Beginning a Literacy Partnership with Dr. William L. Cobb Elementary School

Dr. Mary Murray Autry

Dr. Mary Murray Autry, Associate Director
Engage San Francisco Literacy Programs

 

When first visiting Dr. William L. Cobb Elementary School (Cobb) in October 2016, with hopes of beginning a literacy partnership, I vividly remember entering the office area and being pleasantly surprised to see a wall covered with banners. These were not just any banners but banners representing various universities throughout the United States and graduates from this very elementary school. I had no trouble identifying the principal’s office door that had been labeled with the name of his alma mater. The banners clearly sent a message to me about the mission of the school and the value of education. Because I really did not know what to expect from this meeting, I began with, “The University of San Francisco, through its Engage San Francisco initiative within the Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good would like to partner with you in creating a literacy program.”

We have made significant strides since our initial meeting. The literacy program began as a pilot with a shared vision to improve reading proficiency and support K-5 students to reach grade-level proficiency. We also agreed to place university students as volunteers in a first-second grade combination class and a third-fourth grade combination classroom to provide relevant literacy experiences for classroom students.

One freshman and four juniors comprise the pilot of cohorts and began as interns working with elementary students and our community partners in spring 2017. These interns are undergraduate candidates in the Dual Degree in Teacher Preparation Program at the University of San Francisco. Under the guidance of Engage San Francisco staff, the school’s literacy coach, and classroom teachers, interns work six to twelve hours a week to improve K-5 literacy proficiency while fostering competent communication while speaking, reading, writing, and listening. Interns, required to complete the entire semester must consistently demonstrate the same professional and ethical behaviors expected of teachers, and are enrolled in a 1-unit Directed Study course. The course, Literacy, Environments, and Assessments, emphasizes the basic history of the community, literacy instruction, social emotional development, trauma informed approaches, and effective use of the learning environment.

Several questions guide the development of the literacy program. These include: What would this literacy program look like? How do we define literacy? What are the literacy goals of the school? What is best practice for TK-5 students? What are worthy and reasonable goals for university interns? How do we involve teachers? How do we build a relationship of trust with the school in light of the fact that a previous partnership folded? From these inquiries, these key questions emerged:

  1. How do we create a literacy program for traditionally disenfranchised K-5 students who consistently perform lower than their white counterparts in spite of laws and policies designed to support their academic achievement?
  2. How do we create a literacy program for teacher candidates, that models effective teaching, embraces diversity, addresses biases, and focuses on community?
  3. How do we move the conversation from “volunteers” in the classroom to members of the school community?

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The initial launch of the pilot has been far from perfect, but we have learned as we face challenges, and we make changes and restate our commitment to moving from the pilot stage to executing the literacy program in the fall of the 2017-2018 academic year. Feedback from school administrators has led to discussions on expanding the program and including two prekindergarten classrooms. Initial findings thus far suggest that although only 20 percent of interns had any involvement with the school community prior to placement, 100 percent see themselves committed to continuing the internship during the 2017-2018 academic year. We have also learned that the school’s literacy needs were broader than the original plan. Instead of teaching in only two classrooms, interns work in classes across the grade span and have begun the process of seeing themselves as more than volunteers in the school but actually members of a community.

Learn more about Engage San Francisco’s literacy programs and other community partnerships by contacting Karin Cotterman, Director of Engage San Francisco <kmcotterman@usfca.edu>

Traveling with the Esther Madriz Diversity Scholars to NYC

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Janelle Nunez (’19) is a participant of the Esther Madriz Diversity Scholars cohort that went to New York this January.  Here she shares her reflections on this transformative trip

 

During the University of San Francisco’s winter intercession, the Esther Madriz Diversity Scholars (EMDS) got the incredible opportunity to spend a week in New York. Prior to their travel, this living-learning community spent a semester exploring issues of diversity, inequality, and social justice through the lens of hip-hop. The four elements of hip-hop (MCing, DJing, B-boy/B-girling, and graffiti writing) were examined as well as the fundamental relationship to the network of youth subcultures. From the origins of hip-hop music as it began in the Bronx neighborhoods to the multi-billion dollar business that it is today, the EMDS students analyzed this incredible journey as a means to better understand their conception of “resistance”and “social justice” that has engulfed our nation’s history. Now that you have a better understanding of who EMDS is, let me introduce myself and take you to New York on this recent adventure.

