Building School-Family Partnerships in a South Bronx Classroom

David Bensman




C H A P T E R

3

Learning with Luther and His Mother

When you first see Luther Arjay, your impression is that he is a very shy boy. He’s good-looking, but he holds his body tight and rarely shows emotion. He speaks so softly that it is easy to miss what he is saying; with adults, he rarely volunteers anything.

In November, Mrs. Lynns confided to me that she was concerned about Luther. He had run away from home earlier in the fall, only to be picked up by the police on a busy highway; he often came to school listless, without his homework completed. When I ask Mrs. Lynns what is troubling Luther, she whispers that Luther’s mother once mentioned, during an emergency visit to the school, that there are marital tensions at home. (Mrs. Arjay is an immigrant from the Dominican Republic and a Jehovah’s Witness; Mr. Arjay is from Guyana and of East Indian descent.)

While Mrs. Lynns’ usual practice is to discipline students and inform their parents when they do not turn in their homework regularly, she does not reprimand Luther nor does she warn him that she will have to talk to his mother about it because, she told me, she does not want to burden the family with additional stress.

Mrs. Lynns’ willingness to accommodate to Luther’s situation is evident at the first parent-teacher conference in November. Mrs. Arjay, a tall, youthful woman who speaks English with only a slight accent, comes in with Luther and his two younger brothers, Jean, 7, and Lionel, 5, both of whom also attend CES 518. She listens gravely as Mrs. Lynns describes Luther’s lethargic classroom behavior, nods in agreement that he is having a difficult time, and expresses her willingness to do whatever she can to help Mrs. Lynns and Luther. At no time does Mrs. Lynns suggest that Mrs. Arjay punish Luther, nor does she pressure him to do his work.

Mrs. Arjay began dropping in on the classroom to check with Mrs. Lynns about Luther’s progress. Whenever I was present, I would supervise class work while the two women talked in whispers at the back of the room. However, one day in December when Mrs. Arjay arrived, Mrs. Lynns was busy teaching so I volunteered to talk with her. I tell her that Luther often seems sad and tired in class; she responds by explaining that Luther had experienced a kidney problem two years earlier; ever since, he has suffered from the side effects of his medication as well as from depression. Just recently, she tells me, Luther seems to be regaining his full strength, but she still worries about his apparent indifference to his schoolwork.

After I talk with Mrs. Arjay and experience her concern and caring for her son, I begin to notice Luther more frequently. As I walk around the classroom while Mrs. Lynns gives lessons and assigns problems, I often find him with his head down on his desk. When I approach him and ask if he knows how to do the work, he gathers himself together; sometimes he shakes his head with a half smile and asks me for help; other times, he gets right to work. Luther rarely has great difficulty mastering new concepts; once he applies himself or listens to my explanation and tries out a practice problem, he can proceed with confidence and ease. Paying attention to the teacher and getting to work are his biggest problems.

One day when the students were coloring in fruit cutouts for a Thanksgiving bulletin board, I stopped to admire Luther’s pear, so round and juicy it looked ready to eat. That’s when I learned that Luther was an accomplished artist, one of the stars of Mrs. Gordon’s art classes. Curious to see what Luther was like when he was working at something he liked and was good at, I followed Mrs. Lynns’ students to the art room the next week. Located on the fifth and top floor of CES 518, the art room was filled with sunlight, and all kinds of posters and art works hung on the walls. At the front of the room was a huge blackboard covered with handwritten announcements of various city-wide art contests.

After making some announcements, Mrs. Gordon, a large, dark-skinned woman with a serious expression, begins demonstrating how to draw a knee in correct proportion to the human body. When she finishes her explanation, the children begin drawing while she circulates around the room, making suggestions. Most children work intently on their own, silently concentrating on rendering curves and maintaining proper proportion. A few students, the ones who lack confidence in their drawing skills, anxiously watch their neighbors work and frown with dismay at what they perceive as their own clumsy efforts. Luther is like a man possessed, aware only of his sketch and the illustration Mrs. Gordon has drawn.

When I tell Mrs. Lynns about how seriously Luther has been working in the art room, she tells me that Luther is so talented that he has been selected to participate in a special program called Arts Connection. Every week, Mrs. Lynns explains, Luther and two of his classmates go up to Mrs. Gordon’s classroom to work with a visiting artist on a school project—painting a mural to decorate the walls of the modular early elementary school classrooms across the street.

