In the past few weeks Inglewood has gained an assistant principal to help handle discipline problems, giving teachers more time to focus on teaching, and a full time interventionist to provide extra instruction for students with learning and behavior needs. It can be especially difficult to get children to choose fruits, vegetables and whole grains when they constantly see advertisements pushing sugary products and empty-calorie foods. It takes the concerted efforts of a nation to change our food culture and that is exactly what Food Day aims to help do. The NEA Health Information Network, a partnering organization of Food Day, also sponsors several initiatives to promote healthy food in schools. But eating right is challenging in our over-processed and fast food world. The parents don’t want their school turned over, they want the resources teachers and students need to succeed, like interventionists, home/school coordinators and technology. #schoolequity A video posted by NEA Today (@neatoday) on Dec 12, 2014 at 12:26pm PST /**/ /**/ We all know the importance of a well-balanced diet for good health. The ASD selects schools, measured solely on test scores, and then turns them over to charter school operators to manage.
Parents and community members in East Nashville have also organized a group called East Nashville United (ENU), with three objectives: to empower the entire East Nashville community, to revitalize East Nashville schools through true investment and resources and to foster community engagement. The emergency manager law “rests on the premise that democracy in predominantly African-American cities is unnecessary and that the state knows best,” wrote Louise Seamster and Jessica Welburn in The Root. In the STEM related arts class, students interact with Vanderbilt scientists once a week for hands-on learning. Resources are available through Healthy Steps, Healthy Lives to assist educators in creating lessons plans covering food and exercise. Susan Rider, a 2nd grade teacher, has been at Inglewood for 30 years and has never seen this level of involvement at the school. “I’m really proud of how the community is pulling together for us,” said Rider. The actions that would enable Flint to poison its own children kicked off in 2011, when Michigan Gov.
Helen Binns, director of the lead evaluation clinic at Chicago Children’s Hospital, is to provide them with excellent educational experiences—at school and at home. The Association also has a message for lawmakers: Not for one more second will NEA stand idly by in the midst of the institutional and environmental racism that enabled the water crisis in Flint. “My brave colleagues are worried and heartsick, but they are determined that justice will be done and their union makes them strong,” wrote Eskelsen García in a post to her blog, Lily’s Blackboard. Not an Act of God The Flint water crisis is entirely man made. The school added literacy and numeracy coaches, and teachers participate in weekly walkthroughs and peer review. At its headwaters are men who would sacrifice the health of poor, Black children to save some dollars.
The Food Day Curriculum, developed by Columbia Teachers College, helps bring food education into the classroom. They’ve also turned to social media to share news about Inglewood and school board happenings, as well as connect with parents at other schools in the area. “We, the ‘priority schools’ of East Nashville, have started a dialogue to see how we can help out each other,” said Sanders, who is also active with East Nashville United. Educators from all over the country in town for a conference held a candle-light vigil outside the meetings to support the parents’ requests to boost neighborhood schools with proper resources rather that give them away to charter operators. And yet, when Flint residents protested the smell, color, and taste of the water flowing from their taps, state officials told them to “relax.” Eventually, a local pediatrician determined that the percentage of Flint children with lead poisoning doubled after Flint switched to the river, and even tripled in some neighborhoods. Operating mostly in Memphis with mixed results, ASD has selected two middle schools in Nashville, Madison and Neely’s Bend, for potential takeover even though data shows the number of students scoring proficient or advanced at the schools are nearly seven points higher than the ASD average.
Is that lead? Or changes in preschool curriculum? The rash on McClendon’s face. In some homes, the drinking water actually met the definition of toxic waste. “Everyone was being poisoned,” says Eskelsen García. We encourage everyone to teach a kid to cook and use Food Day recipes to plan a cooking activity with children,” says Smelkova. Litton gained after-school programs and “club” periods once a month where students choose a teacher sponsored, nonacademic club to go to. One will take place at Hillis Elementary School, Krist will lead ‘Eco Hour’ where three groups of students will take turns picking vegetables from the school garden, following a recipe such as kale chocolate chip cookies and then baking a snack in the school cafeteria.
Tennessee is home to the statewide Achievement School District (ASD). With the Metropolitan Nashville Education Association (MNEA) as partners, educators are feeling that support. The message is clear: Parents aren’t happy with top-down “solutions” –especially those that haven’t worked elsewhere. Flint teacher Darlene McClendon (Photo by Jose Juarez) ‘Are We Going to Die?’ These days, the fifth- and sixth-graders in McClendon’s classroom play distractedly with plastic water bottles. The crowd learned the steps Litton has taken to become a strong neighborhood school that’s a true asset to the community. As Principal Bruno explained, “When I first got here, parents would sell their houses when their children were about to enter middle school. They are right to worry.
Indeed, 52 percent of Michigan’s African-American residents—compared to 2 percent of White residents—live in areas that are governed by emergency managers, report Detroit NAACP leaders. The district has decided not to convert Inglewood into a charter school next year and has provided the school with some much needed resources. In 2014, homework market Flint’s profit-motivated managers made a decision: They would stop buying water from Detroit, ending 50 years of service, and instead get it from the Flint River—a graveyard for abandoned appliances and auto parts. Last year’s event drew more than 32,000 participants representing all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and organizers are expecting even more participants this year, says Lilia Smelkova, Food Day campaign manager. “This year’s theme is food education with a focus on cooking with kids. Organizers have provided a Guide for School Organizers and a school resource page for more information on ways to celebrate Food Day in your school. The stomachaches and headaches suffered by Christian’s 10-year-old son. Thousands of participants will host activities in schools, workplaces and in communities to address nutrition and other food-related issues.
