The Power of Place in Teaching Hard Histories

37056740_10212838045569076_2395403690199482368_oDid you know that Spittal Pond in Bermuda was the spot where an enslaved man named Jeffrey hid from his masters in a cave, on a cliff, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean? Did you also know that during that time he developed a romantic relationship with another enslaved woman who brought him food and other supplies and helped him survive exile until his unfortunate capture several days later? Were you aware that enslaved Africans hand-made every brick at the Oak Alley Plantation in Louisiana using mud from the Mississippi River, even during oppressively hot, dangerous conditions? Despite these tribulations,the enslaved gathered on Sundays to participate in church services and sing songs of hope and gospel.

As a teacher and a former student myself, I have come to realize that before you can truly understand and grapple with hard histories, you must understand that the people who lived them were more than victims and the places where these stories were lived, were more than the sites of grave violence. These people and places were the makers of life. These individuals had identities, families, hopes, dreams, and in many cases, created humanity at a time where conditions or the choices of others were inhumane. Additionally, they resisted both actively and passively for the life they knew they deserved.

Personally, this belief in the power of place and the power of individual stories has led me around the world to places like Navajo Nation, Ghana, England, and Canyonlands to name a few. Professionally, it has inspired me to apply this same lens in the classroom with my students. I teach humanities at Alma del Mar Charter Public School in New Bedford. Our school model is based on the concept of expeditionary learning, which means that I have the ability to help my students experience the power of people and place through hands-on-learning. It also means that the school values my own learning and exposure to the material that I teach. This past year, my school provided all teachers the opportunity to apply to a fund called the Alma-zing fund, which covered the costs of our summer travel to places that would deepen our understanding of the world and the topics that we would be teaching this fall. The idea that I could travel to Bermuda and New Orleans to learn on a school funded trip was incredible.

Thanks to the Alma-zing fund, this summer I visited places and talked to people that deepened my understanding  of slavery, the slave trade, the Civil War, and African Diaspora. This experience taught me the importance of teaching this history while keeping people, places, and their rich stories at the forefront of all lessons. One such story was about a man named Joseph Rainey and a place called The Tucker House.

Joseph Rainey lived in the Tucker House in St. George Bermuda before slavery ended in the United States. He fled with his wife to Bermuda, escaping his master and overseer. Upon arriving safely in Bermuda he styled and cut hair for the rich and famous to make a living. His success led him to move to the city of Hamilton. Eventually Yellow Fever broke out in Bermuda and he was scared for the safety and health of his family. He decided to take all of the money he had saved and move back to the United States. He joined the Republican Party and eventually was the first black person to serve on the United States Congress.

This story was inspiring, but it was not the only story woven throughout the contents and history of The Tucker House. The Tucker House was riddled with information that I never knew existed ranging from Spies and the experiences of the Bermudian enslaved. We saw the beds they slept in, the kitchens they cooked in, and the grounds they tended. At that moment Joseph Rainey and his wife became more than artifacts in a tangled history; they were flesh and blood, brought to life by the stories tucked into every corner of the place they inhabited. Thanks to this opportunity, not only do I have photos to share with my scholars of the places where this history came to life, but I have personal stories to share about the people who lived this history so that my scholars can begin their own journey to understanding the power of the places and the people that came before us.

Posted in Alma Profiles, Team

Alma scholars closing achievement gap on MCAS

ALMA DEL MAR SCHOLARS CLOSING ACHIEVEMENT GAP ON MCAS

NEW BEDFORD – Sept. 27, 2018 – For the sixth straight year, Alma del Mar showed strong performance on the statewide MCAS tests. Alma’s passage rate on MCAS significantly surpassed the state average in Math and nearly matched the state average in English. Alma’s middle school scholars were the highest performing students in the city in both subjects, while Alma third graders passed the Math MCAS at the same rate as students in Wellesley.

“We created Alma to be a game-changing school for kids from New Bedford,” said Will Gardner, Founder and Executive Director of Alma del Mar. “These results affirm that we are on our way toward that mission.”

This year’s data affirms that students with higher needs do particularly well at Alma. Most notably, Alma scholars classified as English language learners passed the MCAS at twice the rate of their statewide peers. In addition, students with disabilities at Alma passed the MCAS at nearly twice the rate of their statewide peers in math and at an 8% higher rate in English. Students of color, a group historically underserved by public schools nationwide, fare better at Alma, according to this recent data. Both African American and Latino scholars at Alma passed the MCAS at nearly double the rate of their statewide peers.

