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Brighton's Children


I am often asked how the children of Brighton feel about their school and what they know about our school having the label of low performing. I spend most of my time in the K-4 building and I really do not think many of the young children have any knowledge of this label. The older children I am sure know of Brighton’s reputation. I was told that years ago when Brighton High School was closed quite unexpectedly, one student told someone from our district office he planned to drop-out because he knew he did not have the background to make it in the other school. The inequity of standards we have for our schools is of great concern to me and I believe this is the most blatant discrimination our children of poverty and color face.

Discrimination comes in other forms. I have found discrimination can be unintentional. For example, we took our fourth grade students to a County-Wide Science Field Trip. Several things happened that day that made me feel very defensive about our students. We were the first school to arrive and the facilitators were not quite ready and we were not given t-shirts to wear.Even though we were given our shirts at the end of the day, this made us the only school at the event without matching shirts for the day. Students asked me about why they did not have the same shirts as the others.Then when they dismissed us by schools, our school was the last to be called. A child sitting next to me asked me why we were last and I replied it was probably the bus order. There was nothing intentional about any of this, but when you already feel you have been slighted this adds to your defensiveness.

Other times this discrimination is more blatant. Our principal invited the cheerleaders from the high school most of our students will attend to come and cheer at an Academic Pep Rally. My first reaction when I saw the cheerleading squad was there were no cheerleaders of color. For a high school that is 37% African American with a growing Hispanic population, I was surprised. I thought what message is this sending our students. I was further upset when a teacher from this same school said to me, “I guess our school does pretty good considering we have students from your school with your low test scores.” Our school sends less than 50 students a year to two different high schools. I do not think our children are the problem in this school. However, our students have the label of “those Brighton kids”.

In the afternoon as we load the buses, I often look at the faces of “these Brighton kids” silhouetted in the bus windows. Their faces haunt and inspire me because I know that someday Brighton children will have to compete with the students from the highest performing schools in our area for the same colleges, scholarships, jobs, and opportunities. I also know our school is the best hope for our students to have an equal opportunity for success. Therefore, our school has to be of the very highest quality to give “these Brighton kids” the education they are so deserve.

I encourage your comments about your experiences and opinions. I appreciate the comment from my State Superintendent of Education, Joe Morton. Dr. Morton has been very supportive and encouraging of my choice to work at Brighton. He actually made a surprise visit to our school on opening day. Dr. Morton has a personal interest in our school as he began his career as a teacher at Brighton. I am very appreciative of having a State Superintendent that has a very hands-on leadership style with schools in Alabama and has such a great heart for Alabama’s children.


With the advances in technology, I believe teachers will begin to record and compare their experiences not just across the country but also across the world and see that we are all working under very similar constraints.

I work in a district that has been taken over by the state yet is at the forefront of educational reform. We have a state appointed administrator and our school board has lost its decision-making power. Eight of our elementary schools are being turned into district supported charters and reconstituted under NCLB. Our teachers have been working without a contract for 3 years (is it?..maybe 2. Many of us have given depositions regarding the conditions in our schools that only now (after 4 years) have resulted in the state agreeing to settle a lawsuit brought by the students in our state regarding the conditions under which they have been taught (Williams vs. State of California).

What keeps me motivated to continue to advocate for my students after 15 years? The dignity that the families of my students demonstrate. How many hopes and dreams they have for their sons and daughters future. I feel blessed to work as a teacher as difficult as it can be sometimes. And,despite the poverty and violence that surrounds so many of my students, I know that by making each day "a new day" I can affect change in their life and make us all stronger together.

I was working in a junior high school in the South Bronx. Brand new to the public school system, I was far from sure I had whatever it might take to last. It seemed as though each day as I drove to work I would pass the smoking hulk of another burned out building and I’d arrive wondering how many of my students were now added to the homeless list. The school building was crowded and noisy, yet somewhat under control. But, in the afternoons, as students spilled out into the streets at dismissal, fights were common.

