Monday, December 22, 2014

Lessons from the Grand Jury Protests

Post by Todd Hornaday: Todd has been a social studies teacher for 19 years, the last 18 at Bettendorf High School. You can follow Todd on Twitter @lthornaday

First, Happy Holidays to all!  Or, maybe I better say “Merry Christmas to all!”, so as to not upset Conservative pundits who would accuse me of declaring a so-called ‘War on Christmas’.  How about “Happy Festivus for the rest of us!”, or would Jerry Seinfeld sue me?

Hopefully having framed a discussion on being 'politically correct' with my intro paragraph, this social studies teacher begs the question, “What lessons can Iowa students learn from the Ferguson and New York grand jury protests?”   I argue that now is not the time to only be politically correct, but that it is imperative for teachers to guide students into some potentially uncomfortable, but integral, discussions and reflections on race in America using stone cold data.  (Being a role model, I will cite a source whenever numbers are used.)

First, let me provide an example on using data to analyze politics in Iowa.  The case can easily be made that our state is a politically active state-- in the midterm 2014 elections, 50% of eligible voters in the state participated, compared to a national rate of 36% (source: Since 1972, the state has held caucuses that have been the first major electoral event of the nominating process for the President. We are also an educated people-- the percentage of 25-34 year-olds in our state with at least a bachelor’s degree was 45% in 2010, compared to the national rate of 39%. (source:  U.S. Census Bureau)

With Iowa’s better-than-average political participation in mind, allow me to illustrate some potential discussion questions, followed by data, that should catch the attention of our students:

If the majority of people disagrees with your viewpoint, does it do you any good to voice that opinion? Also, what if you are 100% certain that the majority viewpoint is wrong?
The Pew Research Center held a nationwide, scientific poll that found that 57% of Americans did not support the Staten Island grand jury's decision to not indict the white cop who put African-American Eric Garner in a choke hold.  However, the same group found that only 37% did not support the Ferguson grand jury's decision to not indict the white cop who shot African-American Michael Brown. Feelings of discord and inequity led to thousands employing their First Amendment rights by protesting for improved minority rights.

Should police officers be held to a higher standard of care?
State grand juries very, very rarely indict police officers.  These public servants-- New York City employs 34,450 of them (source: are given every benefit of the doubt in court as they are presumed to be putting their lives on the line for our citizens every second that they are on duty.  In the last 10 years, only one cop has been indicted for an on-duty shooting in both Dallas and Chicago. (source: Houston Chronicle)

What should people be protesting?  What can be done to improve the lives of many African-Americans?  
Based on 2013 Census Bureau data, America’s 45 million African-Americans make up about 14% of our country’s population.  
  • As of November 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the unemployment rate is 4.9% for whites in America and 11.1% for African-Americans.
  • The Department of Justice (2010) cites 4.3% of all African-American men currently being imprisoned, compared to less than 1% of all white American men-- roughly 39% of the total prison population is African-American and 39% is white American.
  • According to the Center for Disease Control, the ‘out of wedlock’ birth rate is 72% for African-Americans and 30% for white Americans.
  • The city of Chicago has 28,000 violent crimes per year. African-Americans constitute 33% of Chicago’s population, yet they commit over 90% of its violent crimes (source:  The Guardian). At Fenger Academy High School in Chicago, only 4% of 11th graders were proficient on the state math standards test in 2013.  Across the city, Englewood Technical Prep had only 3% proficiency and both Harper and Robeson high schools achieved 2% proficiency.  (source:  Neighborhood Scout)

Of course, data can be spun to support any argument.  What is important in our high school social studies classes is that opinions on current events are critically formed and discussed, and that logic and data are used as support.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Finding the Joy in Every Day

Post by Junetta Mitchell: Junetta was hired as a baker at Bettendorf High School in 1991.  She currently serves as kitchen manager & spends her time spreading joy to others.

I try to find the joy in every day.  I know that could sound funny to some, knowing that my day starts out around 4:30 in the morning.  Life has not always been a bed of roses, as some of you know I have had fifteen surgeries on my leg in the past three years.  Like most people I have had some hard knocks in life; but I made it and am still making it through. The key is never stay down.  Never stop and never just give up.  No matter what find the joy.   And keep a BIG smile on your face.
I have had a passion to work in food service all my life.  I was taught at an early age how to cook and bake. The joy that you receive by making others smile and enjoy the rich flavor of food is the best part of it all.

