Again this year, I attended the Philadelphia College Prep Roundtable (PCPR) Annual Conference, their 8th. This organization is a consortium of education professionals who care deeply about how best to help students navigate their postsecondary success journeys. But that caring starts with their own professional development as educators. In addition to their annual conferences, there are monthly networking meetings where they come together to discuss relevant topics, with presenters from both the secondary and postsecondary arenas who address various current issues & disseminate information. I have been involved with PCPR for quite a few years, as a member and a conference presenter (most recently this year) and cannot think of a better way to stay current with the issues that impact student success as they move forward from high school. As a long-time educator by training and experience, I know that it is critical to interact with fellow professionals to remain relevant and learn how to better serve the students we care about so much.
If you are local to the Philadelphia area, I urge you to go to PCPR’s website (http://collegepreproundtable.org) and find out more about who they are, what they do, and strongly consider getting involved. If you are in another city, find out if there is anything like PCPR where you live; if so, join them…if not, why not start something like it yourself! Our students needs our help every day, and our colleagues need to know that there is support available for this important work that we do. So get out there and get after it, people!
Several years ago, I attended a 2-day conference put on by the dynamic group, the Philadelphia College Prep Roundtable. During those two days, jammed packed with great sessions, information and conversations, many ideas about how to best prepare high school students, and even some older adults students, for the rigors of post-secondary education were presented and discussed. One of the things that really struck me – both then and now – was the passion of the nearly 200 people in attendance to help students to be successful beyond high school or community training programs. However, from my participation in the conference – along with my own nearly 30 years of helping to prepare students for post-secondary education or the workforce – what has become increasingly challenging is the ability to persevere in spite of the landscape in front of us. Getting students to understand the importance of sharpening their foundational skills in English, science and mathematics is really hard work. Getting school administrators and state departments of education to understand what truly engages students, in a high school classroom or an out-of-school-time program, can be even harder. And let’s not even talk about the lack of adequate funding that school districts and community programs have to face! Yet while those of us with the “fire in the belly” keep trying to make legislators and others understand what is really needed to make our educational system work properly, we still have students to educate in the meantime. There is still so much work to be done “in the trenches” to provide a viable, adequately educated workforce that will keep our country competitive in the global marketplace. To keep going, in spite of the lack of understanding of so many with the power – and the purse strings – to help, is a tough job. To instill hope in our students, in spite of their own attitudes about what obstacles or opportunities lie ahead, is what we have to work so hard to do. This is the underlying, ongoing challenge for those of us working to help our students successfully move forward.
When people ask me if I’m ready to retire, I am very quick to answer, “No, there’s still too much to do!” At 65, and having been an educator for some 30 years now, most of which has been spent in one urban setting or another, one might think that I’d had enough and that I’d love nothing more than to sit on a beach with an umbrella drink in my hand and watch the tide roll in – though that does have its appeal! But when I think of the students that I’ve worked with over the years, especially the last two school years, and the challenges that many of them have faced and overcome…in all good conscience, I cannot site on my ass-ets and not stand up for them all. It really burns my bacon that policies and regulations continue to be passed that have no hope of setting students up for success in the real world – I’m not going to lament here because I’ve published those thoughts previously. This is simply a battle cry to those of us who know that “the struggle is real” and ongoing, and that if we don’t continue to stand and fight, who will? So if you’re like me and you sometimes feel like giving up, remember what I’m sure you have told your students at some point: what you do with your life is is supposed to make the world a better place because you were here…don’t stop now; there’s still too much to do!!
I have a Master’s degree in Secondary Education and have worked with inner-city high school students for over 25 years. And though the term “urban education” has been bandied about ad nausium for decades to identify the education (or mis-education) received by students in large urban school districts, I have never in all that time heard anyone refer to the education I received in a suburb of Philadelphia, PA as “suburban education.” Granted, what I took for many years as the norm for what a student should know coming out of high school was far different from my inner-city counterparts. Nevertheless, as far as I can tell, the impartation of knowledge from one person to another person or group only varies by methodology. Since the definition of the word “education” does not change whether a school is in the center of Cleveland or Shaker Heights, Philadelphia or Bryn Mawr, Chicago or Champagne, I contend that there truly is no such thing as “urban education.”
I risk making this contention, even as an educator myself, because I have witnessed students in various environments gain new knowledge, as well as be resistant to learning, with little or no regard to where they live as an independent variable. I have seen students learn in dire circumstances that many thought would preclude their eagerness and/or ability to learn, as well as seen students in “ideal” learning environments make minimal progress in learning. The difference in how, why or whether students learn in whatever circumstances they may live, seems to be much more dependent upon the methodologies and exposures than their external environment. Consider the example of Marva Collins’ Westside Preparatory School, whose story was first nationally telecast on 60 Minutes back in 1979 and for which a television movie was later produced in 1981. The story is instructive: despite the neighborhood in which they lived and the minimal space & resources, the students thrived with a rich investment of time and attention. I have seen the same first-hand in my work with high school students in Philadelphia. So then why do the powers-that-be put forth the notion, by using the term “urban education,” that there is some distinctive, implicitly sub-par type of education that is relegated to urban schools? I personally believe that somehow the idea has germinated in the minds of those charged with preparing teachers that it couldn’t just be the effort or attitude of the educators that makes the difference…that there has to be some kind of idiosyncratic body of education that only urban students can absorb. Consequently, schools of education throughout the country have created majors in “Urban Education” to which students come with various mindsets regarding the true meaning of the term, not the least of which is that the capabilities of students in urban schools cannot be equated to those of their non-urban counterparts. Others may truly feel that they have a calling to step into the challenging world of education and pay particular attention to making an impact in urban environments. Regardless of the mindset with which students who want to teach enter their preparatory phase for this career, it is essential that they understand one thing: education is education is education. What makes the difference in whether it “works” or not, regardless of the environment, is the time and effort you put into it. Education in urban settings (now there’s a more appropriate and accurate name for a major!) can be just as effective, have just as much impact as education in any other setting if and only if those who are doing the instruction care about their students as individuals and creating a nurturing environment that perpetuates the belief that learning is possible for everyone.