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The Positive Influences of Family

The following is an essay written by a graduating senior in the Johnson Scholars Program, a college readiness program that is a partnership between the School District of Palm Beach County, Take Stock in Children Palm Beach County and the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. We will feature other student authors in the coming weeks.

“The people who influence you are the people who believe in you.” —Henry Drummond

From the biological side of things to how we are nurtured, a lot of what goes on in our childhood influences how we turn out as adults. In my case, my parents, my family gatherings, and my church community have turned me into who I am today.

white and red led signage with love family laughter text

Photo by Sara Wether on Pexels.com

I think my parents have been the biggest influence on me as I have grown up. My parents have always been extremely unselfish. They never really went to clubs or parties because they had children. They have always kept us in a safe environment. By my parents’ hard work and dedication to provide, achieve and sacrifice (even necessities for themselves) they have influenced me and made me realize that I have to work hard and dedicate myself so that I may achieve higher standards in life.

Furthermore, probably the strongest influence in my life is the family in which I grew up. Throughout our lives, we are often influenced and taught by many other factors, but nothing compares to the positive influences of our own family. As a child to young adulthood my family has always had family gatherings for every special occasion or just to come together and have fun. These gatherings have taught me how to care, love, and appreciate the wonderful gift I have because my family has influenced the way I behave, feel, and act towards the outside world. My family is a gift in which I reap the benefits.

hiking path way trail

Photo by Jaymantri on Pexels.com

To summarize, for those of us who grew up in an influential and inspiring family, we try to achieve our worth and value in our hectic lives. When we are born, we are not born with a set of values and expectations, so we learn them from our parents who raised us. My parents have influenced my identity and my self-worth, demonstrated ethics to do the right things and have inspired my drive and forged my path to become who I am today.

Amya Cunningham is a recent graduate of Palm Beach Gardens Community High School in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, where she participated in the Johnson Scholars-Take Stock in Children Palm Beach County college readiness program.

Civil Rights Legacy Shapes Mission at Providence St. Mel

In 1966, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. moved into an apartment in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood — less than a mile from where Providence St. Mel stands — to protest housing inequality, segregation and poverty in this embattled community. A few short years later, Paul J. Adams III, the founder of Providence St. Mel School, moved from Alabama to that same neighborhood in Chicago to make a difference. Mr. Adams shares that his life’s work and the mission of Providence St. Mel are inspired by the Civil Rights Movement.

Photo of students at Providence St. MelMr. Adams remembers how Dr. King impacted his path as a young man. “In 1955, I met Dr. King. That same year Emmett Till was pulled out of the Tallahatchie River near Money, Mississippi, and Rosa Parks sat down on a bus. At that time, I was the same age as Emmett Till. I remember walking home and feeling the sweat run down my hand thinking that could have been me fished out of that river. The events of that year shaped my life. They set me on my road to whatever I was going to do. There is not a day I wake up that I don’t think about Emmett Till.”

Many of the societal woes that Dr. King protested still strangle this west side Chicago community, yet Providence St. Mel remains a beacon of hope. Since 1978, 100 percent of our students have graduated from high school and have been accepted into four-year colleges and universities. Many students begin their time at Providence St. Mel with significant academic deficits and personal obstacles, but we know that when given high expectations, support and proper instruction, all students can achieve.

Adams on playgroundOur mission is shaped by the legacy of the Civil Rights movement and the drive to challenge young people to reach their full potential. Mr. Adams notes, “Without a proper education, a person is doomed.  If we can provide the right environment, our children will enter these doors and feel free to learn and prosper.”

During his more than 40 years impacting the west side Chicago community, Mr. Adams has received countless awards and recognition for his work improving the community. Most recently, on Feb. 13, he received The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Award from The Leaders Network, a collaboration of clergy and community stakeholders in Chicago.

The mission statement of Providence St. Mel that students recite each morning states, “we believe in the creation of inspired lives produced by the miracle of hard work” and “we believe one must earn the right to dream.” The determined students at Providence St. Mel understand that the dreams of the Civil Rights movement must come through determination, hard work and education.

Senior Jalen F.Students recognize the connections between the school’s mission and the importance of honoring Black History by investing in black futures.

“Our school’s mission statement is essentially what Black History means to me,” shares senior Jalen F. “Every morning is a reminder to look at ourselves when we commit to ‘take this place, this time and this people and make a better place, better time and better people. You can’t say those words and not think of our ancestors’ sacrifices.”

