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Ruminations from the Rhode (Islander)

Color in the classroom

I know that seeing someone that looked like me helped me become an educator. It was important then and it's important now.

 I read this article the other day and it got me to thinking about my experience in the education system. First, as a student and second, as an educator for 44 years.  My first Black teacher was Miss Judith Smith for 7th grade English at Gilbert Stuart School in Providence, RI. Gilbert Stuart, now an elementary school, housed grades K-9 during my day. Yes, it was a while ago.

 Miss Smith. Tall. Fashionable. Smart. Black. She and my school counselor, Mr. Gilfillan (I’ll write about him in a different article), were two of the most important people for me during that year. I remember hoping that one  day I would be everything that Miss Smith represented.

During the summer after 7th grade, Miss Smith invited some of her students to her military wedding and I attended along with some of my classmates. Ironically, I cannot recall her married name, but I remember how she made me feel. Valued. Smart. Seen.

 

Junior year was a boom year for Black teachers for me. Enter Mr. Hamilton, my school counselor and Mrs. Cook, who taught Biology. Mr. Hamilton, knowing my desire to teach, recommended me for my first job directly related to teaching. My new employers paid me to correct the assignments given to their students. They (a married couple) let me go when I started critiquing their lessons.  No one likes a critic! The bounty continued with Mr. Dowd for Black History and Mrs. McDonald, school counselor extraordinaire, during my senior year. Mrs. McDonald, understanding the challenges of first-generation college students, made sure I dotted every i and crossed every t when I applied to college. 

Top: L to R - Mrs. McDonald, Mr. Hamlin  Bottom: L to R - Mr. Dowd, Mrs. Cook
 

It’s funny. I didn’t realize at the time how fortunate I was to have these role models in my life. Even though numbers have increased, this graphic paints a dismal picture. It brings up many questions for future articles.

When I taught at East Providence High School (EPHS) in East Providence, Rhode Island, a Black mom (a teacher in another city in RI) mentioned that her daughter, one of my students, expressed concern about me. Her daughter wanted to know who did I talk with when I was in the teachers’ lounge because I was the only Black female teacher in our high school. Wow! That took me aback. Kids notice everything and absorb the unspoken lessons, but this one caught me off guard.

Later in the week, I had a conversation with the students in the Multicultural Club (I was the adviser) about code switching and being a minority of one. Too bad this podcast wasn’t around then.


Several years later as a professional school counselor at EPHS (the only black school counselor), I witnessed how the lack of cultural competence manifested in our school counseling department. Unofficially, I looked out for all the Black students because that was important to me. For example, a student mentioned causally in the hall that he dropped his AP History class. When I asked why, he replied, “I’m tired of being the only Black kid in the class. Every time something come up about Black people, I’m expected to give the Black view.” I knew exactly how he felt. I experienced similar occurrences and it’s a familiar refrain for Black students even today.  Back to this young man. He had a decent grade in the class and was doing well in the rest of his classes. “It takes a village to raise a child” so I called his mom, explained the situation and gave my reasons why I believed it was important for her to request his reinstatement into the AP class. Fortunately, she heard me out and subsequently, had him back in the class without missing much time. Yes, I asked her not to share our conversation with his appointed school counselor because I wanted to keep the peace. Did I overstep my boundaries? Maybe. A wise woman I have the honor of knowing once said, “Kids are advantaged or disadvantaged by what we do.” 

During our next department meeting, his situation came up. When I asked his counselor why she was okay with a student with a strong grade transferring out of an AP class, her response was that he requested it. “You were okay with that reason?” I remember asking. She was. Once again, the explanations. Exhausting work.

Not too much has changed according to this article. Where do we go from here?

A Professional Worker

This post first appeared on LinkedIn on May 23, 2019.

Recently, my husband declared that I am a professional worker. I frowned when he said it and then our youngest son (Heartbeat #2) chimed in with, “Yeah, all you do is work.” Mind you, this is the same kid who expressed concern about his parents’ move to North Carolina from Rhode Island several years ago. “Mama Dukes, what are you going to do there? Doesn’t Dad know how much you like to work?” At the time of our move, I did not have a job on the horizon. It was going to be the first time I was unemployed from my early babysitting days to my time at Providence College as the Counselor-in-Residence for the Rhode Island School Counseling Project. It was the first time I would not be connected with a school. It was the first time I would experience an empty nest. I was leaving the state that nurtured me from pre-kindergarten through my doctoral program at Johnson & Wales University.

At first, I was a little peeved at being called a professional worker because it was not meant to be a compliment. On the other hand, we had just finished a marathon five-hour visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture where I insisted on visiting every floor, while attempting to read every display and watching all the videos. Not possible, but I crammed a lot into those five hours. Anyway, I half-laughed when he said it because I’ve heard some version of that throughout our almost four decades of marriage. I love my work! There, I said it out loud. I love having conversations with students about their possible selves. I love talking with my colleagues about education. I love exploring different topics in career development! I love reading about education. I love reading! In the last few years, I discovered I love the autonomy of being my own boss (okay, I don’t always love the business side of running my own business). Using all the experiences, skills and knowledge accrued over the past three decades, I am living in my purpose.

