A team of teachers from the district - joined by several other districts from St. Lawrence and Franklin counties - recently attended the Center for Learning Centered Education's recent two-day workshop on the initiative at St. Lawrence University.
They shared feedback from that workshop with the assemblywoman and were joined by district administrators as well as representatives from the institute's team.
The Student Poverty/Trauma Initiative is a collaborative process designed by the Institute for Learning Centered Education and co-sponsored with the three BOCES districts that include Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Franklin counties.
The initiative was piloted in the Copenhagen, Colton-Pierrepont and Tupper Lake school districts last year and has now expanded to include the Ogdensburg, Massena, Norwood-Norfolk and Gouverneur school districts. Teachers in the Fairport district in Western New York will begin this poverty initiative shortly, and three more North Country schools will launch their work in late summer or early fall.
Donald Mesibov, founder and director of the Institute for Learning Centered Education, said the school districts are designing plans to engage and motivate students to learn despite the hardships of poverty and trauma.
He told Assemblywoman Jenne the $20,000 in state funding she secured for the program allowed the initiative to move forward.
"If it weren't for you, none of us this would have happened. That gave us the confidence to move forward. We're targeting poverty, but we are also talking about families living with trauma. We're really talking about best practices," Mr. Mesibov said.
April Charleson, a veteran English teacher at Massena's J. William Leary Junior High School, and her mother, Marlene Pickering, made presentations at the workshop and shared their experiences with Assemblywoman Jenne.
Ms. Charleson wrote a book of poetry focused on her memories of the feelings and experiences she had growing up in poverty and “having to attend school wearing the same dress every day.” She has also founded a nonprofit, Lifted Out of Poverty, that is working with a small group of female high school students in the Massena Central School District.
Her mother was also raised in poverty and raised four children in difficult circumstances, but she has broken the cycle which had engulfed her family for generations. She currently is employed by a nonprofit in Canton.
"I feel I did the best I could. As a welfare mom, there were a lot of struggles and people look down on you. I wanted to do better. I read my whole life even though I dropped out of school when I as a teenager," Ms. Pickering noted.
She said she went back to school to earn her degree and then attended Mater Dei College after a tragedy in her family led her to reevaluate her priorities.
"I'm doing it for them, not me," she said, referring to her children and grandchildren.
Ms. Charleson said teachers she talked with at the workshop were thrilled to see a "human piece" play an important role in the initiative.
"I feel we have pushed the human piece aside as we focused on data. We're going back to being human. That's good for teachers too," she noted.
Mr. Mesibov said the presentation made by Ms. Charleson and her mother helped teachers better understand what it is like to grow up with limited means, and the initiative's aim is to provide teachers with successful strategies to reach children living in poverty or experiencing trauma in their lives.
"Most of our teachers have never had training in this," Mr. Mesibov pointed out.
Ogdensburg teachers Hillary Shelly, a middle school special education teacher, and Bethany Haynes, a fifth-grade teacher, said they are enthused about the new initiative.
"This is targeting our students living in poverty, approximately 62 percent of our students, as well as adding in children with adverse childhood experiences. It's so much broader than previous programs. We're going to be reaching every classroom. This is a priority in our district and is going to lead to a climate shift in our buildings," Ms. Haynes predicted.
Mr. Mesibov suggested school districts have approached poverty in a compartmentalized manner in the past.
"We want to get schools so this is always on the mind of teachers in the classroom. The students have to be able to believe their teachers care about them," Mr. Mesibov said.
Assemblywoman Jenne said she walked away from the meeting inspired by the willingness of Ms. Charleson and Ms. Pickering to share their experience of living in poverty. Their story, according to the assemblywoman, resonates with many North Country families.
She said their life story shows the importance of stressing the value of education and the personal strength people can find by living with adversity. "The willingness of people to talk about their experiences can be invaluable," the assemblywoman stressed.
"It's encouraging that this initiative is being embraced by the teachers. I hope educators find this program useful in reaching some of their students. Sometimes we need to step back from the test-driven environment to try and reach children who come from challenging circumstances," Assemblywoman Jenne said.
"While many things have changed over the years, the realities of poverty have not. We need to do everything we can to remove the barriers of poverty that are essential to making sure every child can benefit from our public education system," she added.
