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Changing mindsets, improving outcomes for students who live in poverty

JANESVILLE

Jackson Elementary Principal Kristen Moisson is reluctant to talk about her school’s success.

The school has been named a Department of Public Instruction School of Recognition six times. The school’s poverty rate is usually upwards of 80 percent, yet all measures show Jackson student growth and achievement well above average.

Talking about her school’s success, she said, often follows a conversation about poverty. But that’s not how she sees the families at the school. Her kids are smart and capable. Their families are loving and engaged in their children’s successes. To use the label “living in poverty” diminishes who they are, Moisson said.

To her, families are families, all unique and all capable of succeeding. She adds no caveats, makes no disclaimers and offers no excuses.

That attitude has resulted in academic success at Jackson.

The Janesville School District, where the percentage of economically disadvantaged children rose from 25% in 2006 to 52% in 2019, is looking for a better way to reach kids who live in poverty.

Moisson’s attitude and her school could represent what the district is trying to achieve.

The working poor

The state Department of Public Instruction uses eligibility for free and reduced-price lunches as the yardstick to measure economic disadvantage.

Children in households with incomes at or below 130% of the federal poverty level are eligible for free school meals. For a family of four, that’s $34,630 a year, the equivalent of $628 a week or about $15.70 an hour. That’s gross income before deductions.

For a family of two, 130% of the poverty level is $21,398 or $412 a week or $10.30 an hour.

The unemployment rate in the Janesville area remains at about 3%, meaning most families living in poverty have jobs, Superintendent Steve Pophal said.

But hourly pay of $13, $14 or $15 means they are just getting by.

The stressors they face are constant: transportation, safe and affordable housing, safe and affordable child care, and insurance, Pophal said.

Children living in poverty tend to arrive at school with fewer literacy skills, and the gap between them and their more well-to-do classmates increases as they go through the school system.

“The kid from a resourced home goes home for the summer, and they’re going to go on vacation and to museums. At home, they’re in clubs, and they’re going to the library,” Pophal said. “The kids from families where parents are working multiple jobs are going to be kind of left to their own resources.”

As those children grow older and fall farther behind, they are more likely to become disengaged from school, more likely to be truant and less likely to graduate on time.

Instead of blaming parents for failing to have the time, energy or money of their middle-class counterparts, Pophal believes the educational system needs to change the way it does business.

Anthony Wahl 

Jackson Elementary School kindergarten teacher Trisha Schaar reads a book to her class Thursday as students work on words with ‘R’ sounds.

Markers matter

What happens to that kid who doesn’t have the same kind of home as his or her middle-class counterpart?

“How often do our teachers inadvertently assign homework that actually requires resources, like they need paper or they need markers?” Pophal said. “And if I go home to an environment that’s void of all those things, already I’m at a disadvantage. Or consider the kid that goes home that has no connection to the internet.”

That child is unlikely to come back to school and say to his or her teacher, “I don’t have any markers at home.” Or maybe he does the assignment in pencil, and gets a poor grade.

“The problem is that kids will very quickly make a decision: ‘I’m not good at this,’” Pophal said. “And so now I’m coming to school with my homework, and it’s not done or not done very well, and I’m getting bad grades.”

School then becomes a place where a kid feels, “I’m not good at this,” or “I don’t belong.”

Educational consultant Rick Wormeli looks at the idea of deficit thinking and poverty in his blog post on the Association For Middle Level Education.

Deficit thinking places the blame for the lack of learning or behavioral problems and the children and their families, rather that addressing what the schools could do differently. On the political right, deficit thinking manifests itself in the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality. On the political left, the tendency is to say, “Oh those poor kids” and then try to help by offering unchallenging curriculum because that’s “all those kids can handle.”

Both ideas are equally damaging, Wormeli writes.

Drawing from a variety of sources, Wormeli examines the time constraints and emotional load of students and working families who live close to the poverty line.

While middle-class parents feel harried and overly busy, it’s usually because their lives are full. The emotional drain on the working poor has to do with food and shelter. How will we meet this month’s rent? What about the electric bill and the heat?

