My wife Michele and I had a packed schedule on Saturday ecstatically immersed in education activities in our nation's capital. We started the morning off at the National Cathedral School with one of our favorite organizations, the Latino Student Fund.
Their student tutoring program is about to begin for the second half of the school year but today we were gathered with other volunteers for orientation and to hear from the co-founder, chief operating officer, and vice president for policy & research, of Excelencia in Education Deborah A. Santiago. Ms. Santiago was here for one primary purpose: to assist us in being better tutors for our kids.
She began her presentation by explaining that educators can take a deficit or asset view of students. It was immediately clear which side she was on. Others may want to dwell on obstacles to teaching Latino youth. It is the natural position to hold since, as Ms. Santiago pointed out, only about 20 percent of adults of this ethnic group living in the United States have an associate degree or higher. But the Excelenica in Education Vice President would have nothing to do with this perspective.
Ms. Santiago explained that kids often find grown-ups talking at them, constantly calling out directives for what they can and cannot do. She asked us to take another approach with our tutees. “Let them find their voice,” she offered. “Listen to their story. Raise your expectations about what they can achieve. Help your students to have high aspirations and dreams to match.”
She confidently asserted that if we make our time with them interesting and engaging, and we truly learn from these young people by consistently allowing them to speak instead of having to constantly hear only what we are saying, we will be able to make a life-changing contribution to those with whom we work.
Wow. For most people that level of inspiration would be enough for one day. But we were in for much more. Next on the agenda was heading over to the Washington Convention Center to the D.C. Education Festival. The event was organized by the D.C. Association of Chartered Public Schools, Friends of Choice in Urban Schools, D.C. Public Schools, and the D.C. Public Charter School Board.
Over 100 schools, both charter and traditional, had tables where representatives from each institution provided parents and guardians with information and answered questions. In the front of the ballroom was a stage for student performances. Another section contained hands-on demonstrations of STEM projects. In rooms adjacent to where the main activities were taking place visitors could attend workshops on subjects such as “Strategies for Effective Communication Between Parents and School Personnel” and the one we thoroughly enjoyed entitled “Data Dashboards and How to Improve Your School Search, led by FOCUS’s Steven Taylor.
The room was overflowing with individuals intimately involved in the comprehensive turnaround of public education in the District of Columbia. Deputy Mayor for Education Abigail Smith introduced a panel discussion on the state of education in our city. Joining the group was Martha Cutts, head of Washington Latin Public Charter School. Her Performance Management Framework Tier 1 charter was recently informed that it has the highest high school graduation rate of any non-selective school in town. I had a chance to catch up with Irasema Salcido, the founder of the Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools for Public Policy, and learned all of the exciting things she is doing. Linda Moore, of the also Tier 1 Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School, greeted me warmly at her booth. I interviewed her several years back and will have new information about this charter coming soon. Kaya Henderson, the DCPS Chancellor, shook my hand. Just last week I published my conversation with her. I even had the opportunity to spend several minutes with the FOCUS team of Robert Cane, Michael Musante, and Ram Uppuluri. Scott Pearson, the executive director of the PCSB said hello, and Darren Woodruff, PCSB vice chairman, provide me with kind words.
This is the first time that DCPS had joined the fair and it is now gaining in importance. This year of course will be the initial one for the unified student lottery with includes out-of-boundary DCPS applications and those of the great majority of charters. In addition, the Washington Post’s Emma Brown pointed out in an article about the event that only 25 percent of students attend their neighborhood school, so this is a real opportunity for parents to learn about all the educational offerings available in this city. But for someone like me, who has fought for school choice here for 17 years, the sight across the expansive space was emotionally almost too uplifting to endure.