Category Archives: health care

TRADING MACS FOR GLOCKS: A Twisted Vision and the New Frontier

gunsWe’re trading in our Macs. We don’t need them anymore.

Trading our laptops too. We have thwarted the nascent rise of iPads. Now. Before they become too familiar.

I mean, what good is digital literacy if some sinister shadow drops in out of the sky to shoot up the school. And we all know it happens. We all feel that sense of dread lingering, remotely familiar, like the acrid cloud of cafeteria food prepped daily for a thousand kids. We all read the headlines:

L.A. School District Buys 14 Semi-Automatic Rifles To Protect Students

Southern California Schools Get High-Powered Rifles

GOP Lawmaker Wants High Schools To Teach Kids To Shoot

Mother Writes $12,000 Check For Armed Guard At Daughter’s Elementary School

5-Year-Old Suspended For Pink Bubble Gun Threat

Duncan: You Can’t Teach Kids Scared Of Being Killed

The School Where Nearly Every Student Has Experienced Gun Violence

18 States Already Allow Guns In Schools With Few Restrictions

Utah Teacher Wants To Carry Gun Without Telling Parents, Students

Minnesota Teacher Brings Loaded Gun To School For Fear Of Newtown Shooting

Our fences cannot rise any higher and still stand against the wind. We have rows of metal detectors. Our children remove their shoes for inspection as if they were boarding an airplane. They know the drill. We scope their pockets and their backpacks. We x-ray their intent. They are each sworn daily to refrain from brandishing arms. At least in any menacing way. It is our new and collective oath of allegiance to protect one another from mutual annihilation.

We are America’s most innovative school. We are widely renown as the first in any line of early adopters. First to be wired. First to go viral. First to poke holes in the internet firewall. We used to camp out for iPhones but we can’t afford dual priorities: upgrade learning technology or arm to the teeth?

So we invest in the latter. Once secure in our conviction that Macs were superior to IBM’s, we now know what we know: Apple expenditures are so pre-Newtown.

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So we have glocked up. Every kid. Every teacher.

We ripped out the fitness stations that lined our running track and installed target shooting pods. They are creative. Colorful. They lend themselves to seamless integration of the so-called 21’st Century Skills– to which we have now unilaterally added: “Mastery of Firepower.”

Our students may be prone to childhood obesity and Type II diabetes, but they can freakin’ shoot. And besides, are you going to be the one to tell them they are fat?

Our “Gun Free Zone” is the registration counter, where in exchange for enrolling here you get your guns for free. (Ammunition clips are provided at no cost– however, any modifications are subject to the discretion of individual families.) Frankly, I worry about that policy. In the name of equity, is it fair that some families can afford state-of-the-art ammo packs while others can not? Are we perpetuating another national divide of “haves” and “have more pop”?

teacherOf course, without trained teachers, what good is an entire student body strapped to their sidearms?

So on minimum days we target and crouch and shoot and load and afterwards debrief. There’s a lot of peer coaching. A lot of self reflection and goal setting. We feel morally obligated to out-shoot the kids.  And so we do.

As of late, we are frequently invited to present break-out sessions at state and national conferences: “Shooting Straight:  How Schools Can Target the Real Common Core Priorities.” And: “The New Literacy Standards: How Guns at School Somehow Sharpen Everyone’s Listening and Speaking Skills.”

We’ve done keynotes. Workshops. Webinars. TED-talks. Book signings.

This year we intend to run a booth when ASCD merges with the NRA at the the national gun show in Las Vegas.

And while our academic metrics have virtually imploded, our kids and our staff generally feel good about themselves. We feel like pioneers of the old west. Revolutionaries. And we feel safer in the bargain. Sort of.

Now that we have a baseline established, we can afford to debate whether glocks are enough. We are nothing if not professionally diligent. We are an ever-visionary and forward thinking lot:

“What if Sunnyside arms their kids with higher caliber weapons?”

