of Learned Societies
Occasional Paper No. 24
Perspectives on the Humanities
Panel Discussion on School-Based Curriculum Development
Sandra Blackman, Marston Middle School, San Diego; Sandra Okura, Humanitas, Los Angeles; Sandra Sanchez Purrington, E.J. Martinez Elementary School, Santa Fe; and Robert Stein, OFarrell Community School, San Diego, Chair
Robert Stein: Id like to tell you a little bit about
what we talked about when we were preparing this panel, why we wanted
to talk about it, and what it has to do with teaching and learning, if
The four people on this panel spend their days, as most of you do, with
kids, and were concerned. Were frustrated and especially those of us
in urban education, we are concerned about the effectiveness of teaching
and learning. The one thing that connects people here tends to be a passion
for teaching. It also appears to be the one thing that might save America.
Truly, children might learn better, succeed more frequently, if those
of us who have been empowered to educate the children for the country
believe we can do it. In San Diego this is the wonderful reality: we are
multi-racial, multicultural, and multi-linguistic. The racism is there,
it hasnt gone away; and poverty and oppression are there, they havent
gone away; and the plight of urban America hasnt gone away. But, in spite
of this, it is incredible to see empowered teachers who believe they can
teach all children. You can just feel that from people, and we felt that
as we prepared this session. My teachers say, To meet is to be,
because weve spent so much time simply meeting and reflecting, and meeting
teacher-as-scholar and teacher-as-researcher is an awesome experience
in rooms and auditoriums and breakout rooms, and restaurants and coffee
shops. You wonder, Where are the children? When will I have time
So we want to talk to you from the heart. And so Sandra, and Sandra,
and Sandra will share whatever they passionately wish to share about
their experiences in collaboration their experiences at high schools
and elementary schools and middle schools.
The process weve decided on is to allow my colleagues to take a piece
of time to share their experiences, their frustrations, their activities,
their learning, their creations with you. And then we want you to interact
with us, to ask good questions, and to pose ideas and share ideas.
Our first sharer, my colleague, is Sandra Okura from Humanitas in Los
Sandra Okura: What I want to talk about with you today is interdisciplinary
instruction and team teaching; not focusing on the curricular issues, though
they are important, but focusing instead on the human aspects of the humanities.
Id like to start by talking a little bit about my own background and
experience. When I began teaching about 11 years ago, I started under
very difficult conditions. I was hired on an emergency credential. I was
given a schedule that included five different preparations and that asked
me to travel among five different classrooms. So after that first year,
I decided that teaching was probably not going to be my life-time career.
But someone told me at that time, that while teaching never gets easy,
it does get easier after five years. So I thought, okay, Im going to
hang in there and try to get the hang of this and Ill use five years
as sort of my indicator and see how Im doing at that point. Well, five
years passed, and I still hadnt gotten the hang of teaching yet. But
true to my colleagues word, things were getting easier fights were
no longer breaking out in my classroom, or, at least, not as often. I
was becoming more comfortable teaching certain novels and plays and stories
and poems, and I thought that it was really neat that I had amassed about
two file cabinets worth of drama exercises and compositions that I draw
from. So yes, the job was getting easier.
But at the same time, things were changing. The numbers in my classroom
were growing to the point where I had 45 students in a tenth grade English
class. It was getting harder and harder to find complete sets of books
to issue to my students. The students themselves were changing: in that
murmur and undercurrent of voices before the bell rang I would hear Spanish,
Korean, Persian, Armenian, Russian, in addition to English. I myself was
changing. I didnt realize that I had stopped reading for pleasure
stopped reading things that stimulated me as a scholar, as an individual.
At the ACLS conference in Rancho Mirage last June , one of the speakers,
Milbrey McLaughlin, mentioned that two-thirds of all teachers do not
feel effective in the classroom, and I think that I was becoming one
of those teachers. If circumstances had not changed, I might have left
But circumstances did change. About three years ago I became involved
in an interdisciplinary program in Los Angeles called Humanitas. I volunteered
to form a team with three other teachers at my school an art teacher,
a history teacher, and a biology teacher. Our four classes would constitute
four of the six classes that about 80 students would go to each day, and
the four of us would meet together to plan our curriculum, interdisciplinarily,
to unite our four classes, thematically, which was no easy task with
that biology component. Before we began that first year, we met intensively
over that summer and then we met on a daily basis throughout that first
year. We met after school, on Fridays, to debrief at a happy hour. We
even gave up our Monday holidays of three-day weekends at times that first
year to keep ourselves together. Working in a team situation required
a lot more of me than I expected. But I have no regrets about my decision;
that decision really transformed me.
