A BIG DAY: Uplifting Communities grants rewarded to educators

Christiane Crawford-Gill, a sixth grade math teacher at Uplift Grand Middle School and Urban Teachers. – Courtesy of the Cotton Bowl Foundation

 

By DIANE XAVIER

The Dallas Examiner

 

In the world of education, teachers are often considered to be the heart, soul and growth of a community. At the same time, many children of color have been left behind, according to recent studies.

In an effort to uplift, support and inspire educators as well as future generations, The Cotton Bowl Foundation and College Football Playoff Foundation joined forces, to host The BIG DAY Sept. 14 at Uplift Grand Preparatory School in Grand Prairie. The program awarded $50,000 grants to Urban Teachers Dallas-Fort Worth and Catch Up & Read to promote the educational services of the organizations.

“Today, we celebrate and recognize the wonderful work that teachers do everyday to protect and educate our children and bring some normalcy to their lives,” said Bry Patton, chairman of the association and foundation. “We started the Cotton Bowl Foundation about five years ago with the intent to try to give some money back to some of the different feeders to people that play in the Cotton Bowl, people that attend the Cotton Bowl, so anything that we thought could do some good in the community and so of course teachers are the heroes right now and always have been.”

Patton, whose daughter-in-law is a teacher, said he often noticed how she often had to do a lot of funding of her own just for school supplies and some of the basics that her students needed.

“Where do you replace that, not that we play a role necessarily in that, but I know the sacrifices that teachers have to make to educate, to protect, and to try to create some normalcy for our children and it is not an easy task during a COVID pandemic,” Patton said.

“We envision a country in which our greatest assets, teachers, are given the resources, recognition and professional development they require in order to prepare our nation’s students for success,” the CFP Foundation stated.

The goal of the program is to get students to read on grade level by third grade, stated Catherine LeBlanc, CEO and founder of Catch Up & Read, a nonprofit organization that seeks to transform lives of at-risk elementary students in the region.

“Every child deserves a high-quality equitable education,” LeBlanc said. “What I noticed is that the kids are going to school from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m. every afternoon and so many are falling behind and recent data shows that 85% of Dallas County children are not reading grade level and if you can’t read, your chances of graduating from high school and earning a living wage is incredibly diminished. Heartbreaking isn’t it?”

 

 

The Nation’s Report Card on Dallas County students

Dallas County students are lagging behind when it comes to reading comprehension, according to the latest study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics. The results are from the Nation’s Report Card, which collects data from school districts all around the country and is considered the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education.

“What Nation’s Report Card does is they go around school districts all around the country, and so rather than getting reporting that is biased from one district to another, they get reporting across the country and so they are able to give you better data, essentially you can either be a reader at the basic level or a proficient or advanced level,” she said.

The reading program has been working in communities over the last 12 years, developing innovative and effective ways to ensure all students are reading at grade level by the third grade, which is a recognized benchmark for predicting dropout and incarceration rates.

LeBlanc emphasized the importance of helping children learn to read.

“A lot of prisons use third grade reading levels to determine the number of beds they will need for the future, so the third grade reading benchmark is directly linked to teen pregnancy and dropout and incarceration rates. So it is really important to give all these children the reading foundation that they need so that they can succeed,” she said.

“When you asked me what brought it to my attention, is I was volunteering at a school, and I noticed the teacher’s heart is the heart of the student, they want those students to achieve but the kids were in school for seven hours a day and they weren’t improving, and it wasn’t the teachers fault. And so what I have come to understand is that in the last 20 years since we did a lot brain science studies, we learned what it takes to learn and we also learned about how trauma and poverty impact learning. And so we needed to give teachers the benefit of this leading edge instruction, and so we give our teachers 100 hours of literacy instruction over the course of a year, and then we coach them and support them in tutoring their lowest performing students.”

 

The pandemic has made things worse

The latest research conducted by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a nonprofit based in Baltimore, MD, revealed how damaging the effects of the COVID pandemic has been.

“Every child needs food, health care and safe and stable housing. Millions of households with children already lacked these necessities before the pandemic, and this economic and public health catastrophe brought millions more face-to-face with challenges ranging from lost health insurance and bare pantries to the threat of homelessness due to eviction or foreclosure. An additional area of concern: Students are completing a second academic year disrupted by COVID-19, undermining academic performance and altering post-high school plans,” the KIDS COUNT Data Book summary report, it stated.

Susan Cope, director of programs for Catch Up & Read, summarized program’s effectiveness by going to zones that are designated as Title I schools.

Title I is defined as a low socio-economic school area where the majority of the students are on free and reduced lunch and has been shown that they are at risk for not making growth in reading and math.

“We are currently working with 16 DISD schools, two schools in Richardson ISD and we are also at one charter school at Saint Philip’s Academy,” Cope said. “We Go into Title 1 schools, help the principal and teachers identify the lowest 50 grade students 1-3 that are not on grade level reading and get them caught up to end of grade level by third grade. And so we do that not by us going in and doing the tutoring; we go in and identify key teachers, a lead teacher and six teachers that deliver the tutoring to those lowest 50 students. And we find data to figure out where the gaps are, and we do after school tutoring to work specifically on those gaps and in a given year, 90% to 92% of those students show amazing growth.”

 

Discrepancies in the education system

The latest studies on Black students’ performance on reading comprehension revealed that only 15% of Black 8th grade students were at or above reading proficiency, according to data and research conducted by the National Assessment of Educational Progress’s The Nation’s Report Card.

