How did our relationship get so complex? Back in college, things were so black and white: you were a shady character I was supposed to avoid (what with those rumors about causing the demise of public education and whatnot).
But then I graduated during the recession and the only gig I could find was at…a charter school. Actually 2 charter schools–the first, where I worked as a TA, was rife with many the problems my professors described. But the second was unique in that it provided the International Baccalaureate program, introducing me to inquiry, student-driven action, and global citizenship.
Over the years, I witnessed some of your problems I’d been warned about like high teacher turn-over. But mostly, I was grateful to have learned so much about how to help students take ownership for their learning, and to have been given lots of leeway to try new things as a teacher.
So when it came time to enroll our oldest, you and I were in a much more flexible place than when we first met. But I still opted to go with our neighborhood school, which is part of the district, committed to the idea of “lifting where we stand” (and just plain wanting our child to be able to walk or bike to school). In that commitment, I thought I could go back to brushing you off.
But I met too many people that seemed to have compelling reasons to depend on you:
traveling with the family so often that homeschooling (worldschooling) made sense
transferring to a different school within the district that offered a language program
having a child with such severe anxiety that online homeschooling became an important alternative
searching out a school with a focus on autism to meet a child’s needs
encountering concerns at the local school in which the child’s and/or parents’ voices are regularly dismissed (and choosing another school where the opposite is the case)–especially when severe bullying has been involved
I guess what I’m saying is, I’ve learned you’re complicated. It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and tell parents to shun you. But it’s a lot harder when you hear exactly how their children are struggling, and tell them to ignore available alternatives that might, in fact, be a better fit. For those parents, not taking you up on your offer almost feels like bad parenting.
All that said, I still do maintain some reservations that keep me from inviting you to our next dinner party:
There is no perfect school: just because an alternative is available does not guarantee that that will solve all problems.
Parents who have the most socioeconomic advantages tend to be the ones most involved in school choice, which means it can contribute to socioeconomic divides & even modern segregation.
There is power in a community uniting to find out how they can improve their local school (rather than simply abandoning it).
I hope you don’t take my concerns personally. I do know that sometimes, you’re more focused on bringing something new to the table (like a special program for autism or International Baccalaureate), and not just assuming you’re going to do the same thing as districts but better. And seeing the good you’ve been able to accomplish for families that need alternatives has helped me judge you less.
So, though I expect our relationship will continue to be uncertain, I’m glad we seem to understand each other a bit more. Thank you for the opportunities you’ve given me, and I hope to see more conversations moving forward on how to best serve children and communities.
Bryan Banuelos’ second iteration of his Warrior Dream Project is underway.
From his mission statement to details of leadership within the club, we are confident that his project will be a great support to students at Taylorsville High (and possibly elsewhere) for years to come!
We are impressed with his sensitivity to the unique needs to undocumented students and their families as they participate in the program. Especially encouraging is the way his project meets an unmet need: mainly, the gap between high school and college, particularly for students who feel that funding college is out-of-reach. Check out his project presentation he shared with our office below!
I have not forgotten my one word goal for 2018. But I’ve noticed that I don’t talk about it with other people the way I’ve talked about other one word goals I’ve made. Because even though it has proven a fascinating and wonderfully challenging goal, the statement I shared at the beginning of the year is still true:
“The word power itself is sort of this dirty word. We don’t like to talk about it, we don’t like to name it–it seems unseemly. And yet, if you don’t understand how power works–what it is, how it flows, who has access to it, who does not–you are essentially being acted upon.”
In this brief mid-year reflection, I realize that I need to talk about this goal, too. Not only because my growth thus far is in no way less valuable than other goals, but because I believe it’s important to have more productive conversations about power. Conversations that are entwined with agency and citizenship.
Here are some of the places this goal has taken me so far this year:
Joining our local bicycle committee
Creating a 10-page local bike parking guide including education, a discount I’ve secured with a bike rack company, and recommendations/specs
Leading an active transportation tour with elected officials
Reading our city’s General Plan, & otherwise learning more about the direction our city is headed (or hoping to head)
Submitting digital feedback on local policy issues for the first time
Attending city meetings for the first time
Speaking before the City Council and Planning Commission
Joining the PTA board for our local school
Starting weekly bike ride for moms
Creating and sharing graphics across city social media pages (examples below)
Some of these have had more community impact than others, but that’s not the important part of my goal. What’s important is that all of them have made a profound impact on me and on my family. I am learning so much about a community I love dearly, and have started to see how I can better be of service. My kids are learning more about how our city works and how we can get to know our neighbors.
I hope that as I continue to learn and grow this year, I will continue to gain lessons that I can also carry with me into the classroom to help my students to better understand their own power within our community (agency), and to take meaningful, relevant action (citizenship).
As I have begun volunteering with our local bicycle committee, I have been amazed at the many ways other volunteers have made an impact on our city. But despite progress, it is with great sorrow that I learned a teen I used to teach was recently killed while crossing the street in my old neighborhood.
