Working backwards, we kicked off Friday with the International Education Conference which brought roughly 100 K-12 teachers (mostly CPS) to campus for a full day of sessions. The event is in its 6th year, and I’m happy to say our Neighborhood Schools Program has been part of the organizing group the entire time. The features that keep me at the organizing table are the cross-campus collaborations between all of the area centers [Center for East Asian Studies, the Center for East European and Russian/Eurasian Studies, the Center for Latin American Studies, the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, the International House Global Voices Program, the Neighborhood Schools Program, the Oriental Institute, and the Office of Civic Engagement], the opportunities for cross-school collaborations between teachers, a great program, and an opportunity to welcome educators to campus.
I closed out Friday by facilitating a meeting between a team at the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics and science teachers at King College Prep. I’d been asked to help find teachers who’d want to be collaborators on a project to bring our current understanding of Dark Matter into the classroom. It took awhile, but we found an Astronomy teacher and a Physics teacher at a nearby school. After what seemed like millions of emails, we got a chance to meet on campus, and it was a lot of fun to see the faculty member (who spends his time trying to devise new Dark Matter detection strategies) explain his work to the high school teachers, and to see the science teachers strategize about how to make it make sense and be engaging for their students. There was a mutual respect in the exchange that I’m always thrilled to see. This will be an ongoing project that will cover the next two years, which is very exciting!
Like most of campus, I was not in President Obama‘s session at the Law School on Thursday. I also live close enough where the traffic wasn’t an issue for me. I did, however, get a chance to sit at my desk for most of his talk (which itself feels like like a rare occurrence), and was able to listen in to the livestream. He took even the most pointed questions with grace!
On Wednesday, a national foundation made a visit to learn more about the University’s Civic Engagement work and to meet w/ local leaders in Woodlawn and Washington Park. There was something of a “programs” roundtable in the afternoon that I was invited to participate in – on behalf of the Community Programs Accelerator. What I liked about the design of the conversation was that they invited representatives of the programs and community leaders who worked with the programs. In my case, Sheldon Smith of the Dovetail Project was on hand. Sheldon is one of the more impressive young leaders that you’ll ever meet, and not coincidentally is a CNN Hero. It was a good talk, I think the foundation left impressed by the breadth of the University’s capacity building programs and the ongoing evolution (for the better) of our relationship with community organizations/leaders.
I closed out Tuesday night talking to 50 University students who are involved in our partnership with Jumpstart which is a national nonprofit that focuses on literacy in Pre-K. We’ve had a partnership between the Neighborhood Schools Program and Jumpstart for 5 years now, and I’m always impressed by the program and the kinds of UChicago students who are drawn to it. The talk was a “current events” talk – a chance to take questions and draw people into a discussion around education funding, the difficulties of the State of Illinois, CPS, CTU, city policy – to help people make sense of the recent CPS furlough days, and one-day CTU job-action, etc. As always, it was good discussion with insightful questions from the students.
It’s easy enough to talk about these topics since no one’s really gotten them figured out entirely! I always try to stress the tensions between the different points of view, and then to remind the students that the kids deserve the best education possible, so people like us (on the outside of policy, but with time resources to contribute) have to contribute positively to the experience of the students by doing what we can to help schools create the learning environments that they want.
On Monday night, Neighborhood Schools Program had it’s quarterly Leadership Corps (LC)meeting. The group has a twofold function – it’s both a student advisory board and a key part of our student engagement. I joined them for the first part of the meeting, when I reported back to them on the ups & downs of the Winter Quarter and took some questions/suggestions for the Spring and beyond. After my part, our Associate Director met with them to plan our year-end celebration – NSP Week (in May) which will include a year-end event. I probably need to write about the Leadership Corps at length elsewhere, but I’ve been impressed by how the LC students (who are undoubtedly busy with other things) are willing and able to find time to get other students engaged in our program and more broadly with local students and schools.