Archive for January, 2011



Reading Response

For today’s assignment I looked at the selections from Spears and Tate. Spears discusses the history of Greek immigrants on the Williamsburg community. Many Greek’s immigrated to the United States in the early 20th century as part of the mass migrations of many Europeans to the U.S. I cannot imagine what inspired them to stop in Williamsburg of all places, but I’m definitely glad they did. Though it is easy to make fun of Williamsburg’s commercial (shopping and dining) options, we should recognize that the city we see today owes much of its business presence to those first Greek immigrants of the early 20th century. They were the first people to see Williamsburg’s untaped potential, and in doing so they singlehandedly established much of the tourism services (lodging, food) that Williamsburg relies on for a large portion of it’s revenue to this day. The most of these new immigrants established empires amassed great wealth. They contributed money not only to the town but to the college also. Tate’s article focus’ on the history of The College as it relates to the surrounding Williamsburg community. After reading the piece, I was left with something of an empty feeling.  I now know that the school I have come to know has a history not nearly as grand as high esteem enjoyed within the world of higher education today. On multiple occasions, the school has been burnt, closed and at times dangerously poor. However, The College and surrounding Williamsburg community won’t take no for answer. Even when enrollment declined to zero students, we continued to be open for business. When a poor local economic climate threatened the school in 1824 “loyalists” resisted a proposal to move the school to Richmond as a last ditch effort for survival. The town of Williamsburg cherishes the college so long as it’s students look nice and don’t make too much noise. Tate describes how Thomas Jefferson grew so upset at those who wanted to revert the college to “grammar school” status and cancel emerging courses of study that he went and founded The University of Virginia in 1819.

Preliminary Ideas

For my project I plan to look at how different schools are catered to a prticular type of student based on the where they live. As is the case in educational systems around the nation, I wish to investigate if Williamsburg has a sort of hidden agenda which prioritizes the educational needs of some students above others. Specifically, I will consider the “infraction reports” from area high and middle schools. Such statistics offer great insight into school discipline; they do not however distinguish between students who are “written up” and those who actually commit offenses worthy of real punishment. In gathering my data I wish to consult both administrators and parents. I would be interested to see if there is any correlation between students who are written up for infractions a particular class. For instance, are minority students at a good school any more or less prone to be written compared to those a “failing” school? Also, is there any relation between how a student does in school and their status as “free or reduced” lunch. This is statistical way of determining weather or not someone is poor.  I want to consider the socioeconomic factors which might explain the statistical oddities we see in middle/high school discipline rates. An example would be the statistically higher rate of disciplinary problems among minority students, particularly black males, relative to their numbers enrolled in schools. Also, rates of academic success and failure will be considered as they relate to discipline. Most importantly, I want to talk to parents and see what they identify as problems with their children’s schools. I hope to consult parents from a number of social and ethnic backgrounds and see what they identify as being needed the most. Sitting in on a PTA meeting would be particularly useful in this regard.

Colonial Williamsburg’s Interactions With WJCC Schools

In my project, I plan to investigate the ways in which Colonial Williamsburg interacts with the Williamsburg-James City County School system, and how this relationship has changed over time.  I am as yet uncertain as to the angle I will take with the project as I gather more information through my research.  However, I intend to examine the CW-WJCC relationship thoroughly, asking questions which will hopefully reveal both the positive and negative aspects of the organizations’ interactions.  I hope not only to investigate how Colonial Williamsburg has helped the school system, but also to expose any less-than-savory elements of the relationship.  For instance, I intend to research the average education level of people employed by CW, to see whether they benefit from the presence of less-educated people living locally to provide “unskilled” labor.

Another branch of my search will likely take me to the media production / broadcasting center at Bruton Heights Research Center.  This facility, which I have visited on two previous occasions, creates educational television and video programs intended for distribution to schools.  I hope to find out to what degree these services are utilized by local schools, and whether any production work is done here which is specifically targeted at local school-aged viewers.

Professor Taylor has put me in contact with Bill White, the “Director of Educational Program Development” at Colonial Williamsburg, and it seems likely that he will prove to be an invaluable resource.  I have sent an e-mail asking for a time to meet and ask some preliminary questions, and so he and I should be in communication in short order.  One aspect of the CW-WJCC relationship which I hope to investigate relates to the new online textbook created by Colonial Williamsburg.  Specifically, I intend to ask questions about the degree to which the textbook (as well as other CW programs) contribute to the teaching of “good citizenship.”  I have heard that Bill White is a strong proponent of learning good citizenship as part of one’s education, and that this is a key focus of the new textbook, so this line of questioning ought to produce some enlightening answers.

