Back to Books

Written by Elizabeth Gill

Do you have a stack of books that you have been meaning to read? How did that pile grow, what compelled you to purchase these books? What enticed you to buy those at the bookstore? Was it the clever title or interesting cover that sparked an interest?

Back to school season is upon us and as a teacher, it is an especially poignant time for me.  I love the new starts that it brings: new colleagues, new students, new parents, and new school supplies! 

Over this past summer, I have been reflecting on all of the places that I’ve been a teacher.  I taught in struggling schools in St. Louis, Missouri before moving up here and getting to teach in a top district in the Twin Cities area.  In each and every building, the language arts teachers are passionate about books and teaching students lifelong literacy skills. The differences have been in the resources given to teachers to meet that goal. 

Textbook-Only Teaching

The linoleum floor gazed up at me in all its green and cracked glory.  I had to be careful when I went to work with Trinity because her desk was next to a spot in the floor where I could see the brown subfloor, and I didn’t want to catch my heel on it again.  Surprisingly, the textbook on Trinity’s desk was brand new. I spoke with her teacher about it and the district had purchased the whole textbook suite, including workbooks, the year before.  It was a last-ditch effort to get reading scores up. But the single-use workbooks were not for students to write in. Who knew if those would ever be purchased again? To be safe, the teacher had those stored behind her desk.  There weren’t enough for everyone anyway.  

I was impressed by the textbook.  It had well-written stories by well-known authors.  The interior had full color illustrations and deep questions at the end of each tale.  

The students didn’t read them.  

Sure, they read a few stories as a class. Yet, there was no time for students to leaf through and find a story to read on their own.  The textbooks were heavy and thick. None of the students seemed interested in trying to find anything to read there. No other books were available.  During my year there as a student teacher, it was rare for me to observe students reading anything that wasn’t in the textbook or being read to them.  

They were 7th grade students in one of the most poverty stricken schools in the region. 

Fully-Funded Teaching

“Think of this as a book spa. We have our books organized by content level, reading level, interest level. With the district budget each grade can choose between 95 and 100 books and those will all be ordered for each ELA classroom districtwide.”

The sixth grade language arts teachers met as a group for an hour and a half surrounded by newly published books, award-winning books graphic novels and high-quality picture books. We were each able to take a cart and gather a collection of books that we thought would be great for our students and would connect with our students to build their identities as readers. We debated the merits of individual books and selected books that students would want to read and could be challenged by.  

When we went to scan the books and order them, we had enough money to go back and choose another book to add to our list.  Each sixth grade reading classroom in three different middle schools was going to receive 97 brand new, never-been-read-before books.  Each seventh and eighth grade classroom was going to receive their own stack. Oh, and a teacher that teaches seventh and eighth grade? She would receive almost 200 new books without ever having to buy anything herself. 

Book Access and the Opportunity Gap

You know that phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover?” 

Young students DO judge based on what a book looks like. Certain characteristics are more important to students than adults, particularly the age of a book, the pictures on its cover, and the summary on the back. These all work together to entice a student to read or, horribly, prejudice a student against a book.  Effective literacy programs embed choice reading, so more books that students want to read translates well into increased skills and abilities in reading. For school districts that have a budget tightened by poverty, teachers are the ones building the libraries out of their own funds. Direct donations of books and grants for buying books go a long way towards impacting the opportunity gap.  

As we think about the fresh beginnings that come with the back to school season, think about what you can do to freshen a child’s classroom library.  

Call to Action

Help encourage a child to read: The Junior League of Minneapolis will be helping all children enjoy the excitement of the Scholastic Book Fair by sponsoring the whole 3rd grade class of Partnership Academy, the school that HOMES partners with on science activities. At the September GMM we would love you to write encouraging words on book plates that will go into the front pages of these books. Due to the large Spanish speaking population in the school, our focus will be to include books in Spanish and about science. Kids will be able to choose their own books which is just as much fun as you remember!

Watch a documentary on the Opportunity Gap in Minneapolis: Love Them First – Lessons from Lucy Laney Elementary is a Kare 11 News Channel Originals Screening about a school in North Minneapolis. There will be a screening at Riverview Theater on 9/5 and on television on 9/12. Join the JLM at the screening on the 5th

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What is Advocacy?

This is after all an Advocacy blog? Let’s take a step back to make sure we’re on the same page.

Advocacy is the act of pleading for, supporting, or making recommendations to influence change. People tend to associate advocacy with lobbying or politics – and it can be – but individuals can advocate for themselves or others too. Can you remember a time when you  spoke up for someone who wasn’t present or defended a friend? Advocacy just means “speaking up” and giving voice to our passions and principles.

The JLM Advocacy committee is working to define advocacy for its membership, engage members in a non-partisan way, and educate membership on the issues surrounding the achievement gap. It’s important that we raise our collective voice in favor of programs and policies which support our vision of decreasing the achievement gap.