My name is Janelle Nunez and I am currently a sophomore at USF. I am a History major, Chemistry minor, and pre-med. Like many of my fellow cohort members, I have a passion for social change and have a love for hip-hop. What makes the EMDS experience so unique amongst many examples, is that all us of come from various walks of life. Our cohort has members from Southern California, the Bay Area, Chicago, and Latin America, each of us with diverse majors as well. You take all that diversity and put them together and it makes for well rounded perspectives that were applied to our New York excursion. The New York trip was an amazing experience and I know the members from my cohort who were able to take part in this will agree. However, there were three events that my cohort and I were able to participate in that exceeded all of our expectations, and that was the Art as a Weapon conference, the visit to the BOOM!Health center, and the discussion at the Apollo Theater, “Where do we go from here?” Let’s explore these experiences.

Art as a Weapon

On one of of our last days of the trip we attended Art as a Weapon, an all day conference that discussed a variety of topics on the use of art as a form of activism and healing. The conference agenda included a morning keynote address, two workshop sessions and a closing panel. One of the workshops I attended was called “Happened Yesterday, Happening Tomorrow.” This session discussed the Black Lives Matter movement, and looked at the historical context of police brutality, and racial profiling. In this small intimate setting, our groups conversed about how artists have responded to injustice with the use of poetry and performance. We were put into small groups and together made a collaborative art piece of poetry that we later shared with the larger group. What struck me most from this experience, was the realization that historically, police brutality against people of color has been an ongoing battle. From the first graphic images of Emmit Till to the case of Trayvon Martin, history doesn’t necessarily repeat itself but it sure does rhyme.

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(New York City) We are Esther Madriz Diversity Scholars

BOOM Health 

Our visit to BOOM!Health in the south side of the Bronx, introduced us to a full range of prevention. This one stop shop, provides syringe access, health coordination, housing, behavioral health, legal and advocacy services to over 8,000 communities in New York. After having one-on-one conversations with their employees, it was inspiring to see their hard work and dedication even when they left the building. The center actively works to fight the viral HIV and hepatitis illnesses that can severely harm those who are active drug users or at risk for HIV/AIDS. While we were there, my cohort and I were also trained in opioid overdose prevention. It was beautiful to see how the organization prioritized the dignity of its everyday members who receive services and made their facility a comfortable place to call home. BOOM!Health is a family that works for its communities’ unique needs.

Apollo Theater: Where do We go from Here?

Lastly, our time spent at the Apollo Theater during M.L.K. weekend discussing “Where do we go from here?” celebrated the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King. Here EMDS students were able to engage in dialogue about inclusion and what that means for our future. The Black Lives Matter co-founder Opal Tometi and Shaun King, a social justice journalist, were a part of a panel that we got to hear from. It was an empowering afternoon with poetry renditions with a theme was about igniting hope. The speakers reminded me that this country is more than our president. It is about us—the people that create power and movement for change.

Thank you for joining me in this experience of social change.

Interested in becoming an Esther Madriz Diversity Scholar? Applications for next year’s 2017-18 EMDS cohort are due on February 28, 2017. Apply here

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Contributing from D.C. and Common Sense Media

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Ayah Mouhktar (’18)
USF in D.C. Fellow

 

Ayah Mouhktar is one of our not-so-secret weapons in D.C.  As a Student Communications Assistant for the McCarthy Center, she took on the mission of serving the Winter semester as a participant in the USF in D.C. Fellows program. We are thrilled to report that she is applying her skills in an internship at the national office of San Francisco based, Common Sense Media, a non-profit education and advocacy  organization promoting safe technology and media for children.

Ayah has wasted no time in jumping back into her blogging. She shared her first blog post focusing  on a policy campaign called the FAMILY Act, 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave. Click here to read.

