Sunday, October 8, 2017

"Bring Our Chickens Home" Day

Today was Bring Our Chickens Home Day. I know this makes my chicken friends especially happy. For my education friends I'll continue to try to connect my thinking to the radical transformation of our public education system; it's actually not hard, as everything one experiences is learning, whether it be new learning or learning that is adjusted, refined or expanded. Brian Cambourne refers to the zone of proximal development when supporting children with new learning.  It's helpful to connect new learning to a child's strengths and approximations, something perhaps they've already tried or something they have a bit of knowledge about already; or something they are just on the brink of truly understanding and putting into practice.

For my family, we have some knowledge of raising chickens; if a farmer were to take a quick assessment of our greatest strength, in terms of raising animals right away on our little farm, chickens would be the go-to animal to pick - it's within our zone of proximal development.  We have a great chance of doing quite well with raising even more chickens. Our knowledge is in no way vast, as we have previously only raised city chickens - lovely spoiled rotten chickens who lived in a beautiful coop that looked like this!

Our new home is on a two acre plot with fairly unruly land. No one has gardened or raised animals on this land in ages. We have our work cut out for us.

Our new space for chickens isn't actually pretty compared to our city coop, our land isn't perfectly manicured, the coop is crazy old, and there's a lot of weeds to be cleared. We started our day by clearing out the coop - my husband did most of the work - it was full of dust, cobwebs, and wasps.  We then discovered that the roosts weren't chicken friendly. Chickens really prefer a roost that they can wrap their foot around and these roosts were thin and flat (you can see them below the large round roost we added today).
New roost 
If we let them run wild, they would sleep in trees at night, so the preference is something a bit like a tree branch to roost on. We found an old log and began measuring to see if it was the right size for the coop. Is it pretty? No :) But it works! Also, the little door that allows the chickens into the yard had no pulley, which means we would have to go inside the coop every morning and night and pull it open. Seems like a small thing, but these little tasks add up. Luckily my youngest son had a pulley kit that he had never used. We pulled it out and learned how to create a pulley for our little chicken door. Imagine children doing this at school? A pulley is a great thing to know about - you can pull things up with half the use of power!

And there's something fabulous I've discovered about old farmhouses (ours was built in 1905) - there are little treasures everywhere. We found wood, hook and eye sets, little S hooks and managed to rig together a system quite quickly. We got the pulley set up, a new roost intact, and the coop was ready to go.

We did a lot of reading about fencing before we picked out a fence. We had three things to think about - chickens escaping, predators getting inside, and simply considering how permanent we want this to be. If we hope to rotate the chickens in the various paddocks, permanent fencing would be a mistake. We ended up going with an electronet fence. It has a solar/battery charger and it gives off just enough shock to keep you away from it - we all tried it so we know :) And quite honestly, in terms of cost,  I would consider it to be the most cost effective fencing for our particular plan. We got 164 feet for about 175 bucks - and we can move it if we want to. We set it in a location that allows the chickens to get shade, sun, as well as dust baths and plenty of places to explore.

So - lots of learning, but learning that occurred within our zpd (zone of proximal development). My husband had drawn up plans and created our city coop from scratch. Here, with a chicken coop already in place, we had to figure out how to work with what we have. With a little pulley physics, measurement, a handy power drill and a fence post driver and a lot of reading, we pulled it off. It's just the beginning of our plans. We are going to expand the coop to allow us to have two sides - one for hens, and one for meat chickens. And yes yes yes, of course I'm going to paint and doing something to make it pretty!

I think about all the learning that went into getting our coop "chicken ready" today, and I wonder, why are we allowing the corporations to drive public education - when learning could be so different? Why aren't we demanding learning that is holistic, engaging, and allows children to research, be outside more, and be mentally, physically and emotionally engaged? Learning that connects them to the earth? Learning that connects them to solutions for our many many problems?  I wonder when the education revolution will occur - will the students lead it? Will they be so bored from the absolutely mind-numbing scripted online learning that they revolt? I fear with the direction the unions are going (normalizing charters and unionizing charter teachers and supporting ESSA), there's very little hope of a mass teacher uprising. Those that stand strong to demand all for all children are sadly chastised and labeled purists. It's an incredibly difficult world to navigate these days. I have immense respect for my teacher friends who are still pushing forward.