The first change I underwent was realizing that I had to throw out the
way I had been teaching American literature, and that was the healthiest
thing I could have done. In order to align myself thematically with my
colleagues, I had to start approaching American literature with very new
perspectives from very new angles. I no longer felt isolated. People at
my school used to call me the Queen of Mole People because I never came
out of my classroom. But then it became very exciting to be collaborating
with my teammates, because I knew that I was talking about, say, multicultural
issues in my classroom, my students were discussing the same issues but
from historical, artistic, even scientific points of view in other classrooms.
It made so much more sense to break down the artificial confines of 55-minute
periods of English, history, art and biology taught in a void. I think
as teachers we want our students to synthesize what they learn in all
the different classes, in all the different subjects. I found that this
process that I was involved in better supported that then the traditional
approach to literature that I was accustomed to.
Finally, for myself, for the first time in a long time, I felt creative.
I was excited to be involved in the creation of something brand new, something
meaningful and important. It was stimulating to sit around with my teammates
and just bounce ideas around and to see new ideas and new perspectives
that I had never considered, and a fringe benefit was that I learned more
about art and biology and history than I knew before.
But as I talk about the benefits of team teaching, of teacher collaboration,
I need to talk about the benefits not only for the teachers, but also
for the students. With the emphasis on interdisciplinary instruction,
our priority was to get the kids away from rote memorization, to critical
thinking and making connections among the different classes. The kids
hated it. Many students had built entire careers on rote memorization.
I remember one kid who pleaded with me: Oh please dont make me
do this. This, I think, means think. He
said, Just tell me what to memorize and Ill memorize it.
In the second semester of that first year, I had an epiphany of sorts.
In the middle of a class discussion a student raised his hand and said,But
last semester Mr. Arreola said . . . I blanked and I didnt hear what
he said next because something very significant had just happened. Not
only was this student referring to something from the beginning part of
the preceding semester, but he was bringing something in from his biology
class that was relevant to our discussion in American literature. And
at that moment I knew that we were doing something right.
I dont know how your school-site teams will be structured this coming
year or if you and your teammates will have a shared group of students
the way we did, but there is one other benefit that I want to talk about
with you. I mentioned how rote memorization is a survival tool for some
students. So is invisibility. Especially when classes get as large as
Ive mentioned before. There are students who camp out in the back of
the room to hide, or if theyre really tricky they sit right in front
of you. And they just slip by. When we went out recruiting students for
our program, we went looking for the invisible kid. Not the football star,
not the AP/Honors kid, but the kid with no group identity. Those are the
kids we had in our classes. And initially, once again, they hated us;
they hated the program; they were comfortable with invisibility. But now
they had four teachers who knew them, who talked about them when they
werent there, and they were with the same classmates for four hours each
Once again, by the second semester we began to see changes. We began
to see the creation of family dynamics. The students began to feel safe
in this environment. Some of the hard core gang kids began to actually
physically soften. Some people noted that we were like an alternative
to gangs. The students began to feel very special; they wanted to create
a logo and design T-shirts. I guess the strongest indicator to me that
this was a real positive thing for them was that traditionally when students
graduate from high school they sign their name, Cesar Lopez, Class
of 92. These students were signing their yearbooks Cesar
Lopez, Humanitas Class of 92. This was the group that they belonged
It was suggested that we panelists present information that is useful
and succinct and easy to remember. So in extracting a few key suggestions
for establishing teacher teams, teacher communities, I decided that I
would present the ABCs of Teacher Team Building.
- Adios, autonomy. As you form your teams, understand that from
the outset youve committed yourself to a huge investment of your personal
time. There is no other way to collaborate with other people than to put
a lot of time into it. You are also giving up, I think, authority over
your subject area. You are inviting other people, literally, into your
classroom, into your domain, as you begin to collaborate with others.
- Be brave. I have a quotation here from Larry Wilson of the
Pecos Learning Center, that says, If you always do what youve
always done, youll always get what you always got. I encourage
you as you look ahead to the coming year to throw out the old, be innovative
and adventurous and creative as you develop interdisciplinary curricular
programs for your school
- I heard that there were going to be some administrators here, so this
ones for you. Common time. These teachers need time, and its
not fair to require them to be meeting on their own time altogether.
Please accommodate them by providing the time necessary for them.
- This one I had to stretch. Desire diversity. Ill be real candid
with you, the L.A. team last year got off to a really rocky start, because
we were so diverse. We were very different from each other in values
and goals and pedagogies, and it caught us off guard, I think, because
we came in thinking we were all Humanitas teachers and yet we were all
very different. I think that the differences can be very valuable if
we honor them and explore them. So take a lot of time to recognize the
different individual strengths that each member of your team can contribute.
