Urban Education and Community Connections an Illinois State University Honors Contract completed by: Jessica Devos

For the Spring 2017 semester I chose to do my Honors Contract with Dr. Percell and in my TCH 219 course. The original idea was a reflection on urban education ideas and new things I learned from a trip to Pilsen with Dr. Percell's other TCH 219 section. I got the opportunity to go on another bus trip to Auburn Gresham shortly after the original trip, so I am reflecting here on both CPS trips. The following images and comments describe my reflections and what was going through my mind on my trips to CPS. Enjoy!
On April 21, 2017, I visited Benito Juarez Community Academy with Dr. Percell's section 1 of TCH 219. I chose to accompany the class on their trip so that I could gain more insight in urban education and community involvement. Over the course of the trip I realized that I was only receiving a teacher's perspective on urban education. Though this is extremely important, this teacher has been teaching for many years and has been going through the same process year after year. I would have been more interested in speaking to students to gain insight in what goes on during the course of their day and what they are going through. Working with students and getting to know students is very important to me and I look forward to working with students in the future.
Benito Juarez Community Academy is a public community high school in Pilsen. With about a 95% Latino student population and 96% of the students from low income families, Juarez offers students opportunities to grow through career focused programs such as culinary, fine arts, ROTC, medical, and computer science programs. Education can lead students to a world of possibilities. It is important for students to have access to such programs so that they can follow their passions and be set free once they leave the school's walls. The students that I observed respected Mr. Anaya and seemed to have a good relationship with him. In my opinion, the student- teacher relationship is very important and helps the students in many ways. By having a role model and teacher to talk to, the students can have a support system in the event that they do not have one in other areas of their life.
On April 21, 2017 I shadowed a math teacher from Juarez by the name of Jose Anaya. He and I had the opportunity to talk about the school during free periods and I was able to observe him during two of his classes throughout the day. Mr. Anaya teaches Bilingual Geometry, Honors Advanced Algebra, and a co-taught Advanced Algebra. The math department was very welcoming and willing to talk to me about their department. I enjoyed spending my time there and hope future math departments that I work with are as welcoming. Students take courses in the following order: Algebra, Geometry, Advanced Algebra, and Precalculus. There are honors options available that will cover calculus concepts but there is no AP Calculus option. There is however, an AP Statistics option for students.
Compared to the size of the school, which in my opinion was very large, the math department office seemed rather small. From previous schools I have seen, department offices accommodate one desk per teacher and a lunch/eating space. The math department has more than 15 teachers, so for that amount of teachers it seemed like it was lacking in space. They have 2 computers to take attendance and record grades. During their prep periods the teachers all hang out in this area. Most of the teachers in the math department are male, which I find rather interesting due to the 30 people in my current college track being predominantly female. I'm unaware of it this means that math education in general is becoming more predominantly female but I do believe there is an upswing in female math teachers.
For Mr. Anaya's classes, their curriculum is based off of common core standards and worksheets are used to get through the objectives. Most of the problems given are "real life" situations and are through the use of conjecturing through the worksheets. He has a set of classroom calculators for his students so that they do not need to buy their own or worry about losing or breaking it. Currently students do not have to take unit exams. The student must take a quiz on a set of concepts twice to show mastery of the content but once they take the quizzes they move onto the next concept. Mr. Anaya does allow three in-class quizzes in the event that the students need more time. Each quiz has 2-4 questions regarding the 2-3 objectives for that set. Over the course of the year, a student might get through 30-40 different content sections. I personally find this extremely interesting because I would like my students to show they learned the concepts more than a day or so after learning them. Though I believe benchmarking is important and that it is a great way to formatively assess the students, they are not showing growth over time.
For each class period, there is a bellringer that the students take turns going through in front of the class. Then the students will either be working on a worksheet or they will be taking a quiz. Though I believe this allows the students to quickly and rigorously go through the information I do not believe that the students are really taking the time to learn the information in a meaningful way. I also do not think there is enough time in a day to go through the information in an exciting way every day but I do believe that every so often if not once a week, the students should be engaging with the material in a way other than a worksheet. I can sense students getting bored with the worksheet method and not thoroughly learning the information. However, if this system works for Mr. Anaya's students then it is the system that should be used! The only homework a student has is what they do not finish in class. The students are very happy about this and like the way they are taught according to a student in one of Mr. Anaya's classes.
From what I understand, in a lot of the CPS schools they have two differentiations between "regulars" and honors. The "regulars" are students that would not be in an honors section. The honors students are typically described as independent workers that look deeper into a concept. They work at faster paces and are more responsible in terms of academics. Not that the "regulars" cannot work at these paces, but they typically work at slower paces and need more help along the way. These students have troubles explaining the concept and therefore need more time to grasp understanding of the ideas.
Many schools have student created murals throughout the school, but what I wish I could have captured more of was all of the student created art. The walls were covered with art that was student created and some of the these were created over 20 years ago. I believe that this allows the students to freely express themselves and allows them to leave a piece of their self in the school forever.
