Almost all Des Moines teachers at Theodore Roosevelt High School (about six dozen) gathered in the library’s library and cafeteria one afternoon, armed with lesson plans and lists to take notes.

Feedback on fine-tuning their lesson plans flowed, but not from peers or external experts. The suggestions came from the nearly 100 students who sat among them. The council was open. Here’s how you can make a lesson that some students offer or make it easier to say: this is what you should do to help students understand the concepts they offer.

This joint professional development event between students and teachers is an integral part of an ongoing initiative at Roosevelt High to ensure that students are key players in important aspects of the school and its culture. Students are specifically encouraged to “refuse adults”. They help shape the redesign of the mission and vision of the school and the introduction of a less criminal approach to behavioral offenses. Students are in favor of extracurricular activities that reflect their interests.

“If we do not get feedback from different perspectives, we can only work from what we know, and what we know is limited because it’s only from a person’s perspective,” said Mindy Euken, one in the ninth Class working training coach with Nicole Ellis. The school’s equity coach to expand the voice of the students.

Looking to build trust

The voice of the students and their participation are part of a larger school and the district’s focus on justice in Des Moines. For Roosevelt, this meant engaging Ellis in the workforce to work with teachers to develop culturally inclusive practices, explore prejudice, and make sure students’ identities and cultures are reflected in the curriculum.

There were already opportunities for students to analyze what is going on in Roosevelt, including a 40-member Diversity and Inclusion Council, which meets regularly with Headmaster Kevin Biggs.

The impetus to raise students’ voices and improve student participation began last summer with a deep immersion in schoolwork, follow-up surveys, and meetings with students who uncovered some disturbing trends.

One was the chronic absences rate of black children in the four classes. While the average debt was 35 percent, it was 56 percent for black men, Biggs said. The school also had the biggest difference in performance between white and black students in the district.

Black students, a group that includes African American students, migrants, and African refugees, account for a quarter of the nearly 2,300 students in Roosevelt. 14% of the students are Latinos, 8% are races and 11% learn English. White students account for slightly less than half the enrollment.

“When people think of Iowa, they think of corn fields, they think of wheat, they think of pigs and farms,” ​​said Biggs. “They do not think about diversity.”

The inequality in chronic absences was partly due to the discipline’s recommendations, which are also examined by the school. But some students said they had missed the class because they thought the teachers did not care if they showed up. They also said that some classes have no connection to their lives, experiences and community, Ellis said.

“If the relationship was strong and sincere and they trusted the teacher and the teacher was interested in them, they were more willing to go to class and work as hard as possible,” said Biggs.

This became the focus of the new school year with the specific aim of reducing chronic child absences by 20 percent in May 2019.

First, Ellis and Euken worked with the teachers to make sure they understood why the different perspectives were important.

In an exercise last summer, the teachers conducted a community walk. They got a bus ticket and met students in one of the neighborhoods. It was the first time that some teachers, many of whom grew up in small towns outside the city, took a bus to travel to Des Moines, Euken said.

“We told the staff,” We really want you to think about what kind of cultural wealth the students listen to when they tell them about their life experiences, how they can navigate the systems that you can not see because of their life experiences are different or what skills or linguistic strengths they have or bring them to school? said Euken.

Teachers were also invited to choose from a menu of five practices that they could use during the school year to engage students at a deeper level, including the assignment of rigorous teaching assignments that enable them to work as co-teachers. Teachers use problems and real-world texts in the classroom as well as social and emotional learning tools.

Ellis and Euken followed in October a round table with students and teachers. The students said that the discussion helped create closer links with the teachers, but did not lead to changes in the classroom, said Euken.

At this time, Ellis had the idea to test the joint professional development of students and teachers. At the first meeting in December, most of the teachers and about 45 students focused on changing teaching practices to make class more inclusive and more cultural.

Ellis said he had tried to recruit a diverse group of students, including those in the gifted and talented program, student clubs and those who regularly skipped classes. The last group was especially difficult to attend, said Ellis.

Some students were ambivalent about participation, even though they realized that teachers should work harder to get to know them. Some teachers also questioned the extra work involved in the new initiative, while others doubted the usefulness of the comments they would hear.

This way of thinking “is a construct we want to turn upside down here,” he said.

Students can not use the jargon that teachers use when commenting lesson plans, but “they will hear patterns that are considered best practices for students,” said Ellis, who worked with the students. Prepare them for the session, even To practice races.

Most of the students in the last session had been invited by their teachers. They began with an icebreaker, where teachers and students offered their interpretations of a quotation from the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Junot Diaz, followed by a discussion on how students’ identity can be appreciated in the classroom, and examples of how teachers do it can do.

They discussed a past lesson, discussed an upcoming class and broader conversations about what works well and what could be improved.

