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. 


Connecting with Kids Through Coaching (by Guest Blogger Kyle Arntson)

Kyle Arntson has taken two education-based Capstones and has continued his love for working with youth (especially through sports and coaching) over the course of multiple terms…and is dedicated to infusing his post-college life with opportunities to volunteer his skills to support young people.

After taking two University Studies classes I have found that I love working with children, specifically helping them workout, staying fit and understanding the fun they can have while they do it. My first volunteer experience was with Parkrose High Schools Unified basketball team, and my second was working with the students in the Upward Bound Program, where I worked with incoming freshman on their writing skills. While helping with Upward Bound’s summer program I also worked with the students in their fitness class, where the students participated in a variety of physical activities such as yoga, basketball, workout videos and many more fun activities. While participating and observing the students in a physical fitness environment I couldn’t help but notice how close all the students became while working as teammates, and through pushing one another to try their best. I truly believe that children need good exercise, not only for their body’s physical fitness but also as a way to stimulate their brains. With school budgets taking continuous hits, Physical Education programs are seeing devastating blows which is affecting the children in multiple ways. My interest in future volunteer work is definitely to continue to work with kids through sports and fitness activities. I plan to sign up to become a Big Brother, specifically a Sports Buddy. I live in Clackamas County so I believe that is where I will look to dedicate my time with a young man.

I will be graduating tomorrow afternoon, which means I will have a huge work load off of my shoulders. I plan to register with the Sports Buddies program within the next month, giving myself a little time to catch up on the rest of my life and find a time that will best work for me to dedicate my time and energy to staying physically active with a young man. Aside from my time spent with the Big Brother Big Sister program, I have chosen three of “Fitting Activism into Your Daily Life” steps.

The first of the three that I have chosen is the Go Big & Go Small step. After looking at the possibilities available, I will be spending time with the “Reach Out and Read” program. This activity is located in Lake Oswego and will involve sorting donated children’s books by content and age appropriateness, once sorted they will be distributed to local Doctors offices. I plan to participate in this activity during their morning sessions, and as often as they need me until October, when I officially start my new job. At this point I will look to volunteer during the evening hours and the frequency will depend on my jobs work load. I hope to begin my participation with this program within a week or so from graduation. This task is easy enough and I know I will not want to spend all my time working on my garden and house.  

The second “Fitting Activism into Your Daily Life” step I have chosen to participate in is to contact my local schools in Gladstone and ask how I can become involved with their local Libraries in the Love Your Library step. I actually live one block away from Gladstone’s Public Library, so I’m hoping that I can find an opportunity there. If the schools I contact have another idea for me I am more than willing to participate any way I can with what they might have in mind. I really enjoyed reading to my girlfriends 2nd graders last school year, and hope to have the chance to do something along those lines in one of my local libraries. My hope is that I can get involved in a Library program at the beginning of the school year, if there are not opportunities sooner than that as I will be contacting the schools and Libraries within the next week or so, again after I have a little time for myself after graduation.

The third “Fitting Activism into Your Daily Life” step I plan to participate in is the “Simply Connect” step. As I have said I love working with children in a sports and fitness atmosphere, so I plan on contacting Travis and Kesia at Parkrose High School, and stay involved with their Unified sports program. Travis had told me that he would enjoy coaching the basketball team this next year with me, and that there are many other sports they participate in that he needs someone to help him with. I plan to email Travis within the next few days to reestablish contact with him, and see what opportunities are available with him and the Parkrose High School. This participation during basketball consisted of one, two hour practice a week as well as two or more tournaments. I really hope that this option works out for me, because I had such a great experience in that program the last time I volunteered.

