If you've been following the proposed Social Studies changes in the Thurgood Marshall building you'll remember how at the last HCS Advisory committee meeting (See: http://discussapp.blogspot.com/2016/05/53-hcs-ac-meeting.html) the AL staff indicated it was explicitly against policy to blend the classrooms. On the bright side, it looks like everyone is paying attention to the policy this time. On the other hand, the solution now has ramifications for HCC as a whole. I haven't seen the proposed changes yet but its not hard to see how this argument could be extended particularly in the context of Middle School.
"Dear Thurgood Marshall Family:
Lately, there has been a lot of talk about Social Studies at our school. Why? Let me give you some background…
When I first came to Thurgood Marshall after being hired in April of 2014, I met individually with teachers to get a sense of what they thought was going well with our school and areas for improvement. What came from these meetings was the idea that Thurgood Marshall was more like three programs in a building than one school. Each teacher mentioned that students in different programs had little opportunity to get to know each other or to interact across the school day. From this, the idea of “Building Bridges” was born – an effort born in the 14-15 school year to reach out and make connections between various student groups within the school and to help our various parent groups feel connected. We want everyone to feel that they have a place at Thurgood Marshall.
In the spring of 2015, our school became one of nine school accepted to participate in the first District Race and Equity Team. As we received training in this area, we begin to think more about the impact our school’s design on our students. Our three programs – PEACE Academy, General Education and Highly Capable Cohort - are all designed to serve the needs of three different groups of students, but could there be points of intersection between these groups?
Teachers began to think about integration and how this might be beneficial for our students, both for social needs and to support their academics. Fledgling efforts had been made in this area – “Friendship Days” for 1st and 2nd grade classrooms where students participated in literature-themed art projects in mixed classroom groups, multi-age classroom partnerings for Reading Buddies, and “Mix it Up Day” where students were encouraged to sit by someone new in the lunchroom. Teachers felt these projects were a success, but because they happened sporadically, we were not seeing relationships between students develop outside these projects. One notable success story was happening in our Fifth grade. Students from our 4 classes – 3 HCC groups and 1 General Ed group – were blended into groups with students from each of the 4 classes to study moral dilemmas each week. Students spent time thinking together about how they would solve problems they might face in middle school. And from here, we began to see relationships take root that carried over from the classroom to the playground.
Where this stands now…
The district currently has a policy in place (Procedures 2190SP) about self-contained learning in HC classes that states: “Highly Capable Services are designed for students identified as Highly Capable to provide advanced curricula as well as support their social and emotional needs from identification through graduation. Highly Capable Services include a self-contained path called the Highly Capable Cohort, which provides a rigorous curriculum in language arts, mathematics, science and social studies. The curriculum is presented at an accelerated learning pace and/or advanced level of complexity and depth, requiring students to perform significantly above grade level.
After discussion with Advanced Learning, the department of Curriculum and Instruction, and principals of elementary and middle school HC sites, a change to this policy has been proposed that will allow slightly more flexibility in the study of social studies and science. This is something that the school board must consider and vote on before our school is able to move forward. While we have had some discussions as an Equity Team, a staff, and at PTA Parent Equity meetings about the possibility of integrating Social Studies, at this point, we are on hold until we hear back from the central office.
Why Social Studies?
I would like to propose that we consider our goals for social studies education. On our district social studies page, the following is excerpted from OSPI:
What is social studies education?
Social studies in Washington State contributes to developing responsible citizens in a culturally diverse, democratic society within an interdependent world. Social studies equips learners to make sound judgments and take appropriate actions that will contribute to sustainable development of human society and the physical environment.Social studies comprises the study of relationships among people, and between people and the environment. Social studies recognizes the challenges and benefits of living in a diverse cultural and ideological society. The resulting interactions are contextualized in space and time and have social, political, economic, and geographical dimensions.Based on appropriate investigations and reflections within social studies, students develop distinctive skills and a critical awareness of the human condition and emerging spatial patterns and the processes and events that shape them.If we are undertaking the study of social studies to develop “responsible citizens in a culturally diverse, democratic society,” what better way to do this than to teach social studies to groups of students who look like the culturally diverse, democratic society we are preparing them to live in? Our General Education and HC programs are aligned to the same standards. We believe that the unique experience each of our students bring to this study will actually enrich their learning and push all students to think more deeply.
Questions/Concerns that have come up:
- In the spring of 2015, third grade teachers decided to blend their classes for a social studies unit on Pacific Northwest Indians. The success of this experiment, encouraged us to think about trying this on a larger scale.
- Social Studies is a smaller part of our core content. At the elementary level, most classroom time is spent on reading, writing and math. The curriculum for reading, writing and math is advanced 1-2 years in our HC classrooms; social studies curriculum is the same across programs.
- How will we make sure that students are being appropriately challenged at their level? This endeavor, like any classroom instruction, will be taught with an eye to differentiation to make sure that students are engaged and thinking deeply about the topic. Differentiation is already taking place in each of our three programs so that students are able to access the curriculum. The departments of Advanced Learning and Curriculum and Instruction have each offered their support in helping our teachers prepare for blended classes and to make sure that each student will be challenged. The professional development we plan to do around this will benefit our teachers in planning for their regular classrooms, too.
- Is this change being initiated by the school or by the district? The idea to teach social studies in a different way came from staff at Thurgood Marshall, to address the learning needs of the students at our unique school site.
- Is this an effort to reduce services to HC students? Absolutely not! We care deeply about meeting the needs of all of our learners. We want to be sure that students are appropriately challenged at their level. HC exists to serve the learning needs of students who need something beyond the typical classroom, just as we have special education resources for students who need more support to access the curriculum. On the contrary, we feel that teaching social studies in this way will actually provide our students with another level of challenge as they consider more diverse viewpoints.
As with all of the work we do, this is a conversation I want us to engage in together. Our School Board will meet to discuss a revised policy in early June. Once we hear their thoughts, I will schedule a meeting so that we can talk together about our hopes and wishes around this topic.
- Is this a permanent change? As a school leader, I do not think that I go into any new and innovative situation with the expectation that something is permanent. Instead, I like to think that we are pushing our thinking and learning forward (as both adult and student learners!). With any new initiative we take on, we try it knowing that we will make refinements and improvements as we go. I understand that this question comes from a distrust of past district practice – when a group has felt the need to strongly advocate for their children, they are wary of losing any ground. I understand this – and I can tell you that this effort is coming not from the district, but from grassroots efforts of Thurgood Marshall staff and parents involved with our equity work.
If you want to dig in a little further, I have added some resources below you may find interesting.
Katie May, Principal
Thurgood Marshall Elementary
frontline/article/does- integration-still-matter-in- public-schools/
report/how-racially-diverse- schools-and-classrooms-can- benefit-all-students/
The radio program “This American Life” did a two part series on the topic of segregated schools:
org/radio-archives/episode/ 562/the-problem-we-all-live- with
org/radio-archives/episode/ 562/the-problem-we-all-live- with"