Listening, the Key to a Successful Mentorship

The word “mentorship” is commonly defined as a relationship in which an experienced person shares wisdom with a less experienced person. The more experienced mentor gives guidance to an eager mentee hungry for knowledge. These definitions might suggest that the mentee has more to learn than the mentor.

National Mentoring Month 2018 logoHowever, the learning can be equally important to both parties. While my own list is long, here are a few things I have learned as a mentor. I need to stop telling my mentees what they should do and help lead them to their own solutions. I must be available to my mentee and make our relationship a priority. I need to be more open-minded about possibilities; my mentees sure are. I am often impatient and need to slow down and reflect.

One of the best ways to open the pathway between mentors and mentees is to listen. It sounds simple, but to truly engage in active listening, you must practice it. Here are a few tips to help the two-way relationship develop:

Ask open-ended questions. You find out much more about a person and their perspectives by asking questions that need to be answered with more than one or two words.

Reflect what you hear so that the other person knows you heard and understood what he/she said.

Summarize conversations and make sure you have agreement on next steps.

Use affirmations for encouragement and support.

Mentorship can be an enriching experience for both the mentor and the mentee. If you are currently mentoring or being mentored by someone, try using these active listening skills. Once it becomes easy, you can focus less on the questions and fully enjoy the answers.

 

Unwrapping the Gift of Potential at Clarke

The spirit of the season filled the classrooms on a recent day at Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech in Jacksonville, Florida.

Clarke Schools LogoIn one class, a teacher led her energetic preschoolers in an assignment that involved decorating a Christmas tree. Later that morning, a student practiced her language skills by reading her letter to Santa aloud to a group of visitors. Schoolwide, classes were preparing for an upcoming holiday concert.

Other than the hearing aids and cochlear implants worn by the children, the scene was no different than in any other preschool anywhere.

Administrators at Clarke know that visitors are sometimes surprised when they visit one of their campuses for the first time. In a post for Giving Matters earlier this year, Chief Development Officer Lillian Rountree challenged anyone new to Clarke to “just spend a few moments with our preschoolers to see—and hear—the potential.”

Young girl holding a toy out for a womanFor me as a first-time visitor, that definitely was the case, even though I was aware that Clarke is where deaf and hard of hearing children learn to listen and speak.

Clarke has been involved in this work for some time. In fact, 2017 has been a year of celebration for Clarke, which has been serving deaf children and those with hearing loss for 150 years. Its Jacksonville location also celebrated its 20th anniversary this year.

Indeed, there is much to celebrate. Clarke serves more than 1,300 children annually at its five campuses along the East Coast. In addition to the one in Jacksonville, there are campuses in Boston and Northampton, Massachusetts; New York, New York; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Clarke has the ability to reach thousands more children and their families through programs like its Early Intervention Program and its Telepractice Virtual Intervention Services for Infants and Toddlers, or tVISIT. Through tVISIT, Clarke can serve families in distant locations through video conferencing.

Young girl reading a paper while teacher watchesJSF provided financial support for the tVISIT program. Over the past 10 years, the Foundation has provided grants for many other purposes as well, including residential scholarships, website upgrades and support of the Early Intervention Program.

I was excited to learn that in addition to the tVISIT program, another way in which Clarke reaches beyond its borders is by providing internships for student teachers who are interested in working with children who are deaf or hard of hearing. Some 60 education students from Florida colleges and universities complete their practicum requirements at Clarke Jacksonville each year, helping to fill a need for skilled teachers of the deaf.

Not surprisingly, the leadership at Clarke Jacksonville can attest to many success stories. Co-Director Alisa Demico has been at the site since it was founded two decades ago, and she remains in touch with many of the students who were in the very first preschool class. Today, most of those students either have graduated or are attending college, she said.

That is likely welcome news for many Clarke parents. For them, a bright future for their children is not just a holiday wish. At Clarke, it is becoming reality, each and every day.

Summer Youth Program Empowers Students to Confront Important Social Justice Issues

City Music, Berklee’s youth development and outreach program, delivers tuition-free, high-quality contemporary music education to young people in grades 4-12 who are from underserved communities.

Man singing at berklee city music social justice

This summer, City Music students used creativity to tackle social justice issues. JSF has been a supporter of this program. Photos by Mike Spencer.

