Johnny Lake, an education consultant and speaker, facilitated the panel, which included students from Franklin, Grant and Jefferson and Open Meadow high schools. They addressed the topic “What’s Wrong With Our Schools for Kids of Color and How Can We Fix It?”
Lake, an assistant professor of teacher education at Northwest Christian University in Eugene, told the packed room: “We’re going to do something very provocative today. We’re going to listen to our children.”
Franklin student Imelda Montes-Arechigasaid she switched schools yearly and paid little attention to her grades until she took a writing class from humanities teacher Bryan Chu at Lane Middle School.
“Mr. Chu looked at my poetry and said, ‘You’re really good,’ and I said, ‘Thank you.’ ... He made me feel very welcomed. I’m always the loner because I never have anyone to hang out with. In sixth grade, he made me feel like I belonged somewhere.”
Kehaulani Kingery, a student at Open Meadow, credited her PE teacher Angel Humphrey at (then) Portsmouth Middle School for motivating her to try harder in class.
“She knew how to talk to me and didn’t try to control me,” Kehaulani said. “It changed my mind about acting out for no reason.”
Lake emphasized two-way communication between teachers and students. While teachers have expertise and it’s their job to educate students, they can also learn from their students and build connections that help a student want to succeed in class.
“Smile at them,” Lake said. “Make them feel good about being there. You can help them belong. Tell them, ‘You know what? You’re a smart kid.’”
At the same time, he said, kids need and want discipline. Setting and holding to clear boundaries also means you care about them and you have high expectations for their behavior.
The panel was part of the PPS Focus on Diversity: Film & Lecture Series launched last winter as part of the school district’s efforts to improve achievement for all students by understanding how attitudes about race can impact student success. To view the panel discussion, tune it to Channel 28 Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays at 3 p.m.
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