- Encourage each other. This is a primary benefit of teacher
communities. Take advantage of it. Unfortunately, in many workplaces
innovation and risk taking are not welcomed or honored. Opportunity,
such as the one that ACLS has provided you with this year, may be viewed
more with envy than with respect by some of your colleagues, so be a
strong source of support for each other.
- Finally, fun, fun, fun. Humor is a vital element in the creative process.
Laughing, kidding, and joking create an atmosphere where people feel
safe in sharing new ideas. Often, real creativity is being expressed
in humorous remarks, and quite possibly what initially was offered as
a joke might end up being a significant idea.
I want to wish all of the teachers, the teacher-fellows, and their school-site
members the best of luck in the coming year. I hope my comments have
been encouraging to you as you begin to see the benefits that creative
collaboration will hold for both you and for your students.
Robert Stein: Thank you, Sandra. If Sandra stimulated a question,
lock it in your memory bank or jot it down because well get back to it.
Sandra, thank you that was excellent.
I would like to go to our next discussant, Sandra Blackman.
Sandra Blackman: I am an ACLS teacher-fellow from the San Diego City
School District from last year. I am ecstatic to be in the middle between
my esteemed colleagues from the elementary and the high school levels
of the teaching profession. This gives me the advantage of not having
to be the first nor the last, kind of like our middle school students.
Like the middle school child, I feel a sense of freedom in having learned
enough to get by in the real world, but not having experienced so much
that I have become jaded by life or learning.
I think the American Council of Learned Societies took a great risk in
asking me to speak today, because I am not a scholar in the higher education
sense and I am not a professional speaker. Im a middle school level English
teacher and because of last years studies, I will become a humanities
teacher next year.
When I first learned that I would have an opportunity to speak with a
group of educators who were about to embark on a similar adventure provided
by the American Council of Learned Societies I was euphoric, because this
meant that we in the San Diego group of 12 fellows would have a forum
where we could share what worked and what didnt work for us last year.
In this way you will have a tremendous advantage and can build upon our
foundations. I suppose that this is similar to child rearing: the second
child usually reaps the benefits of the mistakes bestowed upon the first
by its well-intentioned parents. After deep reflection about this past
years experience and before I share this years project with you, I have
some initial advice for your year with ACLS, which I will share through
the following analogy:
In San Diego we have a game called Over the Line. I dont know if any
of you know that game or not, but this game is played in the sand in bare
feet with only three people on a team. It looks a little bit like baseball
except that you do not run the bases and you try to hit the ball over
the line. The organization that runs this tournament, which draws over
250,000 people each year and has over 1,000 teams whose names are so highly
entertaining that the event cannot be televised for public television,
is called OMBAC. OMBAC stands for Old Mission Beach Athletic Club or,
as some of us prefer, Old Men Behaving As Children. OMBAC has signs posted
above each of its sessions at the tournament that read no dumb shit
questions. Most people, fearing that any question might be considered
dumb, dont ask any questions at all, which is the idea.
Before we embarked on this ACLS project last year, our three-person teams
at our school site were a bit like the game of Over the Line. Someone
would toss in an idea, we would try to hit it over the line into the field,
most often unsuccessfully. We didnt have a strategy to implement the
good ideas. Last year, when I sat where you are today, I had a lot of
what I thought were dumb questions. I didnt even know what ACLS was,
if you can imagine that. Or, and this is really embarrassing, I didnt
know what it meant to be politically correct. I used to harass my male
team members unmercifully, but now I know its not politically correct.
So were going to lose a lot of fun next year, I guess.
Anyway, I should explain that when I came from Canada I had a gender
border crossing to overcome for myself, because I considered all male
teachers really lazy. When I came here the first thing that happened was
that my principal teamed me with a male teacher, which had never occurred
to me before, and from that experience it broke down a bit. I have a great
deal of respect for the male teachers on our school-site now, having worked
with these two men.
One of my colleagues is older, ready to retire, but he still has a few
years to go if I dont burn him out before then. My other colleague is
just in from college, and hes still wet behind the ears. And so these
are my team members, and not only do we have adjoining rooms its
kind of kinky but we have doors that open to our adjoining rooms.
We have a lot of fun with this. The team is fondly known as Sandra and
the old fart and the young stud.
When I first emigrated to this country, every morning Id charge into
the teachers lounge at 6:30 a.m. and ask my other colleague there
the only other colleague there at that hour dumb questions
- What is SDTA? (San Diego Teachers Association);
- What is UCSD?
- Whats a gang?
- What are colors?
- Why do we have 40 students in each class instead of 25?
- Why dont students stand when theyre answering a question?
I kept apologizing to this teacher for my dumb questions, but he kept
answering them anyway, and thats how I learned to be a teacher in San
Diego. And he became one of my teammates.
