education

What is the Difference Between Equality & Equity?

By Jennifer Van Pelt

An image that visualizes the difference between equality and equity. In both images three figures stand in front of a fence, attempting to see over it, and they all stand at different levels of the field, some higher and some lower than the others. The “equality” image shows each figure standing on an equal sized box, yet one figure still cannot see over the fence. The “equity” image shows the figure lowest on the field with three boxes, the second lowest with two, and so on, so that everyone can see over the fence. ( Source )

An image that visualizes the difference between equality and equity. In both images three figures stand in front of a fence, attempting to see over it, and they all stand at different levels of the field, some higher and some lower than the others. The “equality” image shows each figure standing on an equal sized box, yet one figure still cannot see over the fence. The “equity” image shows the figure lowest on the field with three boxes, the second lowest with two, and so on, so that everyone can see over the fence. (Source)

The terms “equity” and “equality” are frequently thought to be interchangeable. However, in the world of education (and beyond) there is a large distinction between the two that can be differentiated in the same way as “fairness” and “sameness.” King University describes the difference as, “Equality denotes how people are treated, such as providing students an equal amount of respect or an equal amount of instruction. But equity, on the other hand, is about giving each students the tools [they] specifically need to thrive.” Equality assumes that every child needs the same amount of attention and tools in school in order to succeed. Equity accounts for the fact that children have different home lives, backgrounds, learning styles, or learning disabilities, among other factors.

The Glossary of Education Reform outlines several ways in which inequity can enter the public school system and classrooms:

  • Societal Inequity: Minority students (based on race, ethnicity, nationality, language, religion, class, gender, sexual orientation, or ability) may experience conscious or unconscious discrimination that can affect their learning, achievement, or aspirations.

  • Socioeconomic Inequity: Students from lower-income households can under-perform in the classroom and tend to enroll in higher education at lower rates than their more affluent peers.

  • Familial Inequity: Students may come from a tumultuous household with abuse, poverty, or lack of support. Parents who are unable to read themselves or were unable obtain a diploma may place a different emphasis on academics than parents who obtained a college degree.

  • Linguistic Inequity: Students who are learning the English language may be disadvantaged in classrooms that provide English-only exams and can be held to lower academic expectations.

These background variables place students at different advantages in school, starting from the time they enter Kindergarten. The support an English-language learner needs in a classroom differs from the attention a student who comes from an low-literate household needs. By focusing on these needs from the beginning, we can prevent achievement gaps that will only widen over time.

There are various ways to help bring fairness to the classroom and provide the tools that each student needs individually to succeed. An article written by Shane Safir, the founding co-principal of June Jordan School for Equity, explains some of these methods. Her first example details an English-language learner who struggled with paragraphs and punctuation and how she found the time for one-on-one teaching during a class quiz. By placing more emphasis on the student’s learning gap instead of a quiz that the entire class was taking, the teacher saw the importance in bringing the ELL student up to speed with the rest of the class. Some of her other methods include knowing the students lives outside of school, what they enjoy doing, and more about their family, so the teacher can build trust and begin to understand what additional support, if any, the child may need. Safir also believes in creating a safe space where failure is celebrated and students can share their struggles with their peers in order to learn from each other.

There have been several federal initiatives related to providing equity to students through how funding is allocated to schools as well as supporting organizations who can help bridge the equity gap directly. Promise Neighborhoods, Investing in Innovation, and IDEA are all recent federal initiatives that focus on supporting nonprofits and institutions of higher education that provide these students the tools they need to thrive.

Words Alive works to achieve equity in education, by providing additional support to students who may be working through extraordinary circumstances in the public school system. If you would like to learn more or get involved with our Words Alive programs, click here for more information.

Sources:

https://online.king.edu/news/equality-vs-equity/

https://www.edglossary.org/equity/

https://www.edutopia.org/blog/equity-vs-equality-shane-safir

What is Student-Led Education?

By Jennifer Van Pelt

What is Student-Led Education?

Teachers from the school site 37ECB stand in front of posters about facilitation tips that the students created together. Their semester culminated in a project in which the students were in charge of facilitating discussions.

