Sunday, September 7, 2003

Teacher speaks out on impoverished school



Taryn Grinker, a first-grade teacher, wrote to Enquirer reporter Jennifer Mrozowski after reading a story Aug. 22 about Vine Elementary, where she taught from May 1988 until June 1999.

Grinker's impassioned letter responded to the story, which told how most of the 22 teachers at the low-performing Mount Auburn school were not rehired.

Vine is in the first year of a program called "redesign," an attempt to raise academic performance. Staff who wanted to return to Vine had to reapply or take jobs elsewhere in the school district. The idea behind the overhaul is to bring in a new staff that will come armed with new ideas and create a new curriculum.

Grinker attended Cincinnati Public Schools' Losantiville Elementary in Amberley Village and graduated from Walnut Hills High School in 1984.

Dear Jennifer:

I came home today after my first official day back at Sycamore's Blue Ash Elementary, where I teach first grade, and read your article regarding Vine Elementary.

Several people asked me throughout the day whether I had seen the article about my old school, and I hadn't yet. I read it first thing after I arrived home from our Open House. I debated on sharing my opinion, but having taught at Vine Elementary for 11 years, I felt the need to write.

I have had the empowering experience of having taught in the inner city and now am balancing it with a suburban experience.

VINE ELEMENTARY
Address: 2120 Vine St., Mount Auburn.
Enrollment: 311.
Percentage of economically disadvantaged students: 86.4 percent in 2002-03
Students with disabilities: 25.4 percent in 2002-03.
I have spent much time reflecting on what is the difference between Vine kids and Blue Ash kids and their achievement or lack of achievement. I must say that it kind of disturbs me that CPS removes staff members as a solution to the problems. The staff I taught with at Vine over the 11 years turned over very little. They were an incredibly talented staff, and we were all like a family.

We celebrated weddings, births, and family traumas together for a long time. We were at Vine with the attitude that we could make a difference. We tried many different innovative ideas throughout the years. We searched endlessly for the answers for these children. We became a Professional Practice School and collaborated with UC to improve instruction.

We were one of the first CPS schools to teach with an inclusive model so no child would be left behind. We had multiage classes so that students were with teachers for more than a year and could progress in a familiar environment with their individual needs being met. We looped with our children, keeping our students for several years as well. We worked with nationally recognized reading consultants, took part in Mayerson Academy classes in vast amounts, trained other teachers in the district on various models and strategies we were implementing, traveled to Seattle and abroad to see various programs being utilized, and came back to train our staff on what was seen.

We had a parent center to bring in parents to our school, to help parents get what they needed to help their children succeed. We adopted Expeditionary Learning as a program focus. We had a dynamo school social worker that went door to door to pick up children who "slept in" or were truant. You certainly cannot say that this achievement was for lack of trying on the part of the staff.

We were faced with a challenging population. Most of our children were from single-family (sic) homes. Many of our children didn't have any reading/writing materials in their homes. Most of our children never made visits to the public library on their own time or had their own library cards. Many of the students didn't have the luxury of a bedtime story at night before bedtime. We had practically the entire school population on free/reduced lunch and breakfast. We had a mobility rate of 56% at one time.

Our students didn't stay put for very long, often attending multiple schools in a single year. Five children from my kindergarten class one year graduated from Vine in sixth grade. They were the only students that hadn't left Vine over the course of elementary school.

Over the years at Vine, I had a student who at 5 years said they (sic) wanted to grow up and be on welfare like her mama. I had another little girl who tried to hurl herself over the safety gate in the stairwell of the school in an attempt to harm herself. I had a little girl wearing a dress wearing no underwear or socks in January. I had students that ate their last meal on Fridays at lunchtime and didn't eat again until Monday morning. I had students who had been abused physically or emotionally. I had students acting out their home lives in my housekeeping area by diving under the table to avoid the cops during a cocaine bust and children speaking of and/or acting out sexual acts. I had a student who was burned all over his body by his mom for playing with the stove. I had a student who tap-danced on street corners for money. I had students who saw death and met death on the mean streets of Cincinnati.

Are you now wondering why these students are not achieving? In my opinion, we need to not focus on the staff members in low achieving schools but on how we as a public school system can assist, educate, and support the families.

Now in closing, my late father told me if I could make a difference in the life of one child, it was worth the heartache that went along with being at Vine every day for eleven years. I can tell you I made a difference while I was there. I have had a student get a full scholarship to Ohio State and is enrolled. I had a mom who volunteered in my classroom every day her child was in my classroom, working with various students as needed. I received a dollar bill from a grandma who wrote a note that said "Little money, big heart". I had a grateful grandma who baked cakes and delivered them to me in appreciation for my efforts with her granddaughter.

I have a drawer full of letters from various students over the years that loved me every bit as much as my Blue Ash students. Every single individual who has worked at Vine with me has a similar story. We were there for the children and regardless of what achievement scores showed, we were truly giving it our all.

I just feel the public has the right to know how hard-working teachers at Vine were and what type of obstacles we were up against on a daily basis.

Sincerely,

Taryn Grinker

Teachers, if you were moved by the letter by Blue Ash Elementary teacher Taryn Grinker, we would like to hear from you.

We are asking Tristate teachers to share the biggest challenges and greatest joys about their jobs, as well as any experiences that have touched them.

Please confine responses to 300 words or less.

E-mail by Sept. 16 to bcieslewicz@enquirer.com or fax 513-768-8340 or write Bill Cieslewicz, Education Editor, Cincinnati Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati, OH 45202. Please include name, daytime phone, school and grade you teach. If possible, include your photograph in case we choose to publish your letter.




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