Monday, June 2, 2008

Impressions: Maple Avenue School

For the first day of the Urban Educator's Institute, I had no idea what to expect, both from the program and from the schools themselves.  Driving into Newark, the first thing that struck me was the lack of urban sprawl in the area surrounding the Maple Avenue school: there were no skyscrapers or tenement buildings; there were no dilapidated buildings or disenfranchised people standing on every street corner; there was traffic, but not more than you might find on a busy road in a suburban neighborhood.  In fact, for all intents and purposes, the area surrounding the school very much resembled a suburban community.  I wonder if this is intentional, placing schools in residential, and not commercial, neighborhoods.

Inside the school buildings (the main building and the annex) themselves, there was a noticeable difference in terms of architecture.  It's possible that I did not get to see enough of the buildings, but what I did see seemed very crowded, not in the sense of a lot of people being present necessarily, but more because of the lack of open free-flowing areas.  Neither Maple Ave building had an entrance space or atrium; instead, immediately upon entering, you were ushered into the corridors of the school.  I don't think that is lack of open space is really a big deal, but it did occur to me that it might be indicative of the urban environment overall and its general lack of space.

My classroom visits at Maple Ave were restricted to the annex building and kindergarten classes, which is not really a point of interest for me.  Nevertheless, one feature that seemed to common to all of the classrooms I saw that I found to be incredibly interesting was the construction of different spaces within a single classroom.  For example, one kindergarten class had an area in the front of the room where the kids could gather around a rocking chair to hear a story, while the back of the room featured an enclave with bean-bag chairs.  The formation of private spaces seems to suggest that educators in urban environments are perhaps not as control-centered as I had previously thought.  That they seem willing to allow their students to not always be under the gaze of the teacher speaks well to the possibility of a symbiotic relationship between teacher and student in an urban classroom.

Another classroom aspect that struck me in my visit to the Maple Ave school--one that may shed light on why smaller instructional spaces were so prevalent--was the presence of at least two (and as many as 4) adults in every kindergarten class that I visited.  From the readings we had done, particularly the one on the Pedagogy of Poverty, I had been expected single-teacher classrooms that practiced skill-and-drill techniques.  What I found was quite the opposite:  children sat in groups and every group had an adult nearby assisting and engaging the kids.  To be sure, these were only kindergarten classrooms where perhaps skill-and-drill pedagogy is not that common anyway, but still, as one of the Maple Ave teachers put it, the school emphasizes teacher-to-teacher communication, so the learning styles implemented in the early grades could very well be reflective of the learning styles school-wide.

1 comment:

Haitian Cookie822 said...

I did realize how the grades were separated. Grades K-2 were in the annex, Grades 3-5 were in the Man Building and 6-8 were also in the main building. Its a good thing because it is more space for each grades. The school is located by a hospital, which is good in case of emergencies. The area seem to be a safe place for the children