Colorado

Aurora ‘Pathways’ students get head start

Janet Mensah isn’t exactly Doogie Howser but, like the prodigal TV doctor, she has already been accepted to medical school. Just 18, she knows she wants to become a gastroenterologist.

Aurora students Ona Kola-Kehinde, left, and William Damon, explain pulse oximetry in a mock hospital room on Thursday.

Of course she has to graduate from high school first, which she’ll do this spring, from Aurora’s William Smith. She’s been accepted into the BA/BS-MD program at the University of Colorado Denver so once she’s received her bachelor’s degree, she’ll go straight into her medical studies.

But in one sense, she’s already commenced her medical work. She’s enrolled in the Health Careers pathways program at her school. Her first class was Introduction to the Medical Sciences, followed by a class in Human Body Systems, and a class in Medical Interventions. She discovered her interest in the digestive system – and gastroenterology – in the Human Body Systems class.

“While many students are still trying to decide their career paths, I already know mine,” she said Thursday, while speaking to a crowd of adults gathered to celebrate the district’s Academic and Career Pathways program.

“Life changes, and I’ll change”

“Life changes, and I’ll change,” she said later, assessing the wisdom of settling on a medical specialty before she even gets out of high school. “But I’m convinced I’ll still want to do this.”

Janet Mensah, a student at Aurora's William Smith High School, is interested in a career as a gastroenterologist.

Aurora Superintendent John Barry likes to point to students such as Mensah when skeptics wonder whether the district’s ground-breaking career-focused curriculum is really working.

“This is clear evidence of the unique things in Aurora Public Schools,” he said at the gathering, meant to showcase the work students are doing in the four career pathways: Health Sciences; Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM); Business; and Arts and Communication. “What we’re seeing today is unique in the nation.”

Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia praised the district for advancing the notion of “P-20” education, shorthand for an integrated education system that extends from preschool through graduate school. In Aurora, students can start taking career pathways classes as early as elementary school.

“Colorado does have a national reputation as a leader in P-20, and Aurora is one of the leading districts in the state in demonstrating what’s possible,” he said. “Schools need to partner with the business community so we’re not just handing kids off, not knowing if they’re really prepared to be successful in the workforce.”

Students can sample a variety of careers

Students are able to jump from career track to career track, as well as taking their core academic classes. That’s because it’s just as important to figure out early on what they’re not interested in pursuing as to figure out what they are interested in, Barry said.

Rangeview High School students Brandi Cameron and Stephen Francoeur exhibit the circuit board project they created in their Digital Electronics class.

Brandi Cameron, a 17-year-old student at Rangeview High School, was showing off the circuit board she designed in her Digital Electronics class. Her task was to design a schematic and build a functioning miniature drawbridge, using binary computer code.

She has loved this experience in engineering. But she considers herself “undecided” when it comes to her career path. She’s really leaning toward medicine.

“I’m doing an internship at a hospital next year,” she said. “But I love working with circuits and engineering, and one day, if I decide I don’t want to go into medicine, I’ll have all this engineering experience to fall back on. Plus, this class has made me a lot more organized.”

Alex Santana, 16, a student at Vista Peak, wants to become a pastry chef. He wants to own his own business. “But before that can happen, I’ve got to grow my education,” he said. “I’ve got to learn more about the stock market.” That’s why he’s in the Business pathway program at Vista Peak.

So far, he’s not only learned about the stock market and managing a portfolio, he’s become certified in Microsoft Word, Excel and Power Point programs, as well as becoming a certified blogger. “I’m much closer to my dream by being able to create and use the technical documents,” he said.

Medical careers a popular option

In one corner of the room at the district’s Professional Learning and Conference Center, students had set up a mock hospital room, and Health Careers students were showing off some of the skills they’d learned.

Learn more

Seventeen-year-old Damon Williams, a William Smith student, was explaining how a pulse oximeter works, using a computerized mannequin of a baby.

“I got to work side by side with an RN at Children’s Hospital,” he said later, after explaining the process. “We had patients come in with all sorts of different things. I saw a case where an infant came in who was believed to be affected by bed bugs.”

