Student Voice: Robyn Gully, A Ramsay High School Senior

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Robyn in Washington, D.C.

This student piece was written by Robyn Gulley, a student at Ramsay High School. She has a long list of notable accomplishments and accolades and tells a very compelling story about her travelling experiences, her education, working with Ed, and her future goals. Read on to see what she had to say. 

        My name is Robyn Gulley and I am currently a senior at Ramsay High School. Seventeen years ago, June 18,  my twin sister and I were born in Houston, Texas at the South Memorial Hospital. Early during my childhood, I learned that life had its seasons. When I was 9 years old, my mother got pneumonia & her immune system was not strong enough to fight it off. The last time I saw my mother breathing she was not only in a lot of pain, but she could barely breathe so we rushed her to the emergency room. Little did I know that I’d never get to tell her “I love you” or even “goodbye” again. Continue reading

7/25/15: Ed’s First Annual Network Gathering

This past Saturday, we hosted our first ever (and in the future, annual) Ed Network Gathering with 200 of our closest friends in the Birmingham community. Students, parents, educators, and partners joined us at Social Venture in Woodlawn to celebrate success stories and share information about how to work together to improve outcomes for students in Birmingham City Schools. We had a blast – check out the pictures below to see for yourself. Continue reading

Getting To Know Our Families: Shasheema McKinney, South Hampton Elementary parent

1We believe that Birmingham has a rich history and a bright future and we are reminded of that everyday in our interactions with students and their families.

Take Shasheema McKinney, for example — born, raised, and educated in Birmingham, Shasheema is intricately a part of the history of our city and shares some of the experiences her children are now living.  Continue reading

Getting to Know Our Families: D’Anntoinette Johnson, Tuggle Elementary

IMG_3078I have to make a confession.

That first time I showed up to Tuggle Elementary to talk to Ms. D’Anntoinette Johnson about the upcoming student talent show, I asked for “Ms. Johnson, the teacher.”

When I first met Johnson, only a few weeks before, she stood up during the Marketplace at Tuggle’s Network Night requesting volunteers to help her organize and promote the upcoming event, and I took her up on her offer, unconsciously assuming she was faculty at the school. But this is the beauty of the Network and of the unique environment that Principal Teresa Ragland has fostered at her school: one that is filled with parents and regular volunteers who have integrated themselves seamlessly into the fabric of the school and are taking advantage of every opportunity, using their own skills, talents, and passions to contribute to student success.

Since that night, Johnson – a mother of four and Vice President of Membership for the Tuggle PTA – has been spending the last month nurturing her dream of organizing a talent show for the students of Carrie A Tuggle Elementary. As you might guess, one of Johnson strengths is the sense of personal responsibility and determination that characterizes her work on this project.  In addition to raising four sons between the ages of 21 and 3, she is also currently working to finish her bachelor’s degree. “It has been a personal goal of mine since high school,” she says, “and I want to lead my sons by being an example to them.”

For the talent show, Johnson and others first asked students to audition and then chose 13 students to participate in 10 acts. Since then, students have been practicing after school to refine their performances and get feedback.

IMG_3084On Tuesday, fifth-grade students Esmerelda and Kiara are deep in discussion, meditating on the modifications they are making to their performance in the hallway outside the gym.  “Our teacher suggested changing some of the moves,” says Esmerelda, “So we are practicing those new steps today.”

“We are really excited to show our talents,” says Kiara. “It’s the first time Tuggle has had a Talent Show and we are glad to be a part of that.”

While Johnson stands out as the lead on planning for the talent show, however, she acknowledges that the process has been a group effort.

I am so overwhelmed by the number of people who want to help,” she says. “Having our community contribute means they have a real interest in this event, and in our school, in our students. It is a really great feeling.”

fylerDuring the Marketplace – a dedicated part of the Network space during which members can make an offer or request, and people make exchanges in real time – Johnson’s request was met with an extremely positive response. Many people, like Tuggle alum Denzel Plump, offered to participate in the event itself as a judge.