Last year, as a teacher-fellow, I groped around in the fog for a long
time because I was too intimidated to ask questions. My advice to you
is to please take advantage of the three Sandras at the sessions that
follow this one to ask any candid burning questions that might clarify
things for you next year.
This brings me to our topic, Collaborative Curriculum Development by
Teachers. In our ACLS project last year, we had 12 teacher-fellows who
were attending a weekly workshop at UCSD and taking a variety of courses
of personal interest. As we understood it, the first semester was to be
devoted to research and development at the university, and writing humanities
curricula was to be a collaborative process. The second semester was to
be devoted to piloting our specific curriculum on a school-site with our
interdisciplinary team. I interpreted this to mean that the teacher-fellows
should bring back to our colleagues new perspectives that we had learned
that we could share with our pals and pilot at our school site. (Some of
us didnt even have teams on our site and had to develop these, which
was tough.) Our school, Marston Middle, had the good fortune to have three
teams of varying degrees of experience, ranging from advanced to novice:
10 teachers all together. The major problem for us was how to go about
implementing current scholarly ideas in a collaborative fashion, and how
to formalize the process, because we were to end up with some sort of
product to share with the other ACLS project districts at the spring conference.
As you are well aware, the greatest constraints upon teachers when writing
curriculum collaboratively is time. So in an effort to streamline the
process, I designed a procedure which our interdisciplinary teams could
use to plan, implement, and evaluate each of the pilots. Id like to have
it noted here that our teams of teachers were implementing several new
humanities units to study, but that we selected only one to actually formalize
(one team ended up doing two pilots anyway).
With all of the other projects we had going, we were able to complete
from beginning to end four pilots: one pilot every two months. Each pilot
consisted of a teacher-identified set of humanities criteria, which is
important to establish initially: teacher and student pre- and post-surveys,
and student pre- and post-candid assessments as documentation for student
portfolios or exhibitions.
Our reasoning for such detailed documentation was that, besides the product
for ACLS and the school district, all 10 participants could use the documentation
for multiple purposes such as personal teacher professional growth, presentation
at state or district conferences, or applications for funding. Of course,
the bottom line was the immediate implementation from the university to
the students. We wanted to take what we were learning, make that scholarly
connection, and we wanted to share that with the students.
One teacher was able to use the material as part of her personal portfolio
in successfully competing for a position in Portland. Another, who was
squeaky clean from college, won a summer school employment opportunity
using the material. All 10 teachers used the product for presentations
at various conferences. The materials you see are not slickly polished;
there may be all kinds of mistakes in them; but they represent ownership
for the teachers.
There are actually two major documents that we wrote. The first was used
as a proposal for State of California funding for $90,000, for which we
were successful. This funding will allow us to become a dissemination
school. Im still not too sure what that is yet but when I talked to my
mother, who grew up barefoot in Manitoba during the Depression, she said
that she thought it sounded like a process of fertilization. Maybe thats
it. Anyway, as you will see from this document, the whole piloting thing
was an evolution which was pretty interesting in itself because it demonstrates
the gradual influence the university seminars and courses had over the
curriculum. The first pilot, for instance, seems pretty trivial to me
now. It was focused around the theme of How can I have control over
my life and improve relationships with my family and others, using
a piece of core literature in eighth grade called My Brother Sam is
Dead. The emphasis is pedagogically based around action-based learning
strategies. Each successive pilot became more and more meaty until the
final pilot addressed the theme of How do I formulate my beliefs?
using the topic of Westward expansion and its effect on Native American
culture. It uses as a primary source the letter by Virginia Reed from
Ordeal by Hunger, Indians Arent Mascots from the Shamanic
News published in Los Angeles; and The Earth Did Not Devour Him (. . . Y
no se lo trago la tierra) by Thomas Rivera. A Social Studies subtopic
was racism as an attempt at systematic annihilation of native cultures.
All of us at our school site felt that without some sort of guideline
like this piloting process, we would never have been able to work together
efficiently and effectively in order to implement our new humanities curriculum.
In our university seminars, I read many books addressing issues of political
correctness, border crossings, gender balance, contact zones, and multicultural
studies, to name a few. I would bring these books back to my school site
and we would use the ideas in one way or another. Our science teacher
particularly liked Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation
by Mary Louise Pratt, which includes many intriguing accounts of points
of view of the Other in contact zones during exploration. In fact we already
use several of the novels which we all agreed would bring new perspectives
to our students, such as True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, the
story of a heroine in a boys book; Equianos Travels, the autobiography
of Olaudah Equiano, written in 1789 about his experiences as a slave and
then a free man; The Land I Lost, the story about a youngsters experiences with animals while growing up in the jungles of Viet Nam; and The Legend of La Larona by Adolfo Anaya. We actually ordered some of these in class sets and were using them in our curriculum.