Hearts and minds

The district has approached the issue in practical ways. High school students now have Chromebooks they can take home. Students who don’t have internet access at home can get a hot spot from the district.

Most schools have “closets” where students can get free clothing. The district offers free bus passes and other services.

But for Moisson and her staff, what matters most is mindset.

Moisson is protective of her families. Any label, even one as innocuous as “low income” doesn’t work for her.

“We have the belief that all children can learn,” Moisson said. “They bring what they bring to school. Every child comes in with a unique package, and we meet them where they are; we meet their needs—whether it be socially, emotionally or academically.”

Meeting needs means being a resource for both the practical and the academic.

Practical items might include winter coats, the opportunity to use the school’s washer and dryer, help with transportation or connecting families and children with an agency that can help them with a particular need.

Many of Jackson’s students have attended more than one school in a year—some have been to as many as seven—and that means a lot of missed time in the classroom.

“Boost periods,” common in many schools, provide additional help in math and reading. Teachers use a technique called “scaffolding” to weave basics with new materials to help them catch up.

It’s also about remembering what resources—such as felt-tip markers—students have at home.

But most of all, it’s a mindset, Moisson said.

Teachers must respect families and invite them into the equation without patronizing or making judgements. Teachers must believe that students can learn, she said.

It seems to be working. The state’s report card’s show Jackson’s students do consistently well on “growth scores” which measure how much children have progressed in a year. The same report card has listed Jackson as a standout school for a number of years.

It’s a partnership between the school and families and kids that makes the system work, Moisson said.

“We love them,” Moisson said.

“We really do.”

Anthony Wahl 

Jackson Elementary School teacher Andrea Dunmore leads her third-grade class in a weather lesson as they check a rain gauge in the center courtyard of the school Thursday.



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Janesville AAUW to celebrate 95th anniversary

JANESVILLE

Barbara Bobzien was a young college graduate when she came to Janesville to work at the public library in 1950.

Soon, a member of the American Association of University Women invited her to a membership tea, complete with silver service and dainty sandwiches.

Bobzien was impressed with the nonpartisan group, whose mission is advancing equity for women and girls, and she joined the Janesville branch.

Today, some 69 years later, Bobzien remains a steadfast supporter of the AAUW, well known for its used-book sale each fall.

She looks forward to celebrating the history and future of the organization Tuesday, April 23, as the group wraps up its 95th year.

The Janesville branch will honor past presidents and long-time members, including Bobzien.

Current and past members are invited.

Branch leaders see the event as a way to honor the past and raise awareness about the organization in the community.

“We have been around a long time,” said Pat Phillips, who is co-president with Carole Salinas. “The work of helping women and girls have a better life never ends.”

The group has not changed its mission since it began in April 1923, but the way it accomplishes the mission changes with the times.

The 56 members of the Janesville branch conduct an annual book sale each November and an auction every other November. Money raised supports college scholarships for high school seniors and Project Renew recipients, who are women older than 25 going back to school.

In the last 18 years, the AAUW Janesville has awarded almost $55,000 in local scholarships, Phillips said.

In addition to fundraising, AAUW members look forward to monthly meetings September through May. The meetings include programs on current issues such as combating harassment in the workplace.

New members sought

Salinas and Phillips said the group is seeking new members.

“Our goal by the 100th anniversary is to have 100 members,” Salinas said. “There’s a lot of work to be done out there, and it can’t all be done by a handful. We are looking for new women to join us.”

Members are graduates of either two-year or four-year accredited institutions of higher learning.

The Janesville group is working with the Fort Atkinson branch of the AAUW and UW-Whitewater to organize a tech-savvy workshop for girls in grades 6 to 9 next year.

“Girls will be able to choose from three breakout STEM activities, while parents will be able to learn how to encourage and help their girls,” Salinas said.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

The Janesville branch also has a monthly book club and organizes special-interest groups for members to build community and deepen friendships.

