Learning with Communities

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Description of the Community

My student teaching placement is at Bryant Middle School in Dearborn, Michigan. Bryant is one of four middle schools in the Dearborn Public Schools district. The district also contains nineteen elementary schools, six high schools, one intermediate school, two K-8 schools, and four special programs. Bryant has roughly 800 students in grades 6-8. My description of the community was informed by my own observations of the community, as well as city-data.com and cityofdearborn.org.

Bryant is located South of Ford Road and West of Telegraph Road in a residential neighborhood commonly referred to as Cherry Hill Estates. This neighborhood has a population of 5,358 with a median income of $72,611. The estimated average price of a home in this neighborhood is $132,218 and 70% of the homes in this neighborhood have a mortgage. The boundary map for Bryant Middle Schools extends North to Warren Road and South to Michigan Avenue.

The demographics of this neighborhood are primarily white, however, people of Arab ancestry are categorized as “white” in census data, so it may not properly convey the ancestry and spoken language of the community. According to the City of Dearborn, there are 40,000 Arab Americans living in Dearborn. My observations from being in the neighborhood and working with students at Bryant indicate that many people living in the community surrounding the school are indeed Arab American or of Arab ancestry. The average age of residents in this neighborhood is 38 and 60% of all households contain married-couple families.

During my windshield survey of the neighborhood, I observed that it is full of well-maintained bungalow homes. After and before school, many children can be seen walking to school or playing outdoors. Levagood Park stands in the middle of the neighborhood, offering a community pool, playgrounds, and trees. The City of Dearborn has many other assets, including a three-branch library system, the Ford Community and Performing Arts Center, the University of Michigan-Dearborn, Henry Ford Community College, the Arab American National Museum, The Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, and 43 public parks. Because Ford Motor Company has its world headquarters in Dearborn it is the most prominent business in the city and a possible asset for students interested in engineering. Oakwood Health System and Henry Ford Health System are also highly visible in Dearborn and can be considered assets.

During my windshield survey I also observed that many billboards and businesses have signage in both English and Arabic, reflecting the diversity and large Arab population of Dearborn. I observed several churches and places of worship during my survey, as well as many small businesses (such as restaurants, markets, hair salons, and auto shops) alongside the chains and larger corporations (such as big box stores and fast food restaurants).

There were also some challenges I observed during my windshield survey. Because of the school’s location near two major roads, there is not a lot of walkability in the area. I don’t think that students, especially middle school students, could safely cross to the East side of Telegraph or North side of Ford Road very easily. Because many students live North of Ford Road, this could be a safety issue.

A second potential issue that I identified is related to what I believe is an asset: diversity. Because many students and their families are not native English speakers, there may be difficulty communicating with students at school and communicating with their families. Although the school does strive to provide help for English Language Learners (ELL), there may still be issues with ensuring that all student needs are met.

Additionally, although I have heard mostly positive remarks about the diversity of the school and its community, I have also heard a handful of insensitive and bigoted comments from a small number of school staff. As someone who grew up in Dearborn, I have witnessed first hand the intolerance and racism of some city residents against Arab residents. While I believe that this is just a vocal minority, nevertheless, it is an issue and a challenge to ensuring that all students and their families feel welcome, accepted, and safe.

Analysis and Implications of Community Assets and Issues

During my windshield survey, my time at Bryant Middle School, and my own experience living in Dearborn as a child, I have discovered many assets. A primary asset is the diversity of the area. Dearborn is culturally rich and, from what I have observed, is mostly an accepting place that embraces its Arab American community. At Bryant, there is clear evidence of this diversity, such as observance of Muslim holidays and bilingualism among faculty and staff. Utilizing the rich cultural makeup of the school and the community is certainly something that can be done in an English classroom, through the selection of literature that represents many cultures and people.

Another asset I have identified in the community is the cultural life of Dearborn. Colleges, museums, performance venues, and libraries are great assets that the school can use to plan field trips, provide experts and speakers, and to organize literacy events. For my subjects, English and history, these assets are especially valuable as they provide interactive ways for students to learn about history (for example, at The Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village) and literature (for example, seeing live plays and performances).

While issues of walkability may not be easily addressed in the classroom, the issue of inclusiveness certainly can. As mentioned above, by incorporating literature and materials from a variety of cultures, students can learn about other cultures and share their own cultures. This will perhaps result in all students feeling welcome and being more inclusive of others.

Reflective Narrative

I found that Bryant Middle School’s community offers many assets and a few issues. The school is located in a neighborhood that is clean, full of families, and has a diverse population. The city offers great services, such as public parks, libraries and outstanding cultural attractions. The community is also quite diverse, with a large Arab American population. The community also has a few issues, such as the major roads that it is located near, and the possible intolerance of some community members toward the diverse population.

I will use the assets of the community to plan my curriculum and support my teaching in a few ways. First, I will take advantage of the great resources of Dearborn, such as the public library, museums, performance centers, and colleges. While a field trip may not be possible during my short student teaching experience, resources could still be utilized, such as bringing in a speaker from a museum, library or college and seeking out materials from these sources to use in class. Secondly, I believe that it is essential in an English classroom that the culture of all students is represented, therefore, finding and using literature written by Arab Americans is a priority for me. Additionally, I think it is important to learn some basic Arabic so that I can communicate with students and families who are not proficient in English and so that my students can see I am making an effort to better understand their culture and language.

I hope that my role as a teacher in this community will be that of a leader and a learner. I hope to help my students become better writers and readers, but also know that my students and the community have much that they can teach me. The first step in doing this is to get to know my students and their families, as well as the community. “Getting to know you” activities and daily conversations have helped me get to know my students and attending Open House allowed me to meet with parents. I plan to continue getting to know my students and their families by attending extracurricular events, spending time in the community (shopping, eating, attending events), and by keeping communication open through our class blog and other forms of communication. Again, attempting to learn Arabic will also help me build relationships with many of my students and their families.

By spending more time in the neighborhood surrounding Bryant, I hope to also get to know more about the community. Because my parents still live in Dearborn, I have many opportunities to spend time there and plan to take advantage of this. Additionally, I have begun to pay more attention to local news for Dearborn and am following Dearborn Public Schools on social media so that I can stay current on issues and news from the community.

I hope that by creating a culturally inclusive curriculum and making an effort to spend time in the community, I can make better connections with my students and their families.