Engaged Families and Communities

NEA Student Program Connected to Priority Schools

Priority schools are a natural focus of attention for NEA student members, and Tommie Leaders wants to make sure the word gets out.

Leaders is the 2010-2012 NEA Student Program Chairperson and he says extending the student program’s famous community outreach events into priority schools could help galvanize and grow student membership while helping pull the program out of a current media shadow.

“We’re trying to make what we’re doing better known. There’s a lot of press with Teach for America and other programs like that. We’re kind of sitting in the background right now,” says Leaders, a student at the University of Nebraska at Omaha majoring in elementary education with endorsements in math, language arts, and social sciences.

“Whether it’s through YouTube or Facebook, social networking or other media sources, we need to show our work with these schools. We need to take this work to heart and make it our own,” said Leaders.

Last weekend, the commitment was reinforced at the annual Student Connections Conference, where student program leaders from around the country gather to discuss strategies to grow their membership and strengthen connections and shared resources with NEA. In the wake of an impressive six percent membership gain last year, and signs that growth is continuing into this year, more than 200 student members from 39 states traded strategies and worked with NEA’s regional offices to discuss ways to work better together.

“Last year we had about 15,000 members that went from student to full-time NEA membership, so having that growth and having that continuum is important. A lot of our members are going to be working in priority schools,” said Leaders.

At workshops conducted by NEA’s Priority Schools Campaign, students brainstormed ways to strengthen their chapter’s involvement in priority schools and discussed possible incentives to draw teachers into careers in the schools.

All the participants stressed the importance of information provided online and in social media to link them up with challenges faced by the schools as well as pathways to success.

Many of the students have experience with work in priority schools through service projects and student teaching. One group of students creates a “camp” experience at a priority school each year to get elementary students thinking about college.  One college works a variation of that theme, sending student teachers into priority schools so the challenges of the high-poverty environment aren’t a surprise when it comes time to take that first job.

One student challenged NEA to take this national by sponsoring professional development programs tailored to priority schools; to “set up a mentoring program so we can start work in the schools knowing what it’s like, what to do in certain situations. Motivate us to be in these schools. I want to teach in these schools but I know I need resources these schools don’t have – NEA can help.”

Other outcomes of the brainstorm included:

  • Have students use Moodle to create specific curriculum for priority schools; to create lesson plans and tutorials on accessible video and multimedia technology, math games, specifically tailored to priority schools. Said one student: “We didn’t have enough textbooks in one school, so we just used Moodle.”
  • Use existing outreach activities including Read Across America, tutoring and mentoring sponsored by student chapters to focus resources on priority schools.
  • Have students do focus groups with students in priority schools about their needs and hindrances and how to make them successful.
  • Make schools more community based; increase outreach to the community so there’s more involvement with the families and the students; not just saying goodbye at 3:30. If you get a teacher involved with the community and the parents and the student, they won’t want to leave. They get involved.
  • Need collaboration between experienced teachers and newer – especially in the use of technology.
  • Maybe we don’t start teachers off in priority schools. Maybe we transition them to priority schools after a few years. Provide more training for student members what issues are making these schools priority schools.
  • Help teachers build a self-awareness of their own issues to better deal with issues of race and poverty. Give them a sense of mission; that they’re part of a larger national effort. Break the stereotypes of the schools and the communities they’re in.

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