FEATURE — Winter 2009
   

 
Washington University is the institutional sponsor of a new fifth-grade charter school, KIPP Inspire Academy, in St. Louis. KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) currently runs 82 free public schools throughout the country, preparing children from underserved communities for success both in college and in life. (Photo: Joe Angeles)

Inspired to Teach & to Learn

Young people in the St. Louis area strive to reach their educational potential with the help of some 50 University initiatives, featuring undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and administrators.

by Judy H. Watts

It’s a mild and sunny August morning in South St. Louis, where a roomful of fifth-graders at the KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) charter school are upbeat in spite of being indoors—and in math class at that. In fact, given this school, they’re probably smiling because of it.

Wearing T-shirts (earned through performance) declaring “Knowledge Is Power,” the boys and girls are seated and making noise. A lot of noise. Their teacher is egging them on, hollering questions and motioning cheerleader-style as 35 voices shout out answers as one. Suddenly she zings a question to a boy in the third row; when he hesitates, she points to another: “Can a team member help?” And the second boy does.

Another classroom, as disciplined and exuberant as the first, is ringed with signs such as “We Are a Team and a Family,” “All of Us Will Learn,” and “Climb the Mountain to College.” When a visitor entered recently, teacher and students were volleying vocabulary words at top volume. Then, 9-year-old De’Ja Wood stepped up to ask, with consummate courtesy and poise, whether she could be of help. Like 80 percent of her schoolmates, De’Ja lives in North St. Louis. The class, she explained, was learning “words and how to pronounce them better.” (School leader Jeremy Esposito later explained that the all-fifth-grade school, called KIPP Inspire Academy, focuses on literacy: “We figure there’s a one-million- to three-million-word gap for the majority of our students.”) Asked what she thought of her new school, De’Ja’s intent expression gave way to a grin: “Fantastic!”

Using hands-on investigative methods, Science Outreach encourages students of all ages to achieve in the study of math and science. At St. Louis Metro High School, for example, Kori Strother (left) and Bria Jones learn how to assemble hydrogen fuel cells to power model cars. (Photo: David Kilper)

An opportunity for all involved
KIPP Inspire’s institutional sponsor is Washington University. Several years ago, civic leaders approached the University about supporting a charter school. After extensive study, the University made a formal commitment to sponsor a KIPP school in a highly active way.

And so it was that De’Ja Wood’s charter school opened on July 13, 2009, in the former St. Francis de Sales High School building. KIPP Inspire requires high-intensity parental involvement, extended classroom hours (longer days, alternate Saturday mornings, and three weeks in the summer), and increased access to teachers. Parents, students, and teachers signed contracts outlining the details of their participation before classes began.

The KIPP school is part of a national nonprofit network of 82 free public schools in 19 states and the District of Columbia. An emphasis on academics and character development prepares children from underserved communities for success both in college and in life. Fully 80 percent of KIPP alumni enroll in college.

In St. Louis, KIPP Inspire will expand by one grade each year as the founding cadre of fifth-graders advance. (And advance they will. Says Esposito, a kind, open, and calmly purposive young man who with his teachers went door-to-door in the city to recruit the first class: “On average, our entering students are reading at a first- to second-grade level. We expect them to reach the fifth-grade level in one year.”) Eventually the city of St. Louis expects to have a KIPP cluster of two middle schools, two elementary schools, and a high school.

What’s more, says Henry S. Webber, executive vice chancellor for administration at the University: “As time goes on, we expect the KIPP school to include social services for the children. Equally important, we anticipate a considerable level of community involvement, so the school’s success becomes the success of the larger community.” Webber, along with Edward F. Lawlor, dean of the George Warren Brown School of Social Work, played a major role in the University–KIPP partnership from the beginning

Target ripe for change
KIPP Inspire and scores of other initiatives at Washington University address educational conditions that are similar to what many important urban centers face. In her 2009 Washington University Commencement address, honorary degree recipient and Teach For America CEO Wendy Kopp said: “Here in the St. Louis Public Schools, where 80 percent of students are living below the poverty line and 84 percent are kids of color, would you believe that 16 percent … are meeting state standards in math [and] 19 percent in reading and writing?”

