Monday, May 11, 2009

Newark Treasure Map

I've decided that to include a description of the different resources I found on a poster would require a new poster. So here is a brief synopsis of what I considered noteworthy, or at least in the top 12.

My destination was West Side HIgh. Before I begin the description of the places surrounding it, I'd like to mention the complete alteration that occurs as you drive down South Orange Ave. Once you exit the University area, there are gated communities with some pretty nice housing. Then suddenly things take a turn for the worse, and various sites of disrepair mark the landscape. (Interestingly, the same thing occurs if you follow South Orange Ave on the other side of the GSP-things go from low income to pretty upscale as you head towards Seton Hall University.)

Ok, so I began by choosing a school, West Side High, and went from there. One striking feature is the fact that it is located right in the corner of Fairmount Cemetery. Depending on how one feels about cemeteries, this can be a positive or negative. (there is talk under way of a new building for West Side High) I personally find them pretty. From there I did a combination of walking, in the immediate vicinity, and google searching for community resources. The resources that I noted were all places students could go for help, educational institutes, or places families could turn to in difficult times.

403 South Orange Avenue

B. CAMDEN MIDDLE: Site of NPS Meeting
321 Bergen Street

C. WEST SIDE NINTH GRADE ACADEMY: Provides additional resources to students transitioning from middle school to the high school

D. Comprehensive Center for Fathers
Essex County College‎

E. Westside Boys & Girls Club
161 Littleton Ave

F. Springfield Library‎
50 Hayes St

G. Science High School‎: An alternative high school, one of the solutions mentioned for improving education.
260 Norfolk Street

H. New Community Corporation: is working to build housing in the West Ward
201 Bergen St

I. Habitat For Humanity
298 S. Orange Ave.

J. New Light Baptist Church‎: Provided Daycare
255 14th Ave

K. Memorial West Presbyterian Church‎: Ran a soup kitchen
286 S 7th St

Newark Public Schools, (Human Resources, Counseling, etc.)
2 Cedar Street, Newark, NJ 07102

Communities In Schools
200 Washington St
Newark, NJ 07102
Mentoring Succes Programs

For other resources, it's worth checking out Community Youth Mapping, a site that sorts institutions by activity and time.

One last parting observation: The area was home to many places that were probably really nice houses at one point. Unfortunately, the area was generally in disrepair, with trash piled in some lots, and boarded up windows, rotting steps and rubble in others. However, there were people landscaping a church, homes were in various states of repair, and interspersed throughout were new structures. The area is being tended to. While I like to think this is all positive, in my skeptical brain it raises the issue of gentrification.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Final Project Thoughts


The purpose of this project was to examine the dropout crisis, both as it related to urban areas in general, and its specific impact on the Newark, NJ community. The scope of the issue was detailed using figures obtained from various reports. Information was collected from surveys, articles, and discussions via meetings and community forums. Data was recorded in transcript form for a summarized meeting overview, and in table form for survey responses. Analysis revealed that many of the issues discussed in research from other urban areas that pertained to the dropout crisis were also factors in Newark. Given that the dropout crisis has been identified and its various risk factors broken down, it is now necessary to target these areas, and work to improve the school system in Newark so that dropout numbers decrease to zero. Based on research gathered here and from previous compilations, action plans can be formed and evaluated.

What I Learned

So what did I learn from my community inquiry? More than I expected. I learned about the dropout crisis, definitely. I read more accounts of personal dropout stories than I could have possibly included. As more than one expert has noted, the reasons are so varied, and yet so related to urban communities and school policies that generalization becomes necessary, yet futile. Practices and attitudes that seem to force students out or fail to engage them abound. As issues that plague urban areas are revealed, the issue becomes increasingly complex. For that reason, it is apparent that the solutions must be multiple. Just as we are aware that education cannot be one size fits all, nor can the solution to the dropout crisis.

One thought that I have had is that while urban communities are definitely tough areas to grow up in, the problems that arise between the students and the educational institutes are not merely a symptom of urban culture. Schools were designed to meet the needs of rural areas, taught by a specific set of teachers, namely young unmarried white girls. Though alterations have been made and policies have been implemented, they have been built on a foundation that was never intended for today’s students. Attending to the needs of thousands of students from a multitude of cultures was not an intended function of the original school plan. Preparing students for careers that require global skills and intense technical knowledge is difficult in a curriculum that focuses on basic skills. With all the narrowing of focus, the mission of schools is almost oversimplified. No wonder students are frustrated. They are being held back from necessary progress by stringent adherence to what could be considered outdated curriculums.

