In the Classroom

College Summit leaving Indiana after fundraising, expansion woes

PHOTO: TN.gov
Gov. Bill Haslam addresses lawmakers Feb. 2 during a special session of the Tennessee General Assembly. The governor delivered his State of the State address on Feb. 9.

Trenee Lambert didn’t think she was destined for college. Instead, the Manual High School student was preparing for a life of working in retail or the fast food industry.

“That was as far as I thought I was going to go,” Lambert said. “My parents didn’t have an education. They were bare minimum getting by. I thought that was an OK lifestyle.”

But the summer program that helped her, and other students like her, navigate the way to college is pulling out of Indianapolis. College Summit, a national program that helped more than 10,000 high school students make it to college who otherwise might not have gone, is suspending its operations in the state.

“I kid you not, I cried,” Lambert said of her reaction when she heard the news. “I started to think about all the kids we could have impacted this summer. They’re losing out on relationships, skills, mentors. It’s a lot.”

A combination of fundraising woes, expansion setbacks and leadership changes at the program’s various schools caused the organization to make the decision to pull back, said Allen Goldberg, College Summit’s chief marketing officer.

“What happened was a confluence of events more than anything else,” Goldberg said. “There are a lot of changes at the schools that we currently serve and we weren’t adding the number of schools that we needed for our operational model. It just didn’t make sense for us to be there next year.”

Affected schools — including George Washington, Broad Ripple and Arsenal Tech high schools in Indianapolis Public Schools; 21st Century Charter School in Gary; and Cascade High School in Clayton — learned about the group’s decision last month.

Susan Sparks, a newly retired teacher who led College Summit classes at George Washington, said it opened up new doors for kids. College Summit was aimed at promising students who would be the first in their families to go to college. The program taught them how to seek financial aid, how to apply and even how to reflect on their lives to find material for compelling college essays.

The program also featured a week-long summer camp on college campuses to help students better understand the college experience.

“I think it’s a terrible loss for all those kids,” Sparks said. “I think College Summit is a tool that our kids need. They don’t have parents at home who have attended college.”

Just under 61 percent of students graduate in four years at the West side high school, nearly 30 percentage points below the state average.

The Mind Trust CEO David Harris, whose organization brought the program to Indianapolis in 2007 by creating a pilot at Manual High School, said its fundraising troubles represent a new challenge in Indianapolis.

“The education reform space here has gotten very crowded,” Harris said. “We’re a little bit a victim of our own success.”

Goldberg said the organization hopes to resume operations again in Indiana one day. The state still needs better support to get vulnerable kids to college.

“We’re looking at it as more of a temporary suspension of operations,” Goldberg said. “We are definitely winding down with this school year but our desire is to come back as soon as possible.”

To make up the deficit in the meantime, Harris said schools need to “build their own capacity” and get serious about providing low-income kids a path to college.

College Summit changed everything for Lambert, she said.

She never thought she was the kind of person who could go to college. She had been working much of her life, helping care for younger siblings after her father died when she was in elementary school and then in fast food during high school.

Even though teachers thought she was bright, Lambert’s goals were limited. She hoped simply to be a fast food manager some day.

“I realized it wasn’t OK to think that’s all that was out there,” she said.

But College Summit helped Lambert realized she not only could go to college, but that her life story was far from ordinary. In fact, colleges wanted students like her.

“It should be mandatory for every high school student,” said Lambert, who worked in College Summit summer camps.

She eventually graduated from Indiana University with an education degree and became a teacher, now at Indianapolis Public School 19.

In 2011, the Indianapolis Star wrote about her transformation after College Summit in a profile of the program.

Lambert pulls out the article to re-read it from time to time.

“I read it sometimes when I think about it how far I’ve come,” she said.

How I Teach

From bikes to blue hair: how one Denver kindergarten teacher shares his passion with students

Andres Pazo, a kindergarten teacher at Denver's Maxwell Elementary, with his class.

How do teachers captivate their students? Here, in a feature we call How I Teach, we ask educators who’ve been recognized for their work how they approach their jobs. You can see other pieces in this series here.

Andres Pazo, a kindergarten teacher in an ESL Spanish class at Denver’s Maxwell Elementary School, doesn’t do things halfway. Before Denver Broncos home games, he’ll come to school with his face and hair painted orange and navy. For holidays or school book fairs, he wears full themed costumes. A passionate cyclist, he dresses in professional cycling gear to teach bike safety to children.

Pazo, who colleagues say has a smile for everyone he meets, received one of Denver Public Schools’ four Leadership Lamp awards last summer.