“How do we keep up with the inevitable modifications and weaponry upgrades– say…Glocks 2.0.?”

“If we hire a sniper coach, where should we place him or her on the salary scale? And would she have to be credentialed?”

“What happens when we discover that we’ve been  left behind in the arms race?”

Taken together the questions are chilling. Where’s the leadership?

So I sidle into my office and remove my firearms as I sit at my desk to Google updates on best practices. I reach for my laptop when I am reminded– that we traded our technology for glocks.  It’s gone.

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More  from Kevin W. Riley…

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Filed under children at risk, education spending, El Milagro, Fighting for Ms. Rios, gun violence, health care, Human-Centered Design, innovation and change, public education, school reform, technology in schools, Uncategorized, zero tolerance policies

A POEM FOR BARACK OBAMA UPON THE INAUGURATION OF AMERICA, PART II


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I have a thousand favorite poets so when I cite Maya Angelou it’s not just because everyone knows and loves her work.  It’s because I know and love her work.  I was mesmerized by her reading of  “On the Pulse of Morning” at President Clinton’s first inauguration in 1993:

“Here on the pulse of this new day– you may have the grace to look up and out and into your sister’s eyes, into your brother’s face, your country, and say simply, very simply, with hope… Good morning.”

Unknown-3On Monday, Richard Blanco becomes the fifth poet to contribute to our Inaugural history when he offers a poem for the nation and the President’s second term.  He will follow some towering shadows cast by Dr. Angelou and Robert Frost.  As a young Latino immigrant, his experience growing up in America will not doubt be reflected in his work.

But I decided you don’t have to be formally invited to Open Mic Day on the Capital steps to contribute to the body of Inauguration poetry.  When I wrote my poem for President Obama on the occasion of his first Inauguration, I was moved by the profound historic significance of  his election.  It wasn’t chosen for the big event but I posted it here anyway and it has gotten thousands of hits over the past four years.  Through the political battles, arguments, threats, criticisms, wars, animosity and divisions… I still have faith in America and our President.

So I am reposting A Poem for Barack Obama Upon the Inauguration of America, with the same hope of national unity that Richard Blanco and Maya Angelou and so many other poets envision for our country.

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“I AM HOPE”

A POEM UPON THE INAUGURATION OF AMERICA
January 20, 2009 and January 21, 2013
Written for Barack Obama,  the 44th and 45th President of the United States
By Kevin W. Riley

Hope.

I  am.

Hope has, even for America’s moment,
Brought more than this moment of redemption.

Hope.
Though I am shackled and thrown upon the swollen deck,
Seaborne and riding the stench of slavery to some new world- lost to life.

Hope. Though I am asleep in Lincoln’s apocalypse.
I am Gettysburg and Manassas and Shiloh.
The dead stacked and shoveled into history’s silent pocket.
In the atrocities a war wrought, even the birds were lost for song;
their throats clutched
In witness of humans who could be so calloused and so cruel.
All in the name of Freedom.

Hope.
I am innocence: Emmit Till and Little Linda Brown
and Addie Mae Collins and her three young friends.

Hope.
I am the blessed martyrs. I am Medgar Evers.
I trust Malcom X with my fury.
I marched from Selma to a Birmingham Jail.
I ripped away the judge’s hood that silenced Bobby Seale
and enjoined the Freedom Riders to endure the flames at Anniston.
I heard the chilling voice of Bull Connor and the sting of riot dogs.
The fire hose.
I saw school buses ignite Roxbury and trigger decades of white flight.
And still I stand.

Hope…
I am the preacher-prophet who foretold that we would reside one day
in a promised land.
He must be with us now.
Though the years have kept his visage young…
His eternal voice is crisp as fire
As he sings from the mountain top.
This morning I heard the sky rejoice-
like the deafening wail of 10,000 hurricanes.