The year of university connection brought us face to face with the reality that we had lost touch with our scholarship. We had become primarily focused on pedagogy. Next year our teams, with the assistance of some additional ACLS funds, will continue to pilot humanities units which we plan collaboratively, and we are gratefully thankful for this opportunity to keep a good thing going. Also next year, I will start Marstons four reading workshop forums with 15 or 20 teachers at our site. We are going to discuss books from a reading list that we may wish to incorporate into our curriculum. Im modeling it after our UCSD seminars. Also, for those of you who are forming new teams at your site, I have brought a video here called An Integrated and Interdisciplinary Curriculum, and a facilitators guide, which may be useful if there are any administrators here, or any teachers who will be taking other teachers at your school-site through a workshop of collaborative curriculum development. This facilitators guide would take a group of teachers in a workshop through an actual process of curriculum development.
Since my time is limited, Ill share any other details you may wish at our Middle Schools meeting later. However, part of the joy of the project for me has been to mingle with educators from all levels, and I look forward to conversation with all of you. So please stop me at any time to talk, but please be polite and answer any dumb questions I might have as though you think they are the most profound utterances you have ever ever entertained. Thank you.
Robert Stein: Thank you, Sandra. And, again, if you have some questions, as Sandra mentioned, we will be breaking up into people of like groups and levels and you will have some opportunities to probe deeper than we can in a few moments.
And now its my honor to introduce Sandra Sanchez Purrington.
Sandra Sanchez Purrington: I am going to have two disclaimers during the course of my conversation here with you. Here comes the first one: I am not now nor have I ever been an ACLS scholar. I have been a teacher and an administrator for the last 32 years in the public school system. Some in New York, but mainly in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Last night Bob Stein actually stumped me with the question: What is the aspect of your work that you feel most passionate about? As a teacher over a considerable length of time, I have gotten to feel very passionate about a lot of things. In the last 32 years I have been through only books, no books; very into learning; no classes; no grades; formal grades; I have been through every movement that has come down the line in changing education, hopefully to make it better for children. Until this present movement, I have not found one that was long lasting or really relevant to children in the classroom situation.
So I had to think a lot, and I realized that the true passion that I have today is school renewal, and that my true passionate belief about this issue is that the arts and humanities are best suited to drive this renewal in a way that will result in educational, not structural reform. I think that is what this project is about.
Id like to share an experience that happened at a school which was not an ACLS project school. Its Sweeney Elementary School in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The sum total of this monumental experience is in two booklets that were published by the staff a year apart. These booklets were generated by staff people; they were not generated by administrators or curriculum specialists. These represent teachers feeling passionately about their work.
One might ask why: why do I show you these booklets? These booklets represented for Sweeney Elementary School the shift from a school that was examining itself and getting what it always got, to a school that was really examining itself and producing a new environment for students. It was shifting from schooling that valued time, duration, and standard tests to education that is personal: students involved in what they are doing, and teachers involved in facilitating the education of students. It was going from texts in isolation to texts in context, and a child was part of that context. It was also going from teachers and students who were being acted upon, to teachers and students who are becoming actors in the process of education.
Heres my second disclaimer. At the school, which was a school that did not have an administration, it was not true that we did not have leadership. We had leadership, but we had a different concept of what that leadership meant. Leadership did not mean power for us. Leadership meant scholarship, someone who knew some way to help us out in a situation. We used to call it leadership on a cart (as in those audiovisual carts). You put the leadership on the cart and you say, What needs to be done and which one of us can do it best? You figure that out, and then you say, Alright. This is yours. You lead this project because you have the tools that we need. When thats over, please pass it to the next person who needs it because they have the tools that we may need to solve another issue. I was called a facilitator, but that was very long for students and also for teachers, so I also became known as the f-word lady
which had many interpretations!
Sweeney Elementary School was for us a very large school. It is K6, 750 students. We had, on paper, every excuse to sit back and say Well, we could do a better job, if they sent us better students. We had 67 percent Hispanic; we had 3 percent Native American students; and 30 percent of those things that we call in New Mexico, Anglo, whatever that is. Two hundred and thirty of those 750 students were LEP, Limited English Proficiency students. These were tested students who could not comfortably handle school English. Ninety of those 230 were indeed monolingual, in Spanish. Seventy-five percent of our students were on free and reduced lunch. Our test scores were a bit low. We have a process in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which is aimed at school improvement by doing the following: You take the test, the test results come back, they publish the test scores in the newspaper, and they say, This is the best school because it has the highest test scores. This is the worst school because it has the worst test scores. Guess where we were? We were the worst school for five years. We were desperate, the teachers were working as hard as they could. My mother, who is Hispanic, has this little thing that I love and never correct: She says, You know Im doing the best I cant. And thats exactly what we were doing.