Soon I begin going upstairs to follow Luther whenever he works on the mural. The mural painters, I realize, have much greater freedom than they usually enjoy in their academic classrooms. For example, while students in Mrs. Lynns’ classroom color in outlined fruit for the Thanksgiving bulletin board, the visiting artist asks the children to select the animals that will populate the mural, choose the colors for each object, and arrange the objects on the wall. Each child paints his or her own animal, but the group makes the decisions about where to place each object in relation to the others. The sea creatures are fanciful, imaginative, and vivid, painted in a combination of startlingly bright tropical colors.

Homework: Where School Comes Home

As much as Luther enjoys painting the mural, he hates doing his homework, and by January, Mrs. Arjay came to school complaining to Mrs. Lynns that Luther’s homework assignments were killing her and disrupting family life. Every night, Mrs. Arjay explains, she must interrupt her preparation of the family dinner to stand watch over Luther’s shoulder to make sure he stays at his work; whenever she turns back to the stove, his head slumps on the kitchen table or he begins staring into space. Monitoring Luther is interfering with Mrs. Arjay’s meal preparation, keeping her from attending meetings at the Kingdom Hall, and piling frustration on top of exhaustion. Is there anything Mrs. Lynns can do to help?

In her patient, gentle voice, Mrs. Lynns explains that homework assignments for her classroom should take no more than an hour. She understands that Luther is taking longer and promises that she will not “come down hard” on Luther if he does not turn all of his homework in on time. Loretta Howton enters the classroom and joins the conversation. When Loretta learns that part of the reason Luther takes so long to complete his assignments is that he dawdles while copying the textbook questions onto his homework paper in cursive script, she offers to help by having her secretarial staff duplicate the homework from the textbooks; this way Luther won’t have to spend so much time copying the work. Although Mrs. Lynns likes children to practice their cursive writing while doing homework, she goes along with this suggestion.

Luther’s work improved after this, even though he soon stopped bringing his books to the assistant principal’s office to be copied. (When I notice him copying his assignments in his notebook and asked why he isn’t taking advantage of Mrs. Howton’s offer, he explains that his classmates are teasing him about getting preferential treatment.) Luther’s attention to lessons improves, his grades improve, and his emotional tone lightens. By the time it is announced that his drawing, entitled “My Neighborhood,” has captured top prize in a city-wide art competition sponsored by the Transit Authority, Luther has become something of a school celebrity. CES 518’s corporate sponsor, Capital Re, even gives Luther a scholarship to pay for art lessons the following year.

Getting to Know the Arjays

Curious to know more about Luther and his family, one spring day I offer to take the Arjay family either to an art museum or to a gallery in Soho—their choice. Mrs. Arjay agrees, and on the next school half day, we are on our way to visit the Guggenheim Museum. (I conclude that whether or not they enjoy the paintings, the children will enjoy the building. I am not sure if they would perceive Soho to be exciting or just weird.)

On the trip to the museum, over hamburgers at a nearby McDonald’s (the children’s choice), I tell Mrs. Arjay that I think it’s taken a lot of courage for her to come to school and complain about her problems with Luther’s homework. Smiling shyly, as she always does when she’s praised, Mrs. Arjay explains that Luther’s homework battles had become so draining that she was desperate for relief—and besides, she adds, she has plenty of support from the parent-teacher program she attends.

That was how I learned that Mrs. Arjay participated in a teacher/parent education program sponsored by the Lehman College Institute for Literacy Studies. Called the Elementary Teachers Network (ETN), the program taught fifteen CES 518 teachers and two parents how to understand children as unique learners. Mrs. Arjay tells me that she really liked the program, had learned to think of the teachers as her friends and allies, and had begun to dream about getting a college education for herself (the ETN program awarded parents college credits and teachers graduate credits). Gathering the courage to talk with Mrs. Lynns about homework misery was easier, Mrs. Arjay explained, because her ETN experience gave her confidence that Mrs. Lynns would receive her in a spirit of cooperation. She did not think of teachers as distant, alien authority figures anymore, as she had when she struggled through high school in the Bronx.

Mrs. Arjay’s experience with ETN at CES 518 has impressed her so much, she tells me, that at the end of June, when Luther graduates from fifth grade, she is determined to enroll him in the best middle school she can find. Her new friends at the Institute for Literacy Studies are helping her, she tells me.