That aside, I did also learn more about urban communities. One thing that I really appreciated about the project was that it gave me a legitimate reason for attending a community meeting for Newark Public Schools, and was able to learn first hand about not just the issue, but about the intense emotion and dedication that those in the community and in education display for the cause. Also, in speaking those who have become dropout prevention experts through their information gathering, I was able to see the scope of the problem through the eyes of those in the field. As a student working on a project, I sometimes feel that my motives are questionable. I have a genuine interest, but without the push of coursework, I wouldn’t have entered this arena. A benefit of performing this kind of community inquiry is that the firsthand experience opens doors and at the very least brings different avenues into my field of vision.

I do feel that the dropout crisis is an important issue, and I was encouraged by the measures that I learned were being taken. Most likely, the alternative initiatives will influence the careers of teachers in the future. If these changes help students, create a meaningful environment and learning experience and in turn help the community, then the promise of reform will have been kept. I’m actually cautiously optimistic (cautious because the word to describe me is “na├»ve”) and excited by the prospect of the upcoming changes.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Further Inquiry

The process of delving into the dropout crisis has forced me to really dig for data. The fact that numerical data tends to be scewed and obscured also corresponds to a general lack of willingness for institutions to draw attention to their own problems. With federal standards and punitive measures, schools seem to be pressed to find ways to work the system rather than with the system. Hopefully this changes

There is wide recognition of the fact that community involvement is required to address this issue. Students can only be engaged by schools that meet them where they are and of which they feel a part.
I have noted a strong correlation between socioeconomic status (ok, I haven’t personally noted it, but I’ve absorbed it via numerous reports) and tendency to dropout of high school. This poverty and lack of resources is a fact of life in Newark, as noted by the reports that we’ve read on the Newark demographic studies.

Several schools in Newark have been described as “dropout factories”. I found it difficult to locate much more detail on that, which may mean I need to dig deeper, or it may not be there to be found. Again, this issue is not one that schools like to broadcast. It is not good for the school or, unfortunately, the students.

On Friday I dropped by the New Jersey Graduation Campaign forum to see if I could accumulate any information. I ended up with a wealth of internet sites, and have begun extending my research on the “Silent Epidemic.” Also helpful are the types of information that is considered relevant to learning about communities.

Schools are not designed to meet the varying needs of students in urban areas, especially those who desperately need help. So far, nebulous ideas of more community involvement have formed in my mind. In order to teach a community, it seems more and more critical to really know the students and be familiar with their lives. Their environment is part of that.

Student quotes and stories of dropouts reiterate common themes. Family problems, lack of engagement, and falling behind were frequent causes cited. With outside quality of life issues in need of immediate attention, long term projects like diplomas fall to the wayside. Schools may need to take more of a social work role in such areas, and guidance and counseling may need to be more prevalent.

I feel like I’ve got a lot of information, and am somewhat struck with impotence. What is needed is more resources, and time. Unfortunately, this is not a luxury that students in need of education or their districts can currently afford.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Poverty in New Jersey

2. The families in the Unequal Childhoods book would all experience a decreased quality of life if they lived in New Jersey. However, the hardest hit would be the working class and poor, whose access to basic necessities would be further impaired. First of all, housing would be an issue. New Jersey is mentioned as having some of the highest rent prices in the country. Families such as Tyrec Taylor’s and Wendy Driver’s, who are paying $650.00 a month and having difficulty paying that would be hard pressed to make rent in New Jersey, where average is estimated as $1320.00 for a one adult/2 child family. Even with housing assistance, which the families might not qualify for, the rent would possibly still be too high. Housing in the suburbs is also more expensive, and taxes are high. Families might easily find themselves paying 50% of their income to housing costs. Food costs are also higher in New Jersey. In families where food is in short supply, or special outings to places like McDonald’s are a rare occasion, the prices in Newark will be too high. The report also discusses job quality. For parents like Ms. Driver, who hates her job and is definitely not making enough, even with her husband’s income, job training as recommended by the report could make a difference. The same could be said of Tyrec Taylor’s mom. They are both in secretarial positions, which are one of the positions listed as not paying enough to meet the cost of living standards. Billy Yanelli’s parents were both high school dropouts, with low paying jobs. They too would benefit from training. Also, health insurance is something that not all of the families in the study had access to. They wouldn’t be able to afford it in New Jersey, where, assuming an employer paid part, would be $339/mo for one adult, a preschooler and a child.

