[lg policy] Washington D.C.: Successful Charter School for Urban Students: Reducing Inner City Barriers to Educational Success in D.C.

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sun Jan 10 17:59:04 UTC 2010

Successful Charter School for Urban Students:ducing Inner City
Barriers to Educational Success in D.C.
Jan 9, 2010 Candace Cofield

Albeit with some controversy, the SEED School of Washington D.C.
offers a unique opportunity to a predominantly African-American
student population.

Maggie Jones’ article “The Inner City Prep School Experience,” [New
York Times, 2009] reported on a charter school in Washington D.C.
called SEED. The college preparatory public charter school and
dormitory serves 320 students, grades six through twelve. Most
students are African-American from single-parent, lower-income,
families in southeast and northeast section of Washington’s Ward 7
near an impoverished Ward 8. According to the article, the inner city
home neighborhood of the students necessitated the creation of SEED
charter school, which is now in its twelfth year of operation.

Students formerly had to deal with failing schools and serious
neighborhood risks – murders, drug sales, and drug abuse – during
non-school hours. SEED took on the task of changing options for these
students because they felt there was a need for students living in
sometimes dangerous urban neighborhoods to have access to safe and
successful learning environments that ease their transition to
college, to help them imagine and experience a broader world, and
equip them with the skills to achieve life-longsuccess

Problems Addressed by the Charter School

The issue facing the students of SEED is by no means an isolated
circumstance. Problems of urban neighborhood risks plague inner cities
of the United States and pose a significant barrier to educational
access. These problems have a disproportionately negative impact on
minorities, who through discriminatory practices in housing,
employment, and education are highly likely to find themselves living
in urban settings.

In the particular case of the 7th and 8th Ward of Washington D.C.,
this issue is predominantly affecting African-Americans in general,
who reflect both genders and come from a lower socio-economic class.
In response, the charter school has been successful in closing the
achievement gap for its students primarily by offering refuge and
rigor outside the students’ home community in a safer, secluded
dormitory setting. Last year, President Obama, former President
Clinton, as well as Senator Edward Kennedy called it an inspiration on
a visit there in April.

Controversial Issues with the Charter School

Students live at the SEED prep school five days a week and return home
on weekends. While some students have the ability to “survive back and
forth” between the two worlds they regularly navigate, all students
should be formally and informally equipped to not simply survive in
these two worlds, but also to use their unique position to improve the
world they came from – their home neighborhood and community. To
address these issues, there could be a policy-response that
specifically addresses the need for code-switching in a manner that
includes agency development for students to become ambassadors of
uplift to their home community.

Code-switching refers to the learning and use of differing dialects
based on social context. According to an online workshop document
“Codeswitching: Tools of Language and Culture Transform the
Dialectically Diverse Classroom” [Annenberg Media, 2010], “Teachers
can draw upon the language strengths of urban learners to help
students code-switch -- choose the language variety appropriate to the
time, place, audience and communicative purpose. In doing so, we honor
linguistic and cultural diversity, all the while fostering students'
mastery of the Language of Wider Communication, the de-facto lingua
franca of the US.”

While it is true that social and economic success depends upon the
ability to learn and acquire the language of power (the de facto
lingua franca of the US), having the ability to speak appropriately in
contexts where this dominant language loses its power gives one the
added advantage of having increased cultural capital.For example, the
leader of SEED talks to students about the value of knowing how to
speak the language of the students’ neighborhoods. He was quoted in
the article saying “Someone who can navigate a dangerous neighborhood
has a set of skills that others lack. Why would I want to rid him of
that?” This leader speaks to the controversial issues around language
in the school, but perhaps the school would do well to move from
‘talk’ to explicit instruction and subsequent action. The nature of
this instruction would explore deeply the matter of and more
importantly, the value of code-switching. In doing so, this curriculum
will also equip students with the tools to be agents of social justice
for the purposes of racial uplift in their home community.

Some might argue that explicit instruction in code-switching might
detract from ‘true’ instruction. They might suggest that it is not a
true language, or that students will be not fluent enough in either
language if code-switching is necessary, or perhaps code-switching is
not academically appropriate. While these arguments seem legitimate,
they are based on narrow visions of education that support the status
quo, which denies multiculturalism.There seem to be more arguments in
support of code-switching. For example, researchers quoted in the
Routledge Encyclopedia of Language and Teaching [Routledge, 2000] have
determined that code-switching is a form of personal expression and
preserving one's culture, that the ability to code-switch signifies a
strong knowledge of two languages, and that code-switching requires
creativity since some privileged English words cannot be translated
into non-privileged dialects or other whole languages.

It is crucial that students learn the privileged dialects of this
country to have more opportunities for success in the future, but also
to maintain use of their original speech and culture to keep their
community membership and identity and use this information to promote
justice and equity.

For More information on Charter Schools, see related article: Pros and
Cons of Charter Schools

Byram, Michael. Routledge Encyclopedia of Language Teaching and
Learning. London: Routledge. (2000)

Wheeler, Rebecca S.& Swords, Rachel.“Codeswitching: Tools of Language
and Culture Transform the Dialectally Diverse Classroom.” Workshop on
Developing Writers, Series #5. Christopher Newport University.
Annenberg Media. (2010): 1-19

Read more at Suite101: Successful Charter School for Urban Students:
Reducing Inner City Barriers to Educational Success in D.C.

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