One afternoon, I had seen my charges to the door and had turned back from the no-teachers-land outside to get ready for the newspaper club that would meet in half an hour. As I washed the three extant panels of my once four paneled slate blackboard, I heard the sounds of yet another fight grow into the roar of a near riot. I went to the window of my third floor classroom to see if a police call was warranted and I was struck by an image that has never left me. One of my students, a lovely young girl, was walking down the block towards the roiling crowd of wildly excited adolescents. She was reading a book as she returned to work on the school newspaper after a quick stop at her tenement two blocks away. She would have to go through the heart of the riot to enter the building. And that is exactly what she did. Never looking up from the book, never swerving more than an inch, she walked unmolested right through the hyper-excited crowd (one non-combatant was so adrenalized by the fight that he had jumped up on a parked car to begin kicking at heads at random), she turned onto the school property and entered the building.

I had been feeling helpless and hopeless and useless—unfit to do anything to help these children who had been so brutalized by the conditions in which they lived. And here before me, unaware of any symbolic significance, was a little girl showing me the power of a single individual just doing what she thinks is right.

Betsy, in this posting, you face the difficult topic of what discrimination does to hurt children and to interfere with their education. In small ways (lack of a t-shirt) and in big ways (snakes in the classroom) the effects of prejudice make themselves felt throughout each and every day when you work in a “failing school.” A good number of those effects have to do with the way money is distributed, but just as important as money is attitude. I wonder how many people realize what a change could happen in your school if just one word was changed in the hearts of the community members—if instead of “those Brighton kids” or “these Brighton kids” everyone thought of them as “our Brighton kids.”

Sounds like you already know that that is your biggest battle--as you walk down the street and turn onto school property.

Joe Bellacero

'Kia ora' Betsy ( Good health) from the deep south!

This message is coming to you from New Plymouth New Zealand so it is indeed the 'deep south'!

I have really enjoyed reading your weblogs.Thank you very much for your valuable insights.

You ( and others who visit your blog) might be interested in having a look at my own weblog at www.leading-learning.co.nz which also features educational thoughts.

Ka kite ano - farewell for now.

Bruce Hammonds

I just recently started reading your blog and the comments of others and find the whole thing both similar to my other educational reading and yet also very enlightening due to its personal experience nature. My background: I am a parent of two public school educated students (one now in college, one in high school), a former school board member and bond committee chair and still very active in my district.

People like ME parents and other "outsiders" are the ones who should be reading your blog and comments, not just the educators and administrators who usually read edweek.org.

Our district, too, struggles with shrinking enrollment, a wide economic spread, changing demographics and increasing poverty and yet in a near in suburb that is now considered "cool".

Our district is making amazing strides with standardized tests scores, partners well with surrounding districts for AP and arts classes and boasts a award winning music program. But it has taken gut-wrenching restructuring of our distict buildings and the loss of more students due to the racism of their parents to start to see the turnaround.

But what frustrates parents?: The few teachers ( mostly at the high school) who won't budge, change, modifiy or acknowledge that that "the way I've always done it" is not the "way" that is needed to make it work today.

And what frustrates the parents (and many board members) more?: that the district, contractually, is forced to intervene, give them one more chance, one more opportunity for more training, one more, one more, one more, etc. while the children are still subjected to ongoing incompetant teaching sometimes for 2/4/5 more years. And I'm a blue-collar-raised, union-supporting, kind of person.

Why do the unions not effectively work to get rid of the very few "bad apple" teachers who ruin it for everyone? What can be done to change this and make it better for the kids?

I hope no one minds if I respond to you here, Marie. I could have emailed you directly but perhaps this is a place where a number of people can join into the conversation. I hope Betsy will let me know if this is inappropriate.

You bring up the "bad apple" teachers as the ones who stymie the changes that you know to be necessary and valuable. I know from first hand experience that there ARE bad apples in the barrel-some were that way to begin with, others have been bruised and ruined by the system and the inhumane treatment they have received at the hands of students and parents and colleagues and administrators and taxpayers and politicians-all of whom have been telling them how to do their jobs from a very safe distance. Either way I understand the frustration the enthusiastic feel over the foot-dragging of the unenthusiastic. When you are fired with The Truth, you want to sweep the doubters out of the way and make things happen. I grew up in the 60's; we didn't have a lot of patience.