Teachers from the school site 37ECB stand in front of posters about facilitation tips that the students created together. Their semester culminated in a project in which the students were in charge of facilitating discussions.

In the 21st century, we have access to millions of pieces of information in less than a second. This shift in immediate availability of information changes not only how the workforce operates, but also how we prepare students to enter the workforce. One of the ways in which some districts and schools are addressing this is to place less emphasis on the traditional teacher-to-student lectures and instead focus more on building skill sets of students that allow them to succeed in the demands of a technologically-savvy workforce.

By changing the focus from the typical teacher-to-student led classrooms, and instead focusing on empowering students to discover their own hurdles, find their own answers, and teach others their findings, students are being taught important life-long skills. In a publication by eSchool News that focuses on how to make the shift to student-led learning, the top 10 skills that are needed in 2020 as identified by the World Economic Forum were listed, including complex problem solving, people management, negotiation, and critical thinking, among others. However, these skills cannot be taught from a teacher, they need to be observed, practiced, and given feedback. The ability to learn from peers and find resources is the key difference in student-led education versus traditional teaching formats.

What are the Benefits and Challenges of Student Led Education?

Image of former ABG student, Daimeon, facilitating a book discussion with current ABG students at La Mesa Community School.

Image of former ABG student, Daimeon, facilitating a book discussion with current ABG students at La Mesa Community School.

There are multiple reasons why more of an emphasis is being placed on student-led education. As discussed in an article on teachaway.com that outlines the benefits of student-led learning, when students take the lead in teaching, they focus on ideas that interest them more, which paves the way for a deeper understanding and more enjoyment and fulfillment from the topic. Students also tend to relate to their classmates more, meaning they may pay more attention and even understand them better than they might a teacher. In this teachaway article, a pilot study from a university was cited in which students were given autonomy on how to structure the classes themselves in an effort to increase class attendance and exam performance. Student involvement and class attendance increased, which in turn improved the grades of the students in the pilot study. Similar teaching styles are being implemented across the world and to students of all ages to empower them to take more control over the learning process.

In the workforce, teachers are not readily available to answer questions and lead employees to the right resources. It is up to employees to find resources themselves from peers or online. Allowing this skill to develop while also enabling students to discover what interests them is becoming more important, as more schools shift to this methodology of teaching.

The Words Alive Adolescent Book Group includes book discussions, activities, and projects that are often times led by the student participants. This allows them to get comfortable speaking in front of others and encourages more involvement amongst their peers. If you are interested in funding these student-focused literacy programs, visit our website here for more details on our upcoming Author’s Luncheon & Fundraiser!

Sources:

https://www.teachaway.com/blog/benefits-student-led-learning-international-schools

http://foggs.ca/wp/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Making-the-shift-to-student-led-learning-white-paper.pdf

What Does It Mean to Be Ready for College & Career?

By Jennifer Van Pelt

Our Words Alive Westreich Scholars attended a comprehensive and hands-on financial literacy workshop at Junior Achievement’s Finance Park, learning skills necessary for college and career success!

Our Words Alive Westreich Scholars attended a comprehensive and hands-on financial literacy workshop at Junior Achievement’s Finance Park, learning skills necessary for college and career success!

As students near the end of high school, there is pressure to make decisions about colleges, scholarships, and careers. There is an added level of pressure and confusion surrounding the transition from high school to college when you are a first-generation college student, as is the case for many incoming college students.  Discussions amongst teachers and counselors can surround the topic around who is “college ready” or “career ready”, which can be an ambiguous term for students and parents. What does it mean to be college or career ready? What can you do to help ensure that you or your children are properly preparing for the next steps after high school?

What Does it Mean to be College Ready?

According to an article published on Educause Review, there are five tangible areas that a student should be comfortable with before proceeding into higher education. Touching on just a few of these areas, study skills is mentioned as the first area of importance. This means teaching students an effective study method that will help them succeed in college level courses. By discovering the method that works for a student’s learning type, knowledge of the subject, and difficulty of the course, a student is better set up for success.

Another area mentioned is information literacy, meaning that a student needs to be able to differentiate what information is important and then how to properly verify that the information they were given is accurate. Not only is this needed for college papers, but it’s also important for the life of any young adult in the 21st century as we are bombarded with information from all forms of social media, news outlets, television, and millions of Google results.

