Alonso speaks on teaching methods, vows to improve New York City schools

“What should children know, what should they be learning?” asked Dr. Andres Alonso of graduate students and professors at the Carol Gresser Forum Oct. 17 in Bent Hall.

According to Dr. Alonso, the new Chancellor of Learning for the New York City Department of Education, the important aspects of teaching are not necessarily class size, economic status of the students or skill level of the student but rather the expectations placed on students and teachers alike.

Alonso said that his own processes of learning to read as a child helped to shape his ideas on teaching. He learned to read in Spanish through the teachings of his mother, then learned English from the teachers and mentors in the Union City, New Jersey school system he grew up in after moving with his family from Cuba at age 12.

Alonso would later find himself “figuratively” learning a new language while teaching emotionally disturbed children in Newark, New Jersey.

“[The students in Newark] needed to teach me what the struggles [of reading] were, because I had been someone who had done things so intuitively that I had never paid attention to the tasks or dimensions that are so important in reading,” said Dr. Alonso. He explained that the student is to be given more input and trust in their own learning process.

Alonso called the Newark students his “pillars,” saying that they also helped him develop his ideas of what should be done to move forward in the teaching of students today. For him, expectations “make an extraordinary difference in how we construct knowledge in the classroom,” and to do this, he looks at the educational experience of the students through their eyes by visiting two schools per day.

Alonso maintains that there is a problem in the way students are learning in middle schools and high schools and it is visible when looking at the drop off in test scores as they move along in grades. Dr. Alonso plans to fix the problem of variability.

The unfortunate bureaucratizing of standards, he said, has taken away from the aid that teachers might need in order to help students reach those standards throughout the city.
“The discourse about standards, certainly in this city but I think in the nation as a whole, has been tilted in the direction of accountability away from the trestle question of standards: ‘what is it that students should know?'” Alonso said. He added that this question is difficult to answer considering the heavy emphasis placed on English language arts and math and a divergence from the impact of other areas such as social studies, the sciences, and the arts which “inform and make possible learning in ELA and math.”

Alonso said that he is prepared to take the school system in a new direction. He wants teachers, students and parents to realize that they are in the fight together and that it is the job of all of them to expect the best and to get there.

Volunteering among college students has risen sharply in the years since the 9/11 attacks, suggesting the possible emergence of a new civic generation, according to the most comprehensive federal study ever conducted of college student volunteering in the United States.

The “College Students Helping America” report released by the federal Corporation for National and Community Service found that college student volunteering increased by 20 percent between 2002 and 2005, more than doubling the growth in the adult volunteering rate. It found that 3.3 million college students volunteered in 2005 — nearly 600,000 more students than three years ago — building strong momentum toward a national goal of five million college student volunteers by 2010.

“One bright spot coming out of the 9/11 tragedy is a surge of interest by college students in serving their community,” said Steve Goldsmith, the Chairman of the Board of the Corporation.

“This rise in college student volunteering and the growing campus support for service are hopeful signs for the future of civic involvement in America. Higher education is a powerful engine of civic engagement and we are committed to working with university and student organizations and the larger nonprofit sector to nurture this growing civic generation.”

Noticeably, the growth in volunteering over the four-year period was generated primarily by youths who attended high school or were first-year college students during the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The vast majority, or 84 percent, of current college student volunteers in the study were of high-school age during the attacks of 2001. They witnessed the heroic response of police officers, firefighters and other public servants who made tremendous personal sacrifices to guide victims and the nation through the traumatic event.

“The volunteer enthusiasm expressed by today’s college students could have long-lasting societal benefits, said Robert Grimm, Jr., Director of Research and Policy Development. “Just as the Greatest Generation was shaped by WWII and the Great Depression, the tragic events of the last few years coupled with growing university and K-12 support for volunteering and service-learning have translated into more college students mentoring, tutoring, and engaging in their community in ways that could produce a lifetime habit.”

The report comes a day before the announcement of the first-ever President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll, a federal effort to recognize colleges that have provided the most outstanding service to their neighborhoods and to Gulf Coast communities devastated by Hurricane Katrina. More than 500 colleges submitted applications to the Honor Roll.

These universities reported that than 219,000 students provided 2.2 million hours of hurricane relief support in the past year. The Honor Roll winners will be announced at the Campus Compact 20th Anniversary conference in Chicago.
The Corporation conducted the study of college volunteers analyzing data collected from 2002 to 2005 as part of the Current Population Survey (CPS), a comprehensive and scientifically rigorous survey of 60,000 American households conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It is the largest national study showing trends in college student volunteering and the most comprehensive analysis of volunteering by college students.

The report contains a previously released list of state volunteer rankings for college students that finds that college volunteer rates in the states range from 21.4% to 62.9%. Six of the 10 states that rank in the top ten based on overall volunteering rates also rank in the top ten for college student volunteering rates. The top states for college student volunteering were Utah, Idaho, Oklahoma, Vermont, and Nebraska.

The report brings a wealth of welcome news to those working to expand college service. College student community service and civic engagement are key elements of the new five-year strategic plan of the Corporation for National and Community Service. The Corporation is working with other federal agencies, colleges and universities, higher education and student associations, and nonprofit organizations to increase the number of college students volunteering each year to 5 million by 2010.

Each year, the Corporation makes a significant investment in building a culture of service on college campuses through Learn and Serve America and AmeriCorps grants to institutions of higher education to support service- learning and community service. In addition to direct grants, Corporation has also supported higher education through the more than $1.2 billion in Segal AmeriCorps Education Awards to AmeriCorps members who complete their service and use their awards to pay for college tuition or to pay back student loans.

The Corporation for National and Community Service improves lives, strengthens communities, and fosters civic engagement through service and volunteering
. Each year, the Corporation provides opportunities for more than 2 million Americans of all ages and backgrounds to serve their communities and country through Senior Corps, AmeriCorps and Learn and Serve America.

For more information, go to http://www.nationalservice.gov.