Mrs. Arjay is the only parent I have met from Mrs. Lynns’ class who is actively seeking a middle school for her child with the hope of finding something better than what the local district chooses for them. I am so impressed that she is taking on this task that I immediately offer to help by introducing her to some of the school directors I know from my previous research on school reform. Specifically, I have in mind Jane Andrias, the director of Central Park East Elementary School in East Harlem. I know after all, that Jane is an art teacher—surely she will be interested in Luther’s drawing. Furthermore, I think, Central Park East will welcome a parent as active and as dedicated as Mrs. Arjay.

The thought of introducing Mrs. Arjay to Jane Andrias filled me with pleasure. I could really do something to help Luther and his family, I think. But when I ask Mrs. Arjay where ETN is referring her, she tells me it is Central Park East. Her ETN teacher, Yvonne Smith, is on that school’s staff, she explains, and Yvonne thinks Central Park East will be ideal for Luther.

I am stunned. Yvonne was one of the teachers I had admired most when I studied Central Park East years earlier. Mrs. Arjay knows Yvonne already; she doesn’t need my help.

Getting to Know the Elementary Teachers Network

Since I had no idea how Yvonne and ETN came to CES 518 (it did not fit my picture of the school, after all), I asked Mrs. Arjay to introduce me to the ETN staff the next time they were in the school. The following Wednesday, Mrs. Arjay introduced me to Barbara Batton, ETN’s coordinator at CES 518, who explained that the Institute of Literacy Studies has a contract with District 9 to conduct teacher development courses at two district schools, including CES 518. The program had started out dealing exclusively with teachers, but during the 1996-97 school year, several parents were invited to join. Maria Arjay, Barbara explained, was one of ETN’s most active participants; she was a parent involved in school affairs who was learning how to understand and support her children’s learning and to work with her children’s teachers. Maria Arjay, Barbara told me, had even attended a weekend retreat in upstate New York where the ETN staff, teachers, and parents worked intensely to learn the observational and descriptive techniques pioneered by Patricia Carini and her colleagues of the Prospect School in Vermont.

Yvonne Smith had gotten involved at CES 518, Barbara explained, because, as a veteran member of the Central Park East staff, she was a longtime practitioner of Prospect’s methods. When the Institute for Literacy Studies established its program for teachers at CES 518, Yvonne Smith was hired to lead the class. Yvonne was so taken with Mrs. Arjay and her children that she was helping them apply for admission to Central Park East. Barbara was so taken with the Arjay family that she had arranged for Mrs. Arjay to enroll Luther in classes at the Art Students’ League, where Barbara’s grandson was enrolled. (Barbara and Maria met every Saturday morning while their children were taking art lessons on 57th Street.)

After I learned about Mrs. Arjay’s participation in ETN, I assumed that ETN was primarily responsible for Luther’s dramatic academic improvement in Mrs. Lynns’ classroom. While Mrs. Arjay’s participation in this small and special program had enabled her to help Luther, I reasoned, most parents of Mrs. Lynns’ students were neither encouraged nor trained to participate in their children’s education. ETN was an interesting phenomenon, I concluded, but isolated and atypical, not central to what CES 518 was about.

This conclusion reflected my erroneous assumption that CES 518 was a relatively “typical” school rather than one deeply engaged in the process of reform. My mistake only became clear to me the following winter after I asked Mrs. Arjay what I thought was an innocuous question: How did you get involved in ETN in the first place? Her answer contradicted my assumption that ETN was atypical of CES 518’s program because Mrs. Arjay told me that participating in a different parent education program at CES 518 first brought her to ETN. It seems that when Luther’s younger brother Jean was in pre-kindergarten, Mrs. Arjay would come to school at 9:00 a.m. and, rather than return home only to return at 11:00 when preschool ended, she stayed in the mini-school for a parent education program that CES 518 ran for mothers of pre-K students. In this wonderful program, Mrs. Arjay tells me, she learned how to play with her children, make books with them, and read to them in ways that supported their learning.

The following year, Mrs. Arjay began helping Jean’s kindergarten teacher organize classroom activities and assisted the school’s social worker by providing Spanish-English translations. Workshops on health, nutrition, disease prevention, and learning disabilities, brought to CES 518 on a grant initiated by the principal, were an additional inducement to keep Mrs. Arjay at the school. So was the parent association, which has its own office from which fund-raisers are planned, trips are organized, and new programs are discussed and initiated. One day the social worker, who had become a friend, invited Mrs. Arjay to join a program called ETN. Along with one of the Parent Association officers, she agreed to enroll.