In the meantime, we have happy hens. We picked them up at the neighbors where they've been the last four months and there have been no complaints thus far. Happy Bring Our Chickens Home Day. Enjoy the pics my chicken friends!!!

Luke puts Mrs. Piggle Wiggle over the fence

Electronet fence

Happy happy chickens 


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Interregnum

I pulled up my blog a few days ago to see when I wrote my last entry. It was in March of 2017. Almost six months of no blogging! Very rare for me. I left my job in Aurora Public Schools in May of 2016. A lot has transpired in the last year and a half - for all of us. My dear friend Morna and I refer to this "space" we are in as the interregnum. You can find out more about the interregnum at Morna's blog educationalchemy.com .

The interregnum, in the simplest terms, is a gap. However, if you are interested in exploring the interregnum more there's some good information here. I think of it as a space in time where we must reposition ourselves, reflect, rethink and hopefully radically reorganize our vision for our world, our children, in an effort to salvage what is left. But also, to make it better in every facet we can imagine. It's a huge order. It's scary. It seems impossible. And there are many distractions right now. A lot of folks will simply say to you - seriously - it took you THIS long to see that this was needed? They were right.

As an activist I've had to rethink my role. As an educator I've had to rethink my role as well. I've been poking around trying to figure out where to go, where to land, and how to contribute. As I've been sitting in this interregnum I've been reflecting on what exactly I've done as an activist in my life. I haven't always been focused on education. As a child I actively protected friends who I felt had been judged unfairly, going so far as to steal their toys out of the teacher's desk and return them to the owner  - believing the teacher had no right to take something that wasn't hers. In kindergarten I skipped school one day. My first foray into schooling was unpleasant. The teacher yelled all day and I was miserable. So one day, I decided she had no right to my day, my time, my life, and I skipped. I played in the neighborhood and showed up  halfway through the day in an effort to protest this space and this person who left me feeling trapped and defenseless. Is that activism? I suppose any time we stand up for justice, our rights, for the rights of others, we are displaying an act of activism. In my thirties I was denied health insurance, as was my youngest son. I was told that because I had a c-section, I would be required to be "sterilized" (YES, they used THAT word - see here) if I had any hopes of getting health insurance. They told me my son couldn't be insured because, well, he was just too small. I, of course, lost it (see plates flying) - and filed complaints with the division of health insurance and soon found myself whisked off to DC to give testimony to help get health coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. My complaint to the division of health insurance sent me down an activist rabbit hole that truly, I never fully understood, as it wasn't ever my area of expertise. I recall being asked a question at the hearing, and knowing that my answer needed to be succinct and impactful - I'm pretty sure I failed on that point as I was really unaware of all the big players in the room. It was a political game and I was just beginning to really understand the corporate control in our country and how I would need to think big picture, research the details, and come up with clear strategies to fight back. Shortly after that I became involved in education activism, and well, this blog tells the rest of that story.

However, in the last year and a half, because times have changed, I haven't been able to figure out what my role is moving forward. ESSA was passed and a large portion of key education leaders (including the unions) stayed silent as this corporate takeover of the public schools rolled out. Relay Graduate School was ignored until it was too late. Charters have been normalized and unions plan to unionize charter teachers. Artificial intelligence is the name of the game in public education. Corporations are drooling over the opportunities to be had with social impact bonds.  Daily online testing is here. And truthfully, the push back has been inadequate - I include my own push back in this statement. I know a lot of people who want to push back, but they are struggling with exactly how to do it. It's so many fights on so many fronts. There is an idea shared in this post that could have an impact. Meanwhile, there has been a push to normalize these changes, and accept crumbs and compromise. There is a HUGE push to demand that our children behaviorally demonstrate acceptance of all these new changes to come. In other words, you better damn well like it or we will behaviorally modify you to make sure you LOOK and ACT like you like it. There was a reason ESSA included social-emotional data as a factor. It sure as hell isn't because someone cares about your child's feelings.

