Sunset Park Fifth Graders Hold a Human Rights Fundraiser

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“I have been through a lot in my life. This painting represents a time in my life when I changed and became a new person…It also represents when you are in your deepest pain you still have that place in your heart that tells you there is still HOPE and NEVER GIVE UP.”

As the 2015-2016 school year comes to a close, many students and educators nervously await the release of scores that, according to state and local education departments, tell us our worth as teachers and learners.

But these numbers do not rate us on our humanity and on our ability to love and add beauty to our troubled world.  Official data such as test scores and teacher evaluation ratings cannot capture the spirit of our classrooms. 

In celebrating our meaningful – and largely unsung – work, I wish to highlight an amazing project conceived by a fifth grade class in a Title I public elementary school in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.  Inspiration for the project, which is called From Artistic Inspiration to Education, came from two main sources: the students’ study of the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and stories told to them by their teacher, Maria Diaz, who recently visited an impoverished village in the Dominican Republic.  In promoting Article 26 of the UDHR, which states that “everyone has the right to education,” Class 5-502 decided to raise money for the school in the village their teacher visited.

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Here’s what the students of class 502 wrote on their fundraising webpage:

We are so lucky to have a school that provides us with all the educational supplies we need. Buying school supplies and uniforms is a challenge for all of the 13 kids that attend that school and we want to be able to provide those basic supplies for them. 

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To date, the students have raised a little more than $1,375.00.  This week, class 502 is inviting the school community to visit their classroom, which they’ve converted into an art gallery to showcase their UDHR-inspired artwork as well as to provide more information about the school they are supporting.  On Thursday, June 16, the students of class 502 will auction off their paintings.  The silent auction will take place at P.S. 24 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn from 3:30 – 7:00 pm (427 38th Street between 4th and 5th Aves.).  Please come (or donate online).  Witnessing the students’ enthusiasm and empathy will give you hope for the future.  Their words of wisdom – whether intentional or not – will also move you.  One student wrote this about her painting: “I enjoyed creating it even though it looks messy and a bunch of curvy lines.  That is what art is all about.  That is what education is all about.”

Here is a sampling of their creations.

house

“I am from the Dominican Republic. A lot of people there are really poor. Ms. Diaz showed us a village called El Aguacate, there are mountains there. Article 25 states that you and your family are entitled to having basic necessities, like a house. This is why I chose to draw a house.”

math

“I was inspired to paint Divided Colors because of my love for division in math. It represents how unfair life could be and how some people are divided. For example, children’s education is divided. In the Dominican Republic and in other parts of the world like Yemen kids don’t have the right to a proper education.”

horse

“My piece represents equality for all human beings and animals. If you only have an eye, you can still be friends with someone who has two eyes.”

flowers

“These flowers represent us helping a school in the Dominican Republic. I put the flowers far from each other because the Dominican Republic is another country.”

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bomb

“What inspired me to paint this is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights because Article 3 says “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” In a lot of places people don’t have that. Also a lot of people suffer so much. BOOM represents the evils that destroy things and harm innocent people.”

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—”To me a parrot represents all the languages spoken in the world. The colors represent happiness and freedom. In Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights it says that, “Everyone should live life with freedom.” Some people see a bird as a sign of freedom and we can all believe that someday we will all have world freedom.”

 

 

 

 

 

Day 3 – 2014 NYS/Pearson Common Core ELA exam

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Photograph of 4/1/14 P.S. 146 rally courtesy of pix11.com

Today I administered DAY THREE of the 2014 NYS Common Core English-language arts (ELA) assessment to fifth grade English-language learners (ELLs) and former ELLs who are entitled to extended time on state assessments. For the third day in a row, my kids sat in the testing room for 135 minutes (2 hours and 15 minutes). This week, my group of 10-year-olds tested in ELA for a total of six hours and 45 minutes.

Today’s 5th grade test was comprised of three reading passages, five short response questions and one extended response question. The questions were tricky and confusing, and the vocabulary and content were far from being grade-appropriate.  As the educators at P.S. 321* noted in their 4/3/14 condemnation of the 2014 ELA test, “…we have never seen an ELA exam that does a worse job of testing reading comprehension. There was inappropriate content, many highly ambiguous questions, and a focus on structure rather than meaning of passages.”  The kids I tested stared into space while struggling to make sense of the questions. They also had less stamina today. Many needed to take a break after answering the first two short response questions. The students were fidgety and less focused, and many asked to go to the bathroom. Two kids complained of stomach pain. A few kids met my gaze throughout the test, pleading with their eyes for me to rescue them.  It broke my heart.  With more than a hour left in the test, one boy, slumped over in his chair, summoned me over to his seat and said, “I don’t want to do this.”

