Teacher's Desk: Astroempires Winner

My loveable thug, the one I wrote about before, called me this week. When he left our school a month ago, I knew he had an upcoming trial. He called me to let me know he was okay, won his trial, and could I help him find a GED program? Working with the type of students I do, it is all about building relationships before any learning can take place. To gain the trust of a student not used to trusting adults made me feel like “Teacher of the Year.”

Our social worker announced she had coats, gloves and hats available. She asked me if I knew a student in need? I sure did! My astroempires teammate runs around all year with a t-shirt and thin hoodie. I suspected his mom couldn’t afford a new coat as she is on welfare. Now he has a nice warm coat, hat, and gloves.

I became his astroempires teammate after he overheard me discussing a different on-line game I play with a shy student. My teammate asked me to try astroempires. Since he’s had attendance issues and doesn’t make friends easily, I said sure! I thought our playing the game together could be the buy-in he needs. It has been.

A little over a week ago, we enrolled a student with autism spectrum disorder. I knew I would have my work cut out for me as his educational needs are also social, as well as, academic. Yesterday, he chatted with me, looking straight at me! He joined my school book club and really got into the nonfiction (his request) book I chose for him. Then, during our reading class, he was extremely participatory with great answers. Last period, I saw him hanging out in the lobby and I scooted him to his class, using our discipline coach as the bad guy, “It’s a good thing I caught you and not Mr. Burke. He’d call your mom and you’d be in a world of hurt this weekend.”

Helping these young people is why I love my job!

Kathleen Kullback is a licensed special educator with an MA in educational leadership and policy studies, and is a former candidate to the State Board of Education.

Teacher's Desk: Tough Kids

First week back in the classroom. Our new math teacher is fresh out of college and trained by Teach America. Our returning students aren't what you'd find at most high schools. I saw two this year that I hadn’t seen for two years. One of the young men spent the last two years incarcerated. In fact, even though he is eighteen years old, he hasn’t been to school since middle school (except for two days here two years ago) because he spent his high school years locked up. I am almost in shock with the pleasantness of the students. The first week often is filled with fights and disagreements. This year: none. My kind aforementioned thug spent a good hour with me explaining his feelings of isolation as a “blood” amongst a lot of students affiliated with “crips.” We shared our experiences, and if not for the criminal involvement of the gang, sometimes they do some solid citizen stuff, believe it or not. He also shared the differences of the two types of gangs, which honestly was news to me.

His feelings of isolation reminded me of another student at our school. He never went to a high school before because he was home-schooled. He, too, had feelings of isolation because we only have a handful of white students and being in a new school, he didn’t know anyone.

“Hmmm…..” I thought.

While speaking to my friendly thug, I asked if he would watch the other young man’s back because he, too, felt isolated and didn’t have street smarts. He agreed, but told me not to let him know.

Another new student came to class this week and I knew he took meds for a bipolar condition (many of my students do). He looked like a fierce fighter of some sort with his hair in a sumo wrestler style on top of his head, some serious weight, and a piercing look emitting from his eyes. He has to be one of the sweetest kids I’ve ever met. Again, he is someone too familiar with the juvenile justice system.

That is why I love these students so much. In any other setting, I’d be like everyone else, probably pretty nervous around these guys, but here, I get to see their humanity and value.

Val, from a previous blog, visited my today. She decided to go ahead and go to college, so she was here getting help. She continues to be androgynous and just the smiliest person ever!

This is going to be a fun and successful school year for everyone. I can feel it in my bones!

Kathleen Kullback is a licensed special educator with an MA in educational leadership and a former candidate to the State Board of Education.

Teacher’s Desk: Attendance & Motivation

Colorado High School Charter, where I teach, has an amazing culture, says a former teacher who came back as our discipline coach (called dean or advisor in some schools). We have an at-risk designation at our charter school. Our students are parents or are returning drop-outs or don’t fit into regular district schools or have been expelled elsewhere or have a relationship with the juvenile justice system or are English language learners or special education students and almost all qualify for free and reduced lunch. Like many urban high schools, large and small, we had a growing problem last year with student attendance. By the end of the school year, most days, we had only about 25 students attending out of 165.

Yikes! The School Improvement Committee got busy! We came up with a plan that placed high expectations, personal responsibility, adult follow-through, and consequences in place. “Ditching” school becomes an irresistible elixir, and like the alcoholic trying to quit “cold turkey,” it is just as difficult for students not used to attending class regularly, or anyone really caring if he or she is missing, to come to every class every day.

