Getting Fired Up About Social Issues…and Actually Doing Something About Them (by Guest Student Blogger Emily Jasperson)

Note: In the next few days, I’ll be posting the action plans of three students who have given me permission to share their work here.  These three students have all committed to expanding their roles as involved community members and will be experimenting bravely with the ways they become more deeply involved and invested.  Read on (and for the next few days) for some excellent and practical ideas about how to keep the work going.

Our first action plan comes from Emily Jasperson, a future teacher who is finding ways to integrate community work into her daily life.

How easy it is to get all fired about social issues, like all the things we’ve discussed in class this summer, just to finish the final project and go about life as it was before. Why is this? This has happened to me a few times throughout my college career. First after taking ED 420 and learning about the ills of the education system, and second when I took a minorities class that detailed the struggles of various minority populations around the world now and in history. I became so frustrated and wanted so much for things to be different. It all comes down to a feeling of powerlessness because these issues are so huge. Although I personally cannot erase poverty and racial disparities, there are little things I can do to make a difference for people in my community. This is what I have learned this term while working with SUN at James John. I realized that there are so many programs out there like SUN, that really need extra help in the way of volunteers, and this is something I can do. My helping to stuff envelopes or to clean up a cluttered office space translates into more time that the staff of such organizations gets to spend actually helping people.

                  I have decided that I would like to continue my community involvement beyond the scope of this class. I am going to talk to Koali about continuing my service with SUN at James John into the school year to continue the relationships I have started with the children and staff. I feel that SUN does such great things and I really would like to be a part of the positive change they are creating for many families in Portland. I really like the resources they have for families outside of the programs at elementary schools, like health services and school-readiness programs, among many others. All of these things are set up to benefit children in the long run, which is something I am passionate about. Having worked with kids for quite some time now, I really appreciate the importance of a good education for them and would like to work to see it happen. I am grateful that through this Capstone experience I have been presented with so many ways to get involved and help make a change.

                  My plan for continuing community involvement is going to last for six months. This is about the amount of time I have left in school, which means I won’t be working very much, thus freeing up more of my time not spent in class. These six months will start in September, when school starts and SUN is back in session. Until then, I have the Oregon Zoo Urban Overnights trip with the James John SUN kids to look forward to and I am going to start looking for one-time volunteer opportunities through Hands On. This will give me a chance to get involved with other organizations not necessarily affiliated with schools or children, thus enriching my volunteer and community involvement experience. There are so many great things to help out with in Portland! In addition to this, I have chosen three steps from “Fitting Activism Into Your Daily Life”:

  1. Share Your Sources of Information with Others

I have already been doing this a bit since I started following PDXEAN on facebook and d2l. Through that, I have found Rethinking Schools and The Huffington Post education section which I have now also been following. I share articles with friends that I find to be particularly poignant or outrageous, or that deserve discussion. I have always felt that I didn’t know very much about current issues, especially those in education, and having access to these things has greatly widened my understanding of educational issues affecting our kids today. I will continue to follow these and share them with friends and family through facebook.

  1. Check Out or Join a Movement or Organization

This is something I have never done before, but have always wanted to. It has always seemed to me that I haven’t had time, or that I wouldn’t know where to look for organizations that I could possibly be a part of. Again, I am thankful for all this class has opened up to me! I joined Women for Change and Children First for Oregon, in hopes of staying current on education and general issues that are affecting children here in Oregon, and also to be able to find out ways I can physically help out in the effort. The sources of information I follow aren’t always about issues that are affect those in my own state, so this is a good way to keep informed about things I can really make a difference about and hopefully see results.