During this past summer, City Music brought together 15 at-risk teens, who were referred by the City of Boston’s Department of Youth Engagement and Employment, for a summer of learning and self-actualization. These students, most of whom were new to music and the program, were tasked with exploring prevalent social justice issues through small group discussions, activities for connecting, sharing and self-reflection, and research. Students chose topics they felt were important and formed groups around those issues. Former City Music students, now Berklee college students, facilitated the groups.

At the end of the summer, the young people performed onstage before an audience of peers, as well as adults. They used their original music, spoken word performances and song arrangements to express their personal stories and experiences on prejudice, racism (structural oppression), body image, bullying and peer pressure. After each presentation, the audience was asked thoughtful questions to prompt discussion.

Woman holding a sign reading "if you aren't angry you aren't paying attention"What had transpired between the first day and the last was amazing. On the outset, some students were quick to react—to anyone’s words, a situation or in discussion. Some students preferred talking over listening (and vice-versa). However, as students began researching the social justice issues using the iceberg model (M. Goodman, 2002), they began to see how they could use this same analysis to everyday things.

This systematic approach teaches students to go beyond the “tip” or the visual part of the iceberg to become aware of the many causes that can feed into an issue (or what is beneath the water’s surface that is unseen and needs to be chipped apart for examination). The iceberg model has five levels, from top to bottom: 1) an easily seen event or incident happens and is a symptom of a bigger problem, 2) similar events happen again and again, 3) physical barriers, policies, rituals and organizations enable events to happen, 4) conscious and unconscious thoughts drive people’s behavior and 5) society’s core beliefs and values either shape or constrain people’s assumptions and behavior.

Man singing with another man holding a trombone This process helped students to broaden their perspectives beyond themselves and consider other student’s opinions. They began to understand how individual backgrounds and experiences—good and bad—can influence those ideas, which may be different from their own. Rather than taking everything at face value and responding in a reactive, confrontational mode, they stopped and reflected on what was going on behind the words and actions. All of this helped build empathy and compassion, empowering students to share their thoughts, words and emotions and to self-express in their art. Finally, this understanding enabled meaningful participation that let students feel hopeful that their voices were being heard, as well as understood, formally on-stage and informally in everyday life.

Improving Canadian Indigenous Student Success: Three Martin Family Initiative Projects

Of the approximately 1.5 million Indigenous People in Canada, 50 percent are under the age of 25 — they are the youngest and fastest growing demographic in the country. A real concern for Canada is the low Indigenous high school graduation rate; the non-Indigenous high school graduation rate is about 90 percent while the Indigenous rate is about 50 percent.

martin family initiative logoThe Martin Family Initiative (MFI), a charitable foundation, was established in 2008 to address this crisis. Three of MFI’s key strategies are:

Educating principals:

Thanks to the support of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, MFI collaborated with the University of Toronto and 13 Indigenous education experts to develop an innovative course for principals of on-reserve schools.

Three young men reading a bookParticipants learn how to ensure that teaching and learning at high standards are the first priority of every school by participating in learning experiences that develop their instructional leadership skills in order to increase levels of student achievement by developing improved teaching performance. The nine-month, 200-hour program consists of 10 modules plus a 30-hour practicum.

The feedback from participants is very positive: the learnings are unique to on-reserve schools, the course helps principals learn to focus on what is important in their schools, and it inspires them to be better school leaders.

Resources:

Closeup of someone writing in a work bookA virtual library of over 1,300 Promising Practices in Indigenous Education Website is updated monthly. Contents include curriculum, classroom practices, relevant policies, interesting initiatives and research related to successful practices in Indigenous education.

The focus areas are Kindergarten to Grade 12, Parent/Community Engagement and Early Childhood Education. Educators, researchers and others use the site to enhance learning opportunities and to improve educational success for Indigenous students

Early Literacy:

Closeup of a young child raising their handBy the age of 10, children need to read well enough to read and write what they know and think, or they risk falling behind in all areas in school. School achievement relies on the ability to read and write well; reading proficiency by age 10 is the best school-based predictor of high school graduation.

A four-year MFI pilot project showed that with effective teaching Indigenous students can excel as speakers, listeners, readers and writers in two or more languages and enjoy the associated cultural, social, educational and economic benefits.

The pilot project has been expanded and will include 20 on-reserve schools by 2020.