I believe in sticking to what I commit myself to, by signing up for volunteer positions I am going to hold myself accountable for each event or time frame that I commit to simply by giving the volunteer sites my word that I will be where I commit to being, while on time and full of energy. The barriers I see that could present themselves while volunteering is my new work load come October 1st of this year. I will be working as a salesman for Albina Fuel, and do not yet know how demanding my work load will be. However, I feel that with the sites I want to volunteer at there are afternoon and evening times available, which will give me great flexibility to work around my new carrier. A second barrier I see presenting itself would be the need to spend time around my house, taking care of the essentials while trying to begin new projects. After owning a my own home from three years now I understand that things can come up around a house that might require immediate attention, which might take up whole days at a time. I feel I can hurdle this possible barrier by balancing work, volunteer time, and house work to try and prevent any huge problems that could occur. I believe it will be easy enough to stay on track with my goals if I take the approach that they are part of a “job” that I will have committed to. Keeping a schedule as consistent as possible will be key factor in helping me manage my volunteer time, just like it would in all aspects of life. 

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. <;.

Charter Schools and the Promotion of Segregation (by Guest Student Blogger Jeffery Fockler)

Dear Students & Regular PDXEAN Readers: This post is the first in a two-week series dedicated to giving a public space for student voices on educational equity and our school system. Please read, pass on these posts, and comment! The more we all contribute to the conversation, the better informed we’ll all be and the more able to act to support kids and schools.

Guest Student Blogger Jeffery Fockler on Charter Schools

Charter schools seem like a great idea in theory, while some have even proven great in practice. Charter schools are given the freedom to operate outside of the mainstream public-school curriculum, which we learned from previous lessons has been severely limited by the need for schools to improve standardized test scores. Charter schools may allow students the opportunity to learn subjects outside of the NCLB limited curriculum. They can experiment with alternative methods to improve student achievement and test scores other than teaching to the test and pass their results on to other schools. In this way, charter schools can be an outlet for public school reform; and, given our education system’s previous record with reform, they may be our best chance for such reform.

However, charter schools are not at all without controversy. Firstly, what happens to the children in charter schools that fail? Is the risk of leaving these children without a proper education worth the possibility of innovative education reform? My initial reaction is that it is a risk the parents of these children are apparently willing to take when they sign their children up for a charter school.

Second, many critics argue that charter schools take already limited resources away from the public schools, which are attended by the majority of the nation’s students. They argue we should focus our attention and resources on these public schools (“Oregon charter school debates lead to little progress”, Oregon Live). Worse still, Jonathan Kozol in “Stop Bargaining for Crumbs” argues that Charter schools have further contributed to education inequality. Many Charter schools explicitly target African American students, while others are clearly intended for children of white middle-class, liberal parents (Kozol calls them “woodsy Walden schools”). Subsequently, many charter schools are even more segregated than public schools (which we‘ve learned have not much improved since Brown v. Board).

At the risk of bringing back the “separate but equal” debate, I ask: are students at a charter school like “The Black Success Academy” really limited by the fact that their peers are all African Americans? Might students in an all-black charter school benefit from cultural solidarity and at the same time receive a comparable liberal education to their peers at the “Woodsy Walden School”? Is Kozol implying that black students need to assimilate to a white curriculum if they wish to have as good as education as the Woodsy Walden Students? (perhaps more white students should learn about black culture?)

It seems to me that these charter schools, if they receive equal funding and effort, can be equal, or at least can be a sort of experiment to help us learn whether the schools can actually be equal.

Ultimately, my question is whether y’all think charter schools contribute to inequality and the achievement gap in the way Kozol describes, or do you think the nature of charter schools might allow a sort of separate equality?

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!

The Status Quo in Education: Limiting Student Potential & Using Empty Words? (by Guest Student Bloggers Jeffery Fockler & Camille Rushanaedy)

If you haven’t read Jonathan Kozol’s Shame of the Nation, let these reflections from the incredible mentors/tutors in UNST 421 convince you.  Here are their reflections after reading an excerpt, experiencing their field placements, and becoming incredibly knowledgeable about education in Portland and the U.S.  Both students question the status quo in education today and the way they feel that education structures are limiting student (and overall human) potential. The kind of thinking, discussing, and acting that happens in these courses is powerful stuff.  Grappling with these complex issues is not easy in any sense, but with increased awareness, spreading of information, and action, we will be able to make change.

