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“We Are Not Throw-Aways!”: A Statement from the High Point Middle College Site Council

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A statement from the Site Council of the High Point Middle College:

“WE ARE NOT THROW-AWAYS!”

Why is Seattle Public Schools (SPS) denying our underserved students an opportunity to become creative, critical, successful learners? Where is the goal of racial equity that the district itself is calling for? Where is the end of the school to-prison pipeline? Where is the learning and teaching curricula through which students become strong, vibrant thinkers, self-determining and able to navigate their way through the real “slings and arrows” of the 21st century?

Middle College High School (MC) was an alternative high school where social justice and a critical pedagogy provided underserved students, students of color, and disenfranchised students a different and personalized education. MC has historically worked to prevent students from leaving education behind and stood on the front line against the school-to prison pipeline. MC was a rigorous educational challenge with high expectations that its students grew into and succeeded while experiencing the transformative reward that comes from meaningful learning. Students who studied in the context of rigorous critical and transformative pedagogy have gone on to do remarkable things.

Then SPS ended this option for juniors and seniors who needed it most. The historically proven MC mission was gutted. High Point MC was closed and the educators dedicated to and advocating of its mission were pushed out.

FROM A PARENT TO SPS: “I really cannot understand why the School District appears to be going out of its way to gut and dismantle a program that has consistently been effective in addressing the needs of some of the district’s troubled but talented students. There is so much talk about the need for improvement in our education system, locally and nationally, with much wringing of hands over the most successful and effective steps to be taken towards that goal… there has been a consistent and proven track record over many years of doing just that for its few lucky students. It is heartbreaking, and in fact truly hurtful, to have the School District take apart this working teaching model.”

Despite SPS’s actions taken against MC, students, parents, communities, and teachers are working to restore the MC historic mission. We have not given up on students who really need that alternative, social justice, cultural diverse option that MC once offered. SPS must provide such a high school alternative option for juniors and seniors based on this teaching/learning model. These students have proven themselves when given such an alternative, and have exceeded expectations and gone on to college/universities and into life doing work that is essential to our common humanity.

WHAT HAPPENED?

Over the past year, SPS closed High Point MC and dismantled Ida B. Wells School for Social Justice at the University of Washington (under the Middle College administration).

In the taking apart of the former MC model, the principal Cindy Nash has managed to move out eight experienced, master educators of color who worked to advocate for underserved and oppressed students and whose teaching and learning meant rigor, respect, and high expectations of their students.

This closed the opportunity for underserved, marginalized high school juniors and seniors, and eliminated a vibrant, alternative option based on respect for students’ potential, cultural context, and a deep-felt necessity to understand their world, their lives.

Under the direction of the Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning, what replaced the Middle College model (now in name only) is not high expectations of students of color and disenfranchised students but a corporate ed model of isolated online learning and Bill Gates’ online Big History (a series of online, eye candy videos that present history without human agency and elevates technology over humanity.) Student learning has become meaningless except to do credit retrieval, mostly online, for purposes of passing standardized, high stakes tests. This kind of low expectation and uncritical schooling only offers underserved, marginalized students a distressed and uncertain future in a precarious job marketplace.

This current SPS option is in sharp contrast to what a MC student experienced and achieved in the past:

FROM A GRADUATE OF THE FORMER SOCIAL/JUSTICE TRANSFORMATIVE PEDAGOGY MODEL: “…The school was meant for students who had trouble in traditional high school setting, but who still wanted to pursue higher education … I began to understand the transformative effect that a quality and relevant education can have on the lives of individuals. My fellow students and I were held to high expectations, and the education we received… related to our lives and interests. We were reading challenging books by authors such as Howard Zinn, Upton Sinclair, Richard Wright, and Franz Fanon. These texts and thoughtful discussions pushed us to think critically about our society, our immediate surroundings, and pervasive oppressions. Students who had once been cast aside as troublemakers and slackers were now learning and thriving in this academic environment. Many of the … graduates that later continued on to the University of Washington became the most politically active and outspoken advocates for social justice on campus…With (teachers’) support, by the time I finished my senior year I was getting good grades and thinking of college.”

And this student did go on — through graduate school and is now a teacher in a Chicago public high school, committed to social justice, anti-racist critical pedagogy and making sure no students are treated as “Throw-aways.” He would not have made this life for himself sitting in isolation at a computer, drilling through a corporate generated course designed simply to pass a corporate, standardized test (a test that surely did not include critical inquiry into the writings of Franz Fanon). And he represents hundreds of students who studied in the academic and cultural context of the former, authentic MC mission.

SPS high school juniors and seniors, their families, their communities, teachers and this city deserve an alternative learning option that announces: We respect all our public school students and we refuse to be part of a “Throw-away” culture! The goal of racial equity, cultural diverse learning context, academic rigor and high expectations must be extended to all SPS students and especially those students of color, students from immigrant, working class families, and others who suffer from marginalization and disenfranchisement in larger traditional high school settings.

Reorganizing the ideal and practice of an alternative social justice, transformative learning option is a necessary and ethical obligation for educators who uphold that the purpose of public education is to advance democracy and people’s right to social development.

What does an alternative social justice, transformative pedagogy model for high school juniors and seniors look like?

It is a cohort of learners in small, seminar classes with dialogue between students and teachers.

Learning and teaching is based on a college-preparatory discipline with support and encouragement. Students take on college-level history readings, novels, poetry, politics and philosophy of science/ecology and technology. Math instruction uses a progressive approach beginning with the student’s strength. (There are no corporate textbooks.) Foreign language and the arts are also offered. Writing skills are practiced in all their academic courses.

Attendance and participation as a cohort of learners and dialogue with teachers is expected in the learning culture. (Students learn to discuss their studies with teachers: a necessary preparation for college success.) Student/cohort discussions focus on their studies and it becomes a life learning experience in both individual and social expression and in problem-solving articulation. Students create bonds with each other and they develop empathetic and sympathetic perspectives. This comes from the cohort experience and reflects a heightened level of understanding the system (how the world works) and its logic in order to survive and effectively make change.

Students, families, and program supporters initiate academic and social opportunities. Family support and engagement with their child’s learning emerges. Often family members borrow novels students are studying so the discussion continues at home.

The data from the days when this model existed demonstrate that students were not suspended or expelled. They graduated at a higher rate than their peer groups in traditional school and both attendance rates and college-bound numbers were higher.

Beyond this stale data-devotion, what an alternative social justice, transformative model means is a commitment and expansion of democratic public education. The proof is the students — who studied within this model and who graduate, sometimes as the first in their families, who go to college, and who become the subject of their own lives. These students were able to leave high school having explored issues of class, gender, race, ethnicity and other forms of social differentiation related to oppressive social relations.

Not all students choose to continue their education after graduation, most of the students did. More importantly, students knew that the option was there. The students, while not abandoning their own individual culture, understand dominant culture and have the knowledge and skills to find their place in the complexity of the world.

This is an alternative education option that the Seattle Public Schools should embrace as an enrichment of its fundamental responsibility to all student learning, racial equity and social justice, democratic public education, and basic trust and faith in all its students’ potential.

This alternative option for high school juniors and seniors would be a consortium of sites located in the city: West Seattle, the campus site at the University of Washington, and two or three other sites in neighborhoods where need is greatest. Teachers, parents, students, and communities would function as an autonomous and collaborative school and as a SPS alternative option high school.

-SITE COUNCIL

High Point Middle College

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