I have moved on, past my previous role within education activism, and am beginning to find a space in which I can contribute again. I don't know how not to write, as it's part of how I breathe. So, I'm breathing again and I'll let the words land here once more.

Let me give you a quick update, intro so to speak, so you can see where this blog is headed, if you are still reading at this point. My family left the city of Denver. We moved to the western slope of Colorado. We live in a tiny tiny town. My first instinct to move occurred while reading Micah White's book, The End of Protest.  He discusses the concept of moving to small rural areas and getting involved politically to rise up and reclaim our lives, our world. He believes that small towns are one way to begin to reclaim what is ours. Next, I had entered a space in which I knew I no longer could teach in the corporate, militant, abusive conditions that exist in the public schools. Finally, my husband had a career opportunity that came his way, and we took it. So here we are. Our goal is to create a self sustainable little farm. We are in a privileged position and I don't take that for granted.

We move into our house this week. It's an old farmhouse with two acres and we hope to work the land, teach our boys things I believe they should have learned in school, and meanwhile I'm going to do my best to write about our journey in a way that might contribute to thoughts and ideas about how schools could be radically transformed. I'm tired of watching the corporations take over every aspect of our lives; and I want to help my boys get a glimpse at more activist strategies that can be used to stop the corporate, incessant and calculated destruction of our lives and world.  If we have any hope of stopping Monsanto, every child needs to know how to grow a garden. I know my youngest child would rather be outside gardening then sitting in front of a computer testing day in and day out - why aren't we demanding these things as part of the curriculum? What parent would choose online testing over a school garden, if given this option? And I don't mean outsourcing like learning ecosystems. Heck no, I mean AT THE SCHOOL. Have you noticed that we are no longer given "options?" Technology owned by corporations are determining our children's fates.

I recall during my childhood days how 4H clubs were chuckled at a bit. There was this sense that farming and raising animals was not a valued skill among us cultured city folks.  My son will be in 4H here. I only wish I had been in 4H as a child. Yes, I will have to negotiate the far right and very white constituency that encompasses 4H but I also had to navigate through the Trump signs in my suburban neighborhood back in Denver as well as the confederate flag on the truck across the street.

I have so much to learn while I work my way through the interregnum. I use to absolutely cringe at the thought of raising animals for meat. After reading about how they are processed in these huge factories, and watching how they are jammed together while they are alive, I have changed my mind.  I, of course, had read about all this before while sitting in my city kitchen, but it wasn't ever present in my mind as it is now that I live in a rural area where I am surrounded by animals. I was detached from this reality.  I've decided that if I am going to eat meat and I actually have the opportunity to raise animals for meat in a humane fashion, then the responsible thing to do is to figure out how to do it - says the city girl who hates bugs and loves a good latte, and yes, on a few occasions let her city chickens come into the kitchen.  I am no longer on social media so I won't be sharing my blogs in that sense. I tried to get back on social media and found that it was just no longer productive for me. If you are reading this blog and you were a friend of mine on FB, I hope all is well with you. 

More soon....feel free to let me know what you are up to in the comment section, the more strategies we can share during this interregnum, the better.

For my education activist friends who are out there fighting their way through this interregnum, keep kicking ass.

And for my chicken friends, there will be pictures soon, many many pictures. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Jewell Elementary & Aurora Public Schools Skirt Law

Letter sent to Colorado State Board of Education, as well as media, senators who sponsored bill, Aurora Education Association, Aurora superintendent office and Aurora school board.

Dear Board Members,

I wrote to you last week concerning PARCC incentives that are occurring at Jewell Elementary in the Aurora Public School District. See here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/03/08/school-offers-incentives-to -get-kids-to-take-common-core-standardized-test/?utm_term=.ac09ab89615a 

The incentives are still moving forward. There is a lot to be concerned about here; it's clear that HB 15-1323 (often referred to as the opt out law) is not being followed. Jewell plans to exclude "opt out" students from PARCC rewards.

