Monthly Archives: July 2014

Helping Boys in Education!

Lessons In Manhood: A Boys’ School Turns Work Into Wonders

Listen to the Story  All Things Considered

At East Bay School for Boys, sometimes the sparks of inspiration result in, well, actual sparks.

This summer, All Things Considered has been taking a look at the changing lives of men in America. And that means talking about how the country educates boys.

In Berkeley, Calif., a private, non-profit middle school called the East Bay School for Boys is trying to reimagine what it means to build confident young men. In some ways, the school’s different approach starts with directing, not stifling, boys’ frenetic energy.

“I think boy energy has been misunderstood,” says Lisa Hayle, a language arts teacher at the East Bay School. “Instead of squelching their enthusiasm for things, at our school we channel it and work with it.”

The East Bay School is not a traditional boys school, aimed at reinforcing typical ideas of what it means to “be a man.” The school’s director, Jason Baeten, says that the goal is instead to create an educational space where boys can make mistakes, be vulnerable and learn to be self-reliant.

Baeten says, “We all came together and decided what we wanted our graduates to look like, what qualities we wanted them to have. So, things like: respects women, flexible, resilient — all of these.”

One of the ways that the school is trying to upend tradition is by re-inventing shop class for the 21st century. In fact, they don’t even call it “shop.” At the East Bay School for Boys, it goes by a different name: “work.”

David Clifford, the school’s director of innovation, explains why: “We moved away from the language of shop because it has a history behind it, where for decades now, shop has been considered second or third tier in education, where first tier is academics.”

Shop classes have dropped off the curriculum at high schools nationwide. In Los Angeles, for instance, around 90 percent of traditional shop classes have been eliminated.

Now, something called “career and technical education” still exists. In fact, this week President Obama signed a law encouraging the expansion of such programs. But the most popular classes nationwide are health science, information technology and business — not vocational, blue-collar training like carpentry or auto shop.

At East Bay, “work” is one of the six main classes all boys take, right alongside math and language arts. Boys build their own cubbies, desks and benches. One student, Jaden Yu, is building a massive metal hammer as part of a larger project in which boys imagine themselves as superheroes.

Yu says that his superhero mission is to fight poverty, and the hammer is his weapon. “What this is for is destroying old buildings so that new ones can be rebuilt. Old buildings that aren’t being used, so that new ones can be built for homeless people, people who need it.”

And they tie this work into a larger curriculum, too. In one instance, boys built replica Civil War officers’ chairs which were paired with biographies of the officers who sat in them.

Clifford says teaching these kinds of hard skills is vital, for boys and girls. Not only do they graduate knowing how to use a table saw and welder, but Baeten says the work fosters creativity and resilience.

Those tools are sometimes dismissed as “soft skills” by educators pushing a greater emphasis on hard academics. But Baeten says those kinds of skills, including empathy, are central to the school’s mission. “The real important part about being a man is taking accountability for your actions, living your life really fully in a really present way and loving people fully.”

As a private school in the Bay Area, though, East Bay is not cheap. Families pay more than $21,000 a year to send their sons here. But they’ve also made an effort to make sure their vision of masculinity isn’t just for the privileged. More than half of students here get some type of tuition assistance. More than 70 percent come here from public schools. And nearly half of the boys here identify as non-white or mixed race.

The East Bay School’s program is new, having only opened classes in the fall of 2010. The school’s holistic view of boyhood — spanning academic to social development — is still evolving.

The big question is: Can aspects of East Bay’s more holistic approach to educating boys work elsewhere, especially in America’s public middle schools? The statistics can be sobering for a boy in public school. Boys drop out of school and get suspended at much higher rates than their female counterparts. Federal statistics show that among those who are suspended multiple times and expelled, 75 percent are boys.

In one of the waiting rooms of the Chicago Civic Opera House, Urban Prep graduates dance and let off some steam before the school's commencement ceremony begins.

The Russian Educational System

A Visit to a Russian School

IMG_3774

Amongst the many views of extravagant buildings,  crisp landscapes, lovely waterways, systems of locks and dams, clean cities, twenty-hour days and gorgeous sunsets, we were allowed to spend a few moments at the sweetest little school in a quiet quaint town in Russia.  In a simple building, a day of summer school was adjourning.  I was so excited to meet the Russian children.  I couldn’t wait to find out how this meek little school ticked.  The group of 30 tourists were lead into a classroom where a lovely Russian teenage girl read her practiced speech in English.  The room was small but fit all of us in the seats quite nicely and we listened intently.   Many questions followed about the daily regime of the children as well as their parents.  Everyone was interested in education as we are all a part of it.

IMG_3778

After we left the classroom, we were shown to the even more minute multipurpose room to watch a skit and learn about the arts that children of this school learn.  The art teacher spoke in Russian so an interpreter was needed.  Children are learning to make items from their rich history to continue traditions.  The school is located in Kirillov where one of the oldest museums of Russia exists.  Visitors were allowed to purchase the art of students.  We purchased a green and white lace  piece created by a young boy in the school.

IMG_3783

What did I learn about the Russian Educational System?   The system is set up by the state and is free to everyone.  Private schools have been established in the last few years.  Compulsory education begins at age 6 in kindergarten, then primary school for four years,  general education for five years and then secondary education for two to three years.  Russian general education is aimed at the moral, emotional, intellectual and physical development of the student.  Students are in school about 34 weeks with breaks similar to the American School System.  School is in session from September 1 to beginning of June.  The system aims to develop abilities that will help students make good life decisions.  There is a state test in June after general education is completed to determine whether the student will be admitted to secondary general education, vocational education or to non-university level higher education.  Students have access to iPads daily at all levels.

Students that make the best grades in secondary education get to continue into college for free and it continues to be free while their grades stay good!

Kirillov, City in Russia

The Kirillo-Belozersky Museum of History, Archi- tecture & Fine Arts (31735; Sobornaya pl 1; admission R50; 9am-5pm Tue-Sun), occupying a nonworking 14th-century monastery of the same name, is the reason to visit the small town of Kirillov, 130km northwest of Vologda. Legend has it that the monastery’s founder, Kirill, was living at Moscow’s Simonovsky monastery when he had a vision of the Virgin Mary showing him the towers of a new monastery. One of Kirillov’s many marvellous icons depicts this vision. Massive walls surround four main areas: the large Assumption Monastery, the small Ivanov Monastery, the Stockaded Town and the New Town. The regular admission ticket includes the churches and cathedrals and exhibits on regional history and the history of the monastery. In the tranquil village of Ferapontovo, 20km northeast of Kirillov, is another well-preserved monastery(49161; admission R60; 9.30am-5pm). The great Dionysius came here in 1502 to paint frescoes on the church’s interior (he did it in an amazing 34 days) and Ivan the Terrible is said to have frequented and enjoyed this church. The frescoes are a highpoint of Russian mural art and were the main reason Ferapontovo received World Heritage listing in 2000. Don’t come on wet or very humid days as the museum may be closed to protect the artworks.
IMG_3789IMG_3786IMG_3785IMG_3781IMG_3780IMG_3787
IMG_3777IMG_3776