Ayah is a Newmark Scholar and recipient of the Betty L. Blakley Scholarship. Read her earlier blog post at http://bit.ly/2lktCut. Meet our other USF in D.C. Fellows at http://bit.ly/2l8Vxet

The Worst that Could Happen with Betsy DeVos

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David Donahue, Director and Professor, Urban Education Reform

A recent article by Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post was headlined “What’s the worst that could happen with Betsy DeVos as education secretary?” Only in a Trump administration where knowledge and expertise are not considered assets would DeVos be nominated for secretary of education. DeVos has neither attended public schools nor worked in them. She has not sent her children to public schools and she has no credentials or degrees in education. She does head a political action committee “All Children Matter” that helps politicians supporting privatization.

In the Washington Post article, Strauss lays out two scenarios under DeVos, both developed by Aaron Pallas, a professor at Teachers College, Columbia University. One of the scenarios has DeVos leading the federal government in replacing Title I support to poor schools with $20 billion in funding for vouchers enabling families to send children to private, less regulated, for-profit schools that track success less by the academic achievement of their students and more by their ability to attract students – and the dollars attached to them – in a marketplace.

Unfortunately, research on vouchers offers no evidence of their effectiveness. The achievement of children attending private schools on vouchers is no better than if they were in public schools, and the public schools with fewer dollars have even more difficulty educating the children left behind.

Market based reforms of education treat schools like businesses, students like clients. Education does indeed provide wonderful individual benefits, and not just preparation for a good paying job, but — one hopes — discovery of lifelong intellectual pursuits and passions. In the United States, public schools also serve the common good, something that seems lost on market based reformers like voucher proponents. Some families with children in private school support vouchers with the argument that they should not be “doubly burdened” paying for their own children’s education and supporting public education with their tax dollars as well. A good society is not just the sum of everyone looking out for himself or herself, however. Even enlightened self-interest should remind those without children in public schools that their health depends on educated nurses, their safety on educated brake mechanics, the future of our democracy on an electorate able to distinguish fake news from journalism.

Defense of the common good will require action on multiple fronts in the next four years. Public schools are key to that common good. They are worth fighting for, they are worth funding, and they are worth keeping out of the hands of privateers, like Betsey DeVos.

Betsy DeVos’ nomination was originally scheduled to be reviewed by the Senate Committee last Wednesday morning. DeVos’ hearing has been rescheduled for Tuesday, January 17 at 5:00pm.

Introducing our Spring 2017 USF in Washington, D.C. Fellows

USF in DC participants are undergraduate students selected for a semester-long program in Washington, D.C. that integrates a full-time internship with relevant coursework taught by USF faculty and University of California Washington Program (UC DC) faculty. Students choose from a range of elective courses and internship opportunities that meet their interests and skill sets and spend their semester engaging with peers from across the country in the heart of the capital, where they will live, learn, and explore all that DC has to offer. Meet our current cohort of USF in DC students and learn about their hopes and expectations for the coming semester.

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Joshua Berman, Politics ’18

Josh is a Newmark Scholar and will be interning with Bose Public Affairs Group as a legislative intern. He plans on using his time at the firm to build his knowledge of advancing legislative strategies related to science and technology, education, and energy policy issues to guide him toward his goal of becoming a lobbyist. During his time in D.C., Josh hopes to gain hands-on advocacy experience that he will bring back to USF and the San Francisco political system.

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Luxinaree Bunmathong, International Studies ’17

“Luxinaree will be interning for the Stimson Center in their Managing Across Boundaries department. She plans to utilize her internship to develop research and writing skills to guide her towards her goal of becoming a senior analyst at a think tank. During her time in D.C., Luxinaree hopes to gain hands-on experience in regards to environmental policies that she will be able to take back with her to USF.

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Sofia Greco-Byrne, Politics ’18

Sofia will be interning for Senator Jeanne Shaheen‘s office on the Hill during her time in DC. She hopes to gain a better understanding for how Congress operates while also aiding a lawmaker who believes in the same progressive values she does.

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Maggie Fields, Environmental Studies ’18

Maggie, is a Newmark Scholar  and will be interning for Congressman Jared Huffman. As an Environmental Studies student, she hopes to bring a fresh perspective to The Hill. She plans to strengthen her administrative experience and obtain first-hand exposure to the legislative process while interning. She hopes this internship will be a catalyst for her future in environmental justice and policy.

