Thursday, August 14, 2008

This Is Why High School Choice Should Continue (and Why the SE Initiative Can't Solve Everything)

The PI has been running a two-part series on young men and gangs throughout the region. In the second part published today, they examine the scattershot approach across the board from public entities. There was also a sobering letter to the editor about the first part of this series which I believe reflects how many people feel (frustrated).

From the article:

"Common wisdom holds that kids involved with gangs are long gone from school, unseen and vanished into street life. But James, a sophomore at Cleveland High last year, would disagree. To him, they were everywhere, congregating in the halls, getting high just outside the building, urging him to step into their circle.

At 16, he loved sports - track, in particular - and while he clearly feared parental wrath, he could not help pulling away from a mother frantic to keep him safe. Almost from the day school began last fall, James was torn between worries about where gang life might lead and his equally powerful wish to join, to belong.

It would happen when teachers sent him into the hallway for being disruptive in class. There, he was besieged.

"They keep pressuring me because I know people from both sides," the lanky boy said, his eyes downcast and his sneakered foot tapping incessantly. "We start walking and talking and I don't go back to class."

"You should get put on," they kept urging. "You should join up."

Finally, James' mother - who insisted that his full name not be published for fear of retaliation - made plans to enroll her son at another school this fall. There had been six fights and assaults serious enough that Cleveland security officers wrote reports, and rumors of a drive-by shooting last winter rerouted all school bus pickups to the rear of the building for the remainder of the year."

There is so much going on here, it's hard to know where to start.
  • How are these kids, who are not enrolled at Cleveland getting in and being allowed to roam the halls? (We have 3 security officers at Roosevelt so I know Cleveland has them as well. That said, I hardly ever see the officers in the halls and Cleveland probably has its hands full.)
  • If a teacher sends a kid out, he or she should check at the office after class or at the end of the day to see if they made it there. If not, follow up.
  • If James joined the track team, he would be belong somewhere.
From the article:

"In the wake of a bloody 2008 that has so far claimed the lives of six teenagers from the Seattle area in gang-related shootings, parents, school district officials, police, outreach workers and churches have become increasingly frantic to find solutions. But while each of these groups offers ideas, none has yet been able to coordinate with the others to develop a sustained plan of attack.

Blame, however, abounds.

Parents and preachers point at the school district. Educators insist they are doing what they can. Everyone, it seems, complains about money."

"The new anti-gang group Youth 180, funded by the city, has already enlisted about 10 teens to hit the streets and reach out to others. So far, it's working. But theirs is merely one small effort and lack of continuity typically plagues such campaigns - highlighted in one year's budget cycle, only to be excised in the next."

Look to the Families and Education levy and you can see where this emphasis on the WASL cut away from these programs. The City wanted more of the money to go to something they could measure.

"In 2004, however, money to fund Team for Youth was folded into the Families and Education levy with a new mandate. Caseworkers now would focus solely on improving graduation rates, WASL scores and other measurable outcomes."

"The gang problems flare up, money comes pouring in. They go away, the money dries up," said Andre Franklin, who runs a midnight recreation program for teens at the Southwest Community Center in West Seattle. "This problem is never going to go away until there is something sustainable for working with youth in prevention and intervention."

"Intervention works," said John Hayes, director of community relations for the Seattle Police Department. "Working directly with families works. That's what we learned more than anything in the early years. A lot of those old-school programs we need to bring back."

Yet a year of good intentions - and a half-dozen dead teenagers - have so far resulted in little more than scattershot efforts to reach youth, along with mounting frustration from the communities most affected by their violence.

"The presence of a youth gang problem must be recognized before anything meaningful can be done to address it," reads a directive from the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, part of a gang-intervention model adopted by Seattle schools. "If denial is present, it must be confronted."

Is it denial? Is it that gang activity dies down or lessens and money is so tight that these efforts go away?

Here's part of what the letter writer to the PI said:

"For those unfortunate youths in my own city who think they have no other alternative but to join gangs and continue to kill one another, suffice it to say when they value their own life, I will value their life. Until then, I don't care."

What do we do? Pressure the district and the City to do more and sustain it? Hope it doesn't spread citywide to all high schools? Take a hard look at the problem and ask what part of it is society and what part of it is personal responsibility? As several readers here have noted, there are a myriad of programs to help reach these boys and get them through school with mentoring. What happens if they choose not to avail themselves? What happens if their home life is so unstable they feel more kinship with gang members? It's true; everyone wants a place to belong.

But some part of growing up is saying, "What is my life going to be about? If I know the difference between good and bad and I choose bad because it's easier, is it now on me to admit that?" I've found - with my own kids - a resistance to think ahead to the future because it's too hard or it's takes planning or gasp! it's gonna take work to get somewhere in life.

But I also think that there are a lot of good examples for these boys and they are choosing not to see them. The prime example, right in front of them, is Barrack Obama. He says himself he ran wild in high school and did drugs. He was not a solid citizen despite going to a good prep school. He pulled himself out of it. It can be done.