However, in addition to that, Jewell plans to have negative consequences for students who do not show great effort. How is effort determined? Trying to determine effort will be very subjective, and sadly, will impact children who need the most support. Children who have behavior issues, or simply can't sit still, may be punished simply because they cannot endure these long testing sessions. As a teacher, I can assure you that these testing sessions are brutally exhausting.

I am told that the word "extracurricular" is how Aurora is getting around the law. They believe prizes and celebrations for test participation do not count as "extracurricular."  Therefore, they believe there are no negative consequences for children. I am a bit floored by this attempt to twist the law. Raffles and parties which exclude children are clearly negative consequences for opt out children, regardless what one might think "extracurricular" refers to.

I looked up the definition of extracurricular and I'm pretty sure that raffles and parties do not fall within the normal routine of the school day at Jewell. For a district to attempt to skirt the law in such a manner is disgraceful.

I would really appreciate your help with this. If Aurora is allowed to do this, it sets a clear precedence for other districts. There should be no enticements for testing and children should not be punished for so-called low effort or opting out.  The "opt out" portion of the law is worthless if opt out children can be punished simply because someone has decided that prizes and parties are not considered extracurricular. Finally, punishing children who have "low effort" is cruel and targets our children with the most needs. This particular section of HB 15-1323 (see page 16) must be honored, otherwise more districts will move forward with such bribery and punishment.

Thank you for your help.

Sincerely,

Peggy Robertson
www.pegwithpen.com

Friday, March 10, 2017

Retweet to @aurorak12 please re: PARCC incentives at Jewell Elementary

If you read my post from last Sunday you will know that there is currently a PARCC incentive plan afoot in my former school, Jewell Elementary in the Aurora Public School District. The plan will reward students who show great effort on PARCC and who attend on all testing days. It will punish children who do not show great effort. It will punish students whose parents have opted them out.

As you can imagine, the children who don't show great effort will be the children who are struggling in some shape or form, whether it be due to problems at home, stresses at school, lack of food, fatigue, emotional and behavioral needs that are not addressed, the list goes on. So, our neediest children who test will be punished for lack of effort. The opt out students will be punished because their parents are refusing to allow their children to participate.

This week has been a week of attempting to shut this PARCC incentive plan down. You can read more about it in these links:

http://www.pegwithpen.com/2017/03/jewell-elementary-offers-parcc-cmas.html

Washington Post (Answer Sheet w/Valerie Strauss)

And Peter Greene did a nice piece about testing bribes here.

Currently there are lots of rumors running around so it's hard to know how this will be resolved. These PARCC incentives are not in compliance with the House Bill 15-1323 which was passed in 2015. There is some indication that Aurora believes they have skirted the law successfully because the PARCC incentives occur during school hours (HB 15-1323 states you cannot deny opt out students "extracurricular" activities, which apparently is being translated as activities after school). Jewell is planning raffle prizes and a party during school hours.

So, does that mean it's okay to punish children during school hours only? Not after school?

There are some rumors that Jewell might pull back from such a harsh stance and bend the policy a little. But the PARCC incentives will indeed remain.

This is not okay. Our children are not dogs to be given treats. Our children should not be taught that compliance is the best policy. Our children should not be taught that this test has any value whatsoever to a child's life. As Stephen Krashen states regarding these tests, "The tests only serve to enrich the oligarchy. There is no evidence that they help students."

There is plenty of evidence that they harm students.

Senator Holbert and Senator Kerr are looking into this - they both sponsored HB 15-1323. Hopefully we will hear more on this soon.

In the meantime, I would appreciate any help tweeting to @aurorak12 as well as media. You can find me on Twitter @PegwithPen. Feel free to retweet my tweets or simply create your own. We must continue to push back against policies which harm children.

Many many thanks to all of you.

Peg

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Jewell Elementary offers PARCC (CMAS) Incentives

On Friday, March 3rd, Jewell Elementary parents received a letter regarding PARCC incentives. Yes - it's THAT time of year. Many Colorado schools refer to PARCC as CMAS. 

