Field Report: Benjamin Banneker Elementary School
About a week ago I reached the eight month mark on my term of service. Looking back on my service in the year 2012, I have learned a few lessons during this “middle third” of my VISTA year.
- Good days can come when you least expect it. This is a lesson learned especially from the students at Banneker. During my two-week holiday break over Christmas and the New Year, I expected to come back to Banneker to find the students with their usual behavior problems and classroom disruptions. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to find the exact opposite during my first week back. The students were pleasant and well-behaved, and while the behavior problems returned shortly thereafter, the break from the usually problems was enjoyed by all. To my surprise, this same experience happened after Mardi Gras break. It was nice to have a reprieve from the usual problems at Banneker.
- Testing is no fun. At Banneker, like every other public school in Louisiana, every student from second grade up has to take some sort of standardized test. This time is especially stressful for 4th and 8th graders, who have to take the two-phase, 5-day LEAP test, which determines their eligibility to move onto the next grade. While the testing week is quite stressful, especially for those of us who helped coordinate the entire endeavor, the weeks before the test were more intense than I expected. When students began acting out more in class, I asked a teacher for any ideas about the reason for the outbursts. He replied that this happens every year—the students know they must perform well on the coming test to move to the next grade, and they misbehave instead of admitting they need to help prepare fully for the exam.
- Uncertainty is not a solitary state. This is the point of the VISTA year when I need to think much more about my plans for August. Over the past few weeks, this has given me much anxiety and worry. Clearly this is not the best job market to be returning to. Yet I have also become aware that I am not alone in the uncertainty about my future. My colleagues at my school also have much anxiety about what they will do next year. In the current atmosphere of education in New Orleans, no one can be sure whether they will have a job at their current school for the following year. This is particularly true for Recovery School District-run school like Banneker, which are increasingly being turned into charter schools. Many staff members at Banneker have related to me their fears that they will not be able to return to the school next year. This is also true of the students at Banneker! Many of them change schools so often that they wonder where they will be in August. Sometimes as a VISTA it is easy to forget that the trials you endure (living in poverty, lack of transportation, uncertainty about the future, etc) are the same as the trials of those you serve.
-George Doonan Martin, Tulane CPS Education VISTA, Benjamin Banneker Elementary School