I took this class for my students.
I taught for five years in Dallas, Texas and I think about my students every day, especially the ones I didn’t know how to help. I think about my first grader, Tasha*, who was brilliant and creative, but faced enormous challenges in her home life that often manifested in defiance and aggression in school. I think about Antonio*, with his big grin and eagerness to help, who had been expelled from three schools and was repeating second grade when he entered my classroom and who struggled with learning disabilities, emotional dysregulation, and anger. I also think about Braden*, a cheerful second-grader who was experiencing homelessness, hunger, and vision problems. I came to HGSE for these students, to learn how to help children like Tasha*, Antonio*, and Braden*, and their teachers.
This was my motivation when I ended my winter break a few weeks early to return to class. Professor Richard Weissbourd’s two-week class during January term, Developing Effective School and Community Interventions for Children Facing Risks, is the best class I’ve taken at HGSE so far. Professor Weissbourd, or Rick, as he asks his students to call him, has immense experience and knowledge. His work focuses on vulnerability and resilience in childhood, moral development, and effective schools and services for children. He currently directs the Making Caring Common project and is the founder of several interventions in the Boston area, including ReadBoston and WriteBoston. Rick is impressive and I was excited to learn from him. He is also friendly, easy to talk to, and genuinely interested in his students. On the first day of class he gave us his cell phone number and told us to call day or night. That’s dedication.
The class involved three main components: readings, daily class with a mix of lecture and discussion, and a client project. We started out discussing what it means to face risks in childhood and how academic and emotional risks are related to economic class. Rick talked about noisy and quiet risks, something that has stuck with me. Students like Tasha* and Antonio* experienced noisy problems and a lot of attention was devoted to helping them. However, Braden’s* problems were quiet and went unnoticed for far too long. As Rick says, most problems low-income children experience are quiet, not loud. This is important when considering how to intervene. We also discussed social emotional skills and resilience and their role in interventions. We talked about effective interventions, funding, implementation, and scaling. We didn’t discover all the answers, but we grappled with some tough issues and had productive conversations.
One of the best parts of the class was the client project. Local and national organizations, including Cambridge Family Policy Counsel, Jumpstart, and Google, submitted projects for students to work on during the course of the class. We worked individually or in small groups to research, develop, and present an intervention in line with the aims of the project outlined by our client. I had the privilege of working with the Education Redesign Lab on a project in rural Illinois around developing trauma-informed practices in schools. It was a short turn-around, but with a lot of coffee and a few late nights, we were able to develop a project that we were proud of and our client was pleased with (two key components of a successful project).
While I ended up with fewer lazy mornings and Netflix binges during my winter break, I couldn’t be more grateful that I had the opportunity to take this class during J-term. I learned, grappled, and produced work I’m proud of. I don’t have all the answers and I am nowhere close to solving all of the challenges facing students, but I am learning. And that is what I am here to do.
*Student names changed to protect their privacy.
Blog written by Michelle Ward, photos provided by Michelle Ward
Michelle A. Ward is an Ed.M. candidate in the International Education Policy program. As a former elementary school teacher from Dallas, Texas, she is focused on school reforms and interventions that better support students facing risks and their teachers. Outside of school, Michelle enjoys cooking, podcasts, and a good novel!