Saturday, December 13, 2014

Fundacion Prosefam

I have had the pleasure of spending most of my previous 5 years in Barranquilla Colombia volunteering with a school and community center.  This includes all of last year, living there and getting to know the people and the problems with education.

Prosefam is the neighborhood school with arms that reached into the community to support all community members.  At the helm is the mother of the neighborhood Luz Estela Narvaez.  I call her the mother of the neighborhood because she serves not only many kids in the neighborhood  but served their parents also as she has been involved in this Foundation for over 25 years.  She is akin to Mother Theresa because her passion for the neighborhood goes without pay with the exception of a few lose coins the residents of this poor neighborhood can afford.  Over 90% of the students pay nothing

While I was there I joined Mother Luz Estela in a meeting with seniors designed to inform them of health resources.  Seniors also volunteered working with the students in the school.  Within the umbrella of the foundation is the service to young mothers, not only with art and crafts classes in conjunction with Universidad de Atlantica but health and personal care classes with CENA University.

When I was there the youth had a solid program including dance classes, community events and planting a food garden in the back yard of the school.  And other young adults who didn't graduate from high school, had the chance to graduate with evening classes at the school.  This was done in cooperation with the local public school.

And then there are the students in the school, all from the neighborhood.  This includes students with a wide range of skills.  Many very bright who choose to go to the school because their parents did or the convenience of the neighborhood.  Many students, however, simply couldn't read and could not be supported in the public sector due to extremely large class sizes.  I literally cried when I met two kids aged 13 and 16 who tried but couldn't read even the simplest word.  And they didn't go to school.  They gave up.  What makes it sad is that the school just didn't have room for them.  Mother Luz and her daughter Amalia ran the school by themselves.  Mother Luz spent 14 to 16 hours a day serving the community and simply couldn't expand the school anymore.  So many kids and adults in the neighborhood.

When I was there I taught English to adults as well as students in the class as well as exercises to the preschool kids. As a member of the International Association of Special Education we were able to bring desks, chairs, a printer, computer as well as assessment programs for reading writing and math. But the organization is not allowed to pay salaries.  There were two additional teachers from the neighborhood, paid minimally through monies that were procured in any way possible.  But this dried up and the teachers left.  They had to feed their families also,

Since that day the program has diminished.  No longer is there a broad youth program as their is no money to support the instructor.  Mother Luz does that now.  The teachers are gone so Mother Luz spreads the classes throughout the day and teaches them herself.  Including the night classes for the hopeful graduates.  I couldn't afford to stay there longer.  Amalia, Luz' daughter is raising a toddler with her husband but still finds time to teach the preschoolers giving them a leg up in the future.  And yes they serve many students with special needs.

But my thoughts go back to the two teenage girls who couldn't read a word.  And so many others who get turned away simply because Mother Luz can't do it alone.  The needs of 7 de Agosto barrior are massive.  I personally met so many that couldn't read.  Young, old, any age that are left behind in this barrio in Barranquilla Colombia. For Senior Juan who is older, smart, started learning English but couldn't read. For those two teen age girls who are too embarrassed to go to school  and found no room at Prosefam because Mother Luz couldn't do it all.  And she is exhausted.,

Monday, December 1, 2014


Ferguson, New York; Solutions

An educator's comments on approaching people

Educators throughout the years have been prepared for any possible situation that may arise.  When I was lead administrator at Craig Alternative School, a Milwaukee Public School serving students with severe emotional problems, the severest of problems occurred on a regular basis.  We, as a school staff, became adept at handling them in a professional manner.  We were fortunate enough to have a consulting psychiatrist and the support of the Crises Prevention Institute.

CPI training taught us not only how to approach out of control students but we were able to pass this information on to the students so they could better handle crises situations.

This relates directly to the incident in Ferguson Mo.  If you can approach young people out of control, you certainly can approach a young man simply walking in the street.  I am especially saddened at the loss of this young man because it could have been avoided.  I have attended way too many funerals of young people and it is way past time to do everything in our power to stop this epidemic.