“I want to emphasize that we’re not the only public school in New Bedford that gets great results with a high needs population,” Gardner said. “We applaud the work of our colleagues at Congdon and Rodman, who are truly moving the needle for their students.”

Gardner added: “We’re also pleased to see our performance continues to improve, even as we grew our student population by an additional 20% this past year. This shows that our talented teachers are capable of leading even our new arrivals to significant gains in less than a year.”

Alma del Mar serves 440 New Bedford children in grades K-8. The student population is predominantly comprised of minority and low-income students: In SY17-18, 51% of Alma scholars were Hispanic, 13% African American; 72% met the “high needs” criteria as determined by the state. English Language Learners and Former English Language Learners make up 40% of the school’s population.

Other highlights of Alma’s 2018 MCAS performance:

  • 50% of Alma scholars schoolwide passed the English MCAS, up from 45% in 2017.
  • 76% of Alma 3rd grade scholars passed the Math test, compared to 50% of 3rd grade students statewide.
  • 61% of Alma 5th grade scholars passed the English test, compared to 54% of 5th grade students statewide.
  • 61% of Alma 6th grade scholars passed the Math test, compared to a statewide average of 48% for grade 6.
  • Scholars who are identified as economically disadvantaged by the state scored in the 87th percentile on the Math MCAS compared to their peers statewide.

Alma del Mar’s full MCAS results, as well as the statewide passing rates, are below:

 

  ELA

% Exceeding or Meeting

Math

% Exceeding or Meeting

  Alma del Mar State Alma del Mar State
3rd 60 52 76 50
4th 28 53 58 48
5th 61 54 43 46
6th 57 50 61 48
7th 45 46 38 46
8th 48 51 43 49

 

Posted in Alma Profiles

Meet Mr. Castro: Eighth Grade Math Teacher

IMG_2770Mr. Castro was born and raised in San Jose, California and went to school in San Diego at the University of San Diego. He majored in English, with an emphasis in Creative Writing and Economics—a double major! He enjoys reading, writing and economic analyzation in his free time. He tries to learn from everything!
Why did you choose the Alma team?
I chose to join the Alma team because of how much I have heard about the community, in that it is significantly tight knit. I have always found great pleasure in working with people who care for others, and therefore I’m excited to work with the Alma team!
What do you hope to contribute to Alma?
To Alma, I hope to openly contribute my opinions and perspectives. I hope to offer insights that could be beneficial for the community and development of all scholars.
What is your top goal during your first year with Alma?
One of my top goals during my first year at Alma is to really immerse myself within the community in order to earn the trust and respect of everyone. I really look forward to doing home visits!
What teacher made a difference in your life — how?
A teacher that has made a difference in my life would be one of my first economic professors at the University of San Diego, Professor Deborah Kelly. She encouraged me to try many things and always pushed me to do my best. Even though I moved across the country, she still continues to support me!
Why did you become involved in education?
I became involved in education because I discovered how much I enjoy seeing my time and effort take the form of a student’s learning and improvement. It brings me great joy to see a student achieve something they have been earnestly striving towards.
Where did you go to college? What did you like about your college?
I went to the University of San Diego (USD) for college. At USD, I really liked how close the community was, in that they were very supportive of whatever ideas anyone had. Most people would provide constructive feedback and freely offer their opinions or perspectives when asked.

What is your favorite place / food / book / music / art? (choose two)
My favorite place is a table where people eat! It’s a place where there’s usually food and where people come together to share stories and create memories. I believe food can be a great medium to building community.
My favorite book is A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park. It’s my favorite book because I read it when I was in middle school and it had a significant impact on my development as a person. Even to this day I still enjoy reading it!

Posted in Alma Profiles, Meet Our Crew

Results for Children are the Real Bottom Line

Posted in Gardner's Digest, Ops @ Alma

Meet Mr. Jacome: Sixth Grade Lead Teacher

AndrewJMr. Jacome (or Mr. J, as many call him) was born in Fall River, and lived in South Coast Massachusetts his entire life. He graduated from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth with a degree in History and Religious studies. Mr. J loves to travel and spends his vacations traveling the world, visiting museums,  and looking for new destinations to visit. His best friend in the world is his dog Bubby, which he takes everywhere and does everything with. Before joining the Alma del Mar team, Mr. J was an AmeriCorps volunteer serving the scholars of New Bedford.

