PDK Member Spotlight
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Up-and-Coming Leaders: Jason Hartling
As a first-generation college graduate, Jason Hartling understands firsthand the challenges facing many students at Northwestern High School, a neighborhood school in Baltimore.
“I know the fear and sense of hope and try to share that with my students,” said Hartling, Northwestern’s principal and a PDK Emerging Leader. “We have an active college counseling program, and every adult in our building is a mentor to a senior, all designed to help open doors.”
Education is a second career for Hartling, who was a manager in the transportation industry. He discovered his love of teaching in college but didn’t have the courses to be certified. In 2002, he made the leap to education. He enrolled at Johns Hopkins University, where he ultimately earned a master’s in teaching, and also began teaching social studies in Baltimore. As principal, he’s worked to improve the climate at his school and says that students and staff now have a feeling of pride.
The school uses a positive behavioral interventions and supports program called PRIDE to improve the school’s climate and culture. The school has a full-time teacher mentor and mentoring center, and staff turnover has dropped from close to 45% annually to just 8% in three years.
“The stability of our staff has solidified our relationships with our students and families in a way previously impossible in a neighborhood school in Baltimore,” he said.
Improving literacy is another goal that he’s been working toward, with an eye to increasing student achievement. The average Northwestern student reads at the 5th-grade level.
“What we learned was that students are not just skill deficient, but they lacked passion for reading,” he said.
This year, they’ve added 25 minutes of daily sustained silent reading, put nearly 3,000 high-interest books on carts in the halls, taught students how to pick books, and focused on teaching reading strategies. The work is paying off: Students are checking out about 40 books a day, and the library’s circulation is up 900%.
“We’re slowly bringing a love of reading to our students,” he said.
Up-and-Coming Leaders: Mona Abo-Zena
Do Jewish youth fit into the category of religious minority?
This question was the subject of a lively debate when Mona Abo-Zena led a research team studying the perceived discrimination of religious minority youth.
Abo-Zena, a PDK Emerging Leader and adjunct lecturer at Boston College and Suffolk University, said the team decided to make the majority/minority distinction based on whether the major religious holidays of the religious tradition are recognized federal holidays.
“We found that religious minority youth significantly reported higher rates of perceived discrimination than their religious majority peers,” said Abo-Zena, who is also a post-doctoral fellow at New York University, Immigration Studies @ NYU. “Their experiences often related to scheduling sporting events and school on days that are sacred within their religion, as well as issues of feeling excluded because of dietary restrictions or religious dress. We also found that in a New England context, Christian youth who reported high levels of practice such as abstaining from alcohol and premarital sex reported higher levels of perceived discrimination.”
Helping youth dealing with this perceived discrimination is the focus of Abo-Zena’s research. For example, she said that the voices and perspectives of Muslim youth may be left out of educational contexts or be presented from a deficit perspective. To counteract this, she co-authored a chapter of Muslim Voices in School: Narratives of Identity and Pluralism, edited by Ö. Sensoy and C.D. Stonebanks. The chapter drew on narratives written by 6th-grade students about a time in their lives they displayed courage, and each of their narratives highlighted an aspect of their experience being Muslim. The book received the National Association for Multicultural Education's 2010 Philip C. Chinn Multicultural Book Award.
Abo-Zena said that her own experiences with discrimination led to her commitment to critical multicultural scholarship and culturally sensitive research and practice.
“Often, having an insider’s perspective on an issue gives you an advantage in terms identifying issues that have not been adequately addressed by previous research or applications,” she said. “There is a passion and a level of investment in research when you feel that your work is able to provide new perspectives, particularly related to groups or individuals who have been historically underrepresented.”
Book Supports Children in U.S. and Developing Countries
Karine Clay’s passion for improving literacy among students goes beyond the traditional classroom. Her children’s book, Color Me Different: A Child’s Tribute to Michael Jackson, can spark discussions about character, and a portion of the proceeds from the book’s sales will help build schools in developing countries.
Clay was inspired to write the book after having a conversation with her daughter about losing someone special. The book features a conversation between a mother and a daughter who are discussing the cultural impact of Michael Jackson’s music. The book discusses, race, skin color, grief, and loss.
“There is a growing need for children’s literacy in underprivileged communities,” Clay said. “My major goal is to write books that help kids here but also in other developing countries. A portion of the book’s sales will go to help build inclusive schools for children in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.”
She joined PDK more than six years ago and currently serves as an area director and president of the PDK Walden University chapter.
Clay received lots of support from family, friends, and chapter members while writing the book. She recalls the advice given to her by a chapter member: “Make sure the book is connected to a lesson. With every book there needs to be a teachable moment for the people who are reading it.”
She enjoys being invited to local schools to read her book during storytelling time.
“Teachers will find the book and lesson plan helpful when discussing topics on character building,” she said.
Clay has been a teacher for more than 12 years and is currently an adjunct professor at Walden University, where she teaches educational psychology.
Up-and-Coming Leaders: Steven Wrobleski
Thanks to a local business partnership, a group of sophomores at LaSalle-Peru Township High School in LaSalle, Ill., had the chance to observe a Caesarean section.
“I can’t think of any better way to learn about what a job entails than scrubbing down, donning surgical gowns, and watching a doctor perform these procedures,” said Steven Wrobleski, curriculum director at the high school.
The students were spending the day with a surgeon and saw a variety of procedures, thanks to the school’s involvement with High Schools That Work, a school improvement initiative created by the Southern Regional Education board but adopted by more than 1,000 schools across the country. LPHS administrative and school improvement teams selected HSTW after examining various school improvement models because it matched several of the school’s goals, such as creating greater connections between the career technical education programs and core academic areas.
To help with implementation, the school received a five-year grant from the Illinois State Board of Education. In five years, the graduation rate has improved more than 10% and the Advanced Placement and dual credit course enrollments have increased by more than 450%.
“Most exciting is the level of interest and support from our local communities, which have rallied behind our HSTW goals,” Wrobleski said. “Our local newspaper has been very supportive in reporting on this initiative, and I have received numerous e-mails, phone calls, and letters from parents expressing their appreciation for creating these opportunities for their kids.”
Wrobleski mentions the HSTW initiative in his PDKConnect blog, “Views from the School Yard,” although it’s not the only topic he plans to address. As a doctoral student in curriculum leadership, he uses his blog as a sounding board to help him process ideas he’s learning in his courses and his professional life. Topics will include teacher induction and mentoring, curriculum development and renewal, adult learning, and professional development.
He’s also integrating programs of study aligned with 16 career clusters and building more community partnerships to support students’ college and career goals.
“It is very exciting to be at a school striving to provide a pathway for every student,” he said.