Spanish-speaking Kalifornia Sotelo posted short notes when two of his students, Ashawn Quinn and Shimayil Idris, 9th grade, spoke.

“Remember, you do not talk about me, you talk about the class, how they affect you,” Sotelo told them. “It will not hurt my feelings.

Quinn suggested a five-minute break in class. Idris agreed that if the students knew they were planning a break, they would less likely see their cell phones. They looked for ways to spend “brain silence” and decided that Sotelo would play a music video in Spanish, while students could use their phone or use the opportunity to continue it if needed.

When Sotelo asked about the pace in class, they both said, “It’s a bit quick.” To help more, they told Sotelo that they like it when they speak Spanish, then it translates into English. And both said that having a PowerPoint presentation with pictures and vocabulary at the beginning of the lesson would make more sense than starting the lesson with tests.

“Many of them are quick fixes,” Sotelo said later.

Idris, who does well in Spanish, said it helped to have another student at the table during the discussion.

“Any comment I gave her was not disrespectfully received,” he said. “It was open and I could give my honest opinion.”

Sotelo said he hopes that all these efforts will lead to more African American students taking AP Spanish lessons where they are underrepresented.

Students hear

16-year-old Asantee Tillman, who attended the December meeting, saw in it an opportunity for teachers to listen to students who have problems at home. She said she saw teachers ignoring students who were late.

“They just think this kid is bad because it’s not going to class or it’s not being taught, but in fact, people have things at home,” said Asantee, who was often fifteen years old. Minutes late during his second year because he brought two younger brothers to school.

In this session, Asantee worked with her economics teacher on her plans for a curriculum lesson, suggesting that she cut her introductory remarks. She suggested presenting visual examples of the curriculum that other students had created and going to class to proactively look for students who needed help but were reluctant to ask.

To his surprise, he was open to his ideas.

“He seemed really interested in what he had to say about his lesson plan,” he said, “and he was really open to change.”

But Asantee said he did not see any improvements in his other classes. If the school wanted to get students into the classroom, more of those who skip the lesson should sit with the teachers, he said.

Ellis recognized the difficulty of having some separated students speak openly with teachers.

“It’s hard to tell a child to come and give their opinion on the classroom if it does not feel like a valued member of the school culture and the community,” he said.

Zion Freeman, 17, said he had seen more teachers creating opportunities for students to work together in the classroom and gain time to discuss what worked and what had to do with them.

He worked with his math teacher last year, and because of the collaboration, they have a better relationship. When she’s late for class, her teacher asks if she has lunch, and when she’s away, Zion says she’s worried that her husband, who was receiving cancer treatment last year, is doing well.

“It used to be teachers who do something about teachers, but to know that she has learned more about them, the class has attracted me a little more,” she said, “because I knew she was here every day I was not with her husband and I would enjoy every minute I got with her. “

To be successful, the program requires some “risk” from teachers and students.

“For the students in this environment, it takes some courage to tell the teachers,” I do not know if that works well, “said Allison Woodward-Chartier, a school instructor.” For the teachers, you’re the expert in the field Room. So you need some courage to get this feedback and make changes. “

Brent Wooters, who teaches social science, said that one worrisome topic in the world curriculum is that he is Eurocentric and does not give much depth to the experiences of people who are not white. “This is still a struggle in the curriculum, and the curriculum leaders need to analyze this,” he said, adding that a compulsory course or biennial offering about the history of African American or Hispanic America might help

Wooters said he appreciates the students’ comments, especially because they are experts in how to best learn.

“We have 20 million books on how to be the best teacher, but none of them was written by a 14-year-old child,” he said. “And that’s what we lose in the development of our employees.”

Ellis said that the transformation that the school expects will take a lot of work and time. However, they see evidence that the positive outcomes of teachers and students, if they fully embrace the initiative, are as follows.

In the last two months of last year, the decline in chronic absenteeism was reduced by 13 percent. But this year, the rate has since retreated, he said.

Ellis points to Rob Randazzo as proof that they are on the right track. Randazzo, a professor of algebra, had the highest percentage of African American men who passed grade B or higher algebra last semester. Randazzo said that this is largely because his students can choose how they want to learn: they can view the online videos they’ve made, review notes, use the textbook, or listen to their direct lessons.

You can also choose a combination of all options during the lesson and do so at their own pace, he said.

And students decide when they’re ready to take a test, which increases their self-confidence and engagement in the classroom. So far, no one has failed a test, he said.

“Earlier the conversation would have been:” You did not pass the questionnaire, what will you do? ” “he said. “Well, the conversation is that you are not ready, you said you were not ready to answer the questionnaire, how can I help you prepare, that’s one of the things I like to talk about, it is. .. a more positive point, start. “