A strong beginning

Janesville women wasted no time organizing an AAUW branch in April 1923.

Branch historian Mary Buelow said the national membership chairwoman from Washington, D.C., and the state AAUW president spoke at an informational meeting in Janesville on April 16.

On Monday, April 23, local women elected officers, adopted a constitution and initiated the branch’s first project: scholarship aid to high school girls going to college.

“These women had just gotten the vote,” Buelow said, referring to passage of the 19th Amendment three years earlier.

President Joanna Sutherland led Janesville’s first AAUW branch, which consisted of 31 members and 11 associate members.

At the time, Janesville’s population was almost 18,300. The General Motors plant had made its first Chevrolet car, and Henry Traxler became Janesville’s first city manager.

The 1920s were a time of huge change, and Janesville AAUW members focused on wiping out illiteracy at a time when education was not always valued, Buelow said.

Members also learned about banking fundamentals, international relations, and the economic and legal status of women.

The Janesville chapter did follow some societal norms. In the 1950s, its membership list recorded female members using their husband’s names, Bobzien said. Today, women are listed under their own names.

Other things have not changed over the decades.

“The first members were concerned with what was going on in the world, which continues today,” Buelow said. “They were college-educated women who wanted to connect with other college-educated women to improve the Janesville community.”

Anna Marie Lux is a Sunday columnist for The Gazette. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264 or email amarielux@gazettextra.com.


Obituaries and death notices for April 14, 2018

Adam “NoNo” Adams

Marjorie L. Ash

Marvin Boss

Darlene J. Bowers

John W. Brewer

Ann M. Briggs

Donald M. Cockfield

Gwendolyn B. “Gwen” Daluge

Kristin J. Jaworski

Betty M. Lohrman

Phyllis M. Luebke

Gregg Winklbauer


Michael Owens 

Brooklyn Nets guard D’Angelo Russell (1) attempts a three pointer against Milwaukee Bucks guard Sterling Brown (23) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, April 1, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Michael Owens)


AP
Trump sanctuary city idea could help migrants stay in US

PHOENIX

An idea floated by President Donald Trump to send immigrants from the border to “sanctuary cities” to exact revenge on Democratic foes could end up doing the migrants a favor by placing them in locations that make it easier to put down roots and stay in the country.

The plan would put thousands of immigrants in cities that are not only welcoming to them, but also more likely to rebuff federal officials carrying out deportation orders. Many of these locations have more resources to help immigrants make their legal cases to stay in the United States than smaller cities, with some of the nation’s biggest immigration advocacy groups based in places like San Francisco, New York City and Chicago. The downside for the immigrants would be a high cost of living in the cities.

The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University announced this week that an analysis found that immigrants in sanctuary cities such as New York and Los Angeles are 20% less likely to be arrested out in the community than in cities without such policies.

“With immigrants being less likely to commit crimes than the U.S. born population, and with sanctuary jurisdictions being safer and more productive than non-sanctuary jurisdictions, the data damns this proposal as a politically motivated stunt that seeks to play politics with peoples’ lives,” said George Gascon, district attorney for San Francisco.

Trump has grown increasingly frustrated over the situation at the border, where tens of thousands of immigrant families are crossing each month, many to claim asylum. His administration has attempted several efforts to stop the flow and he recently shook up the top ranks of the Department of Homeland Security.

The idea to ship immigrants to Democratic strongholds was considered twice in recent months, but the White House and Department of Homeland Security said the plan had been rejected. But Trump said Friday he was still considering the idea.

“Due to the fact that Democrats are unwilling to change our very dangerous immigration laws, we are indeed, as reported, giving strong considerations to placing Illegal Immigrants in Sanctuary Cities only,” Trump tweeted. He added that, “The Radical Left always seems to have an Open Borders, Open Arms policy—so this should make them very happy!”

Wilson Romero is an immigrant from Honduras who chose to settle in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Romero, 27, was separated from his daughter, now 7, by federal authorities at the U.S. border at El Paso, Texas, last year and jailed for three months before being released and making his way to live with his mother in San Jose, California. There he was reunited with his daughter, who attends public kindergarten.