IN THE PHOTOS:
Marlene Pickering, far right, shares her insight as a parent who raised her children in poverty before returning to school, completing her education and entering the workforce with Assemblywoman Addie A.E. Jenne (left). Ms. Pickering and her daughter, April Charleson, made a presentation at the recent Institute for Learning Centered Education's two-day workshop for educators about poverty and its impact on student learning. The Student Poverty/Trauma Initiative is a collaborative process designed by the Institute for Learning Centered Education and co-sponsored with the three BOCES that include Franklin, Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties among the regions they represent. Pictured are (l-r, clockwise): Assemblywoman Jenne, Ogdensburg City School District teachers Hillary Skelly and Bethany Haynes, Ms. Charleston and Ms. Pickering.
Assemblywoman Addie A.E. Jenne recently met with representatives from the Institute for Learning Center Education and teachers and administrators from the Ogdensburg City School District to discuss a Student Poverty/Trauma Initiative that is being implemented this coming school year in Ogdensburg and several other districts in the North Country. Assemblywoman Jenne secured $20,000 for the initiative. Pictured are, front row (l-r): Heather Skelly, Ogdensburg middle school teacher; Marlene Pickering, Institute for Learning Centered Education; Assemblywoman Addie A.E. Jenne and April Charleson, Institute for Learning Centered Education. Back row; Tim Vernsey, Ogdensburg school superintendent; Don Mesibov, director of the Institute for Learning Centered Education; Kevin Kendall, assistant superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction, Assessment and Technology; and Bethany Haynes, Ogdensburg middle school teacher.
Assemblywoman Addie A.E. Jenne (l) visits with April Charleson of Massena following a recent meeting to learn more about the Institute for Learning Centered Education's Student Poverty/Trauma Initiative. Ms. Charleson, a teacher in the Massena Central School District, was raised in poverty and has written a book of poetry in which she relates her feelings and experiences growing up in poverty. she and her mother, Marlene Pickering, are currently co-authoring book about their experiences living in poverty. Ms. Charleson has also started her own non-profit, Lifted Out of Poverty, and is working with young female students growing up in poverty in the Massena Central School District.
April Charleson shares a point with Assemblywoman Addie A.E. Jenne during a discussion on a poverty initiative being implemented at several North Country school districts in the 2017-18 school year. Pictured clockwise from top left are: Ms. Charleson, Marlene Pickering, Don Mesibov, Tim Vernsey and Assemblywoman Jenne.
Assemblywoman Addie A.E. Jenne listens as Marlene Pickering recalls an experience when she attended a meeting at her daughter's school and listened as other parents demeaned welfare moms. She was receiving social services assistance at the time. Pictured are clockwise from lower left: Assemblywoman Jenne, Kevin Kendall, Hillary Skelly, Bethany Haynes, April Charleson and Ms. Pickering. Ms. Charleson and her mom, Ms. Pickering, shared their experiences about living in poverty during a recent poverty initiative session for educators.
Bev Ouderkirk, a member of the state's Board of Regents, addresses teachers from schools launching a Student Poverty/Trauma Initiative in the 2017-18 school year.
Teachers from school districts in St. Lawrence, Jefferson and Franklin counties focused on best practices for reaching students living in poverty or living with trauma during a recent conference held on the St. Lawrence University campus.
Assemblywoman Addie A.E. Jenne (top left) talks with Ogdensburg City School District teachers Hillary Skelly and Bethany Haynes about their experiences at a recent Student Poverty/Trauma Initiative two-day workshop. Kevin Kendall, assistant superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction, Assessment and Technology, is also shown (top right). Assemblywoman Jenne recently met with Ogdensburg City School District educators and representatives from the Institute for Learning Centered Education at Ogdensburg Free Academy to learn more about the Student Poverty/Trauma Initiative.
Don Mesibov, director of the Institute for Learning Centered Education (top center), discusses some of the highlights from the recent Student Poverty/Trauma Iniative two-day workshop with Assemblywoman Addie A.E. Jenne. Pictured are clockwise from top center: Mr. Mesibov, Assemblywoman Jenne, Kevin Kendall, Hillary Skelly, Bethany Haynes, April Charleson and Marlene Pickering.