The Blackhawk Hotel was where I started this passion doing the Sunday brunch and the Festival of Trees dinners;  making the food and then being able to serve it to people and watch them enjoy and come back for just a little more.  But it took all the team work in the kitchen to pull it off. I also enjoyed baking and decorating wedding cakes.  I guess you can say I enjoy art and sculpting.  Mr. Collins my elementary art teacher would be proud. I worked at the hotel fifteen years and then decided I wanted to be home with my daughter on the weekend so I pursued a job with the school system.

 I came to the Bettendorf school system as the baker in 1991. I was able to make the students smile and talk about all the home made baked goods. The smell of cinnamon rolls, fresh bread, cookies, pies, and just food in general.  Watching the students eating breakfast and lunch was such a good feeling; to know that you used your hands to put a smile on a student’s face to start the day. It is such a joy to enjoy your job and to be able to go home and smile about making someone’s day.

My hat goes off to the staff that I work with now.  We all are different and that is what makes a well-rounded kitchen.  Everyone plays an important role in making the day go well.  If we have a cook and no dish washer we have no lunch or if we have lettuce and no one to put it all together then sorry but no tossed salad for lunch today.  It takes all of the team to make it work, from the Grab-N-Go to the lunch line, the truck drivers, and the servers.  It takes our director to count the calories on the menu and the supervisors to help and support the staff daily as well as the teachers and assistance from our administrators at the schools to the custodians, bus drivers and police liaison. The principals come down to say hello and to see how our day is going.  Now that is joy and it puts a smile on our faces knowing we did all we could to make someone happy.

The joy that children give to you when they have a warm meal to start the day helps all of us in the long run. I am enjoying raising my five year old granddaughter who is lactose intolerant I am gaining knowledge of working with special diets and even pureed foods. We try to make everyone feel good about eating and enjoying a school lunch, breakfast or snack. It takes the para educators that assist in feeding some of the students. The joy of watching some of the students dance or jump when they come through the lunch line just puts a big smile on our faces. We have some of the best students in our school.  When we serve them they say please and thank you and even say hello when just walking in the hallways.

I am not doing the baking or cooking for the district now, but trust me I am out on the floor watching and helping daily. On the phone I am helping parents, students and any staff member when they call. I pick up the phone with a smile and try to spread some joy to them.

Just remember no matter what you do find the joy in it and it won’t seem like such a hard job.  In a few years  I  plan on taking another step in life;  working in Cedar Rapids with young people to help boost them and to keep paying the joy forward.

Saturday, December 6, 2014


Post by Chris Saito: Chris is in his 8th year as Band Director at Bettendorf High School. You can follow Chris @TrumpetSaito

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply.”

It should come as no surprise that, as a music teacher, I find myself needing to listen critically during rehearsal.  Actively listening for issues - such as improper balance, intonation, rhythm, or pitches - leads to the instruction that comes from the podium during rehearsals.  While I can pride myself on my own listening skills developed over my lifetime as a musician, one of the more difficult aspects of being a high school band director comes from trying to get all of my young students to actively listen, as well.

Emphasizing the importance of listening to the tuba player during every minute, every second, and every beat of music may not immediately show its importance in getting a job ten years in the future, but I strongly believe that students with well-tempered listening skills will place ahead of the pack years and decades down the road.  Why?  Read on.

The development of listening skills comes at a critical point in these students’ lives, as well as an incredible point in the evolution of social media and information technology.  With more and more students being connected to the internet, less time is spent listening in conversation.  Phone conversations that we had as students became text messages with more recent generations.  Facebook is not only a tool for sharing stories, but also for removing one’s self from needing a more personal interaction.

Think about how easy birthday greetings on Facebook have become.

Facebook reminds you of upcoming birthdays a week out.  You can click on a reminder, type “happy birthday,” regardless of whether you’ve spoken to the person in a day or a decade, and hit the “send” button.  How social is that interaction?  Is it social at all?  Yet that’s becoming the accepted norm among teens and young adults.

This is only one example of the de-socialization caused by the information age.  A bigger problem with internet anonymity and social media is the “fire-and-forget” problem that many of us find ourselves susceptible to.  We get riled up by something we read, and rather than having a conversation in person, or at least over the phone, we type up a text, email, Facebook post, or tweet, and put it out there, with the hopes that someone else will listen to what we have to say.  In reality, the fire-and-forget post only perpetuates a cycle of entrenching ourselves within what we had to say first.  The opposite of listening.

What do I need my young band members to become?  I need them to become well-rounded musicians, who have command of their own ears as well as their instruments.  I need them to become active listeners – people who will try to see all sides of a conversation, not just their own.  I need them to become fully engaged in a conversation, rather than being distracted by an electronic device.  Their developing listening skills will allow them to contribute to society as better leaders AND followers.  Better writers and readers.  Better husbands and wives.

By listening.