Romero says he goes about daily errands in public without worry of discrimination. His daughter has made friends and has playdates with the children of Mexican American families. It’s a far cry from his hometown in the violence-plagued outskirts of San Pedro Sula, Honduras, that he fled after his brother-in-law was killed.

To him, the biggest problem with being in the Bay Area is the high cost of living. The former textile factory worker relies on his mother’s income from waitressing for food and clothing, and he’s started thinking about asking legal permission to move to North Carolina, where an uncle resides and says it’s cheaper to live and work.

“To tell the truth, it’s a little tight now, financially speaking,” said Romero, a former textile factory worker, who said he doesn’t know of any charities that may be willing to help.

The plan discussed by Trump would also have financial, logistical and legal issues.

The transportation of immigrants who are arrested at the border to large and faraway cities would be burdensome and costly at a time when Immigration and Customs Enforcement is already stretched thin, having released over 125,000 immigrants into the country pending their immigration court since Dec. 21. They are currently being released mainly in border states.

Flights chartered by ICE cost about $7,785 per flight hour, according to the agency, and require multiple staffers, including an in-flight medical professional. The agency also uses commercial flights. Doing longer transports would increase liability for the agency, especially considering that many of the immigrants in its care are families with young children.

And despite the consideration given to releasing the immigrants on the streets to sanctuary cities, the Trump administration actually has plenty of jail space to detain families. As of April 11, the nation’s three facilities to detain immigrant families were nowhere near capacity, including a Pennsylvania facility housing only nine immigrants.

It’s also unclear how long the immigrants would stay in these cities because they are required to provide an address to federal authorities—typically of a family member—as a condition of their release.

“It’s illogical,” said Angela Chan, policy director and senior attorney with the San Francisco-based Asian Law Caucus. “It’s just alarming that they are spending so much effort and so much time to engage in political theater.”

The Trump administration has long pushed back against cities with sanctuary policies, which generally prohibit local authorities to cooperate with federal immigration police, often by refusing to hold people arrested on local charges past their release date at the request of immigration officers. Over 100 local governments around the country have adopted a variety of these polices

“New York City will always be the ultimate city of immigrants—the President’s empty threats won’t change that,” New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio said in a statement.

But Trump seemed ready to step up his fight with the cities, vowing to “give them an unlimited supply” of immigrants from the border.


AP
Brexhaustion: Long, grinding Brexit is stressing people out

LONDON

Elly Wright can’t sleep through the night.

The Dutch native, who has lived in Britain for 51 years, keeps thinking about the black boots of Nazi soldiers marching by her basement window as they brought Jews to a nearby camp in her homeland. The flashbacks have been triggered by Britain’s heated debate over leaving the European Union, which has brought division, strife and fear of foreigners. The 77-year-old painter says it has shattered her sense of belonging.

“(Britain) is my home,” Wright said quietly. “That is being taken away from me.”

Wright isn’t alone in her angst. The acrimony over Brexit, which has reached fever pitch as deadlines come and go while politicians squabble, is affecting the mental wellbeing of people from Belfast to Brighton.

Job uncertainty. Visa worries. Confrontational conversations between family members or friends with opposing views on Brexit. The fatigue and stress caused by three years of conflict has spawned new terms: Brexhaustion or Strexit.

“It’s a civil war,” said Cary Cooper, a professor of organizational psychology at Manchester Business School. “What the country is going through is not a war with Europe. It’s not us against them. It’s internal.”

Just when some thought a conclusion could be drawn, Britain’s departure was delayed by six months at an emergency EU summit this week. Whether in favor of exit or hoping to stay, the long argument just got longer, and, for many more stressful.

Some have taken note of the trend. Online meditation provider Headspace has added bespoke meditations to help people manage Brexit stress, addressing issues such as having difficult conversations and what to do when you feel overwhelmed. Mike Ward, a London-based therapist who specializes in treating anxiety, estimates that some 40% of his patients now bring up Brexit-related issues, while cognitive-behavioral clinical hypnotherapist Becca Teers says many of her clients struggle with their lack of control over how Brexit might affect them.