We had remediation out the ears. We had every Chapter; we had every Program; we had extra teachers; we had everything going, and it wasnt working. Did you ever see someone respond to someone who doesnt speak their language, and they say, Its down the street and around the corner and up the stairs, and the person looks at them uncomprehendingly, and then they say (yelling), ITS DOWN THE STREET, AROUND THE CORNER, AND UP THE STAIRS. We were shouting at the children; we were doing over and over again what didnt work the first time. So, at a staff meeting, someone said, Well, why dont we just throw all this stuff out. And it was then that the light bulb went on.
Now, we were also fortunate that during that same time as the light bulb, we were involved with the Panasonic Foundation, and that brought us access to people from the outside, people who could help us to clarify our own goals and visions. What we came up with during that year is that if we were really going to reach our students, we had become a learning community, which meant everyone in that school had to learn, including the teachers, the parents, the community business people, and the student; and that meant developing an interdisciplinary, thematic, multi-age, full inclusion program.
Now if we were to do that little thing, we could improve! We were very frightened and we said, Now wait a minute. Before we go doing all of this with 750 students (since we dont have the training and all the information), lets try a model. Lets do something that we feel is necessary anyway.
One of the things that we were most concerned about was that our students would make gains during the year and in the summer they would lose it. Then theyd come back the next year and have to make the same gains. We said we wanted to try a summer school there was no summer school policy
a summer school that is interdisciplinary and thematic. Lets try it out, see what the difficulties are, and then we can think about doing this for the school.
We had to challenge policy there because there isnt a summer school for elementary students in Santa Fe. Therefore, theres no money; theres no precedent. What are you going to do about a custodian? How are you going to get your building open? Whos going to pay the liability insurance for a program like this? Where are you going to get your leadership? Are you going to have a principal for your summer school? How are you going to pay for all of this? The second issue was that there was no curriculum written for such a program. And finally, the third issue was that there was no real study as to how we were going to deliver this instruction so that we didnt repeat the shouting process at our students.
I can tell you that we funded this first year in a very innovative way we begged for it! We figured that it would cost us $250 per child for a four-week summer school program. And every teacher, every teacher, pledged themselves to find two sponsors, and we did. We got on the phone and called our friends, and we said, Would you sponsor a child? And we raised $250 for each of the 20 children that we accepted to summer school.
That was, I think, the thing that galvanized the staff more than anything: that we really did create something that wasnt there before! It showed us that: 1) you can do it, and 2) when you work together in concert, its amazing what you can do.
The summer school program did not benefit all of the teachers. We hired six teachers out of our staff, and one teacher to be the facilitator of the summer school.
That first year we learned a lot. We learned that kind of program was possible. We learned that students actually loved being in something awful called summer school. We learned that the parents became involved in the summer school because they were also seeing the change in their child.
The first year we took volunteers. The second year is represented in this little booklet it was done with our mimeograph machine; it has a nice little paper cover which we made and we stapled together. In the booklet is the philosophy of the summer school, which then became the philosophy of our school.
When we discovered that this kind of program really worked, we started a full school program called CORE. CORE is not a cute acronym for anything. CORE meant that there was one area of the curriculum which was going to be the glue that held the childs experience together. It was the humanities; in particular, it was history. Through the use of History, or Social Studies as it is called for the younger children, we were going to be able to reach the largest number of our students. We changed the way we grouped the students. I had a group of students that were K6; there were students arranged in all different conformations. We did not teach Social Studies. I taught opera but the Social Studies skill was map studies and cultural studies. The concepts were: How do people get along? What were their laws? What were their governments? How did they bury their dead? How did they feel about living and dying and the value of human life. That was all Social Studies; but I taught it through opera.
We had courses in personal hygiene. We had a course on Take a Trip around the World for the sixth graders. They had to go from where they were in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to different countries and become aware of how the countries functioned and how they would function within the country.
The year after that, we decided that had worked so well that we would go to a program that we called Early Intervention. Early Intervention was a combination of a curricular program and a guidance program. We found that our students were not succeeding, not because they were unable to succeed, but because they had not been given the tools with which to succeed. We felt that the way Special Services were delivered was wrong. We would wait until a child was in fifth or sixth grade before we did some heavy duty intervention. By then we had wasted a lot of time, and the childs school experience was generally not a positive one and very difficult to change or to redirect. So we decided through a number of projects that we would go into an early intervention mode which included a curricular revision mode.
[Booklet II] is a very sophisticated booklet. We have learned a lot in one year. The first thing we learned was how to fund such a project. We learned how to get grants. We learned how to appeal to the local business community. We learned to go to Sears. (Sears has incredible assets, including people they are willing to give on loan, if you ask. People came to the school and shared expertise and were paid by Sears to do this!)