When I finally understood that ETN is not isolated but is indeed consistent with the principals’ efforts to involve parents in the school, I decided to make sense of what I have learned. Previously, I had assumed that CES 518 was different from the other schools my colleagues on the research team were studying because it presented formal and informal barriers that kept parents from getting close to the school and its staff. Instead, I now understand, CES 518 is using some of the same parent involvement programs as our three other study schools. Indeed, when we organized a meeting in February 1998, to do a descriptive review of a student at our research site in Manhattan, it turned out that two of the participants we invited, Yvonne Smith, the Central Park East teacher leading ETN at CES 518, and Diane, the classroom teacher we are observing at P.S. 3, had worked together to learn Prospect’s methods twenty years earlier!

By the time I learned of Yvonne and Diane’s connection, I had completed three months of the ETN curriculum and had fallen under its spell. More than twenty of us gathered in a second grade classroom in the annex of CES 518 in October, when the first ETN session began. Most were teachers at CES 518, most were relatively new, and most taught younger children—kindergarten through second grade. One of these teachers was my stepson, José, who was teaching for the first time that fall. But there were others present who were more veteran and who taught older children. Among them were Clarissa’s reading teacher and two third grade teachers whose classrooms adjoined Mrs. Lynns’. In addition to the teachers, three parents, one paraprofessional, and one school secretary were in attendance. About half were Black and half were Hispanic. I am a White, Jewish college professor with no formal connections to the school. Barbara Batton (of Japanese-American descent) and Yvonne Smith (an African American) led the group, as they had the year Maria participated.

Barbara and Yvonne started off low-key with lots of administrative details to carry out; papers were passed around with instructions about notebooks to buy and note-taking procedures to follow. There was soda, juice, cookies, fruits, and cheese for everyone—and we received assignments to bring snacks to succeeding meetings according to a schedule. For a while, cramped at the tiny desk, I wondered if we would ever get around to talking about teaching and learning.

Finally, Yvonne began to do her magic. She told us to write down what we remembered from our own experiences with literacy. What did we read when we were children? What reading materials were there in the house? What kinds of signs did we see in the neighborhood? Who read to us? What did they read? As Yvonne’s voice droned hypnotically, I began to visualize myself at ages four and five in the garden apartment development that was my first real home. I thought of the picture books my parents showed me, with words I memorized until I could recite entire books while turning pages at just the right moments. I thought of the signs along the Interboro Parkway that we took on the way to visit my grandparents who lived on the Eastern Parkway in Brownsville. I thought of the signs in Hebrew on the Orthodox synagogues and those of the Hasidim, who seemed so alien they made me wonder what it meant to be Jewish. I thought of the sameness of my Queens neighborhood, just recently converted from farming, where all the buildings were brick, all the faces were White, and all the names were from Eastern Europe, like my own.

Yvonne awakened me from my reverie thirty minutes later, announcing that it was time for us to share our reflections. We split into two groups of ten; my group moved to the room next door, where after considerable snacking, stretching, and milling about, we began to read our recollections to each other. There was something intimate about the talk as people read stories about their parents, grandparents, brothers, and sisters. We visited San Juan and Santo Domingo, Harlem, a California internment camp (where Barbara had spent her childhood), and the rural South. While the locales varied and the plots diverged, there was a constant: reading became important in all of our lives, a source of pleasure, a place of connection and retreat, an important tool for playing and growing.

By the time our hour of sharing was up, the ten of us had come to know each other in a deeply personal way. The differences in our backgrounds and status faded against the experience of shared memory. I felt stunned at how powerful the practice of small group reflection could be. Immediately, I began adapting ETN techniques to my own college classrooms.

At subsequent sessions, as fall gave way to winter, we moved from reflecting on our own learning experiences to focusing on children’s learning. Each of us was asked to select a study subject, a child with whom we had worked. Our task was to observe what the child actually did, how the child read, what questions the child asked, what the child was interested in, what writing and painting the child produced. Drawing on the writings of Patricia Carini, Deborah Meier, and others in our ETN course book, we learned to appreciate children’s strengths, respect their thinking processes, pay attention to the details of their work and play, and collaborate together to gain multiple perspectives on an individual child.

