... a day in the life of a model inner city school and its students1
the following is a snapshot of a dynamic, but imaginary, school of 515 students from diverse backgrounds, including Sabir, Aazim, and Hakimah, and their mother, Raidah. It illustrates a day in the life of a model inner city school.
Four-year-old Aazim attends the all-day kindergarten, while his older brother, Sabir, age 6, is in grade 1. Hakimah, an 11-year-old girl, is in grade 6. Their mother, Raidah, speaks limited English, as the family emigrated from Pakistan only 18 months ago. She earns very little working part-time as a cleaner and must improve her English and update her workplace skills to get a better-paying job.
When Raidah and the children arrive at the school, they are greeted by signs not just in their own language, but in all the languages spoken by the school community. Raidah says good morning to other parents and staff at the Parent Welcoming and Resource Centre. She is excited to learn through a translated newsletter that Hakimah’s grade 6 class will attend a play at the Young People’s Theatre next week. She also notices that the community outreach worker has organized an informal parent development session to help parents prepare for upcoming parent–teacher interviews. Raidah is nervous about speaking with her children’s teachers, but she knows that the parent volunteers who will lead this session will guide her and the other parents through the process.
Sabir and Hakimah have a hot breakfast in the nook outside the school kitchen while Raidah takes Aazim to the daycare. She reads him a short story in Urdu as he eats his breakfast. The daycare supervisor makes sure Raidah knows that Aazim will undergo a health and dental assessment later this morning and asks her to come in at 3 p.m. for the results, which will be interpreted for her. Raidah kisses Aazim goodbye and passes through to the kindergarten room next door to let his teachers know that he enjoyed his book bag selection and to arrange for some new books to read together at home.
Raidah returns to the breakfast nook. She takes Sabir to a before-school ESL tutoring session led by one of the school’s resource staff. Hakimah heads off to the library to finish an assignment, supervised by a university student volunteer. Because the library is well stocked, Hakimah is easily able to find resource books in her own language as well as in English, especially with help from the teacher-librarian.
Hakimah’s teacher and his two colleagues head off to their biweekly meeting to plan literacy strategy and student assessment while the two resource teachers guide the three grade 6 classes through a social studies unit on Aboriginal peoples. The teacher-librarian has selected the story “Encounter.” The students read it and then start to develop a dramatic simulation of the arrival of the Europeans to North America from the perspective of the Aboriginal peoples. Working in groups, students are responsible for doing research, making props, writing scripts, and interviewing one another about the book’s themes.
10:30-10:50 a.m. (staggered recess)
Student leaders from Hakimah’s grade 6 class have organized games for the students in Sabir’s grade 1 class. They are mentored and supervised by teachers and two neighbourhood assistants.
10:55 a.m.–2:00 p.m.
The school breaks into various groups to finish preparations for that evening’s school/community event, “Let’s Celebrate Success!” While the principal and staff work with the students to complete the dual-language books and CDs they have prepared to share with their parents, the community outreach worker organizes parent and community volunteers to decorate the auditorium and print up the final version of the multilingual program grade 6 students have prepared.
Students enjoy a hot lunch prepared and served by neighbourhood assistants through a local community restaurant co-op program. Food is varied and reflects the students’ diverse cultures.
Hakimah joins other grade 6 student tutors to help students in grades 1 to 3 with math. A resource teacher supervises them.
The principal and Sabir’s grade 1 teacher are on hand to support, guide, and evaluate student teachers conducting an action research project, part of their faculty of education requirements. Sabir experiences a great moment of joy reading his first book in English!
2:00–2:15 p.m. (staggered recess for grades 4 to 6)
Conflict! Two grade 6 girls are bullying a younger student. Hakimah, a member of the school’s Peacemakers Program, gently intervenes under the watchful eye of a resource teacher. Shaken by the incident, Hakimah later visits the school’s child and youth worker to talk about the situation and about future preventative strategies she and other Peacemakers can take. Hakimah and the other Peacemakers meet weekly to discuss situations and conflict resolution strategies with the youth worker and the community outreach worker. Meanwhile, the youth worker makes a note to have the community outreach worker and social worker help organize a workshop on bullying for parents, community members, and all staff, including the neighbourhood assistants.
In the interactive technology lab the teacher-librarian and the staff music specialist oversee students from Hakimah’s class who are involved in a project in which they are partnered in cyberspace with students from another inner city school.
Working in pairs, the students build a website where they post music they have composed. They then take turns creating stories in response to each other’s musical compositions. The composite work is posted on the websites of both schools for all students and parents to enjoy. Hakimah, who particularly loves music, is very proud of the work she and her partner have done and can’t wait to bring Raidah into the library to show her the finished product on the computer.
The principal reads the “thought for the day” over the PA. Today it’s a quotation from Ghandi: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
When she arrives at the daycare, Raidah receives the results from Aazim’s health and dental assessments. With one of the trained neighbourhood assistants interpreting, the public health representative tells Raidah that while Aazim is in good health, he is due for a DTPP booster shot. The representative will arrange referrals for Aazim at the local community health centre and at the public health dental clinic, as he was complaining of tooth pain during the dental exam. With her limited English skills, Raidah is relieved she doesn’t have to arrange the appointments herself.
Raidah attends a parent workshop led by a TDSB early years specialist. One of Aazim’s kindergarten teachers, the daycare supervisor, and the parenting centre leader, as well as other parents from the community, also attend. Raidah is pleased and surprised to learn that she can help improve her children’s capacity to learn English by making sure they have a good foundation in their first language as well. She discovers that she can do this by reading, telling stories, and singing to her children in Urdu and encouraging them to do the same. When the kindergarten teacher asks if the parents would like to come in and read to the students in their own languages, they quickly agree and set up a schedule for the next month.
The school is humming with activity. Hakimah and her grade 6 classmates attend a remedial academic session led by local volunteer high school students working on their community service requirements. Sabir grabs an after-school snack and joins in a basketball game organized by the local Boys and Girls Club. Having obtained staff input and consent, the principal and model-school coordinator lead a staff workshop on the assessment of writing samples. The staff, who have backgrounds in both ESL and special education, discuss in-depth strategies and techniques to support different learning styles. The group asks the model-school coordinator to set another meeting in a month’s time to allow them to share their accomplishments.
Raidah picks up Aazim from the daycare and meets Sabir and Hakimah in the auditorium for the “Let’s Celebrate Success!” event. The principal and community outreach worker greet parents at the door with the evening’s program. The school council has organized and cooked a potluck dinner for the families. After dinner, students share their progress with the community with the dual-language books, videos, and CDs they have created. Raidah is proud when Hakimah confidently introduces her classmates’ work. The community outreach worker has invited the local school trustee, city councillor, MPP, MP, student teachers and their faculty advisors, and representatives from local agencies and the local police to tonight’s event.
After Aazim is tucked in bed, Raidah plays a board game with Sabir and Hakimah. Raidah then makes tea and sits at her kitchen table with an ESL workbook and tape provided by her LINC (Language Instruction for New Canadians) class at the school. She is looking forward to trying out some of the new English phrases she has learned at her next class. She smiles. The future looks bright.
1 This article is adapted from the “Model Schools for Inner Cities” Task Force Report, May 2005. Available at tdsb.on.ca.
The photos accompanying this article show students, parents, and teachers at Firgrove Public School, one of the first schools in the TDSB Model Schools for Inner Cities Initiative.