To catch new readers up to speed before I launch into the information about PARCC incentives, let me give you a quick recap. I taught at Jewell Elementary for four years. The first three years were absolutely amazing. We were working hard to become an inquiry-based democratic school. All of our hard work came crashing down in the 2015-2016 school year when we became a Relay Leadership School. All of our work, our beliefs, our identity, were erased, and we were mandated to follow the new mantra via Relay.  My position at Jewell was eliminated last year.

Needless to say, this year, 2016-2017, things have grown worse. Relay policies play a large role in the instruction at Jewell Elementary.  Teachers have minimal time to plan - most planning time is dictated. Children must now come in earlier to eat breakfast, and therefore teachers lose planning time in the morning. And of course, testing is everything. And now it is PARCC season.

The letter Jewell Elementary parents received Friday discusses two "recognition systems" that will be used during PARCC testing. One recognition system is a raffle. Students will receive tickets for attendance during testing days and tickets for putting forth their best effort on the PARCC test. At the end of  PARCC, the children's tickets will be used to raffle off baskets of goodies. Parents have been asked to donate items for the baskets, although the letter states that donations are not required. The letter specifically states that only "new" items can be donated for the basket - and that items should be five dollars or less.

The second recognition is an "Attendance and Effort Party" which will take place in April, when PARCC is finally done. Only students who have attended all testing days AND have put forth their best effort will be allowed to attend the party. The party will include games, treats, music and a bouncy castle.

I could write a complete thesis on why this is so wrong on so many levels - I'm sure many of my readers could do so as well. However, today I'm simply going to share the Colorado law, House Bill 15-1323 , signed by the governor on May 20th, 2015. 

This law specifically states:

(b) IF A PARENT EXCUSES HIS OR HER STUDENT FROM PARTICIPATING IN A STATE ASSESSMENT, A LOCAL EDUCATION PROVIDER SHALL NOT IMPOSE NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES, INCLUDING PROHIBITING SCHOOL ATTENDANCE, IMPOSING AN UNEXCUSED ABSENCE, OR PROHIBITING PARTICIPATION IN EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES, ON THE STUDENT OR ON THE PARENT.

Therefore.....

Students whose parents opt them out must be allowed to attend school.

Opt out students cannot be listed as unexcused.

Students who opt out CANNOT be prohibited from participating in extracurricular activities - such as raffles and little parties with bouncy castles.

Furthermore, as I reported last year, districts must have in place a policy to allow parents to opt their children out of tests. Aurora's policy last year was almost impossible to find.

HB 15-1323 states:
(8) (a) EACH LOCAL EDUCATION PROVIDER SHALL ADOPT AND IMPLEMENT A WRITTEN POLICY AND PROCEDURE BY WHICH A STUDENT'S PARENT MAY EXCUSE THE STUDENT FROM PARTICIPATING IN ONE OR MORE OF THE STATE ASSESSMENTS ADMINISTERED PURSUANT TO SECTION 22-7-1006.3.

The law has a lot more information as well, including how parents should be informed of what tests are being taken and so on - see pages 14-16.

I am told that other schools in the Aurora Public School District are also offering incentives for PARCC.

My heart goes out to the students and teachers who are being forced to adhere to these mandates which destroy true learning while filling the pockets of the corporations. I hope that parents will refuse to allow their children to participate in PARCC (and all other corporate testing) so that the teachers at Jewell can be allowed to teach. Parents, Jewell teachers are quite capable of telling you about your child's strengths and next steps without these corporate tests.

And bouncy castles and raffles? Please, don't insult the children and don't insult the teachers. Sadly the mantra in the public schools now is compliance to the corporate testing machine. 

I was lucky enough to teach before NCLB, I remember what teaching and learning truly can be.  If you are interested in seeing where the testing machine is headed, I recommend reading this post I wrote last year - The Opt Out Irony. Next, I recommend keeping a close eye on the blog Wrench in the Gears.


Jewell teachers, wishing you well. I miss you and the children.  Let's hope Jewell leadership quickly drops these ridiculous PARCC incentives. You deserve better. Parents - please opt your children out of these tests.