Back-to-School 2013

 

Growing Fairness: A Project for Abolitionist Teachers

 

 

Educators aren't waiting for someone else to dismantle the prison industrial complex, or for someone else to reinvent our public school system. They're creating some of the necessary tools to start to do those things. Wanna see?

 

 

 

After you check out the film, and decide it's an excellent teaching and organizing tool for your school community, consider contacting our members for support

 

Teachers Unite's Organizing Council and lead members will be meeting on September 21st. Location TBD. Join us to formally approve the Teachers Unite membership handbook and learn more about our vision and strategy moving forward. Contact anna@teachersunite.net if you want to more info about the meeting as we get closer to the date.

Newsletter Contents
Growing Fairness
Radical Professional Development
Demanding Change
Educators Go To Camp
Summer Vacation

Radical Professional Development

by Herm Jerome

TU Board Member

 

Working as a Dean for eight years I had the opportunity to work alongside some great people with whom I designed an Intervention Team (see a description of the "I-Team" in Teachers Talk) that kept cops out of our school and reduced our reliance on School Safety Officers.  However, we struggled to find alternative models to the traditional behavior management models that utilized token economies in the form of "school bucks", stars, and point systems--which have been shown to be ineffective in changing behavior. 

 

Herm Jerome at the Bronx Restorative Schools Convening

I stumbled upon restorative justice through a partnership with people engaged in the prison reform movement.  This system of reflection, responsibility and restitution offered us a true alternative to the typical system detention and suspension. 

While some schools engage in different aspects of restorative practices, there is much work to be done. And it is often an isolating experience as we try to convince fellow teachers and administrators to implement restorative justice as an alternative to typical punitive practices. 

 

To address this, I worked with Teachers Unite to organize the Bronx Restorative Schools Convening and youth to exchange ideas and best practices on restorative justice in schools and discuss the school-to-prison pipeline.  Over 75 students, teachers and community workers gathered at Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School on NYCDOE's Chancellor Day, June 6th.

The packed program included two films: The Interrupters and The Central Park Five; workshops on peer mediation, restorative circles and restorative conferencing; a panel featuring organizers, youth, and parents; and guest speaker, Mualimmak Five, from the Campaign to End the New Jim Crow, who discussed the criminalization of youth in schools and its connection to larger systems of mass incarceration.


I have worked in the Bronx for eleven years and am committed

Teachers Unite's BX Restorative Schools Convening

to building a grassroots movement around restorative practices. The Bronx is the poorest urban county in the country, has the lowest graduation rate of the five boroughs and is home to school district seven which had the highest suspension rate in the city in the 2011-2012 academic year. There is much work to be done.

 

This gathering, funded by the Dignity in Schools Campaign-New York, followed on the heels of monthly Bronx-based meetings where we convened teachers, deans, parents and community based organizations to promote restorative justice in the borough. We hope to see more of you BX educators come through this year. Contact anna@teachersunite.net for more information.

Demanding Change

 

Immediately following the Bronx Restorative Schools Convening, Teachers Unite was in force at the Dignity in Schools Campaign's rally and press conference at the Department of Education's annual public hearing on the school discipline code.

 

 

Nicole Riley, High School Dean, testifies at hearing on NYC schools discipline code
 

 

 The DSC members were concerned that the new draft of the Discipline Code lacked significant changes that addressed the disproportionate suspension of students of color and included 27 behavior infractions for which a student can be suspended for a full year. See the DSC recommendations here.

 

Educators Go To Camp

by Amber Bennett

TU member

 

In early July, I traveled to Denver with three colleagues from my school, a public middle school/high school in the South Bronx.  We went as participants in a 3-day Action Camp centered on ending the School-To-Prison pipeline, organized by The Advancement Project. Teachers Unite was invited to participate as a member of the Dignity in Schools Campaign.

 

During this past year, I had become increasingly aware and concerned about complex factors leading to the criminalization of youth and mass incarceration through a teacher study group with New York Collective of Radical Educators (NYCoRE).  At the same time, I and several teachers at my school had begun investigating and developing school-wide conversations and practices around restorative justice. Action Camp was the perfect opportunity to learn from people engaged in movements around unjust school policy and practices in their own communities.  

 

TU members Sarah, Amber, Elana and Anne @ ActionCamp

One of the most powerful aspects of the event for me was the fact that it was not led by teachers or school staff, but rather by youth activists, parents and concerned community allies from Denver, LA, New York, Mississippi, Chicago and beyond.  They shared examples of successful movements to change parts of the discipline code, to address unjust school and district policies, and of organizing inside and outside of the schools.  As the name "Action Camp" implies, many of the workshops and sessions took a practical, hands-on approach to movement-building, such as using data (around suspensions, arrests, etc.), increasing effectiveness in media, and role playing in a public hearing about policy. 

 

For myself and my colleagues working to develop restorative justice practices at school-wide level, this experience was helpful to network and hear examples of from practitioners and activists in other communities.  And regarding a wider policy level, I am able to walk away with more perspective on how communities in New York City and across the country are taking action, with more in roads and tools to become involved.

 

Teachers Unite's participation in Action Camp was made possible by the Community Organizing Grants Fund of the Peace Development Fund.

How TU Members Spend Summer Vacation

by Elana Eisen-Markowitz

TU member

 

Between two conferences, an action camp, two trainings on restorative practices, a documentary premiere, a living room screening and twice-weekly Teachers Unite meetings this summer, I was busy, hopeful, re-energized and inspired - and that's a great way to feel as I begin my seventh year teaching in a small non-charter public school in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the Bronx.  I am lucky to have spent my summer working with educators, parents and young people to get Growing Fairness off the ground and to grow fairness more broadly.

 

Getting ready for our evening event at the FMFP Conference

In mid-July, I went with several Teachers Unite members and the staff organizer to the 3rd annual  Free Minds, Free People Conference in Chicago, Illinois, planned and hosted by the Education for Liberation network.  A 25-min clip from "Growing Fairness" and a panel discussion on restorative practices in schools in NYC & Chicago was the conference's Friday night activity at the Instituto del Progreso Latino.  The 50 participants in the evening screening, panel and discussion were educators, parents, students and activists and the panelists - from the Chicago Teachers Union, Teachers Unite and local Chicago community organizations -- were dynamic and engaging.  We re-affirmed relationships with our allies in Chicago and, through participant feedback and response, re-affirmed our commitment to the film as an organizing tool.  Having the opportunity to work with folks at the Free Minds, Free People Conference and to facilitate the panel and discussion was part of what kept me focused on and energized about Growing Fairness and growing fairness. 

 
Panelists from CTU, VOYCE, TU, Blocks Together and COFI/POWER PAC
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