Researchers at the London School of Economics’ Centre for Economic Performance, found that the “subjective well-being,” or happiness, of Britons has declined since the 2016 referendum—regardless of a person’s position on Brexit. The researchers believe this is because those in favor of remaining in the EU are upset with the outcome, and those who want to leave are unhappy with how politicians are handling the process.

The study was based on an analysis of the Eurobarometer surveys conducted every year that ask 1,000 people in each EU country about the economic outlook, their job prospects and issues ranging from terrorism to immigration and climate change.

Business consultant BritainThinks asked focus groups to name a song that encapsulated their emotions about Brexit. Their answer: the theme song from the classic horror movie “The Exorcist.” And that question was asked before the EU stretched the deadline to Oct. 31, Halloween.

“People consistently tell us how worried (Brexit) makes them feel,” said Tom Clarkson, research director at BritainThinks. “It’s just pessimistic mood music in the background.”

Brexit has been a major story in Britain since before the June 2016 referendum, as the country tries to unpick the legal and economic ties that have bound it to the EU for over 40 years. Things have ramped up since December as Parliament repeatedly rejected a withdrawal agreement negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May, raising the prospect of a chaotic no-deal exit that could have devastating effects on the economy.

Television news broadcasts are dominated by Brexit, with pundits dissecting daily developments and politicians trading insults. Some people are glued to live parliamentary debates with a dedication normally reserved for soccer, but others have tuned out, unable to bear news of the latest incremental development that seems to resolve nothing. Meanwhile, issues like a surge in knife crime, homelessness and rising childhood poverty get scant coverage.

Wright, for example, is watching the debates in Parliament, trying to make sense of all the arcane procedures and motions, knowing that the decision has implications for her life.

“I try to curtail (my viewing), but I get sucked in,” she said. “I want to understand.”

Members of Parliament aren’t immune to the stress. Lawmakers say they regularly receive death threats because of their positions on Brexit and some have publicly broken down in tears.

Andrew Percy, an MP from the governing Conservative Party, said recently that he had found a cupboard inside the House of Commons where he occasionally retreats for a few moments of calm between debates.

“It feels as if we are under siege,” Labour Party lawmaker Chris Bryant told the Times. “I know three MPs who have partners who are dying. They daily have to make the decision of whether to go home to see them or hang out for a vote that may never happen.”

Beyond Westminster, uncertainty is pervasive as companies try to prepare for the future without knowing what the economic rules will be.

Autoworkers are already getting bad news, as companies like Honda and Nissan curtail investment to focus on countries where there is less insecurity. Bankers, farmworkers, even doctors and nurses in the National Health Service are wondering what the future holds.

“Going on for three years, people look around them and see that people are losing jobs, companies planning to move staff. It’s been three years of constant instability,” said Cooper, an expert on workplace issues.

That frustration recently spilled into the streets, with hundreds of thousands marching on Parliament to demand that the government give the people a second vote on leaving the EU.

Less than a week later, after Parliament forced May to delay Britain’s departure, Brexit supporters held a smaller but equally animated protest to decry politicians they said were ignoring the will of 17.4 million people who voted to leave.

In the middle of this morass sit people like Elena Remigi, who runs the In Limbo Project, a Facebook forum for EU citizens living in the U.K.

One recent post tries to explain what Brexit means for many expatriates by using imagery from Dante’s medieval poem “Inferno,” where “the straight path has been lost” in a dark forest.

“The dark forest truly represents our limbo: a place of uncertainty, sadness, confusion, fragility, anger and many other painful feelings,” she wrote.

“The human cost is huge and it has been hugely underestimated,” Remigi later told The Associated Press. “I find that as more time goes by the more stressed people are.”


Anthony Wahl 

Karen Reed helps students with an art project Friday morning at The Learning Curve day care center in Elkhorn.