​Getting back to Heartbeat #2’s traitorous remark. This is the same kid I remember telling me about Sunday evenings at our house when he was young. We were talking about work and finding a career that captured your interest and allowed you to experience satisfaction in the workplace. On Sundays evenings, according to him, his Dad would moan and groan about returning to work on Monday, while my reaction to the impending work day was the opposite. If memory serves me correct (it’s a little flaky these days), he said my response to the upcoming work week was, “Yes, back to school! Can’t wait to get there!” The difference in our reactions resonated with Heartbeat #2 and to this day, he takes this into account when making a career decision.

Earlier this month, I co-presented at the Independent Educational Consultant Association (IECA) Spring Conference in Chicago, with an incredible group of professionals from various fields.

Our session, Leadership: It’s More Than a Title, included a segment summarizing Strengths Finder (thank you Scott Tang) and helping attendees understand the results from their Top Ten. That segment really needed a couple of days, but we had a time limit and within that time, we learned some practical information about ourselves. What’s the point of telling you this? At the head of my Top Five is Learner (followed by Developer, Intellection, Connectedness and Relator). More importantly than the list was something Scott said during his presentation. I heard him give us permission to own our strengths. Maybe I was the only one who heard that, but I’m running with it.

A professional worker. I’m claiming it!

Entering college for the first time? Starting a new career? Leaving an established career? Wherever you are in your stage of life, look to your strengths and own them. A recent episode on WorkLife, a podcast by Adam Grant, offered a perspective on viewing your strengths. Listen to When Strengths Becomes Weakness, tell me what you think and share how your strengths show up in your life.

UNC Wilmington: Home of the Seahawks

 

One of the perks of my job is visiting college campuses and experiencing first-hand the sights and sounds of each college. Oftentimes, we have the opportunity to meet with personnel from college admissions offices near and far without having to travel too far. Recently, my regional group of independent educational consultants in North Carolina had the pleasure of speaking with Ashleigh Carroll, an Admissions Coordinator at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (UNCW). During this informative session, Ms. Carroll shared upcoming programs and other pertinent news with our group.

STUDENT POPULATION. Currently, there are about 17,000 students with 15,000 at the undergraduate level. New Chancellor Jose Sartarelli’s vision is to grow the campus by enrolling 2300 students this year (as of this date, the number is 2100).  UNCW is casting a wider net by looking beyond the mid-50% averages. Demonstrated interest will become more important. Students can demonstrate their interest in a variety of ways: create a Sea level account, take a campus tour, attend an on-campus program, arrange for a private tour, visit the UNCW table at a college fair, reach out to the regional representative and initiate emails. The college awards points based on the level of interest (LOI), which appear on a student’s account. Opening up emails receives a lower level recognition of interest. Most importantly, communication must come from the student, not the parent(s).

APPLICATION REVIEW. UNCW uses a holistic review process. They will superscore the SAT and the ACT. In response to a question about superscoring the ACT, Ms. Carroll reported UNCW looks at the subscores (English, Math, Reading and Science) and uses those to calculate a new composite. The Admissions Office recalculates the GPA based on a 4.0 scale and reviews students in the context of their school using the school profile.

Out-of-state students represent only 15% of the population resulting in extreme competitiveness for those spots.

American Sign Language (ASL) counts as a foreign language in the application process. There are minimum requirements for admission; however, applicants are encouraged strongly to move beyond the minimum. If students take two consecutive years of a foreign language, their application may be more competitive with additional years of language. UNCW is a Common Application institution requiring a personal statement of about 650 words and a “Why UNCW” essay ranging from 200-300 words. Students must be very specific about their reasons for desiring admission to UNCW. Please do not write about location, architecture or climate. Go in depth! A cautionary word to all applicants – don’t confuse the name of the school or the school mascot with that of another institution in your essays!

Early action or regular decision – which option is best? Early action is the more competitive option with applicants averaging 1260 or above on the SAT (27+ ACT). Students with borderline grades might benefit from applying regular decision with a letter of recommendation to explain the context of those grades.

ACADEMICS. With 55 bachelor degree programs, class size is generally around 20. Students may double major, major and minor or combine programs, which allow them to graduate within 4 years. New undergraduate majors are Coastal Engineering (Fall 2019), Digital Arts, Interdisciplinary Studies and Business Analytics. New graduate level programs are Film Studies (2019), Athletic Training (2020), Business Analytics, Data Science and Finance & Investment Management.

UNCW does not have an Engineering major; however, pre-engineering, leading to an engineering degree, is an option in partnership with North Carolina State University. The Cameron School of Business requires a separate application and all applicants must meet the pre-requisite requirements in a non-competitive atmosphere. The College of Arts and Sciences has the most programs (26). Moving on to the College of Health and Human Sciences, Nursing is its most competitive program. Acceptance rates to the program range from 25% - 33%. There are 50 slots for approximately 200-250 applications per semester. Students may apply for Nursing in the Fall and Spring semesters. The Watson College of Education has many popular programs. Note that a concentration in Secondary Education requires a major in a subject area.

GO BEYOND THE BOOKS. UNCW is not a suitcase campus. The Urban Dictionary defines a suitcase school as “a college or university at which students travel home frequently on weekends, creating a lack of involvement and a 