A bench under the smart board just inside the door to Room 226 at Paseo Academy overflowed with goodies.
It was test day for Carol Charismas’ seventh-grade English students, and after reporting briefly to her class, they were to go to other rooms. Charismas had gone shopping, spending her own money to ensure that hunger wouldn’t impede her students’ performance on the exams determining whether the kids met the goal of being proficient in core subjects.
Charismas bought boxes of granola bars and other treats in such flavors as chocolate nut medley, peanut butter chocolate, Greek yogurt, oatmeal raisin, sweet and salty nut, Nutri-Grain and chocolate chip.
I wanted to see the students take the tests. Charismas invited me into her classroom this school year to chronicle the progress of teachers and students in Kansas City Public Schools in the push toward full accreditation in 2015.
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It has not been an easy journey. Charismas learned on this testing day that my presence would invalidate the exam. So I had to make due observing from the periphery.
About 70 percent of the school district’s 16,000 students have tested less than proficient in core academic subjects, and English language arts is where the greatest improvements are needed.
The students entered Charismas’ classroom with a test-day sense of trepidation. Diamond Brown said she felt “a little excited and scared.”
Alice Oliveros told me she felt nervous. “I might not do good on the test,” she said.
That’s the effect the high-stakes testing has on students and teachers. I tried to reassure Diamond and Alice that from reading their work and seeing their participation in Charismas’ class that they would do well on the exam.
Jessica Crawford said: “Yesterday I felt smart. Today I don’t feel smart.”
Continuing to function as the kids’ academic cheerleader, I reassured Jessica that I thought she would do well. She felt pleased, smiled and said, “Thank you.”
Nascotia Brooks felt happy about it being test day. “I like MAP tests,” she said.
That was good to hear.
Shemariah Willingham said she felt OK about going to take the tests. She said she would do her best.
That’s all we can ask of our kids, hoping that each day of the school they’ll get the full value of the lessons teachers provide. Too often, discipline problems from test-stressed kids get in the way.
In these last days of the 2014-2015 school year, Charismas said she was building lessons of peace, grace and forgiveness into the literature because of the fighting, retribution and suspensions that had snared too many of the students at Paseo Academy. Before the students were called away for testing, she projected on the smart board a list of 19 recent suspensions — some were her students.
Charismas also had written on her board for the students to see a quote from Nelson Mandela, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and the first black president of South Africa, saying, “Forgiveness liberates the soul; it removes fear — that’s why it’s such a powerful weapon.”
Charismas told me: “I’m trying to replace this anger and hit and fight back. It just drives me crazy.”
Another quote Charismas shared was from Mark Twain: “Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heels that has crushed it.”
Charismas added, “I feel like the root of all disease is anger or fear and the inability to shed both.”
Jessica added that talking about forgiveness helps people be more peaceful. “I am trying to be a nice person and walk away from irritating situations,” she added.
The students picked up the nutritious treats and headed to the library and other assigned rooms for testing. Kianna Simmons and a few others thanked Charismas for the fortifying snacks.
Gratitude and grace were good lessons reinforced in class that day.