Monday, June 20, 2016

Out-of-School Time at Renaissance West - Relationship Building and Trust

Out-of-School time offers and interesting conundrum that I had not expected.  I should have expected it, but I didn't.

With school, people are compelled to send their children by law.  However, out-of-school time is an option and requires intense relationship building and trust building to make it successful.

For the past year, the UNCC Writing Project and Discovery Place Inc. have been offering monthly out-of-school time community events at Renaissance West.  I've talked about that some here.

However, the trick has been getting parents and children to actually attend the events.  This is a brand new community and the residents don't know each other.  They don't know us.  And it's hard to separate us from all the people watching over them from the Charlotte Housing Authority.  The first step is to build a relationship of trust.  It is to let folks know that we are there to learn as much as we are to teach and the last thing we are there to do is to tell them how to be in the world.

Writing all of this has made me wonder what we ARE there to do.  We have definite views about literacy and learning and the intersections between science and literacy.  We are offering informal learning spaces.  But we are also really working hard to keep what the residents of the community already know if front of us and use that to connect up the world of school with their lives.  And that's the really hard part because we have to first earn trust before we can learn about these things.

In May, after 8 months of coming to the community, this little girl came flying through the door with her grandmother and said "I'm SO happy to see you here."

YES!  A step in the right direction.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016


One of the biggest questions in Urban Schools and student work there is the one of engagement.  These students are often depicted as lethargic and uninterested in their education, in what's happening in the classroom, and the work they are assigned.

There are loads of reasons for this seeming disengagement, but as a teacher, I've always felt that the problem was with what I was offering, not with the students.  If they were disengaged, it was because I wasn't bringing my A game to the classroom.

Today,  I am sitting in the back of a classroom at Renaissance West where I am "leading" a camp based in oral histories.  I put that in quotes because today, for the last two hours, I have been working away on my own writing while the students work on a documentary using the footage the obtained by interviewing the seniors in the neighborhood.  At the one hour mark, I called for a break.  They ignored me and kept working.  They are still working.  Talking together, googling to trouble-shoot, crafting their narrative, working in the music.  They are learning about writing, composition, Movie Maker, computers and technology in general, and about the world.  They are involved in social justice work and making sure their voices are heard.

These are not "special" students.  These are not even "A" students.  These are the same students who in the face of "getting ready for the test" appear lethargic and disinterested.  Because this "work" is real and it matters.   And THAT is what makes the difference.