Summer in the city

Fariña talks future of Summer Quest on visit to Bronx school

PHOTO: Jackie Schechter
Chancellor Carmen Fariña stops by the chicken coop outside P.S. 154 at the end of her visit to the Summer Quest site.

Chancellor Carmen Fariña met with students, administrators, and even a few chickens on a visit to a summer enrichment program at P.S. 154 in the South Bronx on Tuesday.

Fariña was there to promote Summer Quest, a free, five-week program that seeks to stem summer learning loss in Brooklyn and the South Bronx. While all Summer Quest sites combine academics and camp activities, this one also focuses on healthy living; its students were preparing to run a farmer’s market featuring produce from the school’s garden and eggs from the small chicken coop next to the school.

Summer Quest has grown nearly 60 percent since last year and is serving 2,800 low-income elementary and middle school students. This is the final summer of a three-year pilot, and Fariña said she hopes “to keep expanding it throughout the city.”

“Obviously we’re reviewing all the benefits to see if it’s really worth continuing,” she said. “We’re very excited about the results that we’re seeing, specifically the high level of student enthusiasm, parent involvement, and administrator happiness.”

After the visit, Fariña praised instructors for using hands-on learning to teach students new vocabulary and how to articulate their thoughts.

“Everywhere we went there were kids talking,” she said, “and part of the Common Core is having them build self-confidence and the ability to present an idea or something to an audience.”

Summer Quest students at P.S. 154 decorate egg cartons to use at their farmer's market.
Summer Quest students at P.S. 154 decorate egg cartons to use at their farmer’s market.

While the majority of Summer Quest students are enrolled in the program voluntarily, last year 9.7 percent of campers participated as an alternative to summer school.

That same year, Summer Quest’s third-through-eighth graders performed as well as summer school students on the city’s post-summer school exam, suggesting that a mix of academics and enrichment could be effective in place of a strictly academic program for students needing additional help before being promoted to the next grade.

At P.S. 154, 18 percent of this year’s Summer Quest students are mandated to attend in lieu of summer school. Assistant Principal and site director Jessica Cruz said the school was “very strategic” in recruiting students who struggled academically and could benefit most from the program.

“We have high achievers, we have students who are below grade level. They’re all working together,” P.S. 154 Principal Alison Coviello said, adding that the attendance rate at her site (84 percent so far) has increased from previous years, potentially because Summer Quest is combating the negative connotations of summer learning.

“Children are realizing that summer learning is so much fun,” she said.

But some students, like Janke Jagana, are all business. Jagana was mandated to attend Summer Quest, and while she enjoys the program, “I didn’t come here to have fun,” she said. “I came here to learn.”

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union power

Charter teachers won big in nation’s first strike. What now?

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff / Chalkbeat
Teachers from Acero charter schools in Chicago protest stalled negotiations Oct. 24, 2018, as they readied to vote on authorizing a strike.

Some 500 unionized teachers joined in the nation’s first charter strike last week, and succeeded in negotiating wage increases, smaller class sizes and a shorter school day. Their gains could foreshadow next year’s citywide contract negotiations — between the Chicago Teachers Union, with its contract expiring in June, and Chicago Public Schools.

“The issue of class size is going to be huge,” said Chris Geovanis, the union’s director of communications. “It is a critically important issue in every school.”

Unlike their counterparts in charters, though, teachers who work at district-run schools can’t technically go on strike to push through a cap on the number of students per class. That’s because the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act defines what issues non-charter public school teachers can bargain over, and what issues can lead to a strike.

An impasse on issues of compensation or those related to working conditions, such as length of the school day or teacher evaluations, could precipitate a strike. But disagreements over class sizes or school closures, among other issues, cannot be the basis for a strike.

The number of students per class has long been a point of contention among both district and charter school teachers.

Educators at Acero had hopes of pushing the network to limit class sizes to 24-28 students, depending on the grade. However, as Acero teachers capped their fourth day on the picket line, they reached an agreement with the charter operator on a cap of 30 students — down from the current cap of 32 students.

Andy Crooks, a special education apprentice, also known as a teacher’s aide, at Acero’s Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz school and a member of the teachers bargaining team, said that even having two fewer students in a classroom would make a huge difference.

“You really do get a lot more time with your students,” Crooks said. “And if you are thinking about kindergarten in particular, two less 5-year-olds really can help set the tone of the classroom.”

In district-run schools, classes are capped at 28 students in kindergarten through third grade, and at 31 students in fourth through sixth grade. But a survey by the advocacy group Parents 4 Teachers, which supports educators taking on inequality, found that during the 2017-2018 school year, 21 percent of K-8 classrooms had more students than district guidelines allowed. In 18 elementary school classrooms, there were 40 or more students.

The issue came up at last week’s Board of Education meeting, at which Ivette Hernandez, a parent of a first-grader at Virgil Grissom Elementary School in the city’s Hegewisch neighborhood, said her son’s classes have had more than 30 students in them. When the children are so young and active — and when they come into classrooms at so many different skill levels — “the teachers can’t handle 30 kids in one class,” she told the board.

Alderman Sue Garza, a former counselor, accompanied Hernandez. She also spoke before the board about classroom overcrowding — worrying aloud that, in some grades at one school in particular, the number of students exceeded the building’s fire codes. (Board chair Frank Clark said a district team would visit the school to ensure compliance fire safety policies.)

While the Chicago Teachers Union aren’t technically allowed to strike over class sizes, the union does have a history of pushing the envelope when it comes to bargaining.

Back in 2012, when the Chicago Teachers Union last went on strike, they ended up being able to secure the first limit on class sizes in 20 years because the district permitted the union to bargain over class size.

They also led a bargaining campaign that included discussion over racial disparities in Chicago education and school closures, arguing that these trends impacted the working conditions of teachers.

“Even if you can’t force an employer to bargain over an issue, you can push them to bargain over the impact of an issue,” Bob Bruno, a labor professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, explained.

The Chicago Teachers Union also emerged from its 2012 negotiations with guarantees of additional “wraparound services,” such as access to onsite social workers and school counselors.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

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