To provide us with guidance and inspiration, some of the ETN veterans led descriptive reviews, where all of us looked at specific pieces of a child’s work and pointed out detail after detail until we saw the work in all its complexity as the expression of an individual child. The descriptive review process was a formal discipline. A presenter always led off, selecting for group reflection a word that the child used, or a word often used by people who interact with the child. Participants silently reflected on the word for several minutes, searching for associations, memories, definitions, and personal experiences related to it. This group reflection was a warming up exercise, like those actors might use to prepare for a rehearsal. It freed the imagination, put us in touch with our own experiences as a child, created an intimacy with the other participants, reminded us that there are many different ways of perceiving the same phenomenon, and enabled us to understand how it helps us to perceive things through the lenses of other people’s experiences and cultures.

After we had done our group word reflection, the presenter described the child according to five dimensions: Physical Presence and Gesture, Disposition, Relationships with Children and Adults, Interests and Activities, and Formal Learning. Great care was taken to avoid making judgments or interpretations—it was too early in the process for that; we didn’t want to bias the way we saw the child’s work.

Then came the centerpiece of the review; our shared observation of a child’s work. The presenter selected one or two homework assignments, journal entries, or drawings done by the child under review. Each participant spent a few minutes looking carefully at the child’s work, noting the content, form, style, words, and affect. Then each participant took turns, bringing to the group’s attention one feature of the child’s work. After we listened to each other and discovered new facets of the work before us, our habit of drawing quick conclusions, injecting unwarranted value judgments, and of turning away to “more important things” than a child’s work gave way.17

By April, we were writing and sharing our own child’s studies. I presented my own study of Joseph, my ten-year-old son. I described his difficulties sitting in his chair in the early grades, his teachers’ inclination to label him as needing help, the contrast between his problems in school and his prodigious learning campaigns at home. The boy who doesn’t like to listen to instructions from his teacher is the same little genius who researches dinosaurs and natural disasters; becomes an expert on the Titanic, the Hindenburg, and the Lusitania; puzzles over the assassinations of Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Robert F. Kennedy, and John Lennon; and sounds out the melody of “Nearer My God to Thee” on his violin. My reflection on Joseph’s development helped me see how my parenting was modeled on that of my father, how my research and college teaching built on and reinforced my father’s lessons.

After I presented my child study, Clara Diaz, the principal’s secretary, presented a study of her granddaughter, a student at CES 518. While Clara and I both picked loved ones to write about, our descriptions could not have been more different, for Joseph and Lianna are learners with the most dissimilar styles and temperaments.

Educating Maria as a Parent and Teacher

The process I went through at ETN was the same as that experienced by Maria the previous year. She did the same reflections on her childhood, did her own studies of her children, and shared intimate memories with CES 518 teachers, parents, and staff. Most important to Maria’s growth was the experience of presenting a descriptive review of her son Jean, with Jean’s teacher.

When Mrs. Arjay began ETN, her middle son, Jean, was having a difficult time in school. It took him forty minutes to copy a sentence, he wasn’t learning to read, and he was retained in first grade. Maria was losing patience with Jean, yelled at him, even spanked him, and still Jean’s reading did not improve.

Through ETN, Maria met Jean’s teacher and requested her as Jean’s teacher when he repeated first grade. As they began working together to prepare the descriptive review of Jean, Maria realized that she had been concentrating on his deficits rather than his strengths. She began writing, in English, a description of Jean as he appeared at home, and she found it difficult. “I’ve always been afraid of writing,” Mrs. Arjay explains. “When I start writing, the words disappear.” For three nights before she and Jean’s teacher were to “present” Jean at the ETN conference, Maria was so nervous she can’t sleep.

“That’s when the wonders began,” Maria recalls. By sharing her knowledge of Jean with his teacher and the ETN participants, Maria began to see Jean’s strengths—how he loves to help others, how he is willing to share, how he loves to make things with his hands and to build things. Recognizing Jean’s strengths enabled Mrs. Arjay to stop yelling at him, to stop pressuring him to do better in the things in which he has trouble, and to begin praising him for the many things at which he excels. Maria tells me that while her participation in ETN has helped her with Luther by giving her the confidence to approach Mrs. Lynns and ask her for help with her homework misery, her ETN experience has helped her even more with Jean, whose learning problems are much more severe.

By the end of Maria’s first year at ETN, she is taking college courses; working as a nutrition counselor; enrolling her children at Central Park East, where Jean is getting reading help from Alice Seletsky, a gifted and veteran teacher; and chauffeuring Luther and his brothers to two sets of art lessons—not only Saturday mornings at the Art Students League but also Thursday afternoons with Sheila Lamb, a print maker and art teacher at the Dalton School, a woman I had suggested would be a good teacher for Luther.

