From Then to Now...
My research interests emerged out of my first “active” educational experience, at Central Park East Secondary School (CPESS), a high school in East Harlem led by Deborah Meier. As a progressive educator, she, teachers and the institution had a tremendous impact on my educational trajectories. This school represented, for me, a huge paradigm shift in teaching and learning. Whereas my schooling up through the 9th grade, proved to be very disengaging and traditional in terms of the pedagogical, social/emotional, and cultural aspects, CPESS expanded the scope of how I could learn and, more importantly, how I might apply my learning. These curricula and social emotional tools included daily advisories to check in with my peers and an adult around my academic and/or socio-emotional co concerns and progressions. It also included Socratic arranging of the physical classrooms for the practice of deeper inquiry and processing. In addition, I was able to show what I knew of the content through performance based portfolios and exhibitions and not a provincial 40 minute multiple choice exam.
Although I was able to attend such progressive post-secondary schools as Wesleyan University and Teachers College, those educational experiences did not offer me the educational pedagogy as was offered through Central Park East Secondary School. Instead of typical didactic models of instruction, CPESS offered us opportunities to process material, together, in Socratic discussion circles. The classroom seating was arranged in circles, where we would face each other. Performance based assessments had us developing 14 content and skills portfolio and committee presentations in order to graduate. My portfolio committee, as a high school student, was similar to that of a graduate level dissertation committee which included peers, community members and teachers. The presentations, to be done in any way we chose, were opportunities to amplify that material taught and researched from our unorthodox and culturally relevant course listings. It was these content opportunities that produced in me an interest in learning I had not experienced in other settings.
As a student and then teacher at Central Park East Secondary School in East Harlem, designed to activate authentic student interests and engagement, my passion has since been to develop pedagogy and now research to interrogate and reproduce those opportunities in secondary classrooms. As a high school student, it was those curricular opportunities, teacher mindsets, and practices that gave me renewed interest in school and subsequently a confidence to activate the tools afforded me. These tools included making curricular connections to society, problem solving, creative collaboration, developing perspective while defending it with evidence, sustained critical inquiry, finding relevance, growth through revision of work, and sustained suppostions (Larmer, J., Mergendoller, J. R., & Boss, S. 2015). To access these skills and content methodologies, I had to attend an alternative school with an emphasis on cooperative learning and performance based assessments to engage in the practice of entering into an active agency based model of learning (Lewis, 2013). These are the practices of teaching and learning that will help develop thinkers, doers, and agents of personal and communal change.
As a high school teacher meeting students in their personal spaces, hallways, after school, student travel and in the classrooms has acted as a catalyst for developing greater research interest. It is through the informal voices of my students and their imagining of possibilities beyond the realities of the day, that their queries can be established and thus developed into action. This action oriented research has the possibilities of producing a rendering of the visibility of student’s thoughts, concerns, ideas, and solutions. When students feel there are mechanisms that allow for their voices to be heard and the possibilities of their concerns being redressed, this creates a greater sense of self-worth and more importantly self-respect (Freire, 1998). Many times, I will hear students articulate the lack of respect felt in the school building by peers and more problematically by adult faculty. This lack of respect is not solely through the typical confrontations experienced by the dichotomic student/teacher or student/administrator relation. Rather, this articulation of disrespect often stems from rendering the student’s voices, cultures, ideas, experiences, race, places in the curricula, and even solutions to concerns as invisible. In my students we not only have the embedded questions, through their lived experiences, as to what needs to happen better in classrooms, school buildings, districts, and communities but we also have the built in sources of youthful energy and creativity to design and implement their solutions. Thus, my current professional role as a high history/social science educator provides me tremendous opportunities to give students settings to articulate and listen to their concerns, experiences, ideas, and elements of their culture. This becomes a natural point of entry for my academic work to emerge, as a researcher of these student, teacher, administrative, classroom, building, district, and community questions. This research is strategically centered around the voices of those rendered invisible and who have posed compelling questions, no matter the dynamic—student/teacher, teacher/administrator, building/district, and district/community.
Students come from different skill, cultural and educational backgrounds thus performance based assessments may not be compatible with every student. Some students have photographic memories and may thrive in traditional rote settings. Although, there needs to be expanded opportunities for students to access their educational assets no matter the interests and skill sets of students. Students may need to use their skills of memorization towards opening up the culturally relevant curricula and opening greater post secondary pathways. Students also need a curricula that is not dominated by a primary model of memorization but also includes ample opportunities for student voice, creativity and design models of teaching and learning. Thus, my goal is for students to develop the agency needed to leverage greater curricular and extra curricular connections towards their personal and communal wants and needs that extend beyond the school building.