Some questions I intend to answer in my investigation:

Through what programs does Colonial Williamsburg interact with the WJCC Schools?  How have these interactions changed over time?

Who decides how interactions between Colonial Williamsburg and the schools are conducted? Is there an “ambassador” of sorts who acts as a liaison between the two organizations?  If so, how is this person chosen and who is currently filling this role?

How does Colonial Williamsburg (and particularly the online textbook) contribute to the teaching of good citizenship?  Why is learning to be a “good citizen” such an important aspect of a student’s education?

How does the media production / broadcasting center at Bruton Heights facilitate interaction between Colonial Williamsburg and WJCC Schools?  Are these services adequately utilized by local schools?

How much schooling has the average Colonial Williamsburg employee received?  Is there a possibility that Colonial Williamsburg benefits from “unskilled” laborers who may have “fallen through the cracks” of the school system and been unwilling or unable to attend college?

Hiring Project

Although it may seem like a more mundane aspect of a school system, I am very interested in the hiring (and firing) practices of the WJCC school system. I would like to look at practices for both teachers and administrators – since a new superintendent was just hired, I think examining that process could potentially be very insightful. I am also interested in the pay scales of teachers and if those impact who stays and who goes. I was very surprised to learn that there is not a teacher’s union – I also come from a “Right to Work” state, but there is still a union – and am therefore interested in the impact that the local teacher’s organization plays in the contract bargaining process.

I will be doing preliminary research by looking at salaries online and reading about hiring as a process anywhere – I think it is very difficult to know the “right” questions to ask, especially for teachers. The main questions I want to ask people at this point are:

What sort of questions are asked in interviews?

How big of a role does the level of degree one has play in receiving a job offer?

How are contracts negotiated?

What does it take to get re-hired?

Do teachers play any role in deciding administrative positions?

Is there any sort of merit-based system for teacher pay or retention?

I know these are all very nuanced questions and that hiring people is a difficult process. I think that where schools get their teachers and what they look for in them is very important and that one can learn a lot about schools and their larger aims when examining these practices.

The college question

For my part of the documentary project, I was thinking about focusing on the differences between being a college-bound student and a non college-bound student in the WJCC school system.. I’m planning on focusing on the resources available and attention paid between the two populations.  This includes college preparatory programs, technical programs, mentorship and internship programs, as well as programs such as STEP that have recently become extinct. I want to talk to students from both populations about their experiences in the WJCC school system, as well as the administrators, parents, and alumni involved in the school system.  There are plenty of resources online, such as the VDOE and WJCC websites that provide overviews of some programs, and I will of course start there.  But, I want to get individual student and alumni perspectives on these issues, such as their relevancy and accessibility.  Also, I want to talk to some of these people about how they see the school system catering to their particular needs, and what it does well and does not do well.  Is there a difference between how WJCC treats its college-bound students and its non college-bounds students?  These are all things that I want to investigate.

LGBTQ

For my project, I have chosen to delve into the realm of LGBTQ issues in the WJCC school system, including gay-straight alliance clubs at the local high schools (and middle schools?), sexual orientation-based bullying (maybe I can work with Jessie on this issue?), official school/administration policies towards sexual orientation, and perhaps even how hiring/firing practices may have been influenced by the sexual orientation of teachers and administrators.  After navigating the landscape of my own sexual orientation in high school, this topic is particularly resonant with my own interests, values, and experiences.  I was a member of my own high school’s Gay-Straight Alliance back in the day, and I’m looking forward to understanding the experiences of queer students in the Williamsburg area.

I was shocked by Professor Taylor’s story about the planned (though not executed) anti-gay rally that was organized in response to the National Day of Silence at Warhill High last year.  I think community responses to this event, and the motivations of the students who planned the event in the first place will serve as a great jumping-off point for my project.  After meeting with Sarah and JT, I have a list of potential contacts, including William and Mary students who graduated from local high schools, local community groups who responded to the anti-gay rally, as well as teachers and counselors at the schools.  I also plan to scan local publications for pertinent information. As this topic is particularly controversial within the community, I will have to proceed with delicacy and caution from the very beginning.

Besides the rally event, I would also like to explore LBGT issues in historical context – i.e. how the treatment of sexual orientation within school has changed over time.  In this vein, I will endeavor to find and interview graduates from the local high schools over the past 30 or 40 years.  This could be tricky, but well worth investigation.