(Photo: Joe Angeles)

“If educational inequity … is solvable, it is the moral responsibility of those of us who have been given so much to do everything in our power to realize that change.”
—Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach For America; 2009 Commencement speaker

As a decades-long exodus of many city residents continues, the St. Louis Public School District (SLPS), like some others in the area, confronts the far-reaching societal effects of multigenerational poverty. The district also contains high concentrations of impoverished people in discrete areas where crime and violence are common.

And according to the SLPS District, nearly one-quarter of high school students dropped out in the 2007–08 school year. The majority of these students were African-American males. In well-meant attempts to address the tragedy, the SLPS District over the decades has been, in the words of St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Sylvester Brown, “segregated, desegregated, integrated, chopped up, bused out, decertified, and magnetized” (October 2008).

Following the state’s mid-2007 takeover of the district, a new SLPS superintendent is in place. Kelvin Adams, former staff chief of the Recovery School District of New Orleans, is implementing a range of reforms and rapidly building strong additional partnerships with Washington University and others in the community.

Training Tomorrow’s Community Leaders
“From a sustainable systematic viewpoint, you can’t fix education problems without well-developed communities,” says Joe Jovanovich, a graduate student at the Brown School. For his social-work practicum, Jovanovich is spending the 2009–10 academic year at KIPP Inspire. He works with school leader Jeremy Esposito on developing and implementing a program in character education that centers on KIPP’s core values—honor, excellence, absolute determination, respect, and teamwork.

“A critical part of character development is leadership,” Jovanovich explains, “and KIPP is training students to be leaders in their communities and in academe. We hope developing character skills, such as leadership, will help the students thrive in their schoolwork.”

A native of St. Louis’ Dogtown, Jovanovich brings to his graduate work four years’ experience with City Year, an AmeriCorps program in Chicago, where he became interested in working with children in struggling urban schools and in policymaking and communities. His adviser is Amanda Moore McBride, assistant professor of social work and director of the Gephardt Institute for Public Service, with whom he created an individualized curriculum in urban education and community development that he hopes will contribute to St. Louis after he graduates.

Sharing intellectual capital
“Washington University students, faculty, and alumni have long been known for their contributions to public, K–12 education in St. Louis and in their own communities,” says Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton. “Ensuring high-quality educational opportunities for all children is the key to strengthening the future of our region, our country, and the world. I am grateful for the commitment that many members of the Washington University family have made to improving public education.”

Working with multiple school districts, agencies, and organizations, the University contributes powerful human and intellectual capital. Faculty members—including some of the most distinguished senior professors on the campus—have been volunteering for years, in ways ranging from opening their labs to area teachers and students, to instructing principals and overseeing internships.

At the same time, droves of Washington University students volunteer in the schools and for campus education efforts. Many are so galvanized by the experience that they apply to Teach For America (TFA), a nonprofit program that recruits outstanding recent college graduates to teach for two years in high-need urban and rural schools. “We are one of the top universities in the nation in terms of the number of undergraduates who go on to Teach For America,” says Robert M. Wild, AB ’93 (black studies), AB ’93 (biology), assistant to the chancellor, and a TFA alumnus who taught science in the Bronx for two years. “Many are teaching here in St. Louis through the TFA corps.” (For more information, visit: teachforamerica.org.)

Three major partnerships in particular serve both the KIPP school and the broader goal of sustainable high-quality education in St. Louis schools: Science Outreach, initiatives through the Brown School, and Each One Teach One. These programs and scores of others (see “University Expands Its Outreach”) in every school and college respond to public school needs, provide valuable information and perspectives, and generate evidence-based innovative strategies.

Helping teachers teach math and science • In 2007–08 alone, faculty members from across campus worked with the Science Outreach office in 45 different school districts. They impacted approximately 1,500 teachers and more than 35,000 students. Since biologist Sarah C.R. Elgin, the Viktor Hamburger Professor in Arts & Sciences, founded Science Outreach two decades ago, it has become one of the nation’s largest efforts to improve the quality of science and math education in the public schools.

