Tag Archives: Trevor G. Browne High School

An hour is not enough

Erahm Christopher at Trevor Browne High School Friday.

Story and photos by Daniel Friedman

Bullying is a big issue in the media and on school campuses. When I was a kid, a bully was someone who sought you out, harassed, harangued and beat you up for no other reason than because they could and took delight in it. Normally though, friends came to your aid and/or the bully would catch a fist to the nose or some other humiliation and the problem would go away.

The auditorium at Trevor Browne with the video screen to show the Teen Truth Live video. (photo is a composite of two images)

Charles Calhoun, an Arizona Special Olympics athlete spoke about how he had been excluded because of his disability.

I went to an assembly at Trevor G Browne High School Friday led by Erahm Christopher of Teen Truth Live. Though bullying was the buzzword upon which the assembly was advertised, the definition of bullying was enlarged to encompass many behaviors found in a school setting. Slides during the video included, “Spreading a Rumor is Bullying”, “Excluding someone is Bullying”, as well as the obvious, “A Physical Attack is Bullying.” Just the rumor aspect alone would label nearly everyone as a bully.

I talked to Erahm after the assembly and he said that bullying is the hot button so principals want to see bullying in the title of the presentation. That’s he says we ”get our foot in the door and deliver our message.”

His message was that kids feel alienated and disconnected from their peers and from their parents. They have no one to turn to except maybe other students who are equally disconnected and in the extreme case act out their aggression. The only way to make things better was to be a positive force in the community by doing something as simple as not calling someone a name, or making fun of them for their appearance, background or disability. And to say something, tell someone and do something if there is a problem. It sounded a lot like “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

Chelsy Essig, a senior at Trevor Browne spoke about being bullied because she was different. Chelsy is part of the Arizona Special Olympics Project Unify.

Christopher started his mission of building community after the Columbine shooting in 1999 when he found that kids just wanted someone who would listen to them.

In Michael Moore’s documentary on the Columbine shootings and the culture of guns and violence in America, “Bowling for Columbine”, the rock musician Marilyn Manson, whose violent stage persona has been blamed for violent behavior, is asked what he would have said to students at Columbine. His response is probably the most logical of anyone Moore interviewed in the documentary, says, “I wouldn’t say a single word to them. I would listen to what they have to say, and that’s what no one did.”

That was Erahm’s message to the students at Trevor Browne, North High and North Canyon, the three schools he visited during his swing through the Valley: Tell someone how you are feeling before you do something you’ll regret. And to the community as a whole take the time to pay attention to the people in their community, as people are hurting and need to be included. Hence the notion that exclusion is bullying.

Christopher related his experience from high school how he had been physically threatened by another student and was on the verge of taking a shotgun to school but as luck would have it his brother noticed something was wrong, looked in his gym bag where he had stashed the gun, stopped him. His brother said, “Why didn’t you say anything?” His parents were told, they called the police and the boy who had threatened Erahm was arrested.

Teen Truth Live was there because Arizona Special Olympics Project Unify wants to include within prevention bullying, the idea that excluding special needs students or using the “r-word” is also part of positive community building. Special Athlete Charles Calhoun, and Project Unity partner Chelsy Essig, a senior at Trevor Brown spoke about their experiences being bullied and excluded by family, friend and peers.

Students signify whether they have been bullied or bullied another student.

The assembly only lasted 50 minutes as that was all the school could allot to the presentation that normally runs 70 minutes. Christopher had to take out much of the interactive sections to save time. To be effective, Christopher admits the message needs to be heard for more than for 50 minutes. Schools that embrace the entire program do pre- and post-assembly activities as well as offer the presentation to the parents. Building a supportive community takes more than 50 or 70 minutes, during one afternoon in the school gymnasium.

During the presentation, Erahm Christopher asked kids to stand raise their hands if they had been bullied in any way. Then he had them sit down if they had ever bullied anyone whether by saying something, or excluding them or even by physically attacking them. This student and a few others on the other side of he room remained standing.

If kids feel disconnected and alienated as the video suggests, where are the parents? A child’s first connection is their own family and especially their parents. So it it that parents are working more than ever? During the recession of the early 1980s  two-career households started to become the norm, and households became busier. And with the recent recession, parents struggle to find and keep jobs, making live even busier and more hectic.

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The future of education in Arizona

Jim Rice, John Huppenthal, Gabriel Trujillo and Sybil Francis.

Phoenix Country Day School hosted a panel discussion on the future of education in Arizona on Wednesday night. John Huppenthal, our newly elected state superintendent of public instruction, was there, along with Sybil Francis, Ph.D., executive director of the Center for the Future of Arizona; Jim Rice, Ph.D., program administrator for the Rodel Foundation of Arizona and Gabriel A. Trujillo, principal at Trevor G. Browne High School.

The topic? How the educational system must change in order to meet the needs of Arizona’s children.

There were a lot of empty seats in the audience, which is surprising, considering the scope of the discussion and the importance of the educational system to anyone, whether they have children or not. There were probably about 150 people, including members of Boy Scout Troop 340, who were in the second row to take notes and absorb information to earn a communications merit badge.