Furthermore, during the second year of my study, while I am interviewing Maria about her experience as a parent at CES 818, I recognize that she can tell her story in a more dramatic and convincing fashion than I can. While I prepared to give an academic presentation on homework in Mrs. Lynns’ classroom at an anthropology conference, I decided that it would be far more effective for Maria to tell the story about how she came to school to plead for relief from homework than it would for me to tell her story. My research team agreed; we invited parents, students, and teachers from all four schools to participate in our presentation at the Urban Ethnography Forum at the University of Pennsylvania.

Although we knew that we wanted our study subjects to participate in the presentation, we did not know what we wanted to say. At our first meeting, I tried to present the theoretical perspective that caused us to organize a session on homework, something about how homework was the place that school and family came together. I did not get three sentences out before Diane, the second-third grade teacher from P.S. 3, interrupted me to challenge my perspective. For a moment, we were at an impasse. Did we really agree on anything? Did we have anything to say? Then we began again by telling each other stories about our own experience with homework. We used the reflective process upon which Prospect and ETN are based, and the process saved us. Our presentation at the Ethnography Forum was a great success; and, for me, Maria’s account of how CES 518’s parent-education programs have empowered her to support her children’s learning was a high point of the session.

Luther and his brothers were in the audience as their mother addressed the assembled teachers and professors. Luther’s father, Donald, proudly video recorded the session. For the Arjays, Maria’s participation in an academic conference was a family affair, a two-hour car trip, a night in a motel, an afternoon exploring Philadelphia. I served as tour guide, showing them sites that were special to me, and they drove me home to New Jersey after the conference ended. Mr. and Mrs. Arjay met my wife, and the three boys had a joyous afternoon with my son Joseph, playing tackle football with Joseph’s dog. (They could never touch him.) By the end of the weekend, my family and the Arjays knew each other. We had crossed the boundary between professional relationship and personal friendship.

My Reflections

Getting to know the Arjay family changed the way I understood Luther’s experience. I learned that Luther’s progress in fifth grade grew out of decades of educational innovation—CES 518’s parent education and involvement programs, the ETN program, the Prospect Center, Central Park East elementary school, Mrs. Gordon’s art classes, the Arts Connection program, Mrs. Lynns’ gentle caring, my father’s brand of parenting, and my own involvement in the study and practice of educational reform—all of these together helped bring Luther in from the margins, out of the shadows, and into full engagement in his fifth grade classroom.

Luther’s growth came about because his mother supported him, because his mother worked with his teachers, because his mother applied what she was learning at ETN about how people learn. His progress was fueled by Mrs. Gordon’s praise, by the pleasure he drew from doing his art work, by the sense of mastery he developed. The classroom that Mrs. Lynns and I created contributed to Luther’s growth as well. He received compassionate, but firm, direction from Mrs. Lynns and plenty of individual attention from both of us, made possible because two adults were on hand to help thirty children; and he enjoyed stimulation of his musical imagination from my ad hoc music program. CES 518, with its parent involvement and education program, its ETN and Arts Connection grant programs, and its dedicated teaching staff, deserves much of the credit as well.

Thus, I can say that getting to know the Arjay family changed the way I understood CES 518. My time in the classroom impressed me with how guardians like Sister Sara are removed from the school community and how intimidating school could be to Clarissa’s and Lisette’s mothers. CES 518 had seemed like a school separated from the community by language, culture, and social class, by forbidding school structures, and by the New York City public school bureaucracy. And yet, for the Arjay family, CES 518 was welcoming, a community center with services and educational programs that not only helped Luther and Jean and Lionel, but enriched Maria’s life as well.

I now see CES 518 as a more complex and contradictory institution than I ever imagined: a supportive, friendly environment for some members of the Morrisania community, a frightening alienating place for others. By now, it is clear to me that CES 518’s leadership is consciously trying to encourage and support parental involvement; at the same time, many parents continue to receive the opposite message. The unevenness of CES 518’s efforts to bridge the gap between school and community undermines some efforts that are not only well-intentioned but often, as with ETN, brilliantly executed.


17For a thick description of a descriptive review, see “‘I Knowed That Before You Said It’: The Descriptive Review of a Child,” by David Carroll, in Changing Minds, Bulletin 13, Spring 1998, Michigan State University College of Education. return to text

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