2019 Week 1: Education & Youth Advocacy
My first week was definitely a period of adjustment. I was in a completely new area of Baltimore, doing work I am not very familiar with—although I have done my fair share of packing and moving, which is the bulk of my work—and working with kids during their last week of school as a brand-new face that doesn’t exactly fit in. My placement school is almost entirely black; there is one Hispanic student out of around 300 kids and two white teachers, one of which I have been asked every day by several students if we are related because we look so alike: “you have the same skin color… everything!” The environment has been nothing but welcoming, but I had the personal barrier of being worried about acceptance and standing out too much. But the truth is, younger kids love everyone and immediately accept you no matter what. Students began coming up to me and giving me random hugs starting the first day and would immediately start coming to me for help resolving lunch room conflicts. By the end of the week, I felt like I had been working there for much longer than only five days. I began learning kids names from doing attendance every morning and I felt like part of the school’s community.
However, there were still aspects of working there that I had to adjust to. The neighborhood surrounding my placement is Mondawmin, which doesn’t have the best reputation within the city. Crime is definitely prevalent, and I knew a large portion of the student population at my school experience homelessness. The high school next door to my placement had a shooting a few months ago, and we had our own on Friday. It turned out to just be fireworks, but when an employee heard what she thought was gunshots, the school immediately knew how to take action and prepared to go on lockdown. Students were ushered inside from recess, kept in classrooms, but were not told what was wrong until it was confirmed—in our case, luckily, it was a false yet scary alarm. It would have been their third or fourth lockdown that school year. I realized how routine this is for the school as a whole, and I cannot even imagine what the kids experience in their daily lives at home. Although the actual student count of the school is almost 300, in the week that I’ve worked and done attendance for the whole school, I have not seen a student count above 170. Students continue to stroll in up to 2 hours after school starts, and many are called for early dismissal. I have had third graders talk to me about Trump being a racist and one even told me they want to kill him. Hearing that really shocked me; an eight-year-old child only understands that their president doesn’t like people like her and is scared for her safety due to the color of her skin. Murder, of course, is never condoned, but that is what she thinks is the appropriate response to such a “bad man.” Fights are prevalent, curse words are part of the elementary school students typical vocabulary, and one student reeked of cigarette smoked one morning as I signed him in. I grew up in the same city as these kids, experienced similar issues within the public-school system, but yet I lived in an entirely different world. I never had to worry where my next meal was coming from or had to rely on my school and its partners for groceries or clothing. I am still adjusting to understanding where these kids come from and trauma and barriers they face every day and how to best serve them, but for now, the best I can do is to sit and listen to them and continue on the work my school is already doing to provide for its community and its students.
I was exposed to more new ideas this week than I could have imagined coming into the program. I talked with my supervisor and coworker for hours about issues in Baltimore and specifically the non-profit industrial complex. We talked about the problems associated with white people running the non-profits trying to serve communities they don’t represent without getting legitimate input from them. We are currently trying to create a program called 14 x 14 that hosts programs throughout the summer designed to give students a safe and enjoyable way to spend their free time in the afternoons. While this is a good idea, the leadership initially fell into the same problematic paradigm of not getting legitimate input from the population they were looking to serve. They held a panel event for different stakeholders, including youth. However, they had a tendency to drown out the voices and opinions of the youth themselves. Our organization is currently trying to make up for this by reaching out to various schools and other organizations in the city to get input from their students. It has unfortunately been difficult as most schools are doing early release and finals for their last week of school.
The process of reaching out to schools actually put us in contact with a really influential community member who can help us to get in contact with youth throughout the city. After just a brief meeting with the CEO of Angela Y. Davis Leadership Academy, our organization had already created several meaningful connections. Momma B (the CEO) has done a lot of incredible things in the community, and it was so interesting to just listen to her speak for 30 plus minutes. I can’t even describe how excited I am to be working with these people throughout the summer who truly care about supporting the community and doing asset based work.
During my internship I will not be working with students directly but we have surveys that we do with the students and I often have interactions with other teachers that are still here before the end of the school year. While meeting some students and talking with teacher, one thing that stuck with me was a statement from a teacher. They said that they cannot claim to love the school because the students there deserve much better. This made me really think about the potential of students versus the opportunity available. The opportunity gap in the city is very large and while teachers are wondering which teachers will remain for another year, I saw the same teachers throughout most of my education in the city because I had the opportunity to go to schools with more resources. Talent is at this school and all schools in the city but there are disparities especially when it comes to funding. As a student from the city, if not for hearing about programs in other schools I would not be where I am today and the only thing that separates the younger me and students City Springs is luck and opportunity.
My first week at Code in the Schools was mostly just administrative work in preparation for our YouthWorks program, which starts on July 1st. Being in the office and considering the programming exposed me to a lot of the questions I’m wondering about Baltimore City and community-based work in general.
I have a lot of computer science friends and I thought it might be interesting for the kids to hear them talk about their projects and how CS can be applied in the real world. My supervisor and I were both very excited about this, but I started to wonder what it might look like to these kids to have all these Hopkins students (and frankly, none of whom are black) show them all of fruition their hard work but also their opportunities have brought. I had a long conversation with my supervisor about this, and there is no easy answer. The best we can do, she told me, is to be intentional about these issues and to be constantly understanding and aware.
A second question I’ve been thinking about is the accessibility of CS education and STEM education as a whole. My supervisor was telling me about how this nonprofit isn’t able to offer competitive enough pay to hire state-licensed teachers, and even if they were, there is a shortage of CS educators in Baltimore City. I think there’s a shortage of CS educators everywhere, with CS graduates having far more lucrative career options than K-12 education. Again, a question I have no answers to.
I’m learning to keep up with how hectic this work can be. I go into a day not knowing at all what I have to do and quickly build up tasks as I go through a day. Sticky notes have become my good friends. I’m trying to be more proactive and friendly in this office because that’s something I’ve had trouble within the past.Tags: Bard High School, Child First Authority, CIIP, ciip 2019, City Springs, City Springs Elementary/Middle School, Code in the Schools, Robert W Coleman Elementary School, The Intersection