WAYS TO ADVOCATE                                                                                                            

  • Creating public awareness through education – sharing data and stories to persuade
  • Blogging
  • Communicating with your elected officials and encouraging others to do the same
  • Writing a letter to the editor

TOOLS TO GET YOUR MESSAGE OUT

  • Social media
  • Promotional materials
  • Letters to the editor
  • Opinion Editorials

Attend the Advocacy event “Coffee & Conversation with Minnesota State Senator Terri Bonoff” on Saturday, March 21st from 9:00am-12:00pm to take a deeper dive into the world of advocacy, understand how you can become civically engaged and hear from  Minnesota State Senator Terri Bonoff on her journey and current priorities. See the JLM website for more information and registration.

Additionally, please post comments on the articles and links you see. Nothing educates people more than a great conversation!

Post contributed by Kristy Barnett.

2015 Children and Issues Briefing

The Children and Issues Briefing is an annual event preceding the legislative session.  Key leaders and experts from across the state inform and engage participants in discussion on policy to improve outcomes for children in Minnesota.  This year’s event featured speakers from Governor Mark Dayton, the Minnesota Children’s Cabinet and a youth panel, among others.

One of our own JLM members was in attendance and shared these key takeaways :

  • Early Childhood is a priority for legislatures and policy.  Four years ago Early Childhood funding was nonexistent and the proposal for this year is at $100M.  There is still a need to grow though.
  • In order to make progress, legislators need to focus on outcomes rather than specific programs.  This requires both political sides to find common ground.
  • Children are looking for Equity.  Everyone should have the opportunity to be successful, as all kids have potential.  This was a common comment from experts and children on the panel.
  • One of the most impactful quotes – “It is unacceptable that a whole life can be written in just the first chapter”.  This amps up the importance of intervention early in life.

Videos of that day’s presentations were just release and can be viewed here.  I encourage you to view a few segments and consider how you can get involved.  One presenter commented that letters, emails and visits to the Capitol make a difference.  What resources would you need to send a letter or email?

Opportunities To Give Back During The Thanksgiving Holiday

This week, Thanksgiving is upon us and many of us are preparing to leave town to enjoy the holiday with family, while others may be putting the finishing touches on their menus in anticipation of hosting the feast for the first (or fifth) time. Between curling up and watching football, and braving the crowds to score a Black Friday deal, we will pause to recognize all we have to be thankful for.

Not everyone in the Twin Cities is fortunate enough to have an abundance of food, or food at all, this holiday season, but for those of us who do, it’s a great time to give back. There are an abundance of volunteer opportunities available.  One of the ways the Junior League of Minneapolis works to address the achievement gap is by providing food to children through the Backpack Buddies program, since it is easier to focus on learning when not focusing on being hungry.  If you are still looking for a way to give back this week, and help families in the process, the options below are just a sampling of opportunities available to help provide food for families in need:

Neighbors, Inc. Holiday Volunteers

Neighbors, Inc. provides emergency assistance programs to low-income families in and around St. Paul. They have a list of food items you can donate, and are also looking for volunteers for holiday-related tasks.

NorthPoint Health and Wellness Thanksgiving Food Delivery, Minneapolis

NorthPoint is seeking volunteers to help distribute frozen turkeys and side dishes to families in north Minneapolis.

If you would like to negate a few of those Thanksgiving calories, here are some charitable races that focus on collecting food for people in need:

Turkey Day 5K – Lifetime

Participants in this downtown Minneapolis 5k are asked to bring as many non-perishable items as they can carry to help stock local food pantries.

Fast Before the Feast Race

Run the 5K, 10K or Fun Run (1/2 mile) in White Bear Lake to help them meet their goal of raising 10,000 lbs of food for the community this year.

Happy Holidays!

JLM wants YOU to vote on Election Day!

It’s hard to believe we’re less than one week out from next Tuesday’s (Nov 4th) Midterm Elections.  This is a super important day for us to cash in on one of our rights and make an impact in our local, state and national government.

Some of you have been following the local and national coverage of this year’s election and know exactly who you’ll be voting for – to those, I salute you for your diligent preparation!  For others that have been changing the channel every time a campaign ad comes on the TV (and quite frankly that could be all of us), fear not! There is still time to learn about the candidates and issues to make an informed decision.

To help you out, below are some of the hot topics and big candidate races (nonpartisan, of course).  theSkimm (a fun and easy to understand news source) has a Midterm Election Guide and it’s geared toward those who aren’t in “the know”.

Hot Topics

  • The Senate.  The Democrats have controlled the Senate since 2006.  That plus Obama has its benefits, but the Republican party (also known as the Grand Old Party, i.e. GOP) has had enough.  If the Republicans gain control they will own both the Senate and Congress.
  • National topics haven’t changed much.  The state of our economy, immigration laws and foreign policy continue to be top of mind as voters head to the polls.
  • Minneapolis specific City Amendments:
    • Filing Fee for City Elected Offices.  Some city council members want to increase the price of entry to run for positions like mayor.  Remember when we had 20+ candidates running for mayor in 2013 including Captain Jack Sparrow? Yeah, some people don’t want that again.
    • 70/30 Liquor Licensing Requirement. Have you ever ordered a glass of wine in a South Minneapolis restaurant and been forced to also order food?  That’s because many restaurants are required under law to gross at least 70% of their sales from food.  Many believe this law is antiquated and stifles the growing restaurant scene in our neighborhoods (it also forces restaurants to increase their food prices).  Opponents say we need to keep our neighborhoods clean & quiet.