This year we instituted a new attendance policy. When a student first enters our school, he or she is required to attend 80% of his or her classes. We all have a group of students we mentor and see daily in “homeroom.” The mentors check the student’s attendance regularly and keep each student informed of his attendance status and advocate for the student if there is a family illness or death that prevents the student from attending classes.

If after the student’s six week period (called a “block"), the student has more missing classes than allowed, the student is placed on attendance probation for another block. Most of the time, this second six-week period helps the student change a poor behavior and gain a positive replacement behavior: acceptable, regular attendance.

However, if a student still cannot commit to coming to class daily, we place them on our waiting list for two blocks and ask them to look for another school that may be a better fit, GED program, straighten out personal problems, or get a job the student can commit to. If the student returns, we require them to have read a book (250 pages or greater) and write a five page book report. After handing in the report, the student thoughtfully discusses what he learned while he was not at our school. Only if the student commits to graduating by attending every day, do we ask the student to join us again.

When our returning teacher noticed a change in the culture, what he saw was students committed to attending class, following the rules, and committed to earning a high school diploma.

Kathleen Kullback is a licensed special educator with an M.A. in educational leadership and a former candidate to the Colorado State Board of Education.

Campus concerns about 44th President

On my Regis University campus radio show the week after the election, a caller presented me with a striking question: He asked me to address the “fear” that some Regis students have expressed in the aftermath of the election—fear of an Obama presidency. This was not the first time I had been informed of or heard Americans expressing abject fear about President-elect Obama taking office. It seems that many are feeling that way.

As a supporter of Sen. John McCain’s and, even more so, an opponent of Obama’s candidacy, I sympathize greatly with those who are worried about the direction of this country. I, too, am naturally disappointed in the Nov. 4 outcome, as well as concerned for the direction of this country. The United States has elected the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate to lead the nation with a left-wing Congress eager to do his bidding.

I worry about what the Democrats will do with the economy, healthcare, spending, Iraq, climate change—the list goes on. There is much for a free market-minded conservative to be concerned about.

Obama’s recent comments that “when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody,” gives great pause, especially in light of the way his tax plan is structured (taking from what he arbitrarily considers “rich” and redistributing it to 44% of American income tax filers who don’t pay income taxes).

Obama’s proposals to increase taxes on capital gains, corporations, Social Security and income would discourage the type of economic involvement required in a recessionary economy.

His intentions to negotiate with enemy nations “without preconditions” is certainly disconcerting, as is his support for FOCA, the “Freedom of Choice Act,” which would represent the most radical expansion of abortion rights since 1973, and “Card Check,” an act, which would revoke the right to a secret ballot in union elections, so radical that even George McGovern opposes it.

There is certainly justification for concern. Abject fear, however, is unwarranted, for politics and vigilance will provide the protection we need from extremely radical changes.

President-elect Obama is a very ambitious man, as evidenced in his rise to the Senate and then to the presidency after less than four years. Obama’s desire for reelection will help prevent against a sharp veer towards socialism due to his need to appeal to all sides.

That does not mean, however, that conservatives and Republicans can sit idly by as the Democrats use technology and Obama’s unrivaled communication skills to their advantage in introducing this country to institutions of yet bigger government, such as the President-elect’s healthcare plan. To do so would only embolden the liberal efforts.

As with FDR, who effectively secured four terms, anything Obama does can be tied to the economy—and he can succeed by using the Internet like FDR used radio. Therefore, in order to prevent some of the radical changes that might otherwise develop, conservatives need to remain active and vigilant in the fight for American principles. If we stand strong and ensure that our voices are heard, we will be a force to be reckoned with.

Those who did not vote for Sen. Obama must offer the “loyal dissent,” as Karl Rove put it. They must acknowledge when Obama is right, stand by him when it is required and respectfully hold him accountable when he does wrong. As Andrew Jackson said in his farewell address, “[Y]ou must remember, my fellow-citizens, that eternal vigilance by the people is the price of liberty, and that you must pay the price if you wish to secure the blessing. It behooves you, therefore, to be watchful in your States as well as in the Federal Government.”

President-elect Obama has said he will listen to those who disagree.

Let’s make certain that he does.

Jimmy Sengenberger is a political science student at Regis University in Denver, a 2008 honors graduate of nearby Grandview High School, a national organizer for the Liberty Day movement, aspiring radio host, and a columnist for the Villager suburban weekly.