How Leading with Empathy Can Create Positive Change

deaf elementary students playingAs an educator, it is important to pay attention to the latest research and trends related to effective instruction. As a special educator, this may be particularly important. But as an administrator, I often find myself relying heavily on my own observations and findings from “the field.” Working as an administrator of an elementary school serving deaf and hard of hearing students, children are often in my office requesting assistance. Sometimes they arrive on their own, asking for help solving a problem. More often, though, they are brought to the office by an adult who asks for collaboration on a discipline issue.

The word “collaboration” here is really important. In a traditional approach, the administrator may be the final stop, and may have the final say, when it comes to discipline. However, I have found it is more effective to collaborate with both the student and the staff member escorting the student. When children display misconduct, it is our job to figure out why. What does the child need?  What might he or she be asking for through this outburst of anger? This can be especially important when interacting with deaf or hard of hearing students who are also struggling with a language delay – which happens so often. When my approach becomes one of trying to understand, rather than trying to find an appropriate consequence, I am able to know the student’s thoughts, feelings, and fears more intimately and am able to develop a strong and positive relationship.

young students in green t shirts in a gardenWhen I ask the same questions of the adults, I become a support for them, showing empathy regarding the conflict they did not create, while also collaborating to find an appropriate resolution. This questioning of the adult reminds the student that staff members also have an emotional perspective, and such perspectives can lead to actions. Leading with empathy for everyone involved can produce amazing discussions and amazing results.

Leading with empathy. This can sometimes be considered being “soft” on misbehavior. However, in my work, I have found it solves more problems than being “tough” ever has. When students are upset, a genuine affirmation of their feelings can open doors to communication, bonding, and improved self-control. While that may sound difficult, it only takes a simple, “I am so sorry you are going through this; how can I help?” delivered with respect, and compassion. When we can do that for children, we can help them to become empathetic and compassionate individuals.

woman wearing a feather boa and smiling in a paradeWhen we invite them into the collaboration, we can help them become problem-solvers. If I have learned one thing from 22 years in Deaf Education, I have learned this: The world needs more problem solvers, and we can create them through empathetic thoughts, words, and actions. Leading with empathy builds a foundation that allows students to experience growth socially, emotionally, and academically because it allows them to acquire, develop, and practice real-world problem solving skills. And yes, sometimes I have to consequate kids because there are some behaviors that need a punitive response. But sometimes living through the conflict, and coming out on the other side, is consequence enough. When was the last time you got sent to Detention Hall because of a fight with your spouse? The disagreement and the resolution of that disagreement was consequence enough for you. And here’s the important part – involvement in working through conflict becomes a positive peace-making experience for everyone involved. Our kids and school staff deserve such experiences. I’ve learned that they become better people having had them.

To All the Graduates…

Dear Graduates,

Congratulations! To all the high school students who will graduate this spring – we applaud you. There is no denying that high school has many obstacles but you’ve persevered and you’ve made it! Rest assured, if there were some late nights and groggy mornings that you spent working on a range of subjects and extra-curricular activities, those efforts were not in vain.

students posing on a balconyAs you grace the stage – diploma in hand and cap on head – know that you are a symbol of success. Also know that there are many individuals in your communities who are proud of your achievement, including family members, friends, tutors, mentors, teachers, and coaches.

As I reflect back on my high school experience I can easily attribute my success to Pathways to Education. At the time, I couldn’t have guessed that walking through the Pathways office would mean that I would walk out, four years later, as a distinguished graduate. Pathways provided me with the confidence to achieve academic excellence. The tutoring sessions I attended helped me maintain honor roll status while the mentoring sessions significantly boosted my self-esteem. High school taught me various lessons; however, personal growth was one that I learned outside of the classroom.

I can’t remember the exact grades I achieved in my final year of high school but I do remember the friends I made, the teachers I admired, the mentors I respected, and the relationships I formed. For me, high school was about asking questions, offering ideas, and working together with others, lessons that have served me in good stead.

three women wearing graduation caps and gownsThe network of people and organizations applauding your success are also the ones cheering you on towards your post-secondary aspirations. I am grateful for the support of organizations like the Johnson Scholarship Foundation because they recognize the complex socio-economic barriers some students face in addition to providing them with the resources they need to overcome those barriers. Having access to scholarships helped me to achieve academic success that would not have been possible without financial aid.

Whatever your future may hold, know that you can take many of the lessons you have learned in high school with you. I wish continued success to the graduating class of 2017!

Best,

Leandre