As far as research questions, here are a few things I have come up with thus far:

–          Are LBGTQ individuals in local high schools more likely to be the victims of bullying and abuse by their peers?  If so, what percentage of bullied students are attacked on the basis or their sexual orientation?  How does the administration respond to such bullying?  How do the administration think issues of sexual orientation should be handled?

–          Do students feel safe or comfortable with their sexuality within the WJCC school system?  Why or why not?  Are these sentiments influenced by the place they live?  Are students satisfied with current policies regarding sexual orientation within the school, the community, and the state and local government?  Do they hope to change the status quo?  If so, how so?

–           How has the visibility of LGBTQ individuals within the school system changed over time?  When did clubs and organizations based around issues of sexual orientation, if they exist at all, emerge within the local high schools?  Are there differences between the different high schools in this regard?  If so, what causes these differences?  Does the relative affluence of an institution influence the presence or absence of LGBTQ clubs on high school campuses?

–          How do community institutions such as local churches and William and Mary influence and/or respond to LGBTQ issues within the high schools?

This is what I have so far.  If anyone has any other ideas of suggestions, please let me know!  I am very open to feedback!

Labor, Wages, and Education for non-College-Bound Students in WJCC Schools

For my participation in Williamsburg Documentary Project, I will investigate questions of how WJCC Schools prepare non-college-bound students for life after graduation, as well as what impact they have on the futures of this group of students. I hope to hone my questions as I go, creating a more focused structure within which to conduct my research, but for now my questions are broad and varied. I’ve grouped many questions into four large groups, each with several sub-questions. At first I plan to investigate the status quo of the current school system.

  • What resources are available to non-college-bound students? Are some classes geared more towards practical knowledge such as resume-writing and job skills while others are tailored for students hoping to score high on the SATs and go on to a four-year college or university? How do technical education curriculums fit in with mainstream curriculums for students enrolled in the public schools? Does the current reality reflect a change in or a continuance of past policies?

At this point, I’m expecting to find that most high school curriculums are created to benefit college-bound students, though I haven’t found much information on this yet. On the WJCC website it says that the WJCC schools are ranked in the top 10 in Virginia for entry into the workforce after high school, so I may also need to look into the context for this and research other technical education curriculums in the state. I think it is also going to be essential to look at who enters into a technical education program and who follows the more traditional academic path. I plan to ask:

  • How do schools (guidance counselors, teachers, administrators, coaches) define who is college-bound and who is not? How much does the school’s support affect the decision to pursue college after secondary school? How do students decide what path they want to pursue?

I also want to look into where students go after graduating from a career and technical education curriculum versus a college-bound, AP or IB curriculum.

  • Does one group of students tend to stay in Williamsburg while one tends to move away? What do students that went to school for a career or trade in Williamsburg do with their degrees? What kind of work do students entering directly into the workforce usually find?

Again, I already have some hypotheses about questions. I expect college-bound students to be more likely to leave Williamsburg, but I would like to understand the nuances of whether such students tend to stay outside of Williamsburg and whether students who pursue careers immediately after high school tend to move away after a few years or whether they tend to stay in the area.

  • How do workers in Williamsburg who entered directly into the workforce from High School feel about their High School curriculums? How well do they feel they were prepared for the working world? How do they feel their education opened up opportunities and are there ways in which they feel that it limited their options?

This last area of questions is the one I hope to spend the most time on through conversations and more formal interviews with workers on campus and in the Greater Williamsburg area that also went to school here. This is where I think I will learn the most about the connections between education and economic level, opportunities in school and experiences in the working world.

Food in WJCC Schools

Follow the Money…

I’m interested in gathering information about food in the WJCC schools.  From my preliminary research it seems like there are many bodies involved in controlling the food in cafeterias.  To begin, I need to examine the budget and figure out who controls the budget and follow the money.  Has the budget faced cuts in recent years or has it grown?  Who are the key deciders influencing the budget?  From there I can get a better idea of the standards for the food program.  What kind of benchmarks are being set up?  Are these set by the board of education, the state, the USDA?  These are the important questions I need to get answers to.  I’m hoping a contact from the Virginia Dept. of Health can help me get a start and provide me with some contacts.  There are many different angles concerning the subject. 

A few topics of interest:

  •  Affordability

Are the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families effective at ensuring children from low income families get adequate and affordable nutrition?  Has aid and support increased?  Is there a greater demand now? 