I am Lazarus.
I have redeemed the blood of a beloved brother, gone 40 years.
(Bobby’s picture is still among a shrine of holy cards
in a little house in San Antonio
Where Abuelita says her morning rosary
To Cesar Chavez and a wall of popes whose names she cannot pronounce).

I am JFK for whom Ireland still weeps.

I am redemption for centuries of sorrow;
For a word so foul it sticks in civil throats like drying cactus–
Thistle and rust, decapacitating…
A poison elixir that not all our years combined can exorcise.

I am first Hope. Jackie Robinson and Thurgood Mashall.
I am the first black pilot, the first black principal,
the first black business owner, the first pioneer.
I am first to serve, first to play, first in science,
and first to sail deep into space.
And yet I am last.

I am Hope.
I ride a mighty wave.
I stand on shouldered giants, most for whom history has not reserved a name.
I am beneficiary of the wishes and the words and the blood of legions.

I rise by the toil of Chisholm and Jordon;
on the scaffold stairs built by Jackson and Charles Houston
and Andrew Young.

I am
Hope– tempered, with no guarantee.
But if ever He loved a people
Surely now He has heard our prayers…
Whispered through days and years and generations–
Through all America’s time
To let us be who we must be;
To even once know what it means to be ONE nation.

Alas…
I am only Hope.
My arms are thin.
I speak as if all of God’s angels have somehow filled my lungs
with righteous air.
I am your mouth. His voice.
Our hands–
That the promise of humankind might at last be realized.

But I cannot be who YOU will not be…

So now my name is nailed above Katrina’s door,
Above the Wall Street debacle and the house of cards.
My name is nailed to Iraq and Jerusalem, to all ancient Persia–
And to the suffering of Darfur.

And as I go, so go a hundred nations.

Freedom shines,
A loud bell tolls the moment.
We are astride a wondrous day.
History will remember us as giants…
Or it will not.

Redemption has a name.
I am Obama. And mine is a holy song.

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Filed under Fighting for Ms. Rios, gun violence, health care, innovation and change, President Obama, public education, resiliency

MADELINE’S COSTUME

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The Human Rights Campaign has been profoundly influential in encouraging public schools to develop policies that protect students from any forms of discrimination or bullying– especially LGBT students.  San Diego Unified School District, for example, has developed a model, Board-adopted, anti-discrimination policy that assures children a safe learning environment, regardless of their “actual or perceived” sex, gender, or ethnic group identification.

Adopting policies that prohibit discrimination in our schools is essential for children and staff.  But the real work is in creating safe, inclusive, loving environments that are often the one safe haven in a community.  Like El Milagro.

In “Fighting for Ms. Rios,” Aiden introduces us to Matty in the Fourth Journal: Virtuosos.

Matty was an athlete. Matty was a fierce competitor. Matty played little league. Matty played kickball. Matty wore a Baltimore Ravens football jersey. Number fifty-two. Matty always had a short-cropped haircut and was tall and thin. Matty pounded Augie behind the backstop for trying to cut to the front of the kickball line. Matty cussed and spit and told crude jokes and talked with a full mouth.

For Halloween Matty dressed up as a professional baseball player. A catcher with eye black and all the gear and the shin guards and a cup. (Madeline’s Costume)

Aiden has been playing with Matty since the beginning of the school year, but it is not until the Halloween Carnival– when the kids take a bathroom break and go into separate facilities– that he discovers she is really a girl.  The other kids knew all along.  Perhaps they have known her since kindergarten.  Perhaps they paid attention when their teachers lined up the boys and the girls separately.  Perhaps in elementary school  it just doesn’t start to matter yet.

“Matty is a girl, you dumbass!” said Charlie Flowers. He stopped adjusting the crimson pirate bandana that bordered his crimson head. He paused and looked at me to see if I was serious. “She’s supposed to go into the girls’ restroom.”

