Upon entering the school, I was immediately surprised and overwhelmed by the beautiful art adorning the walls. I felt the impact of the community upon the school, centering education as an integral part Pilsen's flourishing artistic environment. As expected, the student body was primarily Hispanic, which, after years in white majority schools, was still surprising to see. Luckily, the urban community itself serves as a true asset to the school and to these students, providing creative and cultural support.
What I hadn't expected to see, however, were so many dedicated, intelligent students, using technology to engage in investigative, exploratory work. My cooperating teacher held class in the "Juarez Writing Center," a room outfitted with laptops and a SMART Board.
Because the student body is fairly homogenous and the school specifically serves the neighborhood, group cohesion is high, making it the perfect environment for answering probing questions and hashing out real-world concerns. Although my cooperating teacher indicated that attendance was sometimes an issue that slowed progress, most students were extremely invested in classroom projects, such as the one shown in the background. After studying visual rhetoric, students were required to pick an issue that appealed to them, crafting a compelling argument through their posters. This project required intellectual and creative effort, drawing on student's real-life concerns.
What was clear to me after my day at Juarez, however, was that urban schools can be moderately similar to any other school. Although the urban setting carries its own unique challenges - like attendance - and assets, the students themselves have the capacity for great creativity, compassion, and achievement with the right guidance. My main take-away from this visit was a reminder that classrooms, especially urban classrooms, are successful as long as you are appealing to student interests and letting them shape conversations.
Understanding the cultural (and often linguistic) background of these students allowed for more enriching instruction and a mutual respect between the teacher and students. My cooperating teacher used Spanish and English throughout the day, relating issues in the class to issues in the students' daily lives. Because this teacher often allowed students to choose their own essay topics, students were also fully invested in communicating about an issue that was relevant to their lives. I read essays about machismo culture, intersex inclusion, the exploitation of women in dance, and one girl's experiences training for the Marines. Validating and encouraging students to discuss and explore the issues that are relevant to them can often lead to fuller participation and a window into a student's cultural background.