  • Health Concerns

Are the meals healful? Is there an obesity problem in the schools and can that be linked to school foods or economic disparity.  Are there viable alternative meal options?  Who influences the menu options?  Do students care about nutrition?  Do parents?

  • Disparities

Here I’m curious to see the differences in school food across the county and more specifically seeing if they can be linked to economic difference.

  • History

I’d like to track the history of food in WJCC schools.  How was the budget changed?  How have the menu options changed?  Are we moving in the right direction?

These are just a few issues I’m examining, but I’m sure as I dive deeper into the topic more questions will arise…

WJCC Public Schools & the Policy on Bullying

If asked, I would say that bullying in schools has always been an issue. However, it seems as though in the past such activity was often brushed under the rug or overlooked as something that just happens. Yet today increased media coverage has brought the devastating consequences of bullying, including depression and even suicide, into the public eye as a problem that is in desperate need of a solution. But what is that solution? Policies regarding bullying can vary from state to state, city to city, and even school to school. It is my goal to use this project as a tool to dig deep into the policy (policies) enforced by the WJCC school system, and also to get information on bullying behavior itself. The following are just a few of the questions I hope to answer.
• What activity is classified as “bullying”?
• Does the WJCC school system have a disciplinary policy for bullying? If so, what are the details?
• What typically leads to bullying (differences in race, socioeconomic status, sexuality, etc)? Why?
• Are there confidential outlets for victims of bullying? Is support available to these students?
Again, I haven’t really pinpointed exactly what my topic “question” will be. These are just some general curiosities. Another idea I had was to look at the evolution of bullying in Williamsburg… As I begin to get a feel for what information is available, I will be able to narrow down my focus. Any input is encouraged and greatly appreciated!

Language, Culture, and Race in WJCC Schools

My research will investigate language and culture in the WJCC school system—specifically, I want to find out how students who speak a nonstandard dialect or another language entirely negotiate the boundaries and issues with language at school, and how teachers and administrators’ views on language affect students’ success and experiences.  A big emphasis will be placed on race, and I will focus on AAVE (African American Vernacular English) as a nonstandard dialect.

I’ll focus primarily on answering these questions:

1.  What nonstandard dialects and foreign languages are spoken by students?  Where do they speak them?  How do they (learn to) speak in the classroom?  Do all teachers speak and write Standard English in the classroom (as opposed to Southern American English, for example)?

2. Are teachers trained to deal with language issues?  How?  How are students taught to speak and write “standard English”?  (The issue of what “standard English” encompasses is fraught, but I’ll try to come up with a working definition or way to talk about that.)  Do teachers frequently mark as mistakes common features of nonstandard dialects?

3.  How are students placed in ESL classes?  Do students who speak nonstandard dialects have the option of attending ESL classes (or something similar), or are these restricted to speakers of other languages (eg Spanish)?

4.  Is there any connection between language and disciplinary action?  Prof. Taylor has mentioned the racial disparity in the number of black/white boys written up—how many of the black students are AAVE speakers, and how many of the white students speak a nonstandard dialect (eg Southern American English)?  How often have students gotten in trouble because of a miscommunication?  This might be hard to find out about, but if I can find information: what happened, and what actions were taken?  Was the problem resolved by mediated discussion between faculty and student?

5.  What do nonstandard speakers do after graduating?  How many graduate?  What do the students who do not graduate do?  Are they successful bidialectal/bilingual speakers and writers?  Do they take SATs?  I’ll want to look at any available statistics here.

Before gathering any data, I’d hypothesize that a) nonstandard dialects are not recognized by teachers and administrators as such, but as improper/ungrammatical English; b) students speak nonstandard dialects at home and may have trouble learning Standard English at school if faculty is not trained to address language issues that may arise; and c) language problems are compounded by and intertwined with problems associated with socioeconomic status, race, and home situation; these may result in conflicts and disciplinary action.

To begin research, I’m speaking with a WM professor (Anne Charity Hudley) who knows the community well, as well as Anthony Mungin of ALL to get their ideas and find other contacts.  Eventually I plan to talk with students (and their parents if I can), teachers, and administrators to explore their views on language and race in the classroom.

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About

The Williamsburg Documentary Project (WDP) strives to collect and preserve the rich past of Williamsburg, Virginia. By conducting oral history interviews, building physical and digital archives, and creating online exhibits, the WDP interprets Williamsburg’s recent past. The WDP works towards developing a better understanding of Williamsburg by bringing together individuals, local groups, Colonial Williamsburg, and the College of William & Mary.

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