Williams, too, is an aspiring doctor. “I already knew I wanted to study medicine,” he said. “This has just helped me know more about what it will be like. It’s been a very enriching experience.”

Brittany Wright, a 17-year-old Aurora Central student, isn’t envisioning a career as a physician. “I got to intern at a lab where we made vaccines,” she said. “I think this pathway can help you work in any medical career.”

Hinkley High School student Ona Kola-Kehinde, 17, is also looking to a career in medicine, and he’s grateful for this time of early preparation. “Right now, you can mess up a little,” he said. “I’m having fun right now. Later on, it will be time to get serious.”

union power

Charter teachers won big in nation’s first strike. What now?

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff / Chalkbeat
Teachers from Acero charter schools in Chicago protest stalled negotiations Oct. 24, 2018, as they readied to vote on authorizing a strike.

Some 500 unionized teachers joined in the nation’s first charter strike last week, and succeeded in negotiating wage increases, smaller class sizes and a shorter school day. Their gains could foreshadow next year’s citywide contract negotiations — between the Chicago Teachers Union, with its contract expiring in June, and Chicago Public Schools.

“The issue of class size is going to be huge,” said Chris Geovanis, the union’s director of communications. “It is a critically important issue in every school.”

Unlike their counterparts in charters, though, teachers who work at district-run schools can’t technically go on strike to push through a cap on the number of students per class. That’s because the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act defines what issues non-charter public school teachers can bargain over, and what issues can lead to a strike.

An impasse on issues of compensation or those related to working conditions, such as length of the school day or teacher evaluations, could precipitate a strike. But disagreements over class sizes or school closures, among other issues, cannot be the basis for a strike.

The number of students per class has long been a point of contention among both district and charter school teachers.

Educators at Acero had hopes of pushing the network to limit class sizes to 24-28 students, depending on the grade. However, as Acero teachers capped their fourth day on the picket line, they reached an agreement with the charter operator on a cap of 30 students — down from the current cap of 32 students.

Andy Crooks, a special education apprentice, also known as a teacher’s aide, at Acero’s Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz school and a member of the teachers bargaining team, said that even having two fewer students in a classroom would make a huge difference.

“You really do get a lot more time with your students,” Crooks said. “And if you are thinking about kindergarten in particular, two less 5-year-olds really can help set the tone of the classroom.”

In district-run schools, classes are capped at 28 students in kindergarten through third grade, and at 31 students in fourth through sixth grade. But a survey by the advocacy group Parents 4 Teachers, which supports educators taking on inequality, found that during the 2017-2018 school year, 21 percent of K-8 classrooms had more students than district guidelines allowed. In 18 elementary school classrooms, there were 40 or more students.

The issue came up at last week’s Board of Education meeting, at which Ivette Hernandez, a parent of a first-grader at Virgil Grissom Elementary School in the city’s Hegewisch neighborhood, said her son’s classes have had more than 30 students in them. When the children are so young and active — and when they come into classrooms at so many different skill levels — “the teachers can’t handle 30 kids in one class,” she told the board.

Alderman Sue Garza, a former counselor, accompanied Hernandez. She also spoke before the board about classroom overcrowding — worrying aloud that, in some grades at one school in particular, the number of students exceeded the building’s fire codes. (Board chair Frank Clark said a district team would visit the school to ensure compliance fire safety policies.)

While the Chicago Teachers Union aren’t technically allowed to strike over class sizes, the union does have a history of pushing the envelope when it comes to bargaining.

Back in 2012, when the Chicago Teachers Union last went on strike, they ended up being able to secure the first limit on class sizes in 20 years because the district permitted the union to bargain over class size.

They also led a bargaining campaign that included discussion over racial disparities in Chicago education and school closures, arguing that these trends impacted the working conditions of teachers.

“Even if you can’t force an employer to bargain over an issue, you can push them to bargain over the impact of an issue,” Bob Bruno, a labor professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, explained.

The Chicago Teachers Union also emerged from its 2012 negotiations with guarantees of additional “wraparound services,” such as access to onsite social workers and school counselors.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?