What Does it Mean to be Career Ready?

Achieve.org dives into what the goal of being college and career ready after high school really means. In their article, being “career ready” is ensuring that a student has the tools to not only obtain a job after graduation, but also is ready to pursue any vocational, apprenticeship, or on-the-job trainings that will enable them to succeed in their chosen career. Through the standardized testing system that the United States has established, the Common Core standards are the agreed upon “knowledge skills” that a student needs to have before pursuing college or a career after high school. However, for many vocational careers, there is no high school preparation for the demands of these jobs that are often very technical and specific. Due to the focus on an education surrounding English, Math and other “core” subjects, the emphasis remains to be competent in these areas to allow the basis for career-specific training.

Nearing the end of high school is a pivotal point for young adults, and it’s important they have the right support during this time. The Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Program helps students from the Juvenile Court & Community School system achieve their higher education goals. The scholarship awards money to help with living expenses as well as a mentor to help guide them through the new academic landscape while also building relationship skills and learning more about the professional world.

For more information about Words Alive, please click here.

Sources:

https://er.educause.edu/blogs/2017/2/what-does-college-ready-mean

https://www.achieve.org/what-college-and-career-ready

Your Brain on Reading

By Jennifer Van Pelt

An image of three of our Adolescent Book Group students holding up copies of the YA novel "The Hate U Give" to cover their faces.

An image of three of our Adolescent Book Group students holding up copies of the YA novel "The Hate U Give" to cover their faces.

Reading is imperative to learning and development, but do you know what is actually happening to your brain when you read? A recent article by NPR outlines a study specifically conducted on children around age 4 in which they test activity in the brain caused by reading by presenting various story formats to the participants while they were inside an fMRI machine.

The story formats presented to the children were: audio only, illustrated pages of a storybook with an accompanying voice over, and an animated cartoon. For the audio only format, it appeared as though the children were struggling to understand and connect the dots. For the animated cartoon, it was quite the opposite: all the work was done for the children, so they were left trying to comprehend the information given to them, exercising their brain minimally. Lastly, for the illustrated pages with audio voice over, this seemed to be the most beneficial to the children. They were able to hear the words and fill in the blanks with the illustrations for the most comprehensive understanding while exercising their brain networks. This also allows those with different learning styles to benefit from both visual and aural methods. The article did make an important note though -- although the illustrated book with audio voice over was the most beneficial in the study, it still pales in comparison to sitting down with family and reading a book together.

As children get older and they start reading for themselves, they tend to sound-out words based on the individual letters. When they do this, they are forging more brain connections to help them remember the word in the future. As written in an article on theconversation.com, there is a particular area in the brain where words are “stored”, recognized more so as a symbol, so once a word is learned it is more easily recognizable and is added to their arsenal of words to use in the future.

What about for adults that are learning to read in the later stages of life? There have been studies that show the actual process of learning to read and write rewires one’s brain. A study was conducted that focused on adults around age 30 who were taught to read and write over the course of six months and included a control group who were not taught anything new. For the adults who spent six months learning to read and write, there were increases in brain activity in the cortex, the “learning” portion of the brain, as well as the thalamus and brainstem -- areas of the brain that are not generally related to learning or literacy but instead are generally used for more basic processes such as senses, movement, and attention.

These studies indicate that your brain on reading is a very involved process, one that shows the benefits of reading down to the very core of our being: it heightens activity in key areas of the brain and helps you comprehend stories and concepts more fully.

At Words Alive, we understand the benefits reading can have on all aspects of your life and at every age -- if you would like to get involved and help others experience the benefits, visit our main page here!

Sources:

https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2018/05/24/611609366/whats-going-on-in-your-childs-brain-when-you-read-them-a-story

http://theconversation.com/explainer-how-the-brain-changes-when-we-learn-to-read-76783

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2132589-learning-to-read-and-write-rewires-adult-brain-in-six-months/

Words Alive Celebrates the Graduation of Westreich Scholarship Students

“Words Alive has demonstrated that there are people who care for others without expecting something in return. They have been so loving to me, and my experience at UCSC wouldn't have been the same without them.” 

