Carol Charismas sometimes team teaches at Paseo Academy with Annette Ervin.
The seventh-graders in Room 226 then get exposed to the different styles of the educators. The different voices and approaches help push the learning process.
In one class period, the seventh-graders had to write essays presenting an argument. Charismas had written on the board the definition of an essay as “a short, nonfiction work about a particular subject. Most essays have a single, major focus and a clear introduction, body and conclusion.”
Charismas told me in one of our conversations between classes: “The kids have seen these and written them down. Repetition aids learning.”
She invited me into her seventh-grade English classes this school year so I could see the work teachers are doing to boost the academic performance of the students. It’s part of the districtwide push for Kansas City Public Schools to earn full accreditation in 2015.
On this day Charismas also had written on the board the definition for an argument as “a logical way of presenting a belief, conclusion or stance. A good argument is supported with reasoning and evidence.”
Ervin, who teaches communications arts and math, told the students: “I see you guys argue a lot. What we’re now going to do is put it in writing on paper. You go to Wal-Mart or a restaurant and are not treated fairly. I’d have a strong position on that.”
She said she would write to the corporate office, explaining how such writing exercises can have an effect on forging needed change.
Charismas added: “Everyone in here is passionate about something. You have an idea about something that needs to change. I want to see your thoughts on paper even if it’s just in a list form. Some are past that stage. You’re just freely writing your thoughts. I’ve seen your ability. I want others to see your ability as well.”
The students in small groups began work on essays that they either just needed to polish on their school-provided laptop computers or begin with notebook paper and pen writing from scratch. Charismas assigned me to a table to coach some of the students while she and Ervin worked with the others.
At my table in the back of the room, Darius Turner wrote about people smoking cigarettes. His point was it was a habit that no one should start.
He had found facts for his essay sharing that cigarettes cause lung cancer, heart disease and can lead to a premature death. Darius also had included current events in his argument, noting that CVS Caremark last year stopped selling cigarettes and other smoking products and helps people who want to quit the habit with smoking cessation programs.
Rosa Enamorado wrote about changing schools and being exposed to new and different things. We talked about the difference between the words “will” and “would” and how “would” as a conditional tense expressing something she would like to happen better fit what she wanted to convey.
Raimya McLaughlin wrote about bullying and how it is unfair treatment of students.
Alice Oliveros’ essay was on recycling, how it aids the environment and helps save trees.
The students had followed the instructions on the board, explaining they had to choose their position, clearly state their claim, and then support it with facts.
In classes earlier this year, Charismas said: “What are my expectations of you? High! High expectations!”
She has told the students on days that followed: “You’re on the threshold of being an adult. I challenge you with doing things a young adult can do.”
The class overall met the teachers’ high expectations with their argumentative essays. Ervin said: “You guys did really well. I’m very proud of you!”
Praise mixed with the push to do better goes a long way toward getting young people to excel academically.