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Ayah Fawaz-Farouk Mouhktar, Media Studies ’18

Ayah Mouhktar, a recipient of both a Betty L. Blakley Scholar and a Newmark Scholar award,  will be interning for Common Sense Media in their Kids Action Department. She plans to use her internship to build on her knowledge of policy and advocacy on behalf of America’s kids and education. During her time in D.C., Ayah hopes to gain experience in working in our nation’s capital and seeing real change occur through the hardwork done by non-profits and applying that knowledge in her last year back at USF and in San Francisco.

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Giorgia Scelzo, Organizational Behavior and Leadership ’18

Giorgia is a Finance Major minoring in Politics and hopes to intern in Congress having the goal to combine her passions for business and politics to promote democracy. As an established hard worker, Giorgia hopes to gain Capitol Hill experience in public policy making, national security and international relations. These are experiences she will bring back to her USF community.

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Kaylee Van der Zee, Politics ’18

Kaylee Van der Zee will be interning for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s leading LGBTQ+ civil rights advocacy organization, in the Fundraising & Direct Marketing department. She is looking forward to spending a semester in the nation’s capital and hopefully gain the skills that will prepare her for a career in politics.

A Day at Prince Hall Learning Center in the Western Addition

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The Prince Hall Computer Learning Center (PHLC), an Engage San Francisco community partner in the heart of the Western Addition, is a year-round learning enrichment program that provides structure and support in the form of emotional and academic enrichment programs. Through after-school and summer programming, Prince Hall develops individualized support for children based on their academic needs and family situation. The small scale of this program (up to 20 children) allows for customized, personal interventions that are sustained and based on a strong groundwork of trust.

 

As one enters Prince Hall you are welcomed by Ms. Miram Desmukes, who has 18 years of experience directing the Prince Hall Learning Center. Along with Ms. Andi Horde, who has been an Associate Director with the program for 10 years, one immediately sees the center as an intuitive, loving environment that is labor intensive and intimate.

An initial question comes to mind:  What kind of methods of teaching do they use in their program? Ms. Andi explains as one of the children leaned on her and she kissed her on the head and said, “We are a nurturing education-based program, lots of hugs around here.” While Ms. Andi and Ms. Miriam are extremely humble in how they describe their work, it is clear that it takes extraordinary expertise and time to understand and relate to the kids on a level much deeper than hugs.

“There is a certain amount of respect that we try to embody so that they don’t feel that they need to act out. We respect them. They respect us. Everything is pretty much communal around here. The older children look out for the younger ones and give them pointers.”

Prince Hall is an active partner with several USF literacy projects including America Reads, the Masters in Teaching Reading/reading specialist program, and the Xochitl Book Project and as such, ties into the values USF holds close to heart:  education, social justice and leading to succeed. Collaboration with families is essential, especially to the Prince Hall Learning Center.

The Center is a program of Bethel AME Church and the Allen Community Development Corporation, which is the for-profit arm of AME Church along with the parishioners who support the program by purchasing snack items of need that are listed in the church newsletter. Ms. Miriam and  Ms. Andi also contribute snack items as well as learning aides such as  flashcards, vocabulary cards and books. They provide transportation to the after-school program from some of schools on a daily basis.

When asked what items they needed, they said, “state of the art equipment, like learning tools, some technology, standing desks, writing materials, educational supplies, equipment, toys, materials.” Given additional resources, they would formalize their teen group; facilitate more conversations and mentorship with the Center’s graduates who return home from college and meet up to discuss the transition to higher education, and build out their technology program. It is clear this program is rich with vision, inspiration, deep intergenerational relationships, and succeeding despite many unmet resource needs.

Prince Hall reflects the values and vision of USF and Engage San Francisco, which is why it is great partnership site for USF students to learn. In addition to the teaching the Center does with Western Addition children, they also offer a supportive learning environment for USF undergraduate and graduate students who work with them.

If you woud like to support Prince Hall Computer Learning Center, or USF’s partnerships with them, visit http://www.princehallclc.org/ to see how you can support them or contact Karin Cotterman, Director of Engage San Francisco, kmcotterman@usfca.edu.

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