Why did you choose the Alma team?
Alma was such a breath of fresh air and felt like where I belonged from day one. I can picture myself here for a really long time.

What do you hope to contribute to Alma? 
I have such a passion for working with scholars, either on or off the field. I am really looking forward to showing scholars all new experiences from athletics to card games. 

What is your top goal during your first year with Alma?
I am super excited for the opportunity to show my students different world cultures and have them experience all new things.

What teacher made a difference in your life — how? 
I actually thought about this for quite a while and I hope I can expand on this a bit and name four teachers.
#1 Mr. Pacheco, my middle school science teacher who absolutely loved what he did, and took teaching into his own hands. He was one of the coolest teachers I ever had and the reason while I’ll bring my guitar to class to share. He showed me that teaching is about the passion.
#2 Mr. Palmisciano who was my high school history and economics teacher, as well as my Mock Trial coach. He showed me that teaching is about the students.
#3 Mrs. Bernier one of my elementary school teachers who stood in as my grandparent on “Grandparents Day.” She sat with me at the lunch table and shared her life with me when I felt pretty alone. She showed me that teaching is about family.
#4 Mr. McCain my high school principle who no matter the weather (rain, snow, sleet, sunshine, etc.) would be waiting outside every morning to greet the students with a smile. He showed me that teaching is about the community.

Why did you become involved in education?
Many of my family members were teachers, and from a young age I was exposed to the teaching  world. I taught karate when I was younger, and volunteer teaching Catechism on the weekends during the school year.

Where did you go to college? What did you like about your college?
I graduated from the University of Massachusetts, as did my: parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends. Many people like to complain about UMD and the architecture, but that is simply not the case to me it felt like home. The faculty was absolutely amazing (Shout out to the UMass Dartmouth History Department!)

What is your favorite book?
I love everything Harry Potter (Go Slytherin House!), it was honestly the series that inspired my love of reading.

What is your favorite music?

My other passion is music, I’ve been playing guitar since I was ten years old and my collection includes about six acoustic guitars.

 

 

Posted in Alma Profiles, Meet Our Crew

Special Announcement: Alma applying for more seats in New Bedford

Letter to Alma Families – English

Carta para las Familias de Alma

Posted in Ops @ Alma

ATTN New Families: Math & Reading screenings set for Aug. 2-3

Attention families of new scholars in 1st-7th grade:

We would like to invite all new scholars to a Math and Reading screening on either Thursday, August 2nd from 2:00-5:00pm or Friday, August 3rd from 7:00-10:00am. Contact Ms. Teevens at (202) 802-5539 or alexateevens@almadelmar.org with your preferred screening day ASAP! Thanks!

Posted in Ops @ Alma

Meet Ms. Kozak: Fifth and Sixth Grade Science Teacher

This photo was taken at Silver Lake, New Hampshire this summer, where I am the director of Brantwood Camp for Girls.

This photo was taken at Silver Lake, New Hampshire this summer, where I am the director of Brantwood Camp for Girls.

Ms. Kozak grew up in Boston after immigrating from Poland at the age of six. She has spent much of her life teaching kids in outdoor settings, both as the director of an all-girls summer camp that serves low-income girls and as a facilitator with Outward Bound. She began her formal teaching career as a Teach For America Corps Member in 2013 in the Rio Grande Valley where she taught English Language Arts at Miller Jordan Middle School in San Benito, Texas. Ms. Kozak then continued her career as a special educator at Austin Discovery School in Austin, Texas leading general education classes and resource classes as well as co-teaching across content areas. She is excited to return to her home state and continue her teaching career in New Bedford. 

 
Why did you choose the Alma team?
I love the idea of working in a community-focused K-8 school. I love boats and has worked on them in the past, so being part of the Alma “Crew” seemed like a natural fit!
 
What do you hope to contribute to Alma? 
I hope I can be a positive team member that can also bring in a lot of team building strategies I’ve learned through my time in outdoor education. As I step back into a general education science role, I know my two years as a special educator will elevate my general classroom teaching to ensure all scholars are successful and that my English teaching experience will help ensure a literacy focus in science.
 
What is your top goal during your first year with Alma?
I am excited to really grow as a teacher. While I feel confident in my skills in the classroom, I have never had regular coaching and am ready to make serious growth in the classroom.
 
What teacher made a difference in your life — how? 
I have been lucky. I have had many excellent teachers who strived to push me to be curious, make art, and become a better writer. My most influential teachers were two of my high school English teachers. They cared not just about my learning, but my emotional growth too. When I think about the type of teacher I want to be for my students, these two pop into my mind. 
 