A majority of the students at Benito Juarez High School speak spanish. 94% of the student body is Latino according to the Illinois report card. Most of the students speak English but come home to spanish speaking parents. According to Mr. Anaya about half of the teachers at Juarez do not speak spanish. From the previous statistics, there are clear language barriers. However from what I noticed, teachers and students try their best to communicate in the ways that the students prefer. In Mr. Anaya's co-taught Advanced Algebra course he did go back and forth between spanish and english. Though I did not physically see any discourse between teacher and student, I am aware that the barriers do exist. I want to be able to communicate with my students no matter the language they speak at home and I hope I can do my best to communicate with them.
This image depicts the view outside of one of the classrooms I observed. This pavilion is new to the school and is now a memorial of important men and women that have served the country. I personally was taken away with how beautiful this area was. I believe this shows an immense amount of community support for the students because it provides them a space to reflect and gives them a space to relax and take comfort in.
These areas are also fairly new to the school and they are from left to right, the Performing Center, the gym and the soccer field. I believe that the addition of these areas shows that the school is constantly progressing for its students. The arts, sports, and extracurricular activities are extremely important to this school and there is a place for everyone to fit in. They have many activities ranging from soccer to band to choir to dance teams to spanish club. Students are actually required to take at least 2 years of gym classes and 2 years of arts/drama classes according to Mr. Anaya.
After visiting the school and shadowing Mr. Anaya for the school day, my TCH class took a trip to the National Museum of Mexican Art. This museum is located right in the heart of the Pilsen neighborhood in Chicago and is highly regarded among the community. This is also the largest museum of Mexican art in the United States which I thought was rather cool. I enjoyed seeing this museum and taking a look at the culture that the students in this community are from.
This was a wall in the museum and when I first saw it I was immobile. This wall was extremely powerful and had a lot of truth that most people are afraid to stay out loud, as most protests go. These signs represent the underlying issues in the community and the potential issues my students are facing. The ones that are blown up are signs that I personally felt were empowering to women, and arts in particular. I find artistic representations to be extremely powerful and hope that students revert to safe, artistic representations as opposed to violent options. Making your voice known is extremely important and I hope that my students and all teenagers in general feel that their voice can be heard and that they have a way to share their feelings and opinions.
I pulled this one out in particular because of the the word "normal", and it's right, this is not Normal, as in Normal, IL. From the areas I have been in and the areas I know very well there are different issues that students face. CPS students face different issues that I faced in high school and what the students in Central Illinois face currently. There are much fewer language barriers and there is a lot less poverty. Though they do exist everywhere, students in Chicago face a lack of family support as well. Many students have parents that work multiple jobs or are not around, some students take care of younger siblings and make meals, some don't have meals or homes at all. These issues are extremely real and as a teacher in a community I want to be aware of the issues that my students could potentially be faced with. I do not want to be naive like I have been up to this point. At this point, I have been naive to the issues that my students could potentially face and though I know they exist I forget that young students could be dealing with such issues.
At the museum, a street poster artist was allowing people to come in a design a blank poster with the word "justice" printed on it. When I first thought of the word "justice" I could only think of the phrase at the end of the Pledge of Allegiance "justice for all". Another student on the trip with me, Katie Sall, had mentioned that this particular phrase needed a question mark. I thought about that for awhile and realized that justice should be for all but in many cases, it is not. Though I would love everyone to get the justice they deserve I know for a fact that many different races, genders, and gender identities to name a few do not receive the proper justice that any human deserves.
The above pictures were taken at the museum and are some examples of my favorites. They represent many different forms of Mexican art and are made for many different reasons, to tell different stories and to represent their culture. I really enjoyed seeing all the different forms of art in the museum and I would love to go back in the future to see the museum again. Also, let's make more tacos, am I right?
This particular piece really made me think about perspective. As I went on the bus trips to Pilsen and then Auburn Gresham I kept being reminded of my perspective compared to the student's perspective. The students that are in these schools have a completely different mindset and experience than I had when I was in high school. In my high school experience my biggest issue was if I was going to get a ride home or if I was going to have to take the bus, and most often there was always an accessible bus, and some of these students travel up to an hour to get to their school. By my senior year, I had a car to drive to school, and some of these families do not even have a family car. So my perspective of what my students could experience are completely unknown and my experiences are overall completely different to what my students could experience. I am both nervous and excited to get to work with students in such extreme situations and hope I can be a support system for them if they are ever in a situation that they cannot work with on their own.
These images represent some of the things I saw on my walk through Pilsen. I went to El Acambaro and got some really good bread. We had an opportunity to walk through the neighborhood and experience that lifestyle. This only strengthens my beliefs on how important the community life is. It is inclusive and welcoming and gives everyone a space to be included.
On April 25, 2017 I visited Auburn Gresham and Neal F. Simeon Career Academy with Dr. April Mustian's SED 388 class. The purpose for their trip was to present funding for an afterschool program, Royal, that is at the local elementary school, John W. Cook Elementary. During the trip we were able to visit Saint Sabina as well as witness the club Royal and the poetry club from Simeon, Writer's Never Die, present poems/raps to their peers as well as this group of college students. It was an incredible experience and one I will never forget.
