Tag Archives: simon gratz high school

LCFC Journal #15 “Summer School at Gratz” (North Philly)

22 Aug

 

Resized_20170713_191321This past summer I spent my time working as a high school ELA teacher in Philly at Simon Gratz High School. My brief tenure there was possible because I had been selected a few months back as a newly minted 2017 Teach For America Corps Member. And to say that my time there was amazing would most certainly be an understatement.

The very first day I was scheduled to meet my students was on Wednesday, July 5th. That day was a very nerve wracking one as I, and my co-teacher, Matt Lowe, anxiously found ourselves getting amped as we awaited their arrival. And so, as the bell rung we stood outside our classroom door at 8:30AM when the students started to slowly but surely make their way onto the third floor.

The special moment  we had envisioned in welcoming new students into our classroom was short lived as students spoke out in turn, questioned our purpose and asked us whether we truly enjoyed teaching and wanted to be there with them.

Moreover, some of the kids even mentioned how rough their school was and that sometimes the behavioral climate was out of control. Although I wasn’t surprised by what was being told to us, my co-teacher Matt Lowe found it to be shocking as he’s never come across or worked with students of color within an inner city school.

Because of this and the fact that I myself had grown up and attended all failing public schools throughout my childhood I thought it was truly important and best that I helped Matt adjust and become acclimated with what he’d experience throughout our month of sharing the classroom together. Our main task during the summer program was working with the kids to help them navigate the texts we would go on to cover over the next four weeks.

Some of the pieces we covered were speeches from former Senator and 2016 Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton about violence and oppression that occurred amongst women of all colors and creeds in 1995 as well as a speech by Elie Wiesel, the famous holocaust survivor who wrote the memoir Night which famously detailed his experience in the Nazi Germany concentration camp in the 1940’s. And although the pieces were dense, the students found the thematic elements we covered to be of great importance which led to many discussions and important conversations about sexism, violence, and discrimination against women.

For Matt and I, we noticed that the students had no problem interacting with the text, annotating them or contextualizing them through what they had experienced within their own lives, instead, we noticed that the real problem lied in the literacy skills of our children as many of them were writing on a fourth or fifth grade reading level.

This in itself was tough because I often had to ask myself: “How do I go about grading and assessing the performance of these children when their true skills doesn’t lie in their ability to write but in their ability to think and share vocally and critically about whatever we were discussing in class at the time?” However, I found this question to be a complicated one since the school itself was judging student progress on their ability to write and perform on paper at a decent level in which they would consider to be worthy of passing.

Yet, there were still more pressing urgent matters that often troubled me more than the students ability to attend, participate, and learn in class. For a lot of my kids many of them were dealing with personal issues and traumas that many teachers including myself would not be able to fully digest or understand.

I remember one of my students named Shemar Caraway had decided to answer a question from a day’s Do-Now about conflict and intervention as he said: “I’ve never intervened on any issue before in my life but I remember I had a friend who died over a situation he was in by gunshot. He was murdered and sometimes I think about how it could have been me.” I found this response from Shemar to be bone-chilling as I personally have never dealt with losing friends in such a gruesome way nor have I ever witnessed someone being hurt, maimed or murdered in cold blood.

Furthermore, many of my students had doodled and written on folders that we distributed to them for the summer. And a lot of the folders I came across had the words and hashtags #RIPBLACK #RIPSTUNNA and #FREETAY. In all honesty, these markings scared me because it made me wonder about the kind of environment my students were living in and how their setting affected the way they thought, spoke, and lived among each other. The actuality of their circumstance really left a mark on me and made me think a lot about their futures and how much care they should take going forward to ensure a full chance at life. Chances that were robbed and taken away from some of their most dearest friends.

As summer school ended I remember having a moment of reflection on the last day with my Teach For America summer advisor named Julianne and the other teachers in our teaching group that taught ELA at Gratz. And as I was given a chance to reflect and say what I was thankful for I remember having to step out because I broke down in tears. The reason for this was the fear I felt for my students as I questioned their safety. Overall, I had grown to love them and their imperfections and after hearing what a lot of them had gone through I found it to be of great importance that they not only continued to get their education but found more than one applicable way in being safe within their community.

One moment that has stuck with me even to this day as I reflect back on my time spent in the classroom is when Shemar showed up early to class one day prior to the start of class. By that point we had a week of summer school left on our schedule. And so, since Shemar was there early, I figured I’d pick his brain and ask him what his plans were for the remainder of summer before the start of the regular school year. Shemar responded by saying that he would lay low and stay cool since it had been a hot summer. In that moment of getting our class set up Matt teased him and said: “You’re going to be writing us letters saying how much you miss us?” To which Shemar replied: “Man, I don’t even write letters to people in jail.” The response itself was very illuminating in regards to the circumstantial conditions that our students dealt with and never ceased to move me in regards to how these kids were growing up in the midst of all the chaos and turmoil.

Going forward, I know that I have to move on and get ready for what is expected of me over the next two years in Connecticut but for some reason I feel as if my heart will be in Philly for a very long time. The students I was fortunate enough to work with this summer helped me grow in more ways than I could have ever imagined. They helped me realize that I have a purpose in doing work as an educator and that I myself will continue to grow the more I open myself to being aware of not only the similarities but the differences I will surely experience between my students and myself over the next two years.

At this point in time, I’m not sure what to expect at whichever school I will soon be teaching at but one thing I’m certain of is that the students I taught for four weeks at Simon Gratz High School forever have a special place within my heart. The one thing I will continue to ponder throughout the many years going forward is that this group I led for a month somehow remembers me, Mr. Anglade as their 10th grade ELA Section 1 summer teacher. If they recognize the impact I strove for with them, they won’t realize it now but possibly one day when they are full-fledged adults. In closing, I would like to say that those kids are special. And not only will they truly be missed, but I will never forget them for as long as I live.

 

KEVIN ANGLADE is the author of frankly twisted: the lost files, a collection of detective fiction. He was featured on NBC’s The Debrief with David Ushery in 2014 where he provided insight and purpose about small-press publishing. Anglade holds an A.S. in Theatre, (Queensborough Community College) a B.A. in English (Brooklyn College) and an M.A. in English (Queens College). He is the author of the poetry collection “Life Comes From Concrete”: a poetry memoir (2016).

 

Find him online at:

http://www.kevinanglade.com

Twitter/IG: @velevek

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