But no more kids should die because of a gang affiliation. No more people should have to worry about just walking around their neighborhoods. And we all know what will come if this continues; there will a a bystander killed, either on the street or at a school.

And to my final point:
  • " a mother frantic to keep him safe", "James' mother - who insisted that his full name not be published for fear of retaliation - made plans to enroll her son at another school this fall"
Here is a mother that is fighting for her child's life. Not what programs are at the school or how many AP courses it has. She is fighting to keep him away from bad influences that could kill him and the only way she can do it for a large portion of the day is to get him out of that school.

That, my friends, in a nutshell is why the SE Initiative is not going to work. That is why we need to keep choice in assignment plan at the high school level. It's not even about equity but survival. I know some of you are going to say, well, I can't save every child and what about my right to go to a school near my home?

But for now, there has to be, by public entities, a multi-pronged approach to get this under control. We all have stand up and shout loudly to the powers that be, ENOUGH and get off your asses and do something - NOW.


Roy Smith said...

If Cleveland (or any other school) is unsafe for students to attend, the answer is not more school choice; it is closing the unsafe school, and not reopening it until it is safe. If it is unsafe for James to be there, chances are that it is unsafe for any other student to be there as well, and I think it is intolerable to suggest that only those who are informed (and lucky) enough to make the school choice system work for them deserve a safe school.

SolvayGirl said...

My daughter will enter high school in 2009. I have been watching the progress of the SE Initiative and plan to see the Broadway Bound production at RB this weekend. I am delighted to see some performing arts actually going on in RB's state-of-the-art facility.
However...after reading the PI's articles and in light of the recent shootings just blocks from my home, I know I cannot send my daughter to Rainier Beach HS (our neighborhood school). I don't know how any parent could.
I cannot put the blame squarely on the District's shoulders. This is a huge social problem that cannot be solved easily or in a vacuum. However, the District's cavalier attitude towards crime in schools (no data available for parents, etc.) and their ostrich approach to all of the problems does not help.
As a parent who has been involved in southend schools for 8 years, I have seen firsthand that parental involvement is what makes the difference. I'm not talking about volunteering or PTA attendance (though these are important elements), but the no-brainer stuff like making sure kids do their homework, come prepared for class (fed, rested, have materials), etc.
For whatever reasons (and there are dozens) too many kids get inadequate parenting. Until our society recognizes that having children is a major commitment that should not be taken lightly, we will continue to have problems. Considering how many celebrities are glorified for their unplanned (and usually unmarried) pregnancies, it's no wonder young women look at a baby as the latest accessory. I'd prefer they stuck to Chihuahuas!

AutismMom said...

I've got an idea. Let's put the autistic kids in an inclusion program at Cleveland, and taxi them in from the N. Seattle. There's such great social models at Cleveland, they could all just learn from each other. I bet those autistic kids are just ticket, and will solve the gang problem. And there's so many other oportunities too! Isn't that swell? Ohhhh wait! I see it's already been thought of! Isn't it great that our district places programs "in support of district-wide academic goals".

Melissa Westbrook said...

Autistic Mom, I don't know what you are referencing. Could you explain what you are talking about>

Michael Rice said...

I would like to encourage solvaygirl1972 to come visit Rainier Beach HS anytime. My room (268) is always open. I think you will find the perception and the reality to be two different things.

With the SE Initiative kicking in this year, we have greatly expanded our course offerings to include many AP classes, the Honors classes to feed those AP classes and a greatly enhanced drama, music and art program to appeal to the creative side of our students.

The SE Initiative was created with the idea of having the people who live in the RB area send their children to RB. They will receive just as good an education as at any other high school in the city and given our numbers, they will never be invisible, like it is so possible at the over enrolled high schools. There will be at least one adult, and usually multiple adults who will know your child and have a genuine interest in the education success of your child.

Please feel free to visit anytime. School begins at 8:00 am on September 3rd. I hope to meet you soon.

AutismMom said...

I'm not sure what you don't understand? The district decided to send the autistic kids from N Seattle to Cleveland -- it put a new autism inclusion program at Cleveland and then mailed out their assignment announcement. (you do understand, there's no choice for those families, 0, so yipee for everyone else! I'm glad you like it.) No, there was no process, no commentary, no advocacy groups consulted, no consideration of safety, no neat group of cohorts kept together, no consideration of academic needs etc. Cleveland HS already has the highest population of disabled students of any high school. I guess you can't have too much of a good thing!

SolvayGirl said...