That said; I need to ask the question, "What IS a bad apple?" Is it any teacher who has had success and doesn't want to trade the tried and true for the new and untested? Is it anyone who disagrees with me? Is it anyone who tells me my ideas won't work? Is it anyone who I don't like? Anyone who doesn't like me? Believe me every one of those has been used to label a teacher a "bad apple" and THAT is why the Union is so important. Keep in mind that just about every teacher out there is somebody's "favorite teacher ever." Keep in mind that teachers are SUPPOSED to be different from each other. Keep in mind that you and I only have a small piece of the truth and we need every voice to get a fuller idea of what is right and true.

I gave a test today in my class. One student received 100%, half received 90% or better, 86% had 80% or better and two kids got a 55%. I can say to myself, "Those kids are holding the whole class back. I should get rid of them." Or I can say, "I didn't manage to get them to learn this work. What am I missing? How do I help them, motivate them, bring them on board?" Marie, which would you want for your children? Which will make me a better teacher?

Just like the students in my class, the teachers in your school are trying to tell you, "What you've done doesn't work for me!" Your drive for reform will be far more effective if you listen to their voices instead of wasting energy labeling them and going after them.

I applaud your efforts and very grateful that the children at Brighton has an advocate fighting for them. I have worked at schools like Brighton before and yes these children are discriminated by outsiders. Your presence in this school will make a difference. Mrs. Rogers you are an inspiration to me!

Discrimination is definitely an issue that not every one can understand. My school is a very diversified high school with a high percentage of poor students. The majority of the students are very respectful to each other but they feel very outcast from the rest of our district. Our students have not had many of the same opportunities as students from the more affluent neighborhoods in our district and it affects them in a negative way. It erodes their self-esteem to the point that they buy into the talk that because we are not a "rich white" school than we must be a "ghetto" school. I have taught at the most and the least affluent school in the district and my heart belongs to the students who need me to help them believe in themselves. That is why the most positive and experienced teachers are needed at these schools, to level the playing field. Thanks for a shot in my arm to infuse me with renewed commitment to my journey and to help me realize that there is a greater purpose in life.

I have spent all four years of my teaching career at a "low performing" school. My middle school is one of over a dozen in a large and fast-growing school district. Over the years, the dynamics of our city has changed greatly, and as a result, our middle school (located at the very edge of the district), has little in common with the other middle schools. Because of this, much of the discrimination we face comes from within our own district. A couple of years ago, they replaced the bathroom stalls in our 50+ year old building. We were very excited until we found out the "new" stalls were hand-me-downs from a much newer school in the district! What kind of message does that send to our students and faculty?

For the most part, we were ignored until the NCLB sanctions made us an embarassment to the district and they were forced to acknowledge that we exist, and with different needs than the affluent neighborhoods. To make matters worse, the local news has a nasty habit of reporting on our low test scores without even bothering to ask what we are doing to improve them. The result? We've had to overcome a belief by our students that they're "dumb", "can't learn", and "have the worst scores in the entire state (NOT true!). The greatest challenge at a low-performing school is convincing the students (and often, the faculty) that they can succeed.

In addition, I also have a comment about "bad apple" teachers. There are different kinds of schools with different kinds of students who have different kinds of needs. My school has very different needs! Some teachers who have experienced great success at other schools come to mine and fail. This does not mean they are bad teachers, it only means they are not a good fit with our students and their needs. Other teachers who are not experiencing success at a low-performing school such as mine, refuse to leave. Instead they complain about the kids, insist they can't learn, and resist improvements to the school. Why? Because if they move to another school, they may find out the students weren't the problem - they were. What's sad, is that many of these teachers could be successful in another situation, but don't have the courage to find out.