Matty is a character based on several students we have served at Mueller Charter School.  Even in pre-adolescent years, some children identify more with children of the opposite gender– and at that age– it is often difficult to tell them apart.  Matty dressed like a boy, wore her hair like a boy, talked like a boy and behaved like a boy.  Enough to confuse Aiden, who seems to blush a little, shrug his shoulders, and move on:  “In any case, it just didn’t seem to matter much at the Halloween Carnival where, at least for one night, we were all hiding behind one disguise or another.”

We have seen children so insistent on behaving like a child of the opposite gender that they refuse to use the school restrooms.  So we just make quiet arrangements for them to use the nurse’s restroom whenever they need to.

Aiden comments on the sensitivity and compassion of the teachers at El Milagro and we can easily imagine that the staff there has adopted policies similar to those inspired by the Human Rights Campaign.  It is as if he knows, even at the age of ten, that  policies don’t change attitudes and that what really matters is how children are actually treated every day.

As we walked around the carnival, I watched all of the adults interact with Matty like she was any other kid. They all knew. Her former kindergarten teacher even called her by her real name: Madeline. “You look like a pro tonight, Madeline! You look stunning!” Matty smiled.

I had a new respect for Matty and for my school. I felt proud of who we were at El Milagro—a place where kids could be who they needed to be for however long it takes to work it all out.

matty

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Filed under charter schools, children at risk, El Milagro, Fighting for Ms. Rios, gifted children, health care, public education, resiliency, school reform, spiritual intelligence, Uncategorized, zero tolerance policies

E-BAY’S LEGACY, AN ACT OF WAR

Meg Whitman once ran E-bay and now she is running for Governor of California. Her platform: she plans on creating jobs, cutting spending and fixing the education system.

Her fix for the education system?  More testing, more “accountability”, and converting failing schools into charter schools. E-bay must have gotten her best creative years.

I wonder, by the way,  what happens to failing charter schools on the Meg Whitman plan.  I wonder what she thinks charter schools actually are.  I wonder why every candidate running for public office wants to “fix” public schools… and if they can really see what is broken.

She says:

For years, California politicians have talked about building better schools. Few improvements have come despite billions of additional spending. Enough talk, we need action. We will lead the charge to put more control in the hands of local educators and parents.  We will put more dollars directly into the classroom instead of costly bureaucrats. If a school fails to improve after three years, under my plan it will automatically convert to a charter school. It’s time California schools make the grade. The future of our state depends on it.

Remember when Reagan was President and his education commission unleashed “A Nation At Risk?” They were convinced the education system was broken too. They said:

“Our Nation is at risk . . . . The educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people . . . . If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war . . . . We have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament . . . .”

An act of war?

But what if this notion of failing public schools is a myth?  a complete fabrication?   A distraction from the real root cause of America’s great divide?

If a house burns to the ground, do we blame the architect for the building materials used to construct the house?  Or do we recognize that the real root cause of the destruction… is fire!

If Meg Whitman wants to “fix” California’s schools, she needs to first “fix” the government and then “fix” the economy.  There is a reason why schools in low income areas are consistently outperformed by schools in high income areas: children in low income areas tend to be less ready for school, have less access to health care, be more susceptible to childhood obesity and type II diabetes, enjoy less parent support, have less learning resources and less access to technology.  For starters.  And they have no voice.

And while politicians like to call those ” excuses”… I wonder what would happen if the severe gap in economic prosperity was diminished.  What if all kids enjoyed the exact same benefits and life conditions whether they lived in Compton or Malibu?  What would our education system  look like then?

Politicians can’t fix schools– not with all of the standardized testing schemes in the world. Especially if they aren’t broken.  And there are plenty that aren’t broken.  Yet.

But those same politicians do have an opportunity to significantly improve the quality of life for children.