During the first part of the trip the class got to participate in something called circles. The presenters said that this is something they use with their students when they need to open up about a topic. It is meant to show respect for the person speaking and provide a safe space to share feelings, ideas, etc. This church represents a huge safe haven for the community and the pastor is well liked throughout the area. Many people use this area for protection and many of students might need a community space to feel at home if they do not have another such space. The church is also extremely important to this community because of their celebration of their faith. This is also a different concept to me because I grew up without celebrating any religion. This means a couple things, I am unbiased towards all religions and I lack knowledge about most if not all religions. I hope I am able to help my students even with this religious diversity.
A major point of discussion in the church was restorative justice. This means that every side is told in a situation and that they are given the justice that is reasonable with their side of the story. The problem is that a lot of people in this neighborhood do not receive the justice they deserve and work very hard to even get a say in what they did or believe. Once people end up in the criminal justice system it is also hard to get out of it, and many students, and community members struggle with similar issues on a regular basis.
This is a picture of a "Black Jesus" that is hung in the church. Here I want to talk about some of my fears with privilege. I always fear working with those students that have so many struggles because of how privileged I feel in today's society. However, even with the privilege I am still diverse and unique and should not feel guilty because I have what I do have in my life. A majority of my education has been paid for by scholarships or grants. I am lucky to have received such amazing supporters of my education and even feel privileged with those. I feel unprepared to work with students that have dealt with so many different life struggles. I wish I was more prepared from classes but these things are difficult to teach. I also feel as a young white female that it would be difficult to gain respect from students who are so different from me. Not that I see this stopping me from being the best teacher I can be, but it definitely a struggle I could face in the upcoming years. I'm not even sure if I should feel worried about such a thing. Does it even matter? Something I still hope to learn and gain insight on is how students react with me as a teacher. This is something that is next to impossible to teach because it alters from class to class. Hopefully I can gain this confidence in the future.
There was a point on this trip that I was questioning the definition of what it means to be a teacher. I eventually came to the conclusion that a teacher is a role model to students who are going through substantial personal developments and to integrate my content to something that is beneficial to them. It is also providing a service to students and their community so that a student can pursue the future of their choice. I would love to be able to give my students beneficial skills that they can use once they leave my class so that they can pursue whatever opportunities they want. The only problem is I feel like I am not being properly prepared to teach students such tasks. Some additional things I would like to be taught is how to work with special education students and to actually work with them prior to becoming a teacher. Something else is I would like to be taught about mental illnesses, family issues, and violence issues in major cities, just to get an idea of things my students could be going through. I want to be taught the things everyone says, you can't learn until you get there.
This was not the exact sign that was used at the schools but it was something along these lines. I noticed before I saw the sign that there definitely was not a cell phone issue at these schools. This was interesting to me because I can only think about all the safety concerns that pop into my head. I immediately fear that students will not be able to communicate with parents about their arriving to and home from school. Traveling in Chicago seems dangerous enough alone, but without a cell phone even more so. I spoke to someone about this idea and he informed me that the most realistic reason was because it was a huge distraction in the classroom which I would never deny but cell phones are used for other reasons other than social media. As long as I enforce the lack of cellphones in my classroom I do not think I would care if my students had them on campus.
The most important statement that really hit home for me was "COLLEGE IS THE WAY!!!!!". Though I am clearly a supporter of college, hence why I am even working on this project in the first place, I do not think that college is the right place for everyone. I realize Simeon has Career Academy in the title but college is not the only place a person could obtain their future career plans from. It is important to keep options open for students and to allow students to pick the path that works the best for them in the long run.
This flyer describes what I witnessed at Simeon. There were 7 eighth grade students and 3 high school students that performed. Each one of them had me in tears because of how real and how terrifying they were. A majority of the topics they spoke about was about how they felt like they didn't have a voice and thoughts of suicide to escape what was going on in their lives. These are very real thoughts that I am too naive to believe high school students have. It is things like this that prove students need the support system from the school and church environments. Some student really feel like they have no other options and it is wonderful that there are options like Royal and Writers Never DIe for students to express their emotions, feelings, and life in a safe environment. I was forever changed after seeing these speeches.
This is a sculpture outside of the Saint Sabina church. It depicts a girl graduating and a smaller girl looking up to her. I believe it allows students to continue believing in education and what it can do for a person. I also believe it is important that the kids of tomorrow are looking up to the kids of today. It is important for kids to have role models but they can't have role models if those students don't have proper instruction in the classroom. All students give faith to their siblings and other kids of the community.

Overall, I feel like I gained a large amount of insight into urban education after going on these trips. They not only made me feel extremely outside of my comfort zone, but opened my eyes to things that my students could really be dealing with at the age of 15. I feel like I am more open to diversity and differences that my students may have to myself. I hope to be a resource for my students in the future and that would be really difficult if I was so closed minded and naive to issues that people deal with. Looking forward, I am extremely excited to gain even more experience this upcoming summer by participating in STEP-UP through the Chicago- ISU Teacher Pipeline. I hope that these experiences make me even more prepared.

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