The South Bronx: Just Do It

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Eric Stevenson

That has a familiar ring, doesn’t it?  And there is one more thing about politics in the 15th Congressional District as the Power and Politics Special Report on News 12 Bronx at 6 P.M. on Monday August 26, 2019 takes you on a visit of the candidates who are running.  Eric Stevenson will be there.  And my words to you are that the other candidates “Can’t Touch This (MC Hammer).” 

Title 1 Parent meetings usually have a sign in list of 25 or less.  At the National Black Violence Convention in Philadelphia. I mentioned that number and a woman fired back “twenty-five…how about fifteen?”  There could be fifty parents attending, but what if those parents continue to lead a school which is either failing or continues to fail or where ten percent of the students are proficient in English Language Arts and Mathematics?

When the leadership is keeping students back from learning many or lots of things that other students know, that is a big problem.  Let me turn to a conversation that I overheard years ago in Central Islip that will tell you what could be happening.  A teacher-aide spoke with a person she knew and said that when the Common Core was instituted in the state, the teacher could not keep up with the material to teach the students.  So they fell behind.  Then a deputy commissioner of education in Albany told me that 75 percent of the test that year was basic material and 25 percent was Common Core and that the students were failing because they did not know the basics.  I wrote to Governor Cuomo asking him to tell the public that, but it didn’t happen. 

Improving parent involvement is one of the keys to success, either by attending the school meetings or by using technology to reach the parents while the meetings are taking place or by providing the parent and his/her child with the material related to those basic and advanced things that the students still cannot perform.  There are lots of ways to master those things outside of the classroom and avoid what is known as “teaching to the test” but think of all the students that are not proficient on the 2019 test and think about helping them catch up as your favorite team has to catch up when it’s behind.

Let’s go back.  The G.E.D. test used to be designed using material that 40 percent of the students who were expected to graduate from high school on time could not answer.  You can see that those children in grades 3-8 already fall pretty much in that category of not knowing 40 percent (or more or less) of the material.  We can start to help those children catch up in September.

Here is a good example of what I mean taken from some of my old G.E.D. materials.  When I was still teaching in 1999, I would hand out to each student exactly what he or she had gotten wrong and I provided the pages in the G.E.D. that the person had to study to improve.

Algebra                                          Questions 1,4,6,10         Pages in GED book 194-241

Positive/Negative Integers              Question 4                        Pages in GED book 242, 244

Equations/Inequalities                     Questions 1,4,6,14          Pages in GED book 202-215

Application                                         Questions 6,16,17            Pages in the GED book 227-241

Powers and Roots                             Questions 13,22,25          Pages in the GED book 46-50

Geometry                                           Questions 20,22.24          Pages in the GED book 237-241

And the same thing was done for Science, Social Studies, Literature and the Arts, and Writing Skills.  Of course I was the only teacher of nine teachers doing that for the students and program suffered from vitamin deficiency.  Those students listened to everything that I said and they cracked up watching me eat Jamaican patties with Coco bread on Nostrand Avenue.  I have such fond memories.  And keep this in mind as well as we can begin to help the adults in the South Bronx.  I created a list of things that I placed on one sheet each for math, writing, social studies and science skills, and literature and the arts just as you see the information above, but I had a list of all my students and their needs on that sheet of paper.  When other teachers gave the Official Practice Test and put the results away after they were scored, I had a living plan of action always to address the weaknesses of my students.  Even as they walked in after several days of absence, I knew what to assign to them in an instant to make them stronger.  In the South Jamaica Houses I even gave out “Hip Hop” cards which were cards that I created to show mastery of the skills.   The students called me “Marty Hip Hop” and those cards impressed individuals that saved the cards for feeling proud and even one parent bought her daughter sneakers because of the cards that her daughter earned.  Long before George W. Bush gave us “No Child Left Behind,” nobody was left behind in my class.

The system that I developed made me much more productive than most teachers and I did not sit around during the lesson drinking coffee.  Students came first.  I know that some aspects of my methodology can be implemented at all grade levels in schools, but I really do not wish to see teachers teaching to the test.  When catching up is part of the strategy of providing help, tutoring is provided as it always has.  Technology and right choice of materials by teachers in school can be the biggest assist to bringing students to much higher levels of proficiency.  Just Do It!  As a quick comment about the Khan Academy

We need for community leaders to go into the Title 1 Parent meetings in the failing schools and speak up so that we can all unite to help the students all year long.  I know how tough it can be but it is about doing the right thing and not doing what appears to be the right thing.  We need that dialogue now so that history doesn’t almost exactly repeat itself in 2020 as the students take another test.  I feel that we can achieve greater gains by using the JDI Method.  Just Do It!

I want to see community leaders sign up to get things done in those schools and you can count on my support.  The flow of material to the home that hits the target long before the state tests and the increase in student achievement will result in hitting the bulls’ eye instead of missing the 2020 target altogether.

Passing a G.E.D. test with the minimum passing score or a low score is not the kind of proficiency demanded on the state tests (3-8 grades).  I knew back then that the GED book was like a Bible to be read all the time until all the material was mastered.  I have come across G.E.D, graduates who have tossed their book in the garbage after passing, but that was clearly the wrong thing to do.  I have to share another story that took place outside the Vatican in Rome as I was waiting to take a tour.  There was a Polish family on vacation standing with us (my wife and I) and I asked a youth a question and his answer in perfect English was “I’m on vacation.”  I respected him and stopped right there.   Remember that I am a professional with a vast amount of experience, but I wish he had engaged himself in that question that was about his education. 

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