  1. Go Big and Go Small

I have never participated in something for a BIG cause, but I would like to. By paying attention to issues detailed through Women for Change and Children First for Oregon, I may be able to find some ways to help out or speak out on some big issues that affect the nation or the world, not just here in Portland. I did a bit of volunteering a few years back to get people my age to vote, and I don’t know how successful I personally was, but it felt good to be involved in something that was a lot bigger than myself and even my community. The small things I would like to do will most likely be found through volunteer opportunities on the Hands On website. I have looked at these for the past couple of weeks but haven’t done any of them yet. I like how they seem so simple but really can make a big difference for a neighborhood or organization. Some are as simple as pulling ivy or cleaning trails, and while this doesn’t seem like a big deal, it can mean that people enjoying nature can have a positive experience making them want to come back and ultimately help preserve our natural areas. Small things turn out to yield big benefits!

                  All of this sounds great on paper, but how am I going to actually commit to it? Since I will be accountable to the SUN staff at James John, it will be easy to stick with that commitment. Also, I would be spending so much time with the kids that I would feel I would be letting them down if I didn’t show up. Fortunately for me, right now my schedule is pretty open so I should be able to find time to do a lot in the community. Aside from SUN, I am going to look at the Hands On website each week to find an opportunity to help out in some way. I would also like to enlist the help of my friends as well for volunteer buddies! It’s a great way to hang out while also doing something positive for our neighbors. I would also like to start a volunteer journal to track my progress and record my experiences. I have heard that altruism is a great way to lead a fulfilling life and I think that writing about it will present the personal benefits of volunteering, which I don’t often think about. I don’t mind having my plan shared on PDXEAN, it may actually make me feel a bit more accountable to the words and thoughts I have written here. Also, periodic check-in emails would be great! It’s always nice to get a bit of reinforcement. I look forward to the next six months of community involvement, and will strive to continue volunteering far beyond that date. 


Limiting Our Nation’s Dream (by Guest Student Blogger Kaitlyn Smeback)

Note: We’re starting Week 2 of Portland State University’s Enhancing Youth Literacy and Summer Youth Enrichment Capstones in public discussion at PDX Education Action Network.  Last week’s student bloggers inspired incredibly rich conversations about the state of education, and this week, we’ll continue to dive into many perspectives on topics such as the DREAM Act, immigration and education, and other current events.  Here is our first Guest Student Blogger, Kaitlyn Smeback, and some provocative questions about the DREAM Act.

After watching “Teen DREAM Act Documentary,” I find myself again disappointed by my own ignorance of the contemporary issues and by the inherent injustice in our educational system.

I read many articles, as well as some blatantly hateful responses to the articles, in an attempt to see the side of the opposition. While I do feel the opponents have a few valid points, I think that positives of the DREAM Act massively outweigh them.

How terrible to tell a whole generation that no matter how hard they work, or study, that they will never be allotted the opportunity to reach even partial potential. That even if they get into college, and find a way to pay huge tuition bills out of pocket they risk deportation at any moment and not even being able to get a good job once they graduate.

The whole time I read and watched, I was reminded of the Kozol article we read a few weeks ago, when Kozol discusses the way we keep certain minorities at a low level of education, that way we will have a low-wage workforce, and the culture of power won’t have to compete for the top paying jobs. WHY AS A COUNTRY STRUGGLING FINANCIALLY—OUR JOB MARKET AND NATIONAL DEBT–WOULD WE WANT TO TURN AWAY HIGH PERFORMING, HARD WORKING STUDENTS? Students who could give our country a competitive edge, and another cultural perspective–which becomes ever more important as the legal Hispanic population is grows.

Why Is the Discussion on School Reform Dominated by Charter Schools? (by Guest Student Blogger Maria Baker)

Note: Maria Baker is our fourth guest student blogger of the week.  She is currently taking the Summer Youth Enrichment Capstone at Portland State University and volunteered this summer at the James John SUN Program.  Her bigger questions about why discussion on school reform is dominated by charter schools is an important one to be asking!  Is the charter schools model significant enough to take over the conversation?  Who is in charge of guiding these conversations, and why is this model so talked about?

Charter schools are a big discussion point among the US educational system, but they only enroll about three percent of public school students. The specialized approach to learning is designed for disadvantaged or unhappy students in traditional public schools. When you factor in the lottery style admittance though, charter schools seem more like a special privilege rather than a program that will save the education system. With all the problems in the traditional educational system, should charter schools really be given so much time and effort when it only serves a small population?


