Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child


Blog Entries

mckinleyweb.jpgAs a third-year Interactive Media teacher at McKinley Technology High School in Washington, DC, I've learned an essential lesson:  Students will do boring old math, and will even learn math on their own, if they do it for a purpose they find meaningful--such as creating a computer game, computer graphics or computer animation.

First, about our program: McKinley Technology High school is a public magnet school that aims to provide the best technology education to high school students in Washington DC. We have a Career and Technical Education program that allows students to take technical courses in addition to their core course work. One area where students can take extra course work is in Interactive Media, where students gain a mix of experience in 3-dimensional modeling, 3-d animation, and programming, using professional software. ...

LastChildinWoods.jpg In a few days, a new and expanded edition of Richard Louv’s best-selling book, Last Child in the Woods, will hit bookstores around the country. Louv’s book has fueled an international movement to combat what he calls “nature deficit disorder,” children’s growing alienation from the natural world. (Louv’s term for the disorder is quickly catching on, turning up in major newspapers, on television, and even in a February cartoon by Bloom County creator Berke Breathed.)

A quotation from our recent telephone interview with Louv elegantly captures the thrust of his argument: “[T]he message we’re sending kids is that nature is in the past and probably doesn’t count anymore, the future’s in electronics, the boogeyman lives in the woods, and playing outdoors is probably illicit and possibly illegal.” ...

Last week, Education Sector's Elena Silva published an excellent report on the success of formerly low-performing elementary schools in Hamilton County (Chattanooga), Tennessee.  With generous support from the Public Education Fund and the Benwood Foundation in Chattanooga, these "Benwood schools" used a combination of incentives, embedded professional support and strong leadership teams to fuel consistent, long-term improvements in student learning.  (See Public School Insights' story about the Benwood schools here.)

The report advances a very important argument:

It seems that what the Benwood teachers needed most were not new peers or extra pay--although both were helpful. Rather, they needed support and recognition from the whole community, resources and tools to improve as professionals, and school leaders who could help them help their students. ...

haugercarblog.jpgI recently interviewed Simon Hauger, a math teacher at West Philadelphia High School's Academy of Applied and Technical Sciences. Hauger and his students in the Academy have grabbed headlines over the past few years by building the world's first high-performance, environmentally-friendly cars. Their cars consistently win top honors at the Tour de Sol, a prestigious national green car competition. In fact, Hauger and his urban students have repeatedly bested teams from universities like MIT. Their story is incredibly inspiring. (Click here for PublicSchoolInsights.org's account about the Academy's program.)

In the interview, Hauger offers a ringing endorsement of programs that bring hands-on learning into the school day. He describes his own program's genesis, some of the obstacles it has faced, his work with community partners, and lessons he and his students have learned along the way. It's truly worth a listen.

Hauger also poses a very interesting question: If a bunch of high school students in impoverished West Philly can create a high-performance car that gets over 50 miles to the gallon, why won't the major car companies? ...

WeightLoss.jpgRichard Simmons should feel vindicated by a new studies that demonstrate the importance of health and physical education. 

Today's on-line edition of Education Week reports that five elementary schools in Philadelphia have managed to control obesity rates among their students by keeping sodas and candy out of vending machines, trimming back snack foods, encouraging physical education and educating parents, teachers and children about healthy nutrition.

According to a study of these schools published today in Pediatrics, students in schools that followed these steps for two years were half as likely to become fat as students in schools that did not. ...

Mimi Bair is the principal of Memorial Middle School in Little Ferry, NJ, and a former staff member at Woodrow Wilson Elementary in Weehawken, where she helped implement an innovative arts-focused curriculum that has helped the school's mostly low-income students outperform students state-wide.  (You can find PublicSchoolInsights.org's story on Woodrow Wilson Elementary here.)

Ms. Bair recently shared some of the secrets of her success.


The National Association of Secondary School Principals has released a list of Breakthrough Middle and High Schools for 2008.  NASSP and the Metlife Foundation have recognized these schools, all of which serve many poor students, for dramatically improving student achievement.  ...

Success Stories

Sacramento Parent Home-Visit Model Builds Trust, Achievement

The Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project

Story posted September 23, 2015

In the low-income neighborhood of South Sacramento in the late 1990’s, parents and guardians were told by the school district that they were “partners” in their children’s education, yet they felt they were treated like problems rather than solutions. Communication, and trust, were at an all-time low. 

Helped by a community-organizing group, ACT, the parents developed an inexpensive and fast way to build positive relationships: train teachers to make voluntary home visits to the families of their students. The founding mothers fought to get a pilot project off the ground, with eight schools participating, and forged a unique collaboration between ACT, the school district (SCUSD) and the teachers union (SCTA). The “project” became a nonprofit organization, and then grew into a national network that now leads more than 100 trainings a year for new schools.  ...

Baltimore Community Helps Support School in Impoverished, Riot-Stricken Neighborhood

Coalition for Community Schools

Story posted June 28, 2015

Reposted with permission from the Coalition for Community Schools.

Henriette Taylor has only been the community school coordinator at The Historic Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Elementary School (HSCT) in Baltimore for a little over a year, but she works hard to make sure the school’s “467 amazing little souls” understand the legacy behind the school they attend.

She reminds them to always include “Historic” before the name of the school, which honors a famous English composer and is also where Thurgood Marshall—the nation’s first African-American Supreme Court justice—began his education.

“Sometimes those beautiful stories, those hard-fought battles are forgotten,” Taylor says. “Knowing your history often defines where you go.”

Working alongside Principal Kelvin Bridgers, who is also new to the school, Taylor is focusing on re-creating the school as a place where staff and partners surround students and families with a seamless web of supports and learning opportunities. “School isn’t just school,” she says. ...

New Building, Community Services Transform Baltimore High School

Coalition for Community Schools

Story posted May 27, 2015.

Republished with permission of the Coalition for Community Schools

When he was hired as the community school coordinator at Benjamin Franklin High School in Baltimore, Dante de Tablan was still learning what it meant to be a community school. But one thing he was certain about was that the front of the building—a former middle school—needed a facelift. The original entrance had been sealed up and another door was being used as the main one.

“You don’t want to miss that opportunity to really make a statement and create a welcoming environment,” de Tablan says, adding that he saw a refurbished entrance as a step toward addressing other needs within the school and community.

The $5 million project, supported by the Baltimore City Public Schools, the state of Maryland and the federal government, was one of the first opportunities for the residents of the Brooklyn and Curtis Bay neighborhoods in Baltimore to be involved in improving a school—the first high school ever in the community. ...

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