The behavior I witnessed today was not due to lack of “grit” on the part of my students. They tried their best and didn’t give up. Whenever I proctor these exams, I’m always amazed by my students’ resilience. They make me proud, but it’s disheartening to see them suffer on a test that they don’t realize is completely meaningless and, in no way, reflects the beautiful classwork they’ve done this year.

Here are some NYC elementary student and teacher reactions to the DAY THREE test

1.) The veteran teacher I most admire, a compassionate, energetic and intelligent woman, called the 3rd grade test, “so over the top…the questions were unlike anything we’ve seen.” Furious at having to administer this exam she decried, “You are asking me to be complicit in abusing kids.  I abused kids today and my penalty is a rating.”

2.) Third grade students called the tests “horrible,” “too hard” and “boring.”  They complained of being sleepy and felt worried and frustrated.  One student said, “I thought my brain was going to shut down.”

3.) Many students were scared that they would be “left back” if they didn’t finish the test.

4.) One fifth grader said the test was “exhausting”; another remarked, “my head hurts.”

5.) A fifth grade class reported that the questions were unfair. One question, they said, “has to be thrown out.”

6.) Kids cried at drop off today.  Some cried during the test and a few vomited.  One general education student had a nervous breakdown and had to take the test in a separate location.  This student’s anxiety was so intense that the teacher thought the child would run away.

7.) There were numerous reports of students answering the questions by simply copying random sentences from the reading passages.

7.) A very hard-working and capable third grader didn’t finish the test and asked her teacher, “Does this mean I’m going to fail?”

What is wrong with the NYSED? Do they realize that so-called college readiness DOES NOT mean college-level work in elementary school? Are they punishing our students, educators and parents because of the growing test resistance in New York State? The Board of Regents and John King must be held accountable for their gross mismanagement of our public schools which has, among other disasters, resulted in the unnecessary suffering of our students.

-Katie

*P.S. 321 in Park Slope, Brooklyn will be protesting this year’s ELA exam tomorrow (4/4/14) from 8:15 – 8:35 am. It will take place outside the school.

My letter to a 5th grader despondent over ELA score

Hi Mr. Gates,

Were you a good test-taker? I wasn’t and neither is one of my 5th grade ELLs. In fact, he isn’t a true ELL but he hasn’t yet tested proficient on the NYSESLAT (you know about this standardized test from my previous letters to you), which is the only way out of ESL.

He is despondent after learning that his ELA cut score isn’t high enough for automatic promotion to the 6th grade. In my letter to him, I reveal my own struggles with standardized testing. -K

Dear ________,

I know you are feeling down about your ELA score. I have been in your shoes many times before, and know what a struggle it is – how so very hard it is – to lift yourself up from the crushing disappointment.

________, I was a terrible standardized test-taker. It was very hard for me to concentrate and focus on reading passages, especially when faced with so many long ones. The time limit also distracted me and made me nervous. I felt rushed. As a result, I would panic and freeze; my mind would go blank. I couldn’t seem to remember anything I had read and re-read. The information got mixed up in my head and the multiple choice answers confused me. It was such a painful experience for me that I simply selected the best-sounding answer just to be done with it. Is that what it’s like for you?

Have you heard of the SAT? It’s the test that high school kids take in order to get into college. My SAT scores in math and ELA were low. Even though I had a tutor and pushed myself to take the test five times, my scores never improved. In spite of this, I was accepted to every college I applied to, and I thrived as a history major. The universities saw that I was talented in other ways. After college I went on to get a Master’s degree in Latin American studies, but I went to England for this. I prefer their essay-based assessments. I never once had to take a multiple choice test over there.

Please know that you are not alone. We all demonstrate our intelligence and knowledge differently. I had the pleasure of teaching you in 2nd grade and again in 5th grade. Like me, you are a careful, thoughtful worker. You work best when you are given enough time to think about what you want to say. You are a strong writer and you have excellent ideas. You just need to complete your work in your own time.

I want you to know that in my free time I am working hard to speak out on behalf of learners like you and me. It’s not right that so much importance is placed on tests like the ELA and math, which don’t accurately reflect all that we have learned. Most – if not all – teachers believe this.

Hang in there. Ms. ________ and I believe in you. You have so much to contribute to class _______ and beyond. Feel free to reach out to me next year. I am here for you and will always be your advocate.

All best,
Ms. Lapham