Education support professionals can plan an “Eat Real” menu to feature local fruits and vegetables and highlight new healthy food options. In the long term, it also means tackling the institutional racism that causes the excessive exposure of Black and Brown Americans to toxic air and water. “How dare you poison our children?” demands Flint teacher Darlene McClendon. This year’s students are less attentive than previous groups and “when you ask them a question, it’s gone like you didn’t teach them anything,” says McClendon worriedly. It supports the federal Smart Snacks in Schools nutrition standards as well as state and local efforts to create healthy school food environments. We even had a waiting list.” For Litton, the list of successes will keep growing with continued investment from the district and involvement from the schools’ families. A pastor told the New Yorker it got so stinky he stopped using it for baptisms.
For other neighborhood schools in East Nashville, the fight for the right resources will continue. There is also a commitment at Litton to teacher development. At the same time, Virginia Tech researchers found that at least a quarter of Flint households had water that exceeded regulatory limits for lead. Though not out of the woods until student achievement rises, the organizing efforts at Inglewood seem to be working. The following day the entire student body will get a chance to sample what was made, Krist says. Organized by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Food Day is a national grassroots campaign and for healthy, affordable and sustainable food that takes place annually on October 24.
So what did they do to make sure their voice got heard? Organize! At two recent meetings with ASD leaders at Madison and Neely’s Bend, parents packed the room to praise their neighborhood schools and denounce hostile charter takeovers. Every sign seems ominous. “Are we going to die?” is an actual question that students ask their teachers in Flint. General Motors complained the water was rusting their auto parts. Students help maintain school gardens and engage in cooking activities and nutrition lessons through a partnership with the schools and FoodCorps, says Chelsea Krist, service member of the Des Moines FoodCorps. It’s resources like this that can turn a school around rather than seeking a non-existent silver bullet solution. “Give us two years to work with these extra resources we just got,” said Rider, adding that nobody has a right to make a decision until they spend a day at the school to see how hard the educators are working for their students.
But there is something to be optimistic about. “The conversation here is changing to ‘how can we improve things for kids,’” said Croft. “Instead of talking about other things in politics, they are talking about education.” Two elementary schools in East Nashville are being considered for charter conversion, including Inglewood where Lily visited today. Also, the Bag the Junk project is a website that aims to educate, mobilize and empower school communities in support of healthy foods. In the short term, this means NEA members will fight to hold accountable those who are responsible for poisoning some 8,000 Flint children, and press Congress to make critical investments in nurses, counselors, nutritional programs, and special education supports in every Flint school, says United Teachers of Flint President Karen Christian. In Des Moines, Iowa FoodCorps will celebrate Food Day by spotlighting some of the weekly programs it carries out in several schools. While one measure of progress may be student achievement data, for 6th grade reading teacher Ashley Croft, another telling measure is that “for the first time ever, every time slot for parent-teacher conferences was filled this year.
All activities are tied to national curriculum standards in all academic content areas for grades K-6. When teacher Michelle Gushen celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech in her Flint, Mich., high school classroom this year, every one of her students said they have a dream, too. The city figured to save about $8.5 million. Is that because of lead poisoning? Or is it stress?
This past fall, Flint kindergartners scored lower on readiness tests. Rick Snyder pushed through a far-reaching law that expanded his ability to seize power from the elected leaders of this majority Black city and hand it to an “emergency manager”—a person whose primary duties appear to be cutting costs. Soon after, Flint residents noticed changes in their water. At Inglewood Elementary School, once the Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO) got wind that their school was up for possible charter conversion for the 2015-16 school year, they immediately started a letter writing campaign and petition drive to request any changes be “community-driven by each school for its own scalable solution.” The PTO kept doing PTO things like a Fall Festival and movie nights, and added responsibilities like enlisting community support for bringing volunteers into the school on an unprecedented level. But NEA does have an answer for Flint students who have been asking their teachers if they’ll die from drinking the lead-poisoned water that poured from their faucets last year. And it’s about clean water. “Who would ever think a child would have to ask for clean water in the United States?” Gushen asked NEA President Lily Eskelsen García during her February visit to the area. “And [we] don’t really have an answer for them,” Gushen said.
Principal Bruno then worked with parents to change the school culture and implemented a school-wide discipline plan that focuses on positive reinforcement. NEA President Lily Eskelsen García (third from left) and educators attending an NEA conference in Nashville show their support for the Madison and Neely¹s Bend Middle School communities. They didn’t want to come here.” But he started to invite parents to come visit the school to check out the changes, and three years later, enrollment is growing. In addition to cooking demonstrations educators can participate in the event in a variety of ways. The organization has registered two activities with Food Day. Litton also adopted a STEM program, and every nine weeks students participate in an interdisciplinary research project to better their community. Missing from these plans has been input from staff and families from those struggling schools.
Engage us instead. — EastNashvilleUnited (@EastNashUnited) December 5, 2014 /**/ /**/ This is What Happens When A School Gets Resources it Needs Isaac Litton Middle School, where Inglewood feeds into, is a great example of what financial investment and community involvement can do to build a school up. Because the very best strategy to countering lead exposure in children, says Dr. Carter, who has two kids in Nashville schools, said she is excited to have her eldest child at Litton. “We’re really happy with our middle school experience, and I feel lucky to be able to say that.” She credits a culture where kids feel safe and encouraged to be smart, the rewards system the school implemented for making good character choices, and the teachers for being creative in the classroom with what’s working at the school. “Here are the words I’m hearing: creative, community, relationships, positive, love,” said Eskelsen García during her visit. “There’s a loyalty here not just to the school, but really to the students.” What changed for the school that received an “F” on the state achievement report card for every subject, every year from 2009-2011? For starters, the city invested $7 million to renovate the school. During a visit to Litton, NEA President Lily Eskelsen García hosted a panel with parent Virginia Carter, Principal Tracy Bruno and Rider.