For some Twin Cities kids who need a little extra seat time if we are to close the achievement gap, school started Monday. And in service to some stories that will appear soon in this space, I spent the day watching students meet their new teachers and learn their new routines.
I’m really excited about the forthcoming project, and so to buy myself some time to flesh it out I offer a few slender observations from my back-to-school foray.
First, and most felicitous, who says the school uniform — pragmatic, cheap, status eliminating and beloved by parents everywhere — has to be dull? Strictly speaking the pants and shirt may hew boringly khaki and navy, but the kicks positively blaze with self-expression.
An assist for the old-timers: Kicks are sneakers. The best are “ill” or “tight,” which this year equates to high-tops. Iridescent or metallic for girls, or at least dripping fuchsia laces. For boys, the puffier the better. Like almost moon boots.
Less pleasant: When I wander into my own kids’ relatively affluent schools I sometimes wonder, “What obesity crisis?” Or, “Am I the only parent who is so thrilled she actually remembered to pack a snack she could care less whether it’s organic?” Then this blog takes me to a school with hyper-concentrated poverty and I come crashing back to earth.
One-third are overweight
One-third of American children are now obese or overweight. Unless something is done, this generation of children is the first that is likely, on average, to be less healthy and live shorter lives than their parents.
And a new study found that teens in states with strict regulations about the sale of junk foods in school gained less weight than adolescents in states without the laws.
As my MinnPost colleague Susan Perry reported recently, 64 percent of Americans cite personal factors such as overeating, failure to exercise and TV consumption as the biggest causes of childhood obesity. Only 18 percent cite external factors including junk-food marketing, a lack of safe outdoor play spaces and neighborhoods bereft of healthy foods.
More than half of Minneapolis schoolchildren live in “food deserts,” regions of the city where impoverished families get most of their food from the likes of Super America. Half of the kids who eat school lunch come from communities like these; they get some 40 percent of their calories at school.
There are some terrific initiatives to put wholesome, unadulterated meals in front of local children. If you get to the end of this column and you’re hankering for more reading, how about revisiting my story about the new Minneapolis Public Schools chef who is sparking a culinary revolution — without a kitchen. Or about the blossoming “Farm to School” movement?
Few minority trainees end up teaching here
Finally, for all the criticisms that have been lobbed at the alternative teacher preparation pipelines by readers here and in lively forums such as the Contract for Student Achievement Facebook page, I think the most obvious one gets missed. Can we truly close the gap — which yawns not just in achievement but in opportunity and aspiration — with an overwhelmingly white teacher corps, no matter its talent?
It’s an issue that troubles local advocates of alternative teacher certification, including Daniel Sellers, who until a few days ago was president of Teach for America (TFA) Twin Cities. On the national level, 32 percent of TFA’s ranks are teachers of color, he said Monday when I reached him at his new job as head of the education reform group MinnCAN.
You’d never know this by looking at the makeup of the alternatively prepared teacher corps here, Sellers said. Partly that’s because TFA recruits get to state their preference for regions where they’d like to be placed, and few minority trainees pick Minnesota over markets like Atlanta and Miami.
The TFA outpost here is poised to start employing a strategy that has done wonders to diversify the corps in St. Louis and Atlanta, he added. Recruiters in those cities have had great success working with colleges and universities to introduce juniors and seniors to the classroom and to community leaders who will talk about the difference their talents can make.
Photo credit: MinnPost