It was amazing what happened because we learned; we learned what we needed to know in order to serve our children better than we were doing it before.
What happened for children was amazing. We did three types of evaluation. We did a formal evaluation at summer school. We did a teacher evaluation of how they perceived the project. We did a parent evaluation of what kind of things they saw happening for their children. We also did a wonderful child evaluation, including kindergarten children drawing happy or sad faces to answer questions. We also found a serendipitous evaluation. We did this project for three years. We never once addressed, and I can tell you this is the truth, we never once looked at a test booklet. At the end of the third year I cried at my desk when
I got the results back, because not one child in the third or fifth grade who had taken the CTBS test fell below the mean. And yet we did not address formal testing at all. So there are these evaluations that are good. There are these serendipitous spinoffs, joys that you dont realize when you begin to look at what your children really need.
The project is flexible. I have left; I have been out of that school for two years. It continues. Longevity is built in because it is flexible in that, as our student population in the school has changed and as the staff has grown, the desire to continue learning in that manner is still there.
Hindsight and experience tell me that it works. We made a lot of mistakes. I did a lot of rethinking and maybe thats a necessary part of our own growth; maybe thats what Sandra Okura is talking about when she says that its not something we should be afraid of. Its not something that weve been led to be comfortable with, however, but it may be something we need to develop. Scholarship, curriculum ownership, and success are there for the children. And I think that this is what this ACLS project is about. I think its learning for everyone. Certainly youre going to have a wonderful learning experience.
My participation in the project has been very bittersweet. Its bitter because I hate to think that our schooling institutions have gotten to the point where we have to have a project like this to bring scholarship into schools, when it should be the natural way that schools operate. It is very sweet because now we have a project and now we are beginning to really look at scholarship and the influence that you as scholars will have on your own school communities. (It is probably not measurable in any way.)
All of this is to say I think youll have a wonderful year. I think itll be challenging. I think itll be exciting. And above all, I hope it will be passionate. Thank you.
Robert Stein: Id like to invite you now to question any of the panelists.
Whats this have to do with kids who are at risk; whats it have to do with kids who may not make it to college or university; whats it have to do with employment and getting work and those kinds of issues?
Robert Stein: Does anyone want to take that on?
Sandra Okura: I have two responses to that. One is that we at our school are developing a new strand of team teaching that incorporates technical training right into it, and thats just been launched this year. So ask me next year how it went.
And the other is that I think of the skills that the students are learning in this program: critical thinking, collaborative work. That last is really emphasized in our program not only collaboration among the teachers, but among the students as well. These are really valuable skills that they take away from high school to whatever situation they find themselves in.
Sandra Sanchez Purrington: Id like to look at that from the elementary standpoint. You know in elementary school very often what happens to students who are identified as being at risk (even at that age) is that the really good stuff is saved for enrichment students. They get the worst possible stuff. Why would students want to continue if thats what theyre going to get? I think that as a teacher my standpoint would be, if this child can only learn one thing today, I want it to be something worth learning. Im not sure that a lot of the remediation and that a lot of the skills training that we do with students are worth learning. And I think that is a basic issue that every teacher has to resolve in their own classroom.
Robert Stein: Id also like to respond. I think were all at risk from birth to death. And I think there are a great many assumptions around teaching and learning. And some people assume its a given thing for certain children to have this inherent capability to inquire, to think, to read, to write, to analyze, to interact, to understand the global and the cultural perceptions, to reason you know, those are what businesses want. People who can think and people who can work cooperatively. There are three main reasons they lose jobs. Every study will tell you this.
The number one reason youre fired is attendance, or lack of. Not showing up to work on time. You can learn that in the schools; I tell my children that you get here on time and focus on learning, you are about one-third of the way there towards employment.
The second reason people dont keep jobs is that they cant work with others. They dont get along with co-workers. Theyre arrogant, narrow-minded, stubborn, rude, just like us. And in the work world you cant run to your classroom, walk in in September and walk out in June. Youre surrounded by colleagues and co-workers and department heads.
The third reason is the inability to learn the skills the corporation wants you to have. And so their prerequisite for kids is to be able to read and write and analyze and think and interact and work with others collaboratively. I would think that if you focus on the same high level you would give to any child and teach as well as we taught the top 15 percent to all children, that they would be ready for any job.
Sandra Blackman: I was just going to say that I have trouble responding to that question at all, because it never arises at our school site. Isnt that weird? And I think the reason is that we have all our students
the gifted and talented ones, the special education students, and everybody
all taking the advanced curriculum. We try and prepare everybody; thats why we dont get a conflict.
Questioner: It seems to me that the one common denominator to be successful is shared decision-making.