Are Our Schools Putting the Needs of Adults Before the Needs of Children?: Reflections on Charter Schools and *The Lottery* (by Guest Student Blogger Emily Jasperson)

Note: In the Summer Youth Enrichment Capstone, Emily Jasperson volunteered this term through the James John SUN summer program and worked with elementary school students. She has a background in childcare and is thinking about becoming a teacher. She is the third student blogger in this series.

With all of the obvious issues with public education in the United States today, it is clear that something needs to be done to close achievement gaps and find new and better ways to educate our future. Charter schools attempt to accomplish these goals, and actually appear to do it quite nicely. After watching The Lottery, I think of these institutions in an entirely new way and find myself really agreeing with their practices. Before, I had heard mostly negative things about them. Like they were only for the rich and privileged, and while some are, a majority are located in poor communities, transforming struggling children’s lives for the better.

            One of the things that impressed me most about Harlem Success, the charter school featured in the film, was the high level of teacher support and encouragement. Most everyone can agree that a teacher has a great deal to do with the success of his or her students. The teachers at Harlem Success are routinely observed and evaluated, then given suggestions and guidance based on these observations. This does not happen in public schools. Here, teachers are spread too thin and do not feel supported, or so I’ve heard. With 100% of its students passing tests, it’s quite clear that they are doing something right.

            Another aspect of this charter school, and many others, is the emphasis placed on graduation. Even in kindergarten classrooms the graduation year of the students is prominently displayed. The goal for students at Harlem Success is graduating and going on to college, not test scores. And it actually works! Children at these schools are told, and it is expected, that they will graduate. In public schools in similar areas one is almost expected not to graduate. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have no expectations set out for your life, well no positive ones at least. It’s sad that this is a reality for many children today.

            With all of the positive outcomes of charter schools, there is still opposition. Watching the parents opposing Harlem Success was confusing to me. Don’t they realize that kids just like their own are receiving an education far better than they get at public school? Perhaps they just fear change, or maybe they are misguided about what charter schools actually are and do. In the film, there was talk about the teacher’s union and how charter schools are in direct conflict with their views. It does seem like charter schools are threatening the institution and bureaucracy of public schooling. The founder of Harlem Success made a great point when she said that we needed to stop “putting the interests of adults above the interests of children.” Why is this so hard for so many people to see? Does everything have to be about big business in this country, even when it comes to kids? Clearly, charter schools are doing something right, but when will the public school system start adopting their effective practices and actually educate our children for their futures?

Sex or Education: Which is the Biggest Factor in Sex Ed Curriculum? (by Guest Student Blogger Bryan O’Connell)

Note: This post references a recent article in the Huffington Post titled “Mississippi Sex Education: Majority of School Districts Choose Abstinence Only Curriculum” and was written by guest student blogger Bryan O’Connell.

According to a 2000-2009 survey by the United Nations Statistics Division, the U.S. has one of the highest rates of live births among teenagers out of all industrial U.N. nations (40-50 per 1,000 women aged 15 to 19). Of our states, Mississippi has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy.

“Mississippi Sex Education: Majority Of School Districts Choose Abstinence-Only Curriculum,” posted on, is a recently-posted article describing the adoption of abstinence-focused sex education curriculums by most Mississippi public school districts.

Due to in-class analysis of the factors influencing educational policy, I felt compelled to further contextualize Mississippi’s decision to now mandate sex education, which apparently had been more absent prior to the current date. The lack of sex education and new limited curriculum strike me as being representative of an attitude conducive to teenage pregnancy; an attitude of approaching the well-established problem by ignoring it. The question this raises for me is “why would Mississippi limit providing comprehensive sexual education to a population in which teenage pregnancy runs rampant”?