From Guest Student Blogger Jeffery Fockler

I think Fortino (and Jonathon Kozol in giving Fortino the last word) is implying that the segregated state of the nation’s schools is the result of some implicit desire of the wealthy to protect the status quo by keeping the poor, poor.  For our economic system to function, some people must do menial, manual labor, while others can do more fulfilling jobs that require a quality education and, consequently, money.  By keeping poor people poor with poor education, they can continue to do the menial jobs so rich people don’t have to.

Although I think most Americans would be disturbed by the idea that this is intentionally maintained by the wealthy class, I can’t help but think it is implicitly promoted by our society.  It seems there is a trend for poor, minority schools to focus curriculum on technical programs where students are encouraged to pursue more “practical” careers like mechanics, construction, or sewing.  This trend is apparent in Portland Public Schools, and it seems it would only further contribute to segregation.  I wonder to what extent these programs are inspired by the implicit desire to maintain whatever stability is left in our economic system.  In my opinion, an economic system is a failure if we must limit the potential of any human in order to maintain the economy.

From Guest Student Blogger Camille Rushanaedy

Camille quoted Jonathan Kozol from shame of the nation as the context for her response:

“Linguistic sweeteners, semantic somersaults, and surrogate vocabularies are repeatedly employed.  Schools in which as few as 3 or 4 percent of students may be white or Southeast Asian or of Middle Easter origin, for instance — and where every other child in the building is black or Hispanic — are referred to as ‘diverse.'”

This quote stood out to me as a linguistics major, as it is highlighting the way in which language is couched to hide the plain realities we live in.  While it is plain to the students and educators in these schools (and to those of us reading about them) that these are minority schools that are receiving funding and support that reflects their status as minorities, those in power would rather label them as “diverse” and ignore the problems that those working and learning in the school face on a daily basis.  This is a very dangerous and problematic stance to take, for the children being directly affected as well as the society as a larger whole.  If we were to plainly label everything as it was, would the likelihood of changes being made increase?  What would it take for everyone to speak plainly about inequalities in our education system?

I absolutely believe that the general public is not well informed on education funding or even what needs to be funded.  Most middle class groups (not necessarily white) don’t even realize the amount of need in education funding because in their experiences schools are adequately funded and while there may be a shortage of school supplies or a large class size, they don’t have to deal with a dilapidated building or lack of school nurses or any of the other issues facing schools which serve populations in poverty.  Countless times, I have heard people harping on the need for more money towards education and yet any mention of increased taxes or reform and they suddenly become reluctant to give.

Why We’re Uneducated About Education (by Guest Blogger Tyler Kennedy)

I love my job because I’m constantly learning.  I learn how to be a better teacher, what I want to take place in the classroom, and what I want to take place in the world each time I teach.  I learn about new perspectives, innovative ideas, and questions that I should be asking.  I get to be inspired by committed, hopeful, energized people willing to sacrifice a little to better the place we live for all.

This week, a few students agreed that I could share some of their work.  My first guest blogger is Tyler Kennedy, a student who is passionate about sustainability and who has become very involved in our Enhancing Youth Literacy course discussions and hands-on work.  His words appear below in teal.

The general public is not educated in terms of funding of educational programs because it’s not a subject covered in our sensationalized media today….If I were in charge of educational funding, I would assuredly allocate more funds toward early age education and parental support and assistance programs during the first few years of childhood.  However, this is due to my belief that it is not an educational problem as it is more of a poverty issue, which has repercussions in education…Providing a social help network to poor or needy families can go a long way.  Building and repairing libraries and other community resources is a great start.  With so much wealth being traded daily in our nation, how can we let our brothers and sisters suffer without basic life necessities?

Conversations and thinking about poverty, our education system, and the media are the first step in creating change in our communities, and I’m proud to be a witness and participant in this kind of discussion.  

A Question for PDXEAN Readers:

So, what do you think, readers?  Why are we uneducated about education and what’s the best way to educate a public that often feels apathetic or defeated?