Alec goes to Pilsen an URBAN REFLEXIVe story

Part One: A Story!

Chapter one: What a curious boy!

Once upon a time there was a young man named Alec. Alec was 21 years old, wore scratched up glasses, and had a mustache that everyone agreed was truly incredible. Even though Alec was an especially goofy type of character, he cared very much about helping others see the value in themselves. He believed that he could use education to help do that, so he went off to Illinois State University.

Alec knew a lot about urban environments, but it was not always that way. Before he went to high school, Alec didn't really know what the words "urban" or "diverse" meant. He went to a small Christian elementary/Jr. high school where almost everyone in his class apart from him was Dutch and from an affluent family. Only after making the transition to a public high school did he truly begin to understand that there were all sorts of people in the world - more than just black or white, Dutch or someone of mixed ethnicity.

Alec with his 8th grade graduating class (made up mostly of Huisenga's, Hamstra's, Kuiper's, and the like).


However, Alec's public high school on the south side of Chicago was very much urban AND diverse. Alec made friends with other students of all sorts of backgrounds and beliefs. Not just black or white; the blanket names "Mexican" and "Arab" were differentiated for him. He was surprised to find that someone who defined themselves as Polish (as he did in part) was actually a first generation American citizen who had to learn English as a second language. This really confused Alec and made him want to know more about all the different ethnicities and personal stories that go into making up a single race of people.

Alec experienced a lot about the different ways students learn and the ways personal histories come into play when shaping a person's educational track. He saw a lot of students of the same race in the same track of classes and wondered why that happened. This made Alec confused and a little sad.

Chapter 3: Golden Apple

Alec and some of the friends and memories he has made through Golden Apple over the years.

Nearing the end of high school, Alec had to choose between his art and helping people in more direct ways. It was a tough decision, but he went with what he thought would do the most good - education! Alec officially decided to spend his life learning about others in order to help them learn. He was accepted into the Golden Apple Scholarship Foundation, where he spent three amazing summers taking classes and teaching students in urban classrooms in Chicago, Calumet City, and East St. Louis. Through these programs, along with a missions trip he took to Queens, NYC and a semester abroad in Granada, Spain (where he also volunteered in a bilingual classroom), he learned a great deal about himself and his educational philosophies. However, his biggest takeaway was that, even though people might have very different backgrounds, customs, languages and views, we all share a lot of common ground.

Some of Alec's prized artwork

Chapter 4: A surprise trip???

As time passed, Alec's experiences teaching and learning in urban environments excited him more and more in his journey to becoming a teacher. He was especially thrilled to hear about an upcoming trip in his urban-section TCH 219 class.

"I am excited to announce that our class trip to Benito Juarez Community Academy in Pilsen will be in just a month! Aren't you glad you all signed up for the urban section of this class??" Doctor Percell beamed.

"This is an urban section?" Katie whispered to Alec. Alec laughed and shrugged.

"Dunno! But I'm excited!" Alec replied enthusiastically.

"I'm a Bone Scholar!!" shrieked Holly.

Dr. Percell stopped teaching, and everybody turned and stared at Holly, confused. Nevertheless, they stood up one by one and started applauding her for her recent achievement. Meanwhile, Maddie rolled her eyes, secretly glad to have the attention shifted off of her for a moment. After all, it isn't every day that you meet a Bone Scholar.

The End

Part Two: Observations

First impression of Benito Juarez Community Academy - wowza. This place is nice. There is a lot more going on here than in a traditional educational setting. The murals, chock full of color, Mexican heritage and social commentary, were astounding. I could not believe that all of this was inside of a Chicago high school. A CPS school. Who commissioned these murals? Who painted them? It was as if all the most versed scholars of cultura nativa got together with all the most innovative street artists and made beautiful, moving visual stories. It was amazing to see the culture of the place and people flow from the streets into the school. That's how people learn.

Hop out of the vans, through a security scanner and into the lunch room and I feel it. A large group of white college students have just been escorted into a place that is comprised of everything that is not theirs - and proudly so. I wonder if this is how these students feel when stepping out of their neighborhood and into mainstream white culture. It's good that we're feeling this.

