Thursday, October 10, 2013

Making Inner City Students Tech and Health Savvy

Two recent news items raised issues that have important possible ramifications for education in the inner city. The first, an article in the most recent Atlantic Monthly, pointed out that an important shift is occurring in the allocation of start-up capital, namely that more and more of that money is now targeting the inner city, reflecting a growing interest among young entrepreneurs and other workers in the tech industry to live and work in urban centers. As a matter of fact the Trenton/Ewing area was listed as the 19th most popular area for new start-up capital. Its relevance to urban education cannot be overlooked, and it is incumbent on academics, politicians, and administrators to recognize this shift and begin to emphasize practical, technology centered learning in our inner city schools. That same article even made mention of a school name “CodeHS” because literally all of the students are being taught to write code, an important, practical skill that will pay huge dividends to those in attendance.

This influx of “techno-capital” into the region demands that schools like the three Trenton High Schools take this opportunity and reorient its curriculum to provide training in writing code and other fields that might be in demand to these companies migrating into the region. It is also a great opportunity for the administrators at these schools to develop partnerships with stakeholders that might have an interest in young people with these skill sets.

What this also shows is that public schools, rather than be tethered to the State and the demands it places on curriculum, be given greater flexibility to design its own learning culture, one that reflects the particular needs and demands of the region.

A second piece, this one an OpEd in the Trenton Times, noted a recent initiative at the Millhill Child and Family Development Center that is using a federal grant to give students hands-on experience with gardening, in particular the growing of fruits and vegetables. Most of Trenton is a “food desert,” with little opportunity for families to purchase fresh produce. The lack of a well- balanced diet directly correlates with the high percentage of obese children in the inner city. These high levels of obesity will follow these children throughout their lives, costing our health system millions of dollars and compromising the child’s ability to be productive workers as they grow older.

I point this out because one of my ongoing grievances against New Jersey’s Core Content Curriculum Standards and the HSPA is their lack of relevance to the “real world.” You can more detailed analyses of these problems in other postings, but the salient point is that Health, Fitness, and Nutrition, items usually taught in the Health and Physical Education Department, should be a required part of the CCCS, and the learning should be assessed as a component of the HSPA. The CCCS and HSPA should reflect those things that all high school graduates must know if they are to succeed as independent, empowered, and aware young adults. Can anyone really argue that a strong understanding of personal health, nutrition, and fitness aren’t essential needs, and as such goals of our education system. Many of these young adults may soon be parents, and this understanding is crucial if they are to be responsible parents as well.

The bottom line is that the content being taught in our urban high schools must reflect the needs and demands of the community, and that these schools must have the power to manipulate the curriculum at the local level so that these schools are able to provide learning that is relevant and useful. This is going to require a change in thinking among our leaders in Trenton, and in some cases will require officials to allow decision-making to be centered at the local level. I hope our leaders are up to the task.

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