Thursday, October 30, 2014

Third Grade Scholars Get Keyed Up Over Keyboards

On Thursday night, the entire third grade received keyboards to take home and practice throughout the year. This program is the only one of its kind in the country!

Scholars were so excited that they arrived 30 minutes early for the special night. 

Dasheawn, seen here in the middle, said that he and his fellow scholars are excited to learn how to play the real keyboard after practicing from a book at the beginning of the school year using special gloves with numbers on each finger.  

What will the scholars be playing from now on? 

What Mr. Rachdouni teaches them, of course. But in their spare time, scholars said that they want to learn something by Jason Derulo... oh, and Hot Cross Buns, which was a second grade favorite. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Dean of Culture Jonathon Acosta Guest Blogs about Diversity

You may remember Jonathon from his BVP Musings blog this past summer.

Be sure to read his take on the importance of diverse schools in his post for The Century Foundation!

You can read more here.

Monday, October 20, 2014

An awesome trip to YESPrep!

Everything is BIGGER in Texas. And with more than a dozen schools and plans to keep growing, YESPrep is no exception.  

This morning I had the chance to catch up with former BVP staffer Steven Corrales who now helps lead school operations support for the Broad Prize winning school network.  Together, with BVP board member and Central Falls Mayor James Diossa, we tried to lure Steven back to the biggest little state in the union.  What we got instead was a fantastic tour of a great school.

In fact, it is really easy to understand Steven's love for his new work home. Many elements should be very familiar: great instruction, academic rigor, college prep culture, and sufficient time.  During our student-led tour we saw all of these elements, and more.  My notes are filled with both validation of our work at BVP and some new ideas on building long-term cultural routines such as how they celebrate college acceptances (it looks like banging on this and signing like this).

More importantly, we had great conversations with our senior guide and the college counseling team.  The amount of planning and support around college that begins in 9th grade, and even younger, was validating of the great work of Jonathan Santos Silva and Dave Jose, and a reminder of how big and important college counseling really is.

When we got in our car to head to Whataburger (a Texan improvement on McDonalds, but a far cry from Stanley's), I told the Mayor the tour was a waste of time.  Based on what I wrote above, he looked at me like I was nuts.  (He’s right, I am crazy).  But honestly, when we arrived on campus we learned everything we needed to know in the parking lot.  As we pulled in, a parent was leaving the building.  Stopping her with my broken Spanish, the mom responded in her broken English to my question of whether or not she liked the school.  The Mayor kindly translated, and for five minutes she praised the expectations, culture, safety of the school.  She talked about her aspirations for her son, and how happy her entire family is to have the opportunity of YESPrep.

And that’s how I started my day.  How about you?

Executive Director

Thursday, October 9, 2014

From Texas to Rhode Island: My Journey to BVP

by Andie Parazo, Talent Recruitment Associate

Like many first-generation college students, I had little knowledge of how to succeed in college and no one to turn to for help. I had no idea what to do with my life until I took Sociology of Education. I strongly identified with my professor’s background and her struggles; not only did she have curly dark hair and tan skin like I have, but she came to the US with little English and no money, just like my family. I grew to aspire to achieve just as much as she achieved. During class, she told me why I didn’t see people like me-- people with immigrant parents, people who look like me, etc.-- in college. I left each class with a strong desire to make change and positively impact my community through education. I couldn’t sit around while people from my races didn’t have the resources to finish high school and had no opportunity to go to college. I knew I had to do something. 

When I graduated from college, I became a teacher at a charter school in Houston, Texas. I loved my kids, but I didn’t receive the support I needed, and the impact that I wanted to make wasn’t in the classroom. I wanted to learn more about how to reduce disparities between students of color and their white peers, so I left my teaching job in July, packed my bags, and drove to Massachusetts to start a year-long master’s program in education and to intern at Boston Public Schools as a Teacher Diversity Intern. There, I found some answers.

In graduate school, my belief that teachers are the change-makers became rooted in research. Numerous studies show that one way to create positive change for students of color is to have more teachers of color. Not only do teachers of color have unique knowledge of the experiences of scholars of color, but they are more likely to have cultural competence (many white teachers have this as well) and serve as role-models for students of color. Studies also show that, across the country, we lack teachers of color and teachers with diverse experiences. I decided I wanted to work at an organization that values teachers of color and teachers with diverse experiences.

At BVP, I am constantly held to high expectations (which studies show isn’t the case for persons of color everywhere) and given the tools to surpass those expectations. Most importantly, I’m no longer the sole advocate for diversity like I am in most settings that I am a part of, and I am part of an organization that values the diverse and nuanced perspective that I’ve gained. Each day, I’m glad that the scholars at BVP can benefit from having teachers who are making efforts to value instead of neutralize differences.