Why did you become involved in education?
Working with kids brings me a joy and zest for life. Watching them grow or figure something out on their own is invigorating. When I was in school, my teachers were instrumental in my development as a person, and I want to be this person.
 
Where did you go to college? What did you like about your college?
I went to UMass Boston. I was undocumented when I graduated high school, and I could not access many higher education opportunities. It took me a year to figure out how even get to a four year college. UMass Boston offered me in-state tuition which made a college degree attainable for me. I graduated with a BA in Anthropology. 
 
What is your favorite place / food / book / music / art? (choose two)

I love the ocean! I am very happy to back on the east coast near the water. I also love cheese. 

Posted in Alma Profiles, Meet Our Crew

Meet Mr. Matzdorff: Lead Physical Education Teacher

IMG-0008Mr. Matzdorff is a native of Groton, CT — the “submarine capitol of the world.” He graduated from Liberty University in Virginia with a degree in Kinesiology with a teacher licensure. While at Liberty, he met and married the love of his life. Since graduation, he has spent the first three years of his career teaching the elementary students of Lynchburg, VA, building PE curriculum, and leading a morning fitness program to encourage healthy living and physical fitness. He is always smiling and passionate about most things in his life: coffee, New York sports, the outdoors, and — overall — his family. Mr. Matzdorff currently resides by the ocean on Cape Cod with his wife, Melody, his son, Oliver, and his boxer, Mia. 

Why did you choose the Alma team? 

I chose the Alma team because of their desire to better themselves and most importantly their scholars. Just from conversations with future coworkers I could tell that this was a school making a difference in a lot of children’s lives. I was inspired by their mission to send every scholar to college. It is evident that this is a school that is passionate about seeing their scholars succeed in every aspect of life. A school that always puts their scholars first, maintains a high academic standard, while also having fun in the process is a school I want to teach at! 

What do you hope to contribute to Alma? 

I hope to bring more energy and ideas to the Physical Education program! I hope to bring a sense of belonging and community to all of the classes that I teach. I want every scholar to learn how to be healthy and make good decisions, while also realizing that being healthy is a fun thing! I want every scholar to know that I am there to help them succeed! 

What is your top goal during your first year with Alma? 

My number one goal during my first year with Alma is to give every scholar an understanding of what it means to be healthy and physically fit — While also learning every scholars name!

What teacher made a difference in your life — how? 

My old track coach (Coach Kosta) made the biggest difference in my life. He taught me how to strive for greatness and give every race (and everything I do) my all. When I was captain of the team he showed me and taught me what it meant to be a leader. All of this helped mold me into the person and teacher that I am today.

Why did you become involved in education? 

I became involved in education because of all the teachers and coaches I have had throughout my life. They showed me how to learn while having fun, they cared about me and pushed me to do my best. Because of their impact in my life, I now have a passion to do the same for upcoming generations.

Where did you go to college? What did you like about your college? 

I went to Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. I really liked how Liberty was a medium-sized school with a real community feel. The classes were small and the professors really made an effort to know you. It was a very exciting campus where I met some lifelong friends and my wife! Overall, it was a wonderful experience! 

What is your favorite place?

One of my favorite places to be is on a boat — doesn’t matter where! I love the water and anything that has to do with it!

What is your favorite food?

My favorite food is pizza! Specifically a pizza called the Molokai from this little hole in the wall pizza place in Lynchburg. It has pineapple, bacon and barbecue sauce!

Posted in Alma Profiles, Meet Our Crew

Meet Ms. Ouimet: K-1 Academic Dean and K-3 Math Specialist

Something fun I truly enjoy is building strong relationships with students and connecting with them once they have left my classroom/school. I believe that keeping that on-going open communication is supportive to the success of students and LOVE hearing of former students overcoming specific barriers, achieving milestones, and just the general cool things on their journeys. This picture is of myself and a former student who popped into my office one day to surprise me and tell me about his new accomplishments and ask for advice on job applications. It was an absolute joy to be one of his references.

Something fun I truly enjoy is building strong relationships with students and connecting with them once they have left my classroom/school. I believe that keeping that on-going open communication is supportive to the success of students and LOVE hearing of former students overcoming specific barriers, achieving milestones, and just the general cool things on their journeys. This picture is of myself and a former student who popped into my office one day to surprise me and tell me about his new accomplishments and ask for advice on job applications. It was an absolute joy to be one of his references.