The Tuggle Talent show will take place this coming Friday at 4:30pm. Judges will include Plump; Donnell Humes from State Farm; Ed Community Partnerships Director Marshall Pollard; Cynthia Northorp, Tuggle faculty; and Birmingham City Councilor Lashunda Scales. Tickets for students are $2 in advance and $3 at the door; tickets for adults are $5 and $7, respectively.

“I wanted to give students a opportunity to show off their talents and receive positive praise,” says parent D’Anntoinette Johnson. “I’ve been wanting to do something like this for a long, long time, so when I got the green light, I ran with it.”

Educator Spotlight: Laura West, Hudson K-8 School

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Laura West’s students recently received a reply from President Obama after sending him some letters of their own.

Ask yourself: when was the last time I got a personal letter from the President of the United States?

If you’re lucky enough to be a student in Laura West’s seventh-grade English Language Arts class, the answer is: last month.

After working with Ed as a Teacher Connector at Hudson K-8 and participating in the school’s first Network Night, West encouraged her students to raise their voices, too, by writing to Obama to express their concerns about violence in their community and the implications of national concerns about police brutality toward black teens. The Commander in Chef received letters from over 75 students, and, as most people would do, he sent a letter back.

And that’s it for this month’s Educator Spotlight!

Just kidding.

As tempting as it is to let this wonderful story stand alone, and as moving as that anecdote is, there is so much more to Laura West that deserves recognition.

My philosophy for K-12 education is that students learn best from first-hand experience,” says West. “I am trying to make learning fun for my students, to brush off the idea that learning must be quiet and only take place while seated in a desk.”

West began her teaching career in Nigeria, spending a full school year there before coming to Hudson K-8 in August 2013. West holds a BA in History from Auburn University and an MA from Virginia Tech. She says she consciously designs curriculum units around topics that she believes will interest and empower her students.

“When we first started reading about Human Trafficking,” she says, “My students were a bit confused by the idea that modern-day slavery exists. Now, they are well versed on the issue and are activists in their own right. In this way, I hope to engage my students academically, but then push them to think about similar circumstances and issues in the world around them.”

West's call to action to be Revolutionary is a notion that her 7th graders take seriously.

West’s call to action to Be Revolutionary is a notion that her 7th graders take seriously.

West takes the responsibility for the education of her students very seriously, knowing that the language skills she cultivates in them now will have a huge impact on their lives. “I believe a strong vocabulary is a powerful tool for students. It will help them become stronger readers, writers, and enable them to articulate their thoughts in more profound ways,” West says. “So far this year, they have learned 150 grade-level vocabulary words and you’ll overhear them in the hallways using them in their everyday conversations like, ‘Those are counterfeit!’ and ‘I don’t know why he’s lurking in the hallway.'”

As the Network has begun to take hold at Hudson and surrounding schools, West has noticed that students are speaking up for what they want and talking about the ways in which Hudson could improve. It is the beginning of a very powerful dialogue in which even the littlest learners can be empowered to make change in their community and know that their opinions are valued.

In fact, West said her favorite memory from Network Night was watching one of her current students interact with community leaders and out-of-state visitors, such as a group of college students visiting from Washington and Lee University, exchanging email addresses and promising to follow-up.

“As his teacher, I stood in awe of my student who so boldly made himself a part of a situation that could have been overwhelming for the typical twelve year old,” West says. “Instead, he rose to the occasion and expanded his own cultural exposure by effortlessly connecting with people hailing from so many different cultural, economic, and racial backgrounds. You can’t help but wonder what they’ll do next.”

Getting to Know Our Families: Clara Flores, Tuggle Elementary

Flores and family at home.

Flores and family at home.

Upon arriving at the home of Señora Clara Flores, her children Nikolas and Allen greet me before we sit at the family table. The conversation is easy, natural, as we discuss our lives and exchange casual jokes before getting onto a thread about education.

Flores was a stand-out participant at the recent Raise Up! event at Tuggle Elementary, and when asked about her experience, she is quick to say how impressed she was with the community’s expression of strength and unity – and specifically, unity across cultures. Continue reading