This tragedy has strengthened my resolve to contribute however possible. As I work toward clarity and purpose, I have found myself yet again on another iteration of the design thinking cycle, this time with my commitment toward better design. Here’s what it currently looks like:
Look, Listen, & Learn:
As I have renewed my research efforts, I have sadly uncovered direct opposition to design when it comes to taking measures to make room for all people using our streets.
For instance, last summer a local paper ran a report with the tone that pedestrians “assuming right-of-way” are foolishly getting themselves hurt and killed:
“UDOT director of Traffic and Safety, says 94 percent of crashes are a “behavior decision,” not a road design. None of it matters if pedestrians don’t take advantage of safety features or if drivers are distracted or blow past them.” (Source)
Yet in the wake of this tragedy, a common response has been a demand to know more about how design can improve that road’s safety. Residents of the neighborhood even state that far from serving them, the surrounding roads have functioned as walls, compelling them to drive rather than walk even 2 blocks to the local rec center to stay safe.
This has led to more in-depth investigation into Complete Streets policies, one of which is currently being considered in my city.
Ask Tons of Questions:
What do Complete Streets mean?
What do Complete Streets not mean?
What are the costs of Complete Streets policies?
What are the obstacles in designing roads that permit all people to freely and safely navigate their communities (not just bicyclists, but pedestrians, people in wheelchairs, children on scooters, etc.)?
What has been the impact of Complete Streets in other parts of the country?
How do Complete Streets impact local economies, in addition to health, safety and environmental factors?
Understand the Process or Problem:
In response to my many questions, my research has been expanded to a more in-depth understanding of Complete Streets, including these informative videos from Streetfilms:
“It’s extraordinarily important that we find ways to make our communities more accessible to all the people that want to use them, and allow for kinds of transportation that are more sustainable in the long-run.” (from above video)
Benefits of Complete Streets I’ve found include (but are not limited to):
Provides long-term savings as it avoids the need for expensive retrofits later on.
Many small road improvements that make a big difference come at little to no added cost.
“allows for an efficient and optimal use of limited resources: time, fuel, land, public health, the environment, and money.” (source)
Complete Streets have been found again and again to decrease injuries and deaths (source).
Protects the most vulnerable of society (children, the elderly, people of color, and the disabled), thus addressing issues of equity (source).
Quality of Life:
Encourages healthy active transportation, walkability, and even a sense of community as people have options to travel on more attractive, pleasantly landscaped areas.
Provides “green dividends” that allow people more money to spend elsewhere
Improves access and foot traffic to local business (source). (During a test ride for a new local bus system, transit co-vice chair Sherrie Hall Everett commented, “[Though the road is still] under heavy construction, and many have been concerned about the sidewalks being narrower…what I didn’t anticipate was how much more I noticed the stores, how much closer they felt and related to the street. I noticed the windows and what was going on inside and felt more of the energy of their presence”).
Public transit improvements:
Considers how many people have access to bus stops from their homes.
Improves comfort and convenience of stops, speed of service, and measures that lower congestion. (source)
addresses pollution through a combination of more active transportation, better public transit, and lowered congestion.
allows people to complete trips (39% of which are three miles or less in metropolitan areas) in a zero-emissions manner (source)
More importantly for the context of our local concerns, I have also uncovered some important facts that debunk notions that it’s not about design. These I have turned into graphs, which has lead me to…
The most important finding is as follows: on average, 45% of bicyclists and 50% of pedestrians in the last decade had no contributing factors in the crash, a figure that has been on an upward trend. This means that even when they’re doing everything right, a significant portion of people who are walking and biking are still getting hurt.
Furthermore, pedestrian deaths and injuries have been on the rise in my state over the past 10 years.
Create a Prototype:
In this case, the prototype was an event where I attended and voiced some of what I shared above; our city Planning Commission met to review a proposed Complete Streets Policy for our city, along with feedback shared by another city department that seemed less than supportive of the policy. Below is a clip beginning with a moving response from one of the commissioners, Jamin Rowan, after hearing from all the community members and reading the other department’s feedback:
“It is time we demand to revisit those standards…It is not an amendment in our constitution to be able to get in your automobile and travel down the road as quickly and conveniently as possible. Our society and culture has operated upon that assumption. It has become a de facto amendment and I’m tired of it. And I think the people that we’ve heard from tonight are tired of it…I’m not in favor of defending old codes instead of defending the vision that’s outlined in this [Complete Streets] policy…Streets are one of our most valuable public spaces…This is one to fight for and not let it get watered down.”
Highlight & Fix:
Mainly, I learned that I should write down my talking points before making formal presentations. I plan to do so for the next phase of the design thinking cycle…
…Launch to an Audience:
Next week, I’ll be presenting to our City Council members.
I’m looking forward to continued iterations of this design thinking process. I hope to convey a strong sense that the quality of our communities and of our very lives depends on good design.