3. The poor families, Harold McAllister's and Katie Brindle’s, would fit with the demographic described as in poverty in New Jersey. They are female headed households with children. Though Mrs. Brindle has her GED, she is unemployed, and must care for her youngest. She does not have access to further education or daycare. Twice a month she goes to collect a cash stipend and food stamps from public assistance. She also gets a small amount from DHS, as child support from Katie’s absentee father. Small items put her over the top, and laundry is an added expense. Public housing is not available, and she is in danger of eviction because she can’t make her $600/mo rent. In New Jersey her resources would most likely be stretched even more, and her chances of finding housing would be slim. Mrs. McAllister is also unemployed and unmarried. In addition, she is a minority, and so at a greater disadvantage according to the study. She receives Aid to Families with Dependent Children and has a medical card and uses food stamps. Harold’s father, Hank the mechanic, does occasionally buy things for Harold. In New Jersey, his money would not go as far. Also, this family has somewhat of a revolving door policy, with extended family staying at various times. Resources are stretched thinner than can actually be accounted for. Both of these families fit in with what is described as the poverty class in Newark, and both require aid to get out. Unfortunately, given the current lack of programs and the higher cost of living in New Jersey, their situations would probably be worse. Also, the Brindles would not be in a working class neighborhood in this state, potentially worsening their plight .

4. Though not every student will fall into a neat category and I don’t want to make the mistake of stereotyping, my views of urban have solidified. I had a vague idea of what poverty was, but without experiencing or witnessing the day to day life of someone trying to make it without funds in an urban environment, it was softened. Seeing some of the figures in the reports, and imagining how those figures translate into real life is sobering. I’m not entirely sure what this will mean to me as an urban educator. In terms of how I view students, I would assume that their responsibilities outside of school might be greater than financially well-off kids of the same age. They might be expected to work, or care for other family members. Also, parents of students may not be what I expect. After seeing the reports, it became clear that there are a lot of single mothers trying to raise families with inadequate funds. Though they value education, providing basic necessities will be their first priority. One of my goals would be to place as little additional burden on these families. This may mean adjusting homework loads. As for the community, it seemed that parents viewed teachers with some caution, if not enmity. I would like to meet the families and discover their expectations for their kids, and make clear that their input is welcome. This doesn’t even begin to touch on housing, transportation, food and clothing, all of which are more difficult to come by for those in poverty than what I was raised to expect. As an urban educator, I feel that I will have to adjust my ideas of what kinds of projects are fair game outside of school. If I suspect resources are stretched thin, it will be my responsibility to make sure that students have access to what they need for the tasks I assign. I will need to reach out and question values. It seems that ultimately, with the number living in poverty, some working, some not, the only way to truly know what students face is to find out on an individual basis. I’m not sure how to do that without intruding, but I do feel that that knowledge will make me a better teacher.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Project Update

So far, I’ve learned that the dropout crisis is very complex, and involves some pretty tough issues, and that in Newark, NJ is a program called the New Jersey High School Graduation Campaign, a program aimed at reducing what are unacceptably high drop out rates. I have yet to answer the question of how.

After looking through some of the research surrounding the issue, I have been struck by some common themes. For one thing, communities in which students don’t graduate are usually poor, and house minorities. For these students in these communities, dropping out is commonplace, a routine alternative. Where it is nearly unheard of in middle class suburbia, regular discharge from high school is part of life for many in urban schools.

In Framing Dropouts by Michelle Fine, the picture painted is pretty bleak. The teachers and administration come across as out of touch or corrupted by a failing system. Instead of pushing students to succeed, students are pushed out. Truancy, pregnancy, and violence are common. Family life is sometimes scattered, and students are unaware of their rights. A common thread is grade retention, often associated with dropping out. This was echoed by other research.