As a Talent Recruitment Associate first and foremost, I want to find the best teachers for our scholars. My hope is that each new hire for the 2015-16 school year will not only have quality teaching skills, but will be culturally responsive and value the diversity that BVP has to offer. This, I admit, is a difficult task, and I face obstacles daily. Motivation to overcome these obstacles, however, comes easily; when I start to struggle at work, I think about how I didn’t have a teacher that I could relate to until I got to college, and how through our similarities, that teacher inspired me to create positive change. Even though this work is challenging, I know that every scholar deserves a teacher in every classroom who can do the same for them. 

As we kick off our recruitment season, I also invite you to help support this work.  You can see new job postings on our career portal. Please consider sharing relevant postings with your networks. Thank you for helping us find rockstar teachers and leaders for the scholars we serve.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Safety Matters

As the parent of three children, I know first-hand what it is like to send a child off to the unknown.  Sure, my two older ones now are at BVP, so I get to drop in on them on occasion.  But my youngest goes to a local pre-k.

Some days when I drop my baby off, she runs to her friends and barely says goodbye.  Sometimes, however, when I drop her off, she clings to my leg and cries "Daddy, I want to stay with you!" I am at once devastated and a little touched.  I'm sad that she’s upset for whatever reason, usually it’s because I forgot to pack her blankie or something... but, honestly, isn't it awesome when another human being squeezes you super hard and refuses to let go?!

On a day like today, when my phone is abuzz with parents and staff reaching out regarding the news reports (here and here), I think about the nearly 1,200 scholars whose parents put their trust in BVP.  Indeed, every morning parents are trusting their most prized possessions to our team... and I feel the weight of that responsibility.

Fortunately, I also know that everyone is working incredibly hard to ensure our scholars are safe.  I have confidence in our team at BVP, I have confidence in our local and state public safety officials, and ultimately, I have confidence in our collective capacity as a community to come together and support one another.  As a parent of two BVP scholars, I sleep well at night knowing that we have an amazing team that is implementing best practices.  Like every school in Rhode Island, we plan for various emergencies, including lock-down drills, evacuation drills, and fire drills.  Moreover, we regularly check-in with public safety officials to review our plans.

As we move forward, if there is anything substantial regarding safety to report, I will share it with the BVP community.  In the meantime, today, like everyday, our team is focused on supporting every scholar on their path to college - and safety is our utmost concern.  

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Today I Got Schooled by Third Graders

by Jen LoPiccolo

I had just sat down to put the finishing touches on a grant when my calendar reminder popped up to tell me if I didn’t leave right then, I was going to be late for ES1 Town Hall.  I thought for a few seconds about blowing it off, knowing that if I kept working on the grant, I would be able to hit send and check it off my growing to-do list.  Still, I made a promise to my son that I would be there.  Torn, I grabbed my coat and headed out in the pouring rain. 

When I arrived, I was one of several family members greeted by smiling excited scholars dressed as farmers, chickens and even kittens (compliments of Farm Day). Mr. Porteous was beating the drum rhythmically, inviting us to join in on the fun.  Very quickly, I began to realize I was exactly where I needed to be...the grant application could wait a few hours.

But it gets better.  The first items of business were classroom chants.   

One class proudly chanted, “our class is just dynamite” immediately followed by the BVP-famous “firecracker” cheer. 

Next was a cheer set to the lyrics of a pop song, “Best Day of My Life” only scholars recited confidently, “College ready-got no doubts. Success is what it’s all about. This is the gonna be the best year of my life.”  Success IS what it’s all about!

Shout outs followed each classroom chant, designed to put a spotlight on scholars who exemplified BVP PRIDE values this week.  It never gets old to watch scholars cheer for each other when those name are called, as if they too had received a shout out.  In truth, I am often reminded that the adults watching can take a few pointers from this back into our own lives. 

And last but definitely not least, was a chant written to the tune of Journey’s, “Don’t Stop Believing.”  Have you got the tune in your head? Okay, you may continue reading.

Just a four town school
Where education’s super cool
She took the learning train
Goin’ college bound
Just a city boy
Born and raised in Central Falls
He took the learning train
Goin’ college bound

Pretty awesome, right?

I awoke this morning to Google alerting me to yet another article in which BVP was mentioned.  I have to admit, I paused for a moment and took a deep breath before I opened the email (because not all articles are as encouraging as this one). Now when I read it again, colored by the recent inspiring words of our scholars, I am reminded that I can’t stop believin’. YOU can’t stop believin’ either! If we can remain focused on the long game, supporting our students on their learning train, we can find the courage and inspiration to solve just about any challenge that comes our way.  

The 3rd graders sang the chorus of their new (and improved) Journey tribute even louder :
Don’t stop achievin’
Hold on to that feelin’
Clever scholars
Don’t stop achievin’

Wow, would missing that have been a mistake!  I am so grateful today (and every day) to our teachers and scholars for schooling me in what’s important. 

Now, back to the grant...

Jen began her career as an English teacher in rural North Carolina.  Prior to her current role as Director of External Affairs at Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy, she spent more than 10 years between Louisiana and Texas working in a variety of roles in the non-profit and charter sectors.  Jen is a member of Leadership Rhode Island’s Theta II class, a Teach For America alum, and the proud mom of two BVP scholars.