No App for That

Legacy HS students use theater to reflect on school closure

Students from M.S. 363 in the Bronx perform a skit about the choice to stand up to bullies as part of the ENACT showcase.

Students weren’t able to stop the city from closing Legacy High School for Integrated Studies. But they have been able to turn their protests into a learning experience.

Last night, students from Legacy performed a skit on the difficulty of making choices. In the skit, the students had access to “Make a Choice 3000,” an app that showed them the outcome of possible decisions.

The skit was performed as part of “Show Up,” an annual event showcasing of original performances written by students as part of ENACT, a dropout prevention program that operates in 150 city schools with high dropout rates.

The choice the kids in the skit were confronted with? Whether to fight against the city’s closure of the fictional Regency High School, even if they knew their efforts would most likely be fruitless.

The skit also delved into students’ feelings after their efforts failed.

“I feel embarrassed,” one student in the skit said. “We fought so hard.”

The Panel for Educational Policy voted to phase out Legacy in February, despite student-led efforts in opposition to the turnaround, including a student walk-out to a rally at Union Square and phone drive. Legacy students were at the forefront of the protests, which involved several high schools.

But the skit concluded with a positive message.

“Sometimes you don’t have a say,” a student actor said. “But you always have a voice.”

ENACT strives to use theater to help students take ownership of their behavior and choices, and holds workshops at the schools throughout the year, focusing especially on the ninth grade. The performances last night were the result of ENACT’s afterschool program at four schools, including Legacy.

“We ask students what it is that they want to share with an audience in a way that be heard, that can help bridge gaps between the community and the schools,” said Diana Feldman, the founder and head of the program.

“In this particular school, clearly this was on their mind,” she said. “Some of the had a sense of hopelessness, and we worked with them in helping them realize they learned a lot, that there was a lesson in standing up for themselves.”

Harry Rivas, a freshman at Legacy and actor in the skits, said the students chose to set the piece at a fictional high school in order to depoliticize it.

“We didn’t want anybody to feel blamed,” he said. “It feels great to just give them our perspective of being in a school that’s being phased out.”

The other skits, performed by students from the High School of Hospitality Management in Manhattan, M.S. 363 in the Bronx, and the School for Legal Studies in Brooklyn, also focused on the importance of choice.

DaShannon Bryant, a sophomore at the School for Legal Studies, said ENACT helps her make a choice every day— to show up for school.

Bryant said she was recommended to participate in the ENACT afterschool program after she racked up absences her freshman year.

“I had a lot of absences, so a teacher recommended I get involved so I would come to school, so I could learn and stuff,” she said.

Erica Burkett, a freshman at Legacy and aspiring actress, signed up for the after school program as soon as she heard about it. She said ENACT was also one of her favorite parts of school.

“I just love it so much,” she said.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”