An investigation of the demographics of Missisissippi will reveal that, aside from being the state with the highest teen pregnancy rates in the industrial nation with the most teen pregnancy, Mississippi is also our most religious, and most impoverished, state (Newport, Handley). I do not see these as mere coincidences. Mississippi’s religious population likely objects to promotion of education regarding pre-marital sexual relations. More importantly, does Mississippi have the budget for it? Is the U.S.’s teen pregnancy rate a result of attitudes towards sex, or attitudes towards education?

 — Bryan O’Connell

Works Cited

Handley, Meg. “The 10 Poorest States in the Union.” U.S.News & World Report LP, 23 Sept. 2011. Web. 31 July 2012. <;.

Newport, Frank. “Mississippi Is Most Religious U.S. State.” Mississippi Is Most Religious U.S. State. Gallup, Inc., 27 Mar. 2012. Web. 31 July 2012. <;.

“United Nations Statistics Division – Demographic and Social Statistics.” United Nations Statistics Division – Demographic and Social Statistics. United Nations, n.d. Web. 31 July 2012. <;.

Raising Our Voices: Two Weeks of Student Public Education Discussions HERE! (07/30-08/12)

Preview alert! This week (starting tomorrow), my Capstone students will be blogging in public here at  These brave, smart, compassionate, active students give me hope everyday that we’re together in the classroom, and I am privileged to share their voices here with you.  Please support them in this first step to make their voices louder by reading and responding to their questions in the next two weeks as their posts are submitted!

Student Reflects on Kozol & the Culture of Power: A Summer Snapshot

If you care about education in our country and haven’t read these books/articles, add them to your summer reading list:

My students and I are spending eight weeks this summer reading these texts (in addition to Susan Neuman’s Changing the Odds for Children at Risk), volunteering in local education programs, and discussing the small and big picture of what education looks like in the U.S. and in Portland, Oregon.  This work is powerful.  I have students who are thinking about shifting gear and working for some of the organizations we partner with (Upward Bound, Schools Uniting Neighborhoods, Portland Parks and Recreation, 9th Grade Counts Program); I have students who want to educate more people on the state of education in Oregon; I have students who are deeply moved and changed by the experience.

A student in my Summer Youth Enrichment Class, Kaitlyn, has allowed me to share a piece of her work from the week.  This is just a snapshot of the thinking that takes place in these classes, and I feel hopeful that this kind of teaching and learning can lead to actual change in our communities for kids and families. Kaitlyn’s words follow in teal. She is responding to an excerpt from Kozol’s Shame of the Nation that was assigned in class and also references Lisa Delpit’s concept of the “culture of power.”

When minority parents ask for something better for their kids, she says,’ the assumption is that these are parents who can be discounted. These are kids that just don’t count—children we don’t value.’”(Kozol 150). I feel like that is the root of the whole issue across the board. It’s sewed into the hem of the choices we make—we make by who we vote for, by our inaction, by our indifference, by our choice to remain ignorant. It’s completely applicable, in that the disparities, the segregation are all taking place in Portland or are beginning too.  It’s pretty heart wrenching, the way the insights of these students are so spot on. In the “Silenced Dialogue,” Delpit addresses how the “culture of power,” turns a blind eye to what is really happening—what is really motivating the differences–it’s all to clear to the ones who suffer as a result.

One of the most hopeful notes in Kaitlyn’s response is the attention to the fact that our voices are part of the bigger message and that we can change the message by raising our voices in ways that advocate for kids.  The moment when she says “It’s sewed into the hem of the choices we make—we make by who we vote for, by our inaction, by our indifference, by our choice to remain ignorant,” she is speaking of community inaction, lack of votes, apathy, and chosen ignorance about the inequities that are perpetuated in the way our schools are structured.  Of course, schools merely reflect our community and the values we have chosen to live out.

What is the end goal?  Make a new choice.  If you are educated on issues of poverty, race, and school equity (to name a few), it is your duty to speak out and to act for those who can’t.  With November quickly approaching and a host of important votes for our country and community, this is a good time to get excited and motivated.  Whether or not you believe that your vote counts, it does.  And your actions count even more.

Thank you, Kaitlyn, for allowing me to showcase your work!