To tell you the truth, I don’t think Meg Whitman plans on doing that as Governor of California.  I don’t think her fellow politicians in Washington DC plan on improving the quality of life for children either.  Even though my students would benefit mightily from having access to health care, our senators and congressmen can’t seem to get that done.  They are dysfunctional.  They appear to be paralyzed by their own political systems and structures and culture.  They are influenced and driven by a collective greed that blinds them to their opportunity to rescue America’s children… if not their schools.

Bill Moyers wrote:

No wonder people have lost faith in politicians, parties and in our leadership. The power of money drives cynicism deep into the heart of every level of government. Everything, and everyone, comes with a price tag attached: from a seat at the table in the White House to a seat in Congress, to the fate of health care reform, our environment, and efforts to restrain Wall Street’s greed and prevent another financial catastrophe.

The house is burning and the people positioned to extinguish the flames, are instead blaming the builders.  I propose we re-think the the myth:

“If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre governmental performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”

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Filed under California budget, California charter schools, childhood obesity, children at risk, health care, public education, school reform

GOLDEN BELL

winner of bellMueller Charter School is a finalist for California’s prestigious Golden Bell Award.  That is significant.  It’s a big deal.  

Significant because it means that the California School Boards Association (CSBA), the organization that grants the award, still values schools that take care of kids and their families. Like Mueller Charter School and our Resiliency Quadrant System– a model for integrating sch0ol resources to more efficiently serve our  most high risk children.

Significant because it means the CSBA recognizes that we have to generate more than test scores… we have to find the way: 

To manage the  academic, emotional, social, medical, and mental health needs of all 1100 students;

to build on their assets; 

to foster resiliency in children and the adults that serve them;

to maintain morale, optimism, and efficacy that will ultimately lead to extraordinary school results!

And if you can find a school that is keeping kids whole,  you ought to recognize them with a Golden Bell award.

riskSignificant because it signals an appreciation for the inherently complex nature of teaching, and how real reform cannot come to our schools unless we overcome (or at least neutralize)  the many crises in our communities that affect our students.  And that takes innovation… finding a new way.  President Obama has urged that we stop treating unemployment, violence, failing schools, and broken homes in isolation and put together what works “to heel the entire community”.  Like the Harlem Children’s Zone. And at Mueller Charter School, the heeling power of the Resiliency Quadrant System has the potential to transform our community.

And finally, it is significant because excellence should be replicable.

In her recent article in Education Week entitled “Innovative Reforms Require Innovative Scorekeeping”, Lisbeth Schoor, a senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Social Policy argued that:

“Reformers in virtually every domain– from education to human services, and social policy– have been learning that the most promising strategies are likely to be complex and and highly dependent on their social, physical, and policy context.  Very few efforts to improve education for at-risk students, prevent child abuse, increase labor-market participation, or reduce teenage pregnancy or homelessness succeed by applying a single, bounded intervention.  They depend on community capacity to take elements that have worked somewhere already, adapt them, and reconfigure them with other strategies emerging from research, experience, and theory to make a coherent whole.”

As a finalist for a Golden Bell Award, Mueller Charter School has been acknowledged for innovation, for serving our high risk students, for creating a system to engage children and their families. It reminds us that if we stay centered, stay true to our mission, and avoid the dull temptation to surrender to the search for higher test scores for their own sake… we have a chance to be more than just another high performing public school. We have a chance to be El Milagro.

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THE LION

tedjpegThe lines draw to the heavens today… and I am paying attention.

Jose-01The Space Shuttle Discovery has ascended into orbit after long last, carrying the hopes of NASA– but also the son of migrant farm workers. Jose Hernandez picked cucumbers in Stockton as a child. Today, he is among the Latino community’s most distinguished members, circling our planet as an astronaut on his first tour in space.

And yet, at the exact same moment, our nation celebrates the life of the very senator that made Jose Hernandez’ journey possible. The Lion. Asleep now to us and for the moment surrounded by our nation’s most powerful leaders, he is bound for eternal rest with his two brothers. These Kennedy’s were my family’s patron saints. They were the source of my idealism. In their quest to pave the way for sons of farmworkers and daughters of former slaves, they changed the face of our nation. They compelled us all to live our lives in the service of others.