Science Outreach (so.wustl.edu) connects faculty, students, programs, research findings, and community resources with areas of K–12 educational need. It also partners with faculty and educators at the Saint Louis Science Center, the Saint Louis Zoo, and the Missouri Botanical Garden. The National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, among others, sponsor and rigorously evaluate many Science Outreach programs. Victoria L. May, an assistant dean of Arts & Sciences, directs the program.

A popular effort begun through May’s outreach to the SLPS District is the Principals Academy. In June 2009, the Olin Business School hosted the weeklong professional-development program on campus. Samuel S. Chun, lecturer in marketing and director of Olin’s Custom Executive Programs, designed the program; faculty members taught in it; the SLPS District, the University, and Boeing Corporation funded it. In winter 2009, May and her colleagues will meet with the participating principals to discuss their schools’ first 100 days.

Still another partnership is a makeover now under way at Brittany Woods Middle School in adjacent University City. Faculty and student architects from the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts are helping the district put a new physical face on the school, while Science Outreach is consulting on instructional changes. With the goal of interesting middle-school students in studying science and mathematics on through high school, the teachers have come together in Professional Learning Communities. Within these small, interdisciplinary groups, math and science teachers meet daily and weekly to plan, discuss, and share strategies to improve teaching and learning.

As KIPP Inspire moves through its first year and adds sixth and seventh grades, Science Outreach will be its bridge to University resources, working with the school’s math and science teachers on professional development.

Science Outreach supports K–12 teachers in investigation and inquiry teaching methods. In the Life Sciences for a Global Community degree program, Tiffany Knight (right), assistant professor of biology in Arts & Sciences, identifies an invasive plant to a group of high school teachers at Tyson Research Center. For more information, visit so.wustl.edu/life_sciences. (Photo: David Kilper)

Science Outreach fields numerous other programs—many already models for teacher professional development and curriculum innovation. Initiatives include the St. Louis Math and Science Partnership and Life Sciences for a Global Community; the latter offers a master’s degree in biology, with a leadership component, for any biology teacher from the SLPS District—for free. Teachers from across the country take part as well, and approximately 30 are enrolled. (The importance of this effort is illustrated by the work of William F. Tate IV, the Edward Mallinckrodt Distinguished University Professor in Arts & Sciences and chair of the Department of Education, and the departmental research statistician, Mark Hogrebe. Working with 2002 data from 423 Missouri 10th-graders, Tate and Hogrebe found that “higher science scores were associated with a greater percentage of master’s degree teachers, especially in largely minority schools.” Teachers College Record, 2009)

Next, May plans to target physical science with a grant proposal that will incorporate the University’s advances in physics, chemistry, materials science, nanotechnology, and energy.

Supporting public education and its community context • “At the Brown School, we have a critical mass of faculty and students already connected to community organizations and schools,” says Brown School Dean Lawlor, “and we’re having many conversations to help support and develop or deepen relationships with the SLPS District, U. City schools, and districts in the suburban ring. We’re looking ahead to what I think will be our best and most important work. It’s an important chance to influence schools’ development and their success.”

Each One Teach One (EOTO) is the University tutoring initiative, sponsored by the Community Service Office. EOTO connects University mentors with students with the greatest need of support. University tutor Gloria Osei enjoys time with area youth during an on-campus holiday celebration. (Photo: Whitney Curtis)

Lawlor brings to the moment both knowledge and experience in working with schools in great urban centers. Before moving to St. Louis, he had a role in a major initiative that brought community schools—which provide health services and strong academic and relevant recreational planning—to Chicago. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was CEO of the Chicago Public Schools at the time. Ultimately, the aggressive educational reform plan raised educational standards and performance, increased the quality of principals and teachers, and more. Lawlor also has worked with implementers of successful reform in New York City.

Part of the profession’s history since its inception, social work in the schools is a major component of the Brown School’s mission and of its academic concentration “Children, Youth, and Families.” The School’s partnership with KIPP Inspire provides training for graduate students (see “Training Tomorrow’s Community Leaders”) and opportunities for faculty and students to gather data that the KIPP school, the Brown School, and others can use. Many social work students, a healthy number who are Teach For America alumni, want to work in youth-development programs and community organizations that interact with schools. “And for our alumni, some of the biggest challenges and biggest opportunities will be working in urban schools,” Lawlor says.