I too have enjoyed Betsy's blogs. I'm a first year 6th Grade Social Studies teacher in an urban district (by choice). I have been blessed to land in one of the best schools in my district after attending a "meat market" job fair.

That being said I'd like to reply to Marie's "bad apple" comment. I replaced a teacher who had taught for over 25 years. I was told she taught the same way she did 25 years ago...read the chapter out loud, answer the questions at the end....blah, blah, blah. Students probably found that boring 25 years ago as they did last year, however the big difference is that with the internet there is no excuse for teachers not being able to find "ideas" that will bring their lessons to life. My philosophy is "if it's boring to me it will be really boring to my students" and there's almost ALWAYS a way to make material interesting if you try hard enough.

Keep inspiring "your Brighton kids" to pick their heads up and the same to all who are out there inspiring their students everyday. One person CAN make a difference in a child's life.

I've spent an hour or so reading past postings of the blog. It's helped me get a historical perspective of the journey you have taken and all the responses from fellow laborers! It has been a fascinating read.
The thing that I notice is that we share many of the same challenges even though we come from such a diversity of places.
I'm 45 years old but a new teacher... this is my 2nd year. I work in a Title 1 school in Northern California. I agree with Albertina who said that one of the motivating factors for her was the dignity of the families in her district. I also am inspired by many of the families who want the best for their children. Parents are our partners in education.
I believe that what makes a great teacher is one who considers it a calling rather than an occupation. Effective teachers are the ones who are always striving to do their best, reevaluating each and every day. I too like you, Betsy, have had days where I despaired and questioned "why am I doing this?" I guess I've come to believe it's the little things that count. I set asside the issues and focus on the students in my care. I can't solve all the problems, that's not up to me. I just use each day as a new opportunity to help some students be inspired to learn and take pride in their learning.

Mrs. Rogers, I am grateful for your candor regarding your teaching. I'm intrigued that although I teach at a private college preparatory school, we often deal with students and parents whose expectations are surprisingly low in regard to educational quality. I find this commonality intriguing, but realize that it is unfortunately all too common in my beloved South.

I believe that our culture has developed a distrust of the educated that might be articulated as "you're smarter than me and know more and you're just going to take advantage of me so I won't trust you." Inferiority is difficult to uproot anywhere, much less in an area where it has nearly become a philosophy.

At any rate, Mrs. Rogers, your work is admirable and I look forward to hearing of your continued successes. My warmest regards to all.

Dear Betsy,

I read through your web diary log and could sense your passion about making a difference for the students in your school. You are the right person and I certainly express my gratitude to you for accepting the responsibility to educate all students. I am offering you my support and will keep you in my prayers. No matter what the struggle is, GOD directed you to serve those students and that is your mission for now.

Donna Burnett
Somerset, NJ

Discrimination plays a large role in the school arena. I have expereinced discrimination. I am a 21 year old African American student and I live the discrimination world each and everyday. I have attended schools where I have been called names that were inappropriate but there was nothing done. Thank God for those Caucasian teachers that pushed me to succeed. Thank God for those Caucasian teachers that looked pass the color of my skin. Thank God for those teachers who are consistent in pursuing their dreams to help students who feel inferior. I was at that point and ready to give up, but I always remembered the Caucasian teachers that told me that they are waiting for my success. They prophesied that I would be great and I would become something in life. It is those words that helped me make it. Now, here I am studying to become the teacher that helped me. Betsy it is people like you that I acknowlegde as teachers who were chosen by God. Teachers like you are angels to children who are what I used to be. Please continue this path because it is you who will change the minds of students who feel inferior. I have the attitude now that I can make it just like any other person can. I believe that I am a success. We need to teach all students that they are a success. I personally THANK YOU for your courage to speak about the hidden issue, discrimination. PRAISE GOD for teachers who are fighting the good fight of teaching. All children can learn and I thank you for believing that with me.

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Recent Comments

  • Diana: Discrimination plays a large role in the school arena. I read more
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  • Ezra Adams: Mrs. Rogers, I am grateful for your candor regarding your read more
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