Senator Kennedy fought for heath care and education, social justice, and the journey of the poor. He survived the tenure of 10 presidents, beginning with his own brother’s. In over 4 decades of political battles, he wrote over 1000 laws and bills so that the civil rights of all Americans might come to full fruition. He stood for our nation’s defense. And world peace.

He fought so that there would one day be a seat on rocket ships for the likes of Jose Hernandez and the children of El Milagro. And like his brothers before him, his passions were crystallized in the Catholic tradition, as if Jesus himself approved. And he surely would.

processionIn his passing, the media has focused intently on his life. The good and the bad. The public giant, the private man. The triumphs– and the darkest hours inevitably shared on a bright bright stage. The long march to Arlington behind the riderless pony and our fallen President. That amazing euology for Bobby that has echoed for 40 years. The one that inevitably tantalizes us to pause in deep reflection, to think– if Jack and Bobby had lived a full life… what might have been.

Images of my childhood.

My own father passed in 1986. My mother just two years ago. Today would have been her 85th birthday. She would have sat in front of the television like she had for all the Kennedy funerals, rosary in hand. Holding on to her emotions until the floodgates opened with the “Ave Maria”. Tears streaming for Irish patriots.

obama and tedThe symbolism and powerful metaphors would not have been lost on her. The Latino astronaut circling above. The new President delivering another eulogy for the ages. Young. Handsome. African American. Beneficiary of all those who came before to pave a road, however narrow, toward real equality—but especially Ted Kennedy.

To tell you the truth, I’ll feel better when the Discovery and our new President are safely home. There is risk in soaring. No one knows that better than this noble family. But of course, our greatness comes only from those willing to rise above the expectations and the odds, above the bigots and the small minded… above the politics and the fear.

There is less celebration here on earth today than there is in heaven. The last brother has made it home. He said of Bobby:

“My brother need not be idealized or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life. But to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war… and tried to stop it.”

Today, all earthly powers have one eye on the heavens and the sleeping Lion. “But the work goes on. The cause endures. The hope still lives. And the dream will never die.”

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Filed under El Milagro, health care, President Obama, public education

100 THINGS I AM OPTIMISTIC ABOUT ON THE 101st DAY OF THE OBAMA PRESIDENCY

*Apr 28 - 00:05*

…Education, Iraq, swine flu, press conferences, basketball, being American, economic recovery, green energy, housing, kids, race relations, jurisprudence, Pakistan, college costs, the White House website, Republican demise, GM, Oval Office photos, American voters, health care, health care for kids, Guantanamo, choice, Hispanic caucus, charter schools, Twitter, Michelle, the cabinet, Ted Kennedy, NY Times, NY Yankees, Bo, Peace Corps;

JFK, Teach for America, Hugo Chavez, Washington DC, the Obama kids, on-line media, high speed rail, Isreal, stock market, Arlen Specter, waterboarding,  MSNBC, US troops coming home, Fair Pay Act, a new NCLB, affordable student loans, Air Force 1, families, world travel, stem cell research, change, civil rights, the US Constitution,  gun control, global warming, New Orleans, honest communication, US reputation abroad, GNP, the VP;

Jazz, Rachel Maddow, early childhood education, NASA, environmental protection, fuel economy, Earth Day, veterans, immigration, S-CHIP,  Americans with Disabilities,  G-20 Summit, jobs,  home ownership,  fairness, nutrition, 21st Century skills, work-family balance, performance, Social Security, foreign policy, Nuclear waste disposal, Islam; 

Darfur, fossil fuels, US tax code, executive orders, National Academy of Sciences, clean energy, urban America, fitness, organic gardens, homeland security, the arts, poverty, dynamic speeches;

Two terms.

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