It takes a community to raise a school

root - Posted on 15 October 2007

Parents and youth of color, a superintendent and a principal from Richmond and San Pablo take a field trip to June Jordan School for Equity in San Francisco

by Tiny aka Lisa Gray-Garcia/PoorNewsNetwork

"Without you, Mom, your work, your struggle, your help--I wouldnt have made it through high school." Jamil Gant, a young African Descendent man was speaking softly, barely looking up, reading from a letter he wrote to his mom. The letter and the moment, a moment between a mother and son, a child and his family, a youth and an elder, was private and beautiful, touching and quiet. And then the room exploded in applause. The occasion was a pre-graduation fundraiser, and this letter was read in front of over 75 people at June Jordan School For Equity (JJSE).

I had the privilege of being introduced to the innovative, community-based teaching practices of the June Jordan School for Equity in San Francisco through a study conducted by Stanford University's School Redesign Network and Justice Matters, a non-profit research and policy institute where I work as the communications director. My position includes communications support for several campaigns focused on changing the educational inequities present for low-income students of color in California. One of these campaigns has exposed me extreme inequities happening in West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD)

While I was inspired by the educational innovation at June Jordan, I was simultaneously increasingly angered by the experiences of low-income parents and students of color who I am working with as part of Justice Matters Real Schools Now campaign located in WCCUSD. The current situation of endless tests and scripted curricula does not work for our children,” said Lee Lemons, a parent of two children who attend schools in Richmond and San Pablo.

The two parallel worlds of June Jordan and WCCUSD came together last week in a field trip organized by parent leaders in West Contra Costa who decided it was urgent to bring a model of teaching and learning back to district leaders in WCCUSD. A model that focused on real teaching, not endless testing, a school that really provided its students with meaningful curricula,a school that included parents in its core activities and a school that understood social and racial justice and youth leadership.

Lunch Session with students, teachers and founders of June Jordan School for Equity

"I had homeroom in middle school. I barely went and my teachers didnt even know me," said Monica G., a senior at June Jordan who spoke to the group of us on the on the May 4th field trip from Richmond to June Jordan which included WCCUSD parents, youth, a high school principal, and Superintendent Bruce Harter. Monica continued, "My advisor at June Jordan was in my business from the beginning. He called me at home, he checked on me all along and then he even came to my kitchen. He didnt give up on me." Monica was describing the extensive work and commitment of all the teachers, advisors and parents at June Jordan and how that kept her not only in school but interested in achieving at school.

"I was so focused on seeing this vision become a reality because of my work in other school settings where I witnessed so many low-income kids of color fall through the cracks." June Jordan co-founder, Shane Safir described her commitment to the idea of June Jordan.

In 2000, struck with the flagrant educational inequities she was seeing Shane collaborated with three other young teachers (Kate Goka, Matt Alexander, and Emmanuel Medina) and started Small Schools for Equity (SSE) to advocate for new educational models for San Francisco youth. Teachers, parents, students and community organizations worked together for two years to study successful small urban schools across the country. These model schools have created high academic results for urban youth.Yet there were no schools like them in San Francisco.

In 2003, SSE won a competitive proposal process in the San Francisco Unified School District. As a result, in August 2003, SSE opened June Jordan School for Equity, a new model small high school. The school's mission is to prepare a diverse group of San Francisco youth to achieve the highest academic standards so that they give voice to their dreams and grow into healthy, productive adults. It nurtures this mission by helping the students "to discover and explore their passions, to grow into independent, reflective thinkers, and to build connected, socially just communities."

The Portfolio Presentation at June Jordan School For Equity

"My first question to you all is, how far would you go to protect your families?" Seata, a 15 year old sophomore at June Jordan stood at the front of a class of advisors, teachers, family members and our group from WCCUSD posing a question to us all as she launched into her "portfolio presentation."

June Jordan's portfolio presentations are one of the compelling ways that the educational experience at the school is markedly different from the testing-only nightmare of children trying to learn in most public schools suffering under the No Child Left Behind Act climate of high stakes testing and scripted curricula. Rather than only barrage children with tests to supposedly prove their understanding of a subject or subjects through bubbling in answers to multiple choice questions, the portfolio presentations require that the students create a whole demonstration that includes a multi-page report, research and analysis on the subject they are presenting.

Seata was presenting a complex report on a book she had read that included an analysis of family connectedness, global and local trade implications for poor migrant workers and her own critique of this society's' anti-immigration policies. Not to mention a complicated math and science presentation as well.

As the afternoon sun began to glow , the WCCUSD families gathered in the JJSE parking lot to de-brief the powerful day "I would like to go to school here," said Rachel Chinn, 15, a Richmond resident who was on the field trip from WCCUSD with her mother. "I wish they would allow us to do things like that in our school." "This was very inspiring, now we just need to make the district (WCCUSD) understand how important real teaching is," added her mother.

As all of the parent and student leaders from WCCUSD stepped onto the van to return home, visibly changed by the innovation they had witnessed at JJSE my mind wandered to the letter i had heard Jamil read to his mama. I began to construct another letter and this time it was co-written by all the low-income students of color in WCCUSD and it was addressed to School Districts and District leaders in WCCUSD and all across the country, this time it stated, "without art, science, less testing, real teaching, and all of our parent's leadership, students like us won't make it through school."


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