Minnesota Gubernatorial

  • Currently being held by Mark Dayton (D).
  • Who is running?
    • Mark Dayton (D) – The guy basically runs Minneapolis (think Borough, Askov Finlayson and old school Dayton-Hudson’s).  He wants to come back.
    • Jeff Johnson (R) – Not so fast Dayton! Jeff has is a former State Representative and current Hennepin County Commissioner.
    • Chris Holbrook (Libertarian)
    • Hannah Nicollet (Independent)
    • Chris Wright (Grassroots)

Minnesota Senate

  • Currently being held by Amy Klobuchar (D) and Al Franken (D).  Al Franken’s seat is currently up for election.
  • Who is running?
    • Al Franken (D) – Wants a re-election.
    • Mike McFadden (R) – Franken’s biggest threat to the seat.  He has worked in the financial sector prior to this campaign.
    • Steve Carlson (Independent)
    • Heather Johnson (Libertarian)

Minnesota Congress

  • Minnesota has 8 congressional districts and each district elects a representative to the House for a two-year term.
  • There are several districts that cover the Greater Twin Cities area given the dense population.  District 5 covers the majority of Minneapolis but depending on your home address you may be in District 2,3 or 4.

Other races include Secretary of State, Attorney General, State Auditor, State Representative, County Commissioner, County Attorney, Sheriff, School Board Director, Supreme Court Justice, Court of Appeals Judge and District Court Judge.  Phew, that was a lot.

You can also find more information by visiting the Minnesota Secretary of State website.

Sometimes it takes a little nudge to get involved and I hope this does the trick. Our only ask – get out there and VOTE!

Coalition’s Plan To Close Minnesota’s Achievement Gap Unvieled

Last Monday, former Minneapolis Mayor, R.T. Rybak, in conjunction with Generation Next, a coalition of civic, education and business leaders, unveiled a plan to close the achievement gap in Minneapolis and St. Paul.  Rybak indicated that Generation Next and its partners are working to reach three core goals:

  • Comprehensive Health Screening
    • 3-year-olds to be screened for health problems & disabilities in order to obtain therapy and support
  • Reading Proficiency by 3rd Grade
    • Generation Next is focused on five key benchmarks:
      • Kindergarten Readiness
      • 3rd Grade Reading Benchmarks
      • 8th Grad Math Benchmarks
      • 100% High School Graduation
      • Post-Secondary Counseling
  • Enhanced Guidance Counseling
    • Engagement by trained adults to develop a plan to help their journey to college or to a career

Generation Next plans to roll-out initiatives in pilot schools, collect data and then will determine which initiatives to implement on a larger scale.  All results will be published on Generation Next’s website.

 

Policy and a Pint: A Personal Perspective

This week’s guest blogger, Carrie Curtis, recently attend Policy and a Pint: The State of Education hosted by The Current and the Citizen’s League and shares her perspective on the panel discussion.

Policy and PintEarlier this week I attended ‘Policy and a Pint’, an event hosted by MPR’s The Current and the Citizens League.  This is a reoccurring forum dedicated to discussing a single public policy topic and this month’s topic was “The State of Education.”  To help inform and speak on behalf of our state’s need to close the achievement gap, they included guest speakers Sondra Samuels of the Northside Achievement Zone, Kerry Muse of Venture Academy in Minneapolis and Michelle Walker, CEO of St. Paul Public Schools.  As a new member to the JLM and girlfriend to an elementary school teacher, I was excited to be part of this event and found the discussion to be honest, full of passion and hopeful for the future. 

To kick off the event, the panel debunked a few myths regarding the achievement gap noting this discrepancy is more than test scores – it is preparation, attendance, reading levels, and participation.  While testing may be the most prolific factor, they all illustrate the disparity between students of race, socioeconomic status and gender.  They also made it clear that if we are to have a conversation about the achievement gap, we need to have a conversation about race.  This sentiment was also shared by Principal Lorraine Cruz of Richard R. Green Elementary school at the JLM January General Meeting.  It’s a conversation that no one wants to have, but is necessary if we are to make progress.  When it came to discussing solutions, a key theme to me was customization.  Michelle Walker talked about “equity v. equality”.  In today’s schools, teachers need to ensure that all children are treated the same  (i.e. equality), but Michelle pointed out that not all students are the same.  Instead, teachers need to suit individual student needs to ensure that all students achieve their potential (i.e. equity).  Kerry Muse also shared some secrets to his success – he makes sure his kids are engaged in their own learning and development by having them reflect on what they know and what they need because every child wants to learn.  Sondra made my favorite statement of the evening –  when it comes to the achievement gap, “we don’t have a child problem, we have an adult problem” as it’s going to take change from policy makers, educators and parents to close this gap. 

The closing message to the audience was to do more than talk about the achievement gap instead, to take action – make a difference by attending school board meetings, volunteer as a reading buddy, and advocate for policy changes that will create equity.  To learn more about the action the Northside Achievement Zone is taking, check out their website at http://northsideachievement.org/