Sandra Sanchez Purrington: Id like to start with it. Let me say that when we started at Sweeney we did not have any changes in staff. And I need to be very frank with you and say that not everybody participated. What we did do is we continued, no matter what anyone said, with what we thought was the right thing. We did not force anybody to join us, and there were people who sat in their classrooms with their arms folded and said, If I just sit here long enough, all these crazies will go away. After five years, there arent any people with their arms folded. Three left; they said, I cant do this; this is not my way, I cannot stay here. Two people who were very, very against any changes have now become leaders in the project. They waited. They found the place where they fit and they became leaders. The new people who were hired on were hired in committee. (We do everything by committee.)
They were hired on in committee, and we did ask those questions: Why do you want to come here? What can you bring to our students? What can you bring to our staff? How are you going to develop yourself? How are you going to help us develop ourselves? Those questions were for people who hired on after the project started.
But at the beginning it is an issue of being committed. You know the first graders can get very stubborn and they wait for you to give up. And we usually do. Sometimes it just takes people who are so passionate about the changes that they can make and the effect that they can have that they are not deterred from the path no matter what happens around them.
Sandra Okura: We have been fortunate at my school to have the support of the administration. Our administration has seen real positive results from the work that we are doing, and therefore has been hiring people with enthusiasm for collaborative teaching. And so we have gone to an interview format, and over the summer they have asked me to sit in on interviews of potential new teachers to represent what our interests as a team-teaching program are. But something happened last week that kind of responds to your question. Last week I got a phone call from a teacher to whom Ive never really spoken. Shes going to retire next year, and she told me she was working on her curriculum for the coming year. She was excited about what she saw happening with the Humanitas program, and she asked me to work with her to give her ideas on how to use cooperative learning, how to work with a partner. I never would have seen her as a team player, as a possible team member. So there are people who care passionately, who are not young and enthusiastic, and I feel that this disproves the negative stereotype of teachers and shows that they really do care about what they are doing and I think will grab the opportunity to do better.
Robert Stein: You ask a critical question and Ill also address it from my own experience, from an urban city point of view. At our school, the teachers and their families select each other (bound by the rules of unions and bound by the rules of the Personnel Division). In California there are two very important initiatives one has taken place; one might take place. One is a voucher initiative I understand Colorado is also going through that which will be voted on by the California electorate in November. Public schools response may be too late to the voucher choice response. It may pass. The other one has already passed, which is the charter school initiative, which says that one hundred California schools can withdraw from the public school systems and have complete autonomy to do whatever they want and to waive all state-aid codes, city policies, and procedures. (As long as you are somewhat morally correct.) My school is writing that charter application now. And the primary reason to write that now is the issue of teaching. It comes around to the issue of teaching. But you have to be careful in the same way that if we track children, we also have to track teachers. The stereotypes and the prejudices we have laid upon the victims, the children, weve also laid upon the teachers. And some of us look at each other as if our stuff dont stink and Im a better teacher than you and I am more of a scholar than you, and Im not so sure we want to trust each other to judge each other to place each other. I think we have to be able to touch our minds and hearts to understand as a teacher the most important thing in any place called school. As teachers, do we honor each other in the same way we would honor our children and believe that we all can learn? And do we believe that we can learn to be collaborative, to co-plan a curriculum or whatever it may be, to work under the stress of teaching and learning and children and adolescence in areas where there is less money, not more, more demands, not fewer, because we have a belief in teaching children? Thats the critical miracle we have to try and find out and then have the guts or the system to eliminate those of us, who have already died but havent been buried yet.
Questioner: I would like to ask Miss Okura, you said that you had to rethink the way that you approach American literature. I would like to know what that thought process involves and what works you chose.
Sandra Okura: Oh my. Well, the way I was accustomed to teaching American literature was very chronological. Then I was teaching thematically with an art teacher, a history teacher, and that darned biology teacher. What we did in our initial planning stages was brainstorm: we each came in and said what we individually needed to teach and wanted to teach in our separate subject areas. We just put them up there on the chalkboard and then we began to make groupings and began to group ideas according to theme; what common concepts and umbrella ideas would cover and unite us. And so then I was teaching things out of chronological order, but things that were unwinding themselves thematically to my teammates. What Ive taught is constantly changing and is going to undergo radical changes. I go back into the classroom next week to incorporate a lot more multicultural literature. And are you at high school level?
Questioner: Yes I am.
Sandra Okura: Good. Maybe we can talk more about the specifics then when we meet at grade level. But I was very excited over the past year to expand and redefine my concept of what American literature is.
Robert Stein: Thank you. Thats an excellent transition. Id like to thank Sandra, Sandra, and Sandra, and would you like to thank them too?