To begin we must focus on the initial approach to a person whose actions are perceived as problematic.  At the time of approach by the officer, the known “crime” was walking in the street.  Not exactly punishable by death.  So how do we approach this situation without allowing it to escalate?  Was the situation so minor that he had to be approached at all?

Following the guidelines of nonviolent crises intervention, the first step is to be supportive.  In order to give the perception as well as the reality of being supportive it is important to be connected with the community as well as the people in that community.  Without that connection, the chances of escalation increase.  An officer, connected to the community has a much better chance of deescalating the situation simply by talking it through.  If the officer bypasses step 1 and goes directly to step 2, being directive, a confrontation is more likely. 

An example of what works is to approach the person of concern in a non threatening manner.  CPI teaches how, as well as where to stand to achieve this end.  And the conversation must also be aimed at deescalating a potential crises.  An example: " Hey guys how are you doing? Where are you from?  Oh I know that neighborhood" (site a reference point to show you have a connection)  After confidence is gained one might say "We need you to move off the street, ok?"  Be patient and then walk the person to the sidewalk.  

There are those who see this approach is weak, however, I see it as humanizing. When we look past the outer shell into the inner soul we see a human being.  And in many cases this will be effective. However, if at any time it isn't working proceed to step 2, directive.  That is when you take charge of the situation and call for backup. Anything to avoid handling the situation alone is good.  First you have an additional set of eyes, and second the other officer can step in to mediate if necessary.  Through CPI we were taught that if a conflict occurs between the first respondent, that respondent steps back and the additional respondent takes over.  Often this will deescalate the situation.  If not, there is more than one person to become forceful.  Even if the incident was shoplifting, and I'm not sure that it was, this approach will not leave anyone dead and will come to an eventual solution.

The second responder is of utmost importance when it comes to stage 3, the restraint. Restraint should only be used when absolutely necessary like breaking up a fight, a person with a weapon, and only when every other option has been tried.    At CPI we were taught never to restrain someone alone.  It is not safe.  We were taught how to control someone physically with out hurting them or us.  And never, ever would we put hands on or even near the throat, the neck, the back or the chest.  

Restraint to the ground is not allowed in schools but might be applical in extreme cases in the community with adults.  Once someone was on the ground They would be held with 3 or 4 people, one hand on their shoulder another on their outstretched arm for those near the head.  Near the feet, each person would hold one foot.  Never ever would we put any weight on their chest or back.  First there would be dead silence, and then one person would quietly ask if the person is ready to cooperate.

This incident, however, is indicative of the increase in racism throughout the country. Beginning with the insensitive "you lie" comment shouted in the halls of congress to the effort to maintain the subclass by opposing the Affordable Care Act, to voter suppression, every effort is being made to revive the high level of racism of the past. Institutional racism is the main culprit and must be addressed.  It goes well beyond Ferguson and takes decades and even centuries to eradicate. We must stay the course.

In many ways this is like a last gasp effort to give credence to the ways that are slowly working their way into the past.  Today there are way too many people who can see through the rhetoric of racism and that number is growing.  When it raises it's ugly head, it must be addressed in no uncertain terms.

To continue the process toward fairness we offer several thoughts and hopes:

1. This incident must inspire all people, especially minorities, in a community to provide minority candidates who are representative of their constituents to run for all political offices.  
2.  All Americans across the country must vote in every election, no matter how small to assure equal representation.  Black and Latino votes can turn the tide in the fight against racism especially when there are black and Latino candidates. 
3.  A campaign to end racism throughout the country must focus on sending a message to those politicians including radio and television talking heads who profit from subtle, or not so subtle racism.  Call out Rush!
4.  Police departments, no matter how small or large must implement community policing including officers on bicycles or walking the beat.
5.  All police departments must hire officers that are representative of the community as well as representative of those who visit the community.  
6.  All officers be trained in non violent crises intervention in a manner similar to that presented by CPI.
7.  Schools become more involved in teaching character development including preparing students with the skills to avoid crises situations.  Although this would not appear on a standardized test, it would be helpful as situations may arise with other students as well as police officers.

These are only thoughts to ponder.  Those in the communities must draw from these or other sources to develop a plan of their own.  The time for action, nation wide, is now!