I see Latinx students all around me and hear the same conversations that I would in any high school - only in Spanish. During our conference room conversation, Mr. Adams (Assistant Principle Blue Laces) tells us all that "we are not getting it right, but we're trying." And I thought that was the coolest thing in the world. Acknowledging error and trying without fear of failure are necessary steps toward progress.

Incorporating kids' home realities into the real world.

I mainly observed ELA classes during the day at BJCA. Mrs. Stewart, a middle-aged white woman, had amazing control over her classrooms, using Spanish as a supplement to help students understand English better, and likewise. This was my "Aha!" moment.

The other, more important takeaway I had from observing Mrs. Stewart's ELA classes - the students were excited! All of them!! For both periods I observed, they all came in bouncing around, talking about whatever, and working on the questions given to them, actually trying to use the English they had learned to form the questions! Both the level 1 and 2 students were learning and cracking jokes with the teacher. It was incredible.

Both of my Cooperating Teachers seemed to embrace this push towards student-driven success. Mrs. Stewart, the ELA teacher, and Ms. Morales, the Spanish heritage teacher, both told me about how they and the mainstream English and Spanish teachers all work closely together to give their students the best chance of success as possible. Apparently, BJCA has conducted research supporting that a student will learn a second language much more easily if he/she is able to express his/herself through reading, writing and speaking. This is important because many of the ELA students at Juarez are fluent speakers of Spanish, but cannot read or write the language well. Ms. Morales told me that, if a students is not progressing in Mrs. Stewart's ELA classroom, she will pay special attention to that student in the Spanish classroom to see what exactly the core issue is. THAT is good team teaching for the benefit of the student at work. That made me fall in love with the school even more.

Above are student-created political cartoons in my CT's ELA classroom. Most of the posters center around Donald Trump, racism, and related themes. Regardless of political ideology, it was amazing to see the students thinking critically about what they knew and express it through the conventions of a political cartoon. Plus, they are such good artists!!

Below is a photo of a student's gender equality project. Though her artist statement does not make too much sense, the significance is clear: blur gender stigmas in order for a safe and representational space to be there for whomever needs it. The students are so progressive. I am proud.

The emphasis that these students have a culture that matters is making all the difference in this school. Pilsen is a special place, where students get that value in a large part of themselves from more than just their homes. Here, it can also be found i the school and in the community.

On the community - during our awesome opportunity to explore the neighborhood, I got to meet a few people who lived in the area. Like the man below, Federico, and a woman from la panaderĂ­a.

A little weird, but a really nice guy who offered me a handshake after talking for a bit. PC: Katie Sall
Part 3: Reflection and Extension
PC: Katie Sall

After going on this trip, I can definitely say that I want to teach at Benito Juarez Community Academy. Ms. Morales told me about all the difficulties she continues to face as a young, 4th-year CPS teacher, but she kept on insisting how much it is worth the effort. She showed me how their grading scale works, told me about cuts in the school year and their pay checks, etc., beaming all the while. I want that look that she's got. I want my passion for student growth and success to be so contagious that my students are a little freaked (but in a good way), and I think that being in or assisting to create an environment like that will help me get to that point.

Mrs. Stewart's class showed me just how interconnected content areas can and should be. I plan to use a good amount of Spanish and English in both my English and Spanish classes in order to better illustrate my points and connect with students (if there is a base of Latinx students in my class) or to promote multilingualism and a love of language/self-expression among my students. For that, I would also love to learn bits of other languages from students, no matter to which demographic(s) they belong.

Observing at Benito Juarez Community Academy has truly reinvigorated me to teach in an urban setting. I know that the experiences I have gained from this trip will help me become a better educator in my future school, whether that is in Pilsen or elsewhere, with whatever demographics may be. This trip has also encouraged me to pursue an endorsement in bilingual education/ELL and/or a masters degree in linguistics or Latin American cultural studies.

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