The New Englewood STEM High School
Growing up on the SouthSide of Chicago under the "Skyline of Inequity" was quite challenging for my mother, a single parent of eight children. My mother, Carrie Ponder was “AGENCY” PERSONIFIED! Although she migrated to Chicago from Mississippi she made us aware of the "Mid-West Jim Crow" policies. Since the playing field was unleveled she enrolled us in the Upward Bound Program at the University of Chicago, where we were exposed to Shakespeare and Greek Mythology. We took advantage of book clubs at our local Chicago Public Library. My teachers at Stephen A. Douglas Elementary instilled cultural pride in us as we read works from Gwendolyn Brooks, Langston Hughes, and Maya Angelou's “StILL I RISE”.
As a teacher in communities like Cabrini Green, Henry Horner, Robert Taylor Housing and now the New Englewood STEM High School I was always reminded of the inequities my students encountered on a daily basis. For example, when pursuing National Board Certification I was in a Cohort where I was the only black teacher. My cohort colleagues taught at northside schools such as Franklin Fine Arts, Alcott, Bell and NTA. We rotated our weekly meetings so that we visited each school. I was overwhelmed by the resources available to students at these schools. The disparities were screaming injustice so I wanted my actions to echo "MY STUDENTS DESERVE QUALITY INSTRUCTION TOO".
My mother positioned my siblings and I to attend UNIVERSITIES like Princeton, University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania, DePaul, New York University, Yale and other prestigious institutions. After each of us would bring home a degree she would always remind us “GO OUT AND HELP SOMEONE ELSE WHO LOOKS LIKE YOU GET INTO THESE UNIVERSITIES”. I knew that my work was cut out for me. I BEGAN to build classroom libraries equivalent to the ones I saw on the northside. I taught in Cabrini for ten years. Therefore. I began applying for grants from Rochelle Lee, Oppenheimer Foundation and Chicago Fund for Education. Once Donors Choose became available I would apply for two to three grants a year. Sharing these challenges with my students and demonstrating investment in their growth and development through culturally responsive lessons truly inspired students to invest in their own learning.
My equity challenge and how I work on it
Reflecting and redirecting is an area of agency that I would like to continue building upon with my students. Remote learning has made building on this aspect of agency especially crucial. Students have expressed to me that since they are at home many of their parents have placed adult responsibilities on them. Students are supervising younger siblings as their parents are the essential workers during this epic pandemic time in history. Some of these students have agreed to meet with me in the evening for academic instruction and a virtual place to share their anxieties.
Self-reflection also provided us an opportunity to check our consciousness around systemic racism in our city. Many of our young men see themselves in a Laquan McDonald or Trayvon Martin and are concerned for their personal safety. Students wanted to better understand the concept of “defunding the police” and the pros and cons of having SRO's in our school. My students even connected our class reading and discussions of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and the HELA Cells to the disparities in health care today for African Americans and wanted to know why Mercy hospital which services a large black population would close its doors during the middle of a pandemic. During remote learning we have formed more of a collective sense of responsibility! This is an authentic agency in the making.
Quote/motto or one piece of advice for a teacher who is thinking about doing this work
“The civil rights movement was based on faith. Many of us who were participants in this movement saw our involvement as an extension of our faith. We saw ourselves doing the work of the Almighty. Segregation and racial discrimination were not in keeping with our faith, so we had to do something.”
-- John Lewis
Humbled, Grateful and extremely BLESSED to be in this field of work! GOD IS TRULY USING ME FOR THE HIGHEST GOOD!