In the Alberti Program–Architecture for Young People, selected fourth- through ninth-graders learn about architecture from University students. One highlight is sharing projects with parents and grandparents.

University Expands Its Outreach
According to Amanda Moore McBride, director of the Gephardt Institute for Public Service and assistant professor of social work, more than 50 educational initiatives on the Danforth Campus alone are specific to public schools in the St. Louis area. They focus on literacy and success, teachers and administration, college readiness, and neighborhood development. Distinguished faculty and students from every school and college engage in these voluntary programs, of which only a very few are indicated below. More than 1,000 freshmen participate in Service First, painting and assisting with school facilities for a day over Labor Day weekend, and for many, this leads to further involvement through educationally based service projects advised by the Community Service Office, Campus Y, Greek Life, and more.

For more information about these partnerships and others with public schools, visit the noted Web addresses, as well as gephardtinstitute.wustl.edu, communityservice.wustl.edu, and the academic units’ Web sites at www.wustl.edu.

• Alberti Program–Architecture for Young People (samfoxschool.wustl.edu/alberti_program), Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts
• “Rediscovering the Child: Interdisciplinary Workshops in an Urban Elementary School” (impact.wustl.edu/k12.html), American Culture Studies Program in Arts & Sciences
• Junior Achievement Program, where MBA students teach public school students basic business skills
• NSF GK–12 Fellowship (engineering.wustl.edu/gk12), School of Engineering & Applied Science
• Law-Related Education Initiative (impact.wustl.edu/k12.html), School of Law
• Students and Teachers as Research Scientists (STARS) (impact.wustl.edu/k12.html), Pfizer-Solutia Partnerships of Universities
• Young Scientist Program (http://ysp.wustl.edu), School of Medicine

“We’re interested in kids’ social and motional development, in parental and family support for their children’s education, in building strong and positive community relationships, and in developing sound ways to support children, families, and communities,” he continues. “We’re in this for the long haul.”

Changing lives on both sides of the book • “Each One Teach One inspired me,” says Glenn Davis, BSBA ’03, who coordinated the large student-tutoring program when he was an undergraduate and tutored in the public schools twice each week. “Seeing the children’s struggles, their joy in learning, and helping them do well showed me how I wanted to spend my life,” he says. After graduating, Davis joined Teach For America; went on to become the founding mathematics teacher at KIPP Lead in Gary, Indiana; and recently received the KIPP Fisher Fellowship that is preparing him to establish and lead a high school in 2010. “I know a ton of Washington U. graduates who are now teaching on behalf of social justice because of Each One Teach One and other Washington University service organizations,” Davis says.

Another alum, former Each One Teach One (EOTO) coordinator and Stevens Middle School tutor Juliet DiLeo Curci, AB ’04 (political science), became a TFA corps member, taught in Philadelphia, and is now a doctoral candidate in urban education at Temple University. She also co-chairs the recently launched Gephardt Alumni Service Council. Like Davis, she found her EOTO experiences life-changing. “When I do student interviews for APAP [Alumni & Parents Admission Program] and am asked what undergraduate experiences were formative, I always speak of Each One Teach One,” she says. “Through this extracurricular activity, I found my career path in urban education. It was that powerful for me.”

Organized in January 2000, Each One Teach One is now part of the University’s Gephardt Institute for Public Service. The tutoring initiative partners directly with the SLPS District as well as College Bound and KIPP Inspire Academy to recruit, train, and support undergraduate and graduate tutors who are eager to mentor K–12 students. Stephanie Kurtzman, director, Community Service Office, and associate director, Gephardt Institute, explains EOTO’s four components (communityservice.wustl.edu/eoto):
EOTO Jump Start buses 45 to 55 WU volunteers a day, four days a week, to Hamilton and Ford elementary schools;
EOTO College Bound brings promising high school students from University City, Clyde C. Miller, Roosevelt, and Maplewood-Richmond Heights high schools to the Danforth Campus to meet regularly in Lopata House, so they’ll become comfortable and inspired in a college setting;
EOTO AP Prep emphasizes math, calculus, and test-taking skills for high school seniors at Gateway and Soldan high schools;
• And the EOTO KIPP program is new this year.