Ms. Ouimet grew up in Berkley, Massachusetts. She lived in Berkley until she was 14 years old. At this time, her dad received a job transfer to Chicago, Illinois and her entire family relocated there. She went to high school at St. Francis College Prep in Wheaton, Illinois. She then attended St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa. She earned an undergrad degree in Elementary Education with an endorsement in reading.

After graduation, Ms. Ouimet’s entire family moved back to the Massachusetts area. She worked as a preschool teacher for three years and then took a kindergarten teaching job at Lincoln School in Providence. During this time, she earned a Master’s Degree in Special Education from Lesley University in Cambridge. Ms. Ouimet was looking for specific areas of special education and chose to relocate back to Davenport, Iowa to pursue a career in emotional and behavioral supports. She taught as a K-5 sub separate teaching for students with behavioral disorders for two years. She then worked as a Crisis Interventionist for a middle school program for students with behavioral disorders. During that time, she earned a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership and Special Education Leadership. Ms. Ouimet then took a job as a School Administrative Manager at an elementary school. After doing that for two years, Ms. Ouimet realized that she missed being in the classroom and chose to return to teaching. She worked as a High School Transition Specialist and taught all subjects in a alternate school for students who were expelled from their normally assigned public school.

Why did you choose the Alma team?

I had been on the lookout for a job in the Massachusetts area. My mom, dad, sister, brother and soon-to-be niece are in this area and I felt a strong desire to relocate and be within a close proximity to family. I felt very passionate and dedicated to the work I was doing in Davenport and was waiting for a job that called my name and made leaving my work in Davenport “worth it.” Alma was that job for me. My mom is actually the one who found the job description and sent it to me right away. One of the components that stuck out for me was Alma’s search for someone who had “infectious joy” and was willing to go above and beyond. These are two things I strive for on a daily basis. Once I started visiting the school, meeting the Alma staff, understanding the Crew Code, mission statement, etc, I saw a clear vision of myself growing and developing here at Alma Del Mar.

What do you hope to contribute to Alma?

I absolutely love working with scholars and forming strong relationships that have a positive impact on scholar growth and achievement. I have an extensive background in the areas of Trauma Informed Care, Youth Mental Health First Aid, and Responsive Classroom Techniques. I would like to contribute different aspects of these resources, model relationship building skills, demonstrate compassionate conversations and build scholars up to feel successful and motivated to learn.

What is your top goal during your first year with Alma?

My top goal for my first year at Alma is to create the most effective relationship with my directs and provide the most appropriate and meaningful support to them and their scholars.

What teacher made a difference in your life — how?

I had many influential teachers throughout my academic career. In particular, my 5th grade teacher, Ms. Hadley, was the teacher that sparked my love for learning. When I think back on all my favorite books, my favorite science experiments, my favorite history lessons, my favorite field trips; all of those experiences were part of my 5th grade year. Why? Because Ms. Hadley found a way to making learning engaging. She captivated her classroom and used a hands-on approach that was especially helpful to my “off task” and excitable nature. She is the reason I wanted to become a teacher. She is also the one who made me realize that I had a world full of potentials just waiting to be met. For the first time, I felt like an accomplished student and carried that with me for years to follow.

Why did you become involved in education?

Since a young age, I knew I wanted to be an educator. I was always hosting a session of “school” in my basement at home, making sure the neighborhood kids knew the rules we had to follow, loved to laugh and play, and always wanted to encourage and lend a helping hand. I was a struggling student myself and needed extra support in the areas of reading comprehension and organization. Because of my own challenges, I have a passion for advocating for students and helping student eliminate or climb over specific barriers that prevent him/her from reaching their fullest potentials.

Where did you go to college? What did you like about your college?

I attended St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa. It was the perfect school for me and I feel so thankful to have had the opportunity to earn my degree from such a wonderful school. I loved the small classroom sizes and the feeling that each teacher new my strengths, areas of improvement and professional goals. In addition, St. Ambrose had a fantastic learning disability program that offered support for my struggles with reading comprehension which really helped to bridge my achievement gap.

What is your favorite book?

My favorite book is The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah.

What is your favorite place?

My favorite place is White Horse Beach in Plymouth, MA during low tide at sunset.

Posted in Alma Profiles, Meet Our Crew
Donate to Alma

Subscribe to Blog Updates

Keep in Touch

Join Our Team