– Brittany Jackson, Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Student

From left to right: Words Alive Operations Directior Chrissy Green Califf, Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Student Brittany Jackson, and Words Alive Volunteer Mentor Sarah Archibald. Chrissy and Sarah made the journey up to UC Santa Cruz for Brittany's graduation! 

From left to right: Words Alive Operations Directior Chrissy Green Califf, Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Student Brittany Jackson, and Words Alive Volunteer Mentor Sarah Archibald. Chrissy and Sarah made the journey up to UC Santa Cruz for Brittany's graduation! 

The Words Alive Teen Services Program attempts to engage students from Momentum Learning (formerly Juvenile Court and Community Schools) in literacy, reading and education in a variety of ways: through a monthly book club, writing and career readiness workshops and a scholarship program.

In 2007, San Diego philanthropist Ruth Westreich created the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Program, with the first scholarships awarded the following year. The program awards scholarships to Words Alive Adolescent Book Group participants to support them in their pursuit of higher education at the college or vocational level. Unlike other scholarship programs, which typically fund only tuition, books and educational supplies, each recipient is eligible to receive funds to cover the cost of rent, food, childcare, clothing, travel and other living expenses. Additionally, the program matches each recipient with a mentor. Student and mentor meet regularly throughout the school year, and the mentors provide guidance, direction, and often, a shoulder to lean on.

Ten years later, the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Program is going stronger than ever.  In the past month, we have seen two of our scholarship students, Cathy Campos and Brittany Jackson, graduate with bachelor’s degrees. Words Alive met both Cathy and Brittany in our Adolescent Book Group at Monarch , a school that educates homeless youth in San Diego.

Cathy Campos has been a Words Alive Scholarship recipient for four years, graduated from San Diego State University last month and benefited from the mentorship of Susannah Walker throughout her time with the Westreich Scholarship Program. Brittany Jackson has been a Words Alive Scholarship recipient for five years, graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz last week, and benefited from a close relationship with her mentor, Sarah Archibald.

Words Alive is thrilled to have been a part of the journey towards success for both of these wonderful students. We are so proud of Cathy and Brittany; they both embody what it means to persevere and thrive.

We interviewed Brittany Jackson to learn more about her college experience and her experience with the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Program. Read on:

Name: Brittany Jackson
Age: 23
College: University of California, Santa Cruz
Area of study: Sociology with a Chemistry background
Mentor: Sarah Archibald ❤

When were you first introduced to Words Alive? How has your experience with Words Alive affected you?

I was first introduced to Sarah when she was a volunteer for Words Alive at Monarch School. After I received confirmation as a recipient of the scholarship, then Sarah was assigned to me. I am so happy she was my mentor! She is very supportive and understanding of all the obstacles I encountered while I was in school. I am so grateful for her. My experience with Words Alive has affected me by showing the support that I lacked at home, both emotional and financial. Words Alive has demonstrated that there are people who care for others without expecting something in return. They have been so loving to me, and my experience at UCSC wouldn't have been the same without them.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in earning your degree? 

The biggest challenge that I faced earning my degree was depression. There were mornings where I didn't want to wake up or [wanted to] call it quits but I kept pushing forward.

How did you overcome that challenge? 

I overcame these challenges with the support of family and friends that were very close to me, including Words Alive. I also kept saying the quote from Finding Nemo in my head, "Just keep swimming!"

What is your favorite book that you read during your college years? Why? 

My favorite book was called, "The Emotional Self" by Deborah Lupton. This book helped me understand my emotions and take better control of them, rather than [letting] my emotions have control over me. 

What are your future plans now that you have earned your college degree?

I plan to apply for my Masters in the fall to achieve my credentials to become a High School Counselor. I want to help other students understand the importance of education and everything that it has to offer (besides job security). 

What advice do you have for the next generation?

The advice that I have for the next generation is to never stop trying. If you fail a class once, twice, keep trying. If your midterm score wasn't what you expected, keep trying. Never give up! Just because you didn't pass a class or didn't excel on a test, that doesn't mean you didn't learn anything. Keep trying and figure out what to do better next time or ask for help. But the true value is not your letter grade or score but it's in your education. You may have not learned everything about the class, but you knew more than you did before you walked in there.