He talked with Chalkbeat about the teachers who inspired him to enter the field, why he uses secret codes to get his students’ attention, and how he gets to know students before school starts.

This interview has been condensed and lightly edited.

Why did you become a teacher?
I’m from Caracas, Venezuela, and decided to become a teacher during my last year in my country. For all the universities that I applied to, I put elementary education as my first choice, and I got accepted.

During high school, I had some teachers that impacted my life — I think because they taught with their hearts and reached mine. Hector Zamora was my geography teacher in college. He didn’t care about scores. He just wanted us to know, love, and feel geography. Also, I can add Evelia Mujica, my eighth grade biology teacher. She was super-strict and funny, but in the end, I think she just wanted us to love and really know about biology. These two still inspire me every single day to be a good teacher.

What does your classroom look like?
My classroom is a room where my students feel safe and loved, and where they try hard all year long. It’s also messy, and you can see many masks and hats that I use to engage my students in lessons, and, of course, their projects throughout the year.

Fill in the blank. I couldn’t teach without my _____. Why?
Motivation. It is what keeps me thinking of activities, projects, lessons, and ideas so my students enjoy anything that they need to learn.

What is one of your favorite lessons to teach? How did you come up with the idea?
My favorite lesson to teach is a writing unit at the end of the year, called “All About.” I always bring in things that I love — like my bikes — and write about them. I let students write about any small moment: about something that they love, the food their parents make, a family trip, a family visiting them, a good or sad day … anything they would like to share. They usually bring in their favorite toys.

The students’ writing is amazing because they apply everything they’ve been learning. They try so hard to write everything about their toys. You can hear them sharing their stories with others, and their pictures are incredible. Writing is a good indicator of how much they have grown during the school year.

How do you respond when a student doesn’t understand your lesson?
I sit with him or her after the lesson is taught and work on the skill that needs to be mastered.

How do you get your class’s attention if students are talking or off task?
I use a lot of “secret codes” with my students. For example, when I say “mustache code,” they put a finger across their upper lips. They can be working, reading, or playing, and when I say it, I have 100 percent of students’ attention right away.

How do you get to know your students and build relationships with them? What questions do you ask or what actions do you take?
It starts before the first day of class. I usually write letters to them or do home visits. I take the first two weeks of school to get to know them and what they like to do. I take time to welcome them so they can feel safe and confident in the classroom.

Tell us about a memorable time — good or bad — when contact with a student’s family changed your perspective or approach.
When I was working at Denver Center for International Studies at Ford, we started a home visiting program. We first thought parents didn’t have time for us or that they didn’t want to take the time. But, once we started making the calls and found that parents wanted us to come, we understood that parents didn’t know about the program. After that, some parents became more involved in their kids’ education and with the school.

What are you reading for enjoyment?
A lot of mountain bike reviews about bicycles, parts, or trails to ride.

What’s the best advice you ever received?
Never change my personality.

First Person

This Betsy DeVos-inspired Twitter thread recounts the ups and downs (but mostly ups) of one school’s Common Core shift

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder
Noah Mackert with one of his former students in 2015.

When U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos proclaimed in a major speech Tuesday that “Common Core is a disaster” and “dead” at the federal education department, something stirred in Noah Mackert.

Mackert, a former New York City educator now living in Massachusetts, recalled that the standards had prompted anything but a disaster at his school after New York rolled them out in 2011. So he took to Twitter to share the story of what it was like when Democracy Prep, the charter network where he worked and now consults, made the transition.

“I know that many Americans on the right and the left have negative associations with the phrase ‘Common Core,’ even if they’ve never seen the standards,” Mackert told Chalkbeat. (He sits on our Reader Advisory Board.) “I have been carrying around quite an alternative narrative about the Common Core, and I felt moved to share it.”

In 17 tweets, Mackert describes how teachers at his school overhauled their assignments to fulfill the standards’ demand that students be able to identify, analyze, and cite evidence from their reading. After students bombed the first round of exams tied to the standards despite those efforts, he writes, teachers made their own tests even more challenging as well. More importantly, he says, they started putting ideas, not isolated reading or math skills, front and center in their lessons.

“In a real way, the Common Core tests were so difficult that they forced us to stop trying to prepare for them so directly,” Mackert writes. “It was terrifying, at first. Then liberating.”

Despite DeVos’s proclamation, the Common Core is still alive and well in many states, even if its name has changed. Mackert said that reality had inspired him, as well.

“I wanted to show that even if the term ‘common core’ is never used again, much of the standards themselves remain, especially in NY where the standards were only lightly revised and rebranded,” he told Chalkbeat.

You can read his whole thread below.