Boy Scouts in Troop 340 from St. Thomas the Apostle School in Phoenix attended the panel discussion to communications merit badges.

Francis started out saying education had to change to fit the needs of the students. “We are not going to meet the future by doing what we have done in the past,” she said. “We cannot keep doing what we have been doing, educating in the same way, with the same structure that we’ve been using for the last 100 years, and think it’s going to take us successfully into the next 100 years.” Expectations of the school system have changed and a high school education is not sufficient for today’s job market. (A hundred years ago, just an elementary education was enough.)

Our schools are still organized on the industrial model, Francis added, meaning that schools treat all students coming in the same way: grouped by age, with students in each grade learning the same thing at the same time. Students are treated like widgets to be turned out uniformly.

When I was taking education classes from 1991 to 1993, professors at ASU said essentially the same thing. And that was in the pre-Internet world. I attended this event hoping to hear something new — something that had changed significantly in nearly two decades since I first decided to become a teacher.

But the topics discussed on Wednesday were pretty much the same as those discussed in my education classes in the early 1990s. High school graduation rates are what they were in 1970. Reading and math proficiency need to be increased. Parent involvement in their children’s education is essential to student success. We need to reorganize schools to meet the needs of modern students. And of course funding and teacher compensation is still an issue.

At far right is PCDS Assistant Head of School James Calleroz White who moderated the panel discussion.

Trujillo was optimistic. “I believe that…we are at the dawn of a new age brought on by competition and open enrollment,” he said. “A possible Renaissance Age is upon us if we embrace change.” Change will be hastened because public schools will have to compete with online education, alternative schools and school-within-a-school models.

Rice, who was in the Alhambra district for 39 years, says the biggest catalyst for student performance is parental involvement, regardless of funding or the amount of technology in the schools. The bottom line, he said, is that parents must work with students and teachers to support the education of their children. He also advocated focusing on positives.

“We need to start sharing what is going on in our good schools,” he said. There are pockets of innovation that do work and those innovations need to be spread to other schools.

I was interested in what John Huppenthal had to say, since he is our new superintendent of public instruction. He talked about the thousands of research reports he reads and the analysis of test scores and data he sifts through, looking for “breakthrough” ideas to improve education. He hasn’t found many.

“There’s a huge cloud of dust in education when it comes to research studies,” he said. “One of the painful things was to realize there was research about research. And the research about research said that 95 percent of the research wasn’t worth the paper it was written on.”

He is convinced technology will bring breakthroughs, though he admitted that research doesn’t indicate that educational software will offer that breakthrough. I couldn’t help thinking about all of the software packages I saw when I was teaching and the millions of dollars spent on them.

I talked to Huppenthal after the panel discussion ended. I asked him when he thought the changes the panelists described might occur, and when the successful innovations of specific schools might hit the public schools as a whole. He said gains will be realized in the next seven or eight years and that two years worth of educational gains will occur in one school year, in what he called “Education 2.0.”

And what will drive this huge gain in efficiency? Huppenthal believes competition with charter schools and private schools will drive the public schools to innovate and improve to keep their enrollment up.

So we still have to wait. Not what you want to hear if your child is entering high school this year, but encouraging for parents whose young children are just getting started. Unfortunately, large systems move slowly.

Changes the panel talked about included:

• Organizing schools to meet the needs of individual students.

• Preparing students with the academic and/or trade skills suitable for the realities of the job market they will face.

• Training and paying teachers to drive innovation. Teachers must approach a classroom full of kids with a wide range of different tools and skills.

• Compensation for teachers must not be based on teaching a certain number of students or the number of years teachers have survived in the system. Compensation models should be driven by progress made by students based on where they started. A teacher with a high school freshman reading at the fifth grade level and progressing to an eighth grade reading level in one school year would be rewarded for that student gain, not penalized because the student was still reading below grade level.

Huppenthal believes in running schools like successful businesses, with an emphasis on efficiency and performance.

Trujillo believes that “it’s not necessarily the amount of money we’re throwing into public education, it’s where we’re throwing it. Can we honestly continue to sit here and not talk about the fact that hundreds of thousands of students across our state do not have access to pre-K, kindergarten and preschool programs?”

When kids don’t have the benefit of preschool and pre-K instruction, they are lagging behind on their first day of school. That leads to “huge inequities in educational product,” he said. His recommendation?  “Pour a little bit more money into the educational starting line.”

It’s hard to argue that the “one size fits all” approach to education is inadequate in meeting the learning needs of individuals. But as any classroom teacher will tell you, meeting individual needs is a massive undertaking dependent on so many variables that theories and systemic movements are merely debate topics when faced you’re faced with a classroom packed with 30 to 40 students, all at various levels of aptitude and with individual learning styles.

It would have been interesting to hear what a few teachers with 25 years of experience in the classroom would have added to the discussion Wednesday evening. Unfortunately, the people who would be actually implementing the changes in the educational system, and bringing innovation to the individual students, are often not included in these kinds of discussions. — Dan Friedman