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.