Also disturbing was the description of the options that high school dropouts were given, and the attitudes held by the students themselves regarding their options. GED programs were described as sub-par and difficult. The military was painted as an equally bleak option as opposed to an opportunity. Low-paying jobs with sketchy training targeted those desperate for income.

The New Jersey High School Graduation Campaign aims to increase the number of graduates from New Jersey High Schools. It demonstrates the benefits to individuals in terms of earning potential and family structure, and the benefits to society as well. According to the data, minorities drop out far more frequently than their white peers, and poor districts have a higher dropout rate as well. It mentions that teens are arrested more frequently than the rest of the population, and that prison inmates are more likely to have been dropouts. It cites economic advantages to the state as well.

There is an event this Friday that I hope to attend parts of, although realistically it may not happen. However, I’m really hoping to sneak over for a bit and see what kind of information is being presented. Additionally, I plan to head into Newark and check out the neighborhood. I feel that I’m getting some really good information regarding dropout reasons, but am getting the impression that the large overhaul needed to solve the problem is going to be as complex as the issue itself.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Inquiry Project Introduction

One of the problems facing urban area schools is a high dropout rate. It has been predicted that with our changing economy, competition for high-paying quality jobs will be intense. Students who do not complete high school and subsequently do not enroll in institutes for continuing education will be at a severe disadvantage when it comes to landing a decent position. When a decision made at sixteen can have a detrimental effect on future quality of life, and is being made by a considerable proportion of students, it is an issue that should be addressed. In addition, such individuals are more likely to be on the receiving end of welfare, thereby increasing the strain on an already overburdened system. The aim of this inquiry will be to look closely a school in Newark that has succeeded in increasing its graduation rate.

The initial portion of my inquiry will concern the dropout crisis in general. Several factors are potential trends associated with an increased dropout rate. In urban areas, schools are not always in tune with community needs. Additionally, in urban areas where income falls below or near the poverty level, home life and priorities are not in sync with educational goals, and vice versa. Teachers in urban areas sometimes lack training that prepares them for urban classrooms, thereby decreasing their efficacy. There has been a darker side to standardized accountability testing as well, one that results in grade retention and dropout, often disproportionately effecting minorities. On the flip side, some schools have implemented programs that adequately address these concerns. What have these schools done right? What challenges did they overcome, and what areas are they still struggling with?

This community inquiry will utilize data collected from analysis of a Newark school that has shown a steady decline in the dropout rate. By analyzing the community, the school, the faculty, and the student body, I hope to identify the reasons for this success, and determine if the school used methods that could be incorporated by other districts. Traditional reasons for increased dropout rates and possible local causes will be discussed. The inquiry will provide an overview of the school and its history. It will examine the community from which its student body is derived. Notable characteristics of faculty and administrators as well as training programs will be examined. In addition, the decline in the rate for this particular school should be noted, and direct actions by the school that produced this result will be identified. Finally, some possible suggestions for increasing retention rates as provided by interviews and through analysis will be mentioned.

Inquiry Project

For my inquiry project I would like to look at what factors influence high school drop out rates, using a school that has steadily increased its graduation rate for the last few years. The school I have in mind is West Side High school in Newark, NJ. With close proximity to Rutgers, Newark and ties to local businesses, the school offers many programs that allow students to experience different career fields. One question I have regards whether these programs aid in student retention. My hope is to interview faculty and students at the school. If this is not possible, I will restrict my data to statistics and news. The factors I will look at will be decided by what I have specifically seen mentioned in research articles. They will include opinions of school relevancy to the community, data on the economic status of students, teacher opinions of how effective they feel in classrooms, and possibly student views of the school.

NJ school report card
Who attends the school?
Newark Public Schools Web site
Articles and news reports

Administrators and faculty
• What do you feel the school’s strengths are in regards to curriculum and meeting student needs?
• How would you describe the student population? Are the students engaged?
• What programs or strategies do you implement to encourage student involvement?
• What challenges do you face regarding student enrollment and classroom interaction?

Students (maybe)
• Do you have a favorite class?
• What do you like best about this school?
• How would you describe the school community?
• What programs or extracurricular activities interest you?
• What are you planning on doing when you graduate?

Walking tour/Google Maps:

10 block radius to note general atmosphere and resources. Specifically, I will be looking for:
Clubs aimed at teens
Local hangouts
Vacant lots