Responding to a request from KIPP Inspire’s leader Esposito for two University tutors a day, five days a week, EOTO recently placed 10 highly motivated students. They underwent a rigorous selection and training process, and committed to tutoring at the school for at least one year—so the fifth-graders will have stable, sustained working relationships with these role models.

Education in the public interest
“Urban education represents one of the most pressing social opportunities of our time,” says William Tate, chair of the education department (a department whose graduate program U.S. News & World Report ranked among the best for the 2010 academic year). Tate’s research showed that in 2008 nearly 72 percent of students in the city’s public schools qualified for free or reduced-price lunches—an indication of poverty. “Great universities should be working on the most important opportunities to advance humankind,” he adds.

Within the great university of ideas that is Washington University, the Department of Education itself does not support charter-school policy. “Rather, we seek to provide our students and the community with rigorous empirical evidence related to effectiveness,” Tate explains. “Our goal is to inform civic dialogue about what is best for students.”

In keeping with the education department’s research-based mission and the University’s historical commitment to St. Louis, the recently established interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Regional Competitiveness in Science and Technology (CSRCST), which Tate leads, examines how people, policies, and partnerships affect scientific and technological growth and production in the metro area. At a time when St. Louis and the state of Missouri have turned to the education and business communities to build a more competitive environment for the life sciences, informational technology, and advanced manufacturing, the center’s work will be critical (artsci.wustl.edu/scienceandtechnology).

Now subsumed under CSRCST, the St. Louis Center for Inquiry in Science Teaching and Learning (CISTL), under Tate’s direction, created an extensive database that is a rich resource for researchers and the public schools. In one study, for example, statistician Hogrebe and colleagues gathered data from 30 public school districts in St. Louis city, St. Louis County, Jefferson County, and St. Charles County. Then with GIS–produced maps, they showed the relationships between variables that differentiated the schools, teachers, and science achievement among districts (for example, instructional expenditures per student, teachers’ salary and experience)—all within the region’s social and cultural context. One finding depicts a situation demanding major improvement: Taken overall, “even in districts with the highest percentage of science-proficient students in the 10th grade, only 16.2 percent of students are proficient” (Education and Urban Society, vol. 40, no. 5, Sage Publications, July 2008). Such geospatial maps and related graphics are valuable tools to help inform and promote sustained civic dialogue about solutions.

Of overwhelming importance, of course, are the men and women the department certifies to instruct America’s students. Hundreds of education alumni teach at all levels (including the Central Institute for the Deaf) and serve as principals and superintendents, including Charles R. Brown, MA ’78, who holds a PhD from Iowa State University, and who oversees the Wellston School District.

Susan Carter, MA ’01, is the recipient of multiple teaching awards, including the 2008 Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching. She says: “My graduate work at Washington U. gave me a sense of responsibility to seek excellence. The focus on action research and teaching social justice in addition to academics certainly has shaped my journey.” (Photo: Kevin Lowder)

The effects of a rigorous education that instills a passion for teaching are obvious in alumna Susan Carter’s young career. Already the recipient of multiple awards and the author of published articles for colleagues in her profession, Carter, MA ’01, most recently received the 2008 Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching. Presented at the White House each fall, the awards recognize the best pre-college-level teachers in the nation. Formerly a teacher at Jackson Elementary School in University City, Missouri, Carter now teaches at Glenridge Elementary School in Clayton, Missouri.

“She’s the archetype!” Tate says.

Curriculum redesign in the Department of Education also supports the imperatives of the times and fits with recruitment efforts that have added significant urban-education expertise to its outstanding faculty.

Coming together for the children
In sum, helping all young people in the St. Louis area reach their educational and lifelong potential is an obligation, as well as an undertaking critical to the St. Louis region’s best future. As the University and its community partners move forward on all fronts to accomplish that goal, work in the days and years ahead will be both rewarding and challenging. But as Lawlor says: “The biggest enemy of all endeavors to improve public school education is cynicism and skepticism about whether schools can get better. They can get better.”

Judy H. Watts is a freelance writer based in St. Louis and a former editor of this magazine.

For more information, visit: impact.wustl.edu/k12.html.