“About half didn’t even reach the “basic” reading benchmark, according to their studies.

Suzanne Weathers, middle school principal at the Uplift Grand Preparatory School in Grand Prairie, explained the reason this may be happening to communities of color.

“Sometimes when you are a minority in a place where the expectations are low, then you don’t get the opportunity to better yourself,” Weathers said. “What Uplift does is that they plant themselves in underserved communities so that those scholars get an opportunity to shine light on and begin into build themselves from that place, our scholars, especially our African American scholars are ones that really rank high because they have an opportunity to get that individualized education, so it might be missed in a big DISD, missed at a big school and they kind of fall under the crack and fall behind, here we make sure that we don’t touch the cracks. We are making sure that we are pulling them out and individualized and making a plan so that they can make sure they are successful on their reading rate.”

She went on to explain why discrepancies in the nation’s education system exist in the 21st century where technology is so advanced.

“We get an opportunity, which is so great because some of these neighborhoods that we come into are very segregated, because neighborhoods have one ethnic group in there, but when we come we bring the diversity of an IB – International Baccalaureate – education, which is all about diversity, all about preparing the scholars so that they can have a global impact which means they have got to make themselves aware of that they are different cultures, that they are different races and ethnicities around you when you know how to be competitive and how to communicate in a global climate. “

Weathers revealed that 70% of its students, known as scholars, go on to four-year colleges and post graduate work.

“We have some of the highest rates in DFW in terms of college acceptance, we have an acceptance of 100% going all the way through graduating from college and going on to their career which is about 70% to 75% and growing,” she said. “We have a college and career readiness program all the way through, and even when they get to college, we have a counselor that follows them through four years and makes sure they are on track.”

 

 

A BIG DAY for educators

One of the teachers recognized was nominated for her exceptional commitment to her students, school and community. Christiane Crawford-Gill, a sixth grade math teacher at Uplift Grand Middle School and Urban Teachers, has been with the school for four years. She said she believes teaching is her vocation.

I decided in middle school that I wanted to be a middle school teacher, and I learned at a young age that I really liked to help people,” Gill said. “School was hard for me, and I had to come up with ways to remember the information that I studied in order to pass. I figured if I could do it then I could help change a kid’s world as well. It is truly my joy to be a teacher, and it is so much work to be a teacher, but you see so much of the impact you make on your students.”

Gracie Pineda, media specialist at Cuellar Elementary in DISD, and who is also celebrating her 14th year as a DISD school teacher, works with the reading program and was also recognized for her dedication and commitment to education.

“Teaching students is such a joy because we get to see the kids grow and the growth happens everyday, and we being a part of that growth is exciting and rewarding,” Pineda said. “Especially with the pandemic these last two years, we saw student reading levels decline and at Catch Up & Read, we really try to fill those holes that we may not see that we are not being able to fill during the day and the Catch Up & Read program helps enforce the afterschool program with teachers working one and one with those students to fill those holes, those gaps in education.”

Anthony Hernandez, interim executive director for Urban Teachers of DFW was thankful for the grant.

“We are so thankful to our partners at the College Football Playoff Foundation and Cotton Bowl Foundation,” Hernandez said. “Urban Teachers is an organization that knows that being a good teacher doesn’t happen overnight. It’s an arduous process and we’re here to coach our teachers for a long time. Our teachers get over 85 hours of coaching to make sure they feel prepared to stay in the classrooms that they serve. We’re excited today to be accepting this contribution on behalf of the great teachers that we get to work with every day.”

Urban Teachers is a multi-city nonprofit organization with the mission to improve educational and life outcomes of children in urban schools by preparing culturally competent, effective career teachers who accelerate student achievement and disrupt systems of racial and socioeconomic inequity, according to its mission statement.

Weathers, who has been with the program for over nine years and noted that the program is unique.

“This Uplift grant and the Uplift education system is always about the whole child; it is about educating them from where they are and taking them far beyond what they can do,” Weathers said. “I love the fact that it does something very individualized for every scholar. So every scholar can achieve at their level at their pace but always having this mark of college career beyond and so we always take the time to look at scholars individually, not just academically but socially to make them develop in every area. So that they become the best of themselves.”

 

Extra Yard for Teachers

The Extra Yard for Teachers, which kicked off nationwide in fall, was created to inspire and elevate the teaching profession.

Brett Daniels, senior director of Communications and Branding for the CFP, introduced the program.

“It was really designed to uplift and support teachers and the four main goals are: the recognition of teachers, which is one of the reasons we are here today; it’s getting them resources in their classrooms so they can help students one on one in the classroom; it’s also about professional development and recruitment and retention. There is definitely a shortage of teachers today and so the foundation is working the best they can to find ways to get more teachers into the classrooms and we are here today, it’s The BIG DAY, the Extra Yards for teachers, which we kicked off on Saturday, Sept. 11, all across the country and is an opportunity for colleges, universities, coaches, student athletes and Bowl games to recognize and reward teachers with the job that they are doing,” Daniels stated.

“Last year on The BIG DAY, as a part of Extra Yard for Teachers week, over $4 million was rewarded directly to teachers and educators to help them in their classrooms and we are certainly hoping to top that here … again trying to upLift teachers and the heroic job they are doing. They are trying to make a normal life for our kids in the classroom.”

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