Mr. Rice
I admire you and all the teachers at Rainier Beach, and I will, at least, look at the school, but my daughter's safety is paramount. RB could offer the best programs on the planet, but if there are constant fights (as I have heard from others who work there) and too many disruptive students (especially those involved in gangs), it will not be a great atmosphere.
I am also curious about your performing arts programs. It is my understanding that the teachers assigned to these programs are not experts in their fields. If I recall, last year's drama teacher did not even realize she needed to secure the rights to The Wiz in order for it to be performed. Perhaps there has been a more qualified teacher assigned to the program. It is my understanding that the Broadway Bound program is a summer program geared toward at-risk youth—not just any youth in the neighborhood. I have also heard that the music teacher is actually an art teacher (this may, or may not, be true).
Once again, it would be nice if all of this information were available on the SPS website (including teacher's qualifications).
I realize it is hard in a school as under-enrolled as RB...almost a self-fulfilling prophecy. Without a large student body, the school cannot afford to have the variety of staff that a school like Roosevelt can.
I'll keep my options open. It would be nice for my child to be able to ride her bike to school.

anonymous said...

It sounds like RB's academic offerings are way ahead of Hale's at this point. Hale has yet to offer stand alone honors classes and only offers 2 stand alone A courses. Go RBHS!!!

So I guess the north end needs the Dr. MGJ Initiative to kick Hale's tail into giving the community what it wants - stand alone honors and AP courses. It's just outrageous that a traditional, comprehensive HS can get away with this. If Hale want to be alternative (and I have no problem with that), then they need to classify themselves alternative. But they can't do that because the district has nowhere to send all of the NE neighborhood families - god knows they can't go to Roosevelt unless they live in the 2.1 mile radius of the school, and many many of us don't. So the district will continue to keep Hale a traditional school but allow it to run and operate as an alternative school.

As for choice, Roy Smith is right. Why should ANY kid go to a gang ridden, violent school. Where is our leadership. This school should be closed if the administration can't keep it safe. Choice is not the answer for this one. At all.

Maureen said...

OK, so if we want to close Cleveland (or RB) and reopen it when it's safe.... What can we do to MAKE it safe? Can we do some of those things without closing the school first? I'm not arguing with Roy Smith (nice to hear from you again!), I just would like us to use our experience and intelligence to think through the problem and make some proposals.

I believe that Cleveland already has a small academies set up -- which is supposed to attract and support students, is that not working? Could it make sense to turn it into a language immersion/international school that could take the Beacon kids? Does creating special programs like that just redirect the unmotivated/unsupported (enrolled late) kids to another school (RB, Franklin)?

I believe that High School is too late for many kids: we need to give them a supportive community and make them value education before they are ten. Some programs try to do that--but maintaining continuity with these kids seems to be too 'difficult.' I.e., we haven't been willing to pay for it on a continuous basis.

Many of the comments on the PI website say basically: 'good, let them all kill each other.' That is horrific. Even if some of those kids are bad to the bone, their INFLUENCE on the marginal kids (like 'James') needs to be blocked.

We're the adults, what can we do to help?

Melissa Westbrook said...

I would agree with Roy. It is probably better to close Cleveland (although the district would be loath to do that given the SE Initiative and it's in a new building).

But if they did close it, those students would have to go somewhere. And they couldn't all go to Rainier Beach so yes, there would have to be spaces for them at other high schools.

SolvayGirl said...

I don't see how closing Cleveland would solve anything. To me it would just move the problem to Rainier Beach (which currently appears to not have as bad a problem). Unfortunately, it is the perception and reality of having a truly undesirable element (gangs or crime involvement by anyone--I'd say the same of a school in rural areas that might have white students and/or their families involved in meth production) in the school that keeps middle income families away.

I have a number of African American friends that kept their children out of Southend middle and high schools specifically because they did not want them to come under gang influence. They chose either independent schools or other SPS schools.

It's not even that the school itself is unsafe. Once a child is in high school, parents don't know their cohorts they way they did in elementary or even middle school. You don't know the families. If my child went to a southend high school, I would be very leery about letting her go to a private party (unless I knew the family) and possibly even school dances. What kind of high school experience is that?

I realize that private parties can be problematic anywhere in town, but lately we have see too much gun violence in the southend. I agree with Maureen, the problem can't be solved in high school (except, perhaps to keep young women from getting pregnant and continuing the cycle of poverty). If the schools can have an impact at all, it needs to be when kids, and their families, are young. Empower parents to exercise good parenting. Give a strong, vibrant education, so kids will be able to have dreams that go beyond a life of crime.

Michael Rice said...

Hello Again:

Are there fights and disruptive students at Rainier Beach? Yes. You will find fights and disruptive students are Roosevelt, Ballard, West Seattle, and any other high school in America. I understand your desire to have a safe environment for your daughter. Rainier Beach HS offers that.

After an extensive national search we have hired a full time drama teacher with a great deal of experience and a vast array of talents. Broadway Bound will be partnering with the RB drama department to put on 2 (I think, it may be more, I don't remember) productions during the school year using the students in the drama classes (an of course, anyone else who wants to be involved). As for the music teacher, it maybe that the teacher may have endorsements in both art and music, but I have to admit that I don't know.

My offer to visit my classroom at any time stands.