? (funding, involvement, opportunity)
Norman Glickman, Rutgers University Urban Policy Researcher
How do Urban Policy reformers view education when setting priorities in a community?
What strides have been made in urban policy reform with regard to education?
Which policies have been successful?
What are the biggest obstacles experienced while trying to improve the community?

Public Questionnaire (subject to change)
What is the relationship between your community and its schools?
Does the community offer any programs or services through the public schools?
What changes would you like to see in terms of community and/or education development?
How can the community and its school work together to produce mutual benefits?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Annotated Bibliography

Schwartz, W. (1997). Urban School-Community Parent Programs To Prevent Drug
Use. New York, NY: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education.

The article suggests that a strong parent-school relationship is essential to the development of students. More specifically, the author believes parent involvement is an extremely effective tool when teaching children about drug awareness. The author proposes the most efficient way to keep children clean and safe is through a close, supportive family. In order to achieve this, parents must take an active role in some aspect of their child’s school. This extra effort not only helps the children, it also helps parents become knowledgeable with regard to problems their children may face. The school-parent interaction cultivates communication skills between parent and their children as well as with the school. This communication strengthens bonds that provide stability and a sense of belonging within a family or community. When children are nurtured in this way, they are less likely to give in to the temptations of drugs or gangs because they are already part of something. Love, support, communication, and knowledge are the best drug-combatant.

The author effectively addressed the issue of youth drug use and the importance of effectively teaching drug awareness and provided effective solutions to deter drug use. What was not mentioned was the practicality of those plans. While the thought of a parent having a close relationship with their child’s school is ideal, it is not necessary realistic. There is a reason why many parents, especially in low-income, urban areas, have little contact with their child’s school. Many parents experience both time and money constraints that force them to focus their attention elsewhere. Others stay away because of language barriers. These problems deprive parents of the opportunity to learn how to protect and teach their children. If addressed, this could have been the final piece of the puzzle. Overall, article proposes many interesting and necessary actions that, if implemented, would greatly improve urban communities.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Culture of Self

Every community has their own beliefs and traditions. These traditions are comprised of behaviors and decisions, which have been successful in the past, and are thought to maintain balance for future generations. There is no one true way of life as can be seen by the diverse nature of people in this world. As time goes on, new generations adopt the old ways of their culture in order to survive. With the wide variety of ideas and information available to people in the 21st century, we are no longer restricted to the views of our family and neighbors. While it is important to respect one’s roots, people now have the opportunity to be enlightened by a multitude of knowledge, opinions, and choices.
One’s culture is the result of teachings, experiences, and personal reflection. As lessons are instilled in an individual, personal opinions develop. These opinions become strong at a young age and are innocently accepted as absolute truths. One’s opinions typically reflect those of the community, and precedence is set for that particular culture. These opinions usually remain strong through one’s early childhood. Children typically hold an “I’m right, you’re wrong” attitude. Although closed-minded, this mantra is not necessarily a negative viewpoint to possess in the early stages of one’s development. It lays a base necessary for comparison. It is not until a person matures and experiences other cultures and thought processes that they are able to incorporate other views into their perspective.
The shaping of one’s culture does not only consist of things to which an individual is exposed. A person has the ability to decide whether they will accept or reject ideas that are presented to them. A stubborn individual may retain their original opinions, while other may look at the world with an open mind and adopt new ideas that appeal to them and have worked for others. Cultural views are held and practiced simply because that is what works for the individual. We, as humans, have a desire to set personal and cultural standards. They allow us to feel comfortable in what is, in all actuality, an ambiguous, undefined world.
I am proud and appreciative of my upbringing and will use the knowledge gained through my culture to further my learning. I grew up in a calm, suburban community with a close family. My parents are very supportive, loving people who only want the best for their children. I was taught to be compassionate and understanding of others and make reasonable, well-thought out decisions. Moderation is the mantra of my family: work hard, stay safe, and keep a level head.
My family’s religion also has had a great impact on me, though not in terms of ideology. The Jewish religion is similar to most others in its preaching of kindness, respect, etc. What has influenced me is its notion of inquiry. While other religions stress “blind faith” to keep their followers, Judaism has taught me to ask questions, to learn through understanding. That is not to say Judaism does not have its own clever ploys to keep their people in check. The guilt of a Jewish mother is indeed a powerful weapon...
As I grow, I make an effort to understand and accept all walks of life. Within the last few years, I have come to discover Buddhism. Buddhism believes the key to enlightenment is through the self; a closed mind can let no light shine through. I see every day as a new opportunity to experience the variety of cultural views and better understand my own mind. I will forever be a learner. Each experience shapes my thoughts and improves my clarity. This is why I am excited to enter the classroom as a teacher. Everyone brings a unique culture to the table. As a teacher, I want to create an open environment that encourages thought and inquiry but also teaches pride and respect. Children should be proud of who they are and where they came from but understand that opposing views are not necessarily wrong. Through my teachings, I will stress the importance of not holding beliefs and opinions as concrete facts but as tools to help shape one’s understanding. Dictating information, whether fact or opinion, doesn’t result in learning or thinking; it only trains a person to be mindless, stubborn, and obedient. While order is necessary in both the classroom and life, critical thinking and the respectfully questioning of authority are necessary for progress, whether it be of the mind or culture.
Someone from another cultural background may disagree with my thoughts and ideals. My way is not necessarily the “right way.” It is only what works for me. What others do and believe is what works for them. The key is respect. Respect is what allows us all to come together as a society, community, or classroom. This concept was best expressed by Voltaire when he said, “I do not agree with a word you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it." Individual cultures must be shared and respected. An opposing view may seem strange, wrong, or even offensive, but we must remember that different doesn’t mean wrong or bad. Diversity gives us the opportunity to learn. It gives us the gift of variety.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Different Direction?

I think that everyone can agree that, while its intentions are noble, No Child Left Behind fails to effectively change schools for the better. Making teachers fully accountable and expecting extraordinary improvement every year is ideal, in a sense, but is far from realistic. Low test scores and high drop out rates are synonymous with the inner city, while college-bound students and scholar athletes are equated with the suburbs. Is there some great difference in the potential and ability of these children? Is there something in the water? Of course not. That would be ridiculous to suggest. No Child Left Behind states that teachers are to be accountable for their students’ success. They say this as though the majority of inner city teachers don’t care whether their students fail or succeed. Are all these previous low test scores due to the lack of effort on the part of the teacher? No. The defining difference between a successful school and one that “needs improvement” is neither the students nor the teachers; it is the environment.
I strongly believe that pressuring schools to improve scores overnight is unrealistic and, in fact, detrimental to the progress of their students. When trying to find a solution, one has to look at the root of the problem. Low inner city test scores are not a result of poor teaching or dim-witted children. It is a turbulent environment that affects inner city academics. Changes must be made in the community before improvement can be seen in the school.
If I had the chance to modify No Child Left Behind, I would not reward or punish a school for its level of academic success. Monitoring the quality of a school is important; however, tedious year by year reports only result in unwarranted criticism. Funding should not only be used to improve the quality of the classroom experience but also the quality of life outside of the school walls. If the main factor separating urban and suburban test scores is the environment, the most efficient way to improve academics is by providing students an improved quality of life. I wonder how many cities can effectively influence the surrounding community. A city is a complex ecosystem and there is no simple answer. I would be interested in learning about the programs and initiatives set in place to improve the conditions in which so many American children live. Are there state-wide programs or is it the responsibility of the city itself? Could the federal government step in and spearhead a nationwide urban renewal plan that could be beneficial the youth of the community?
Changes need to be made to improve our inner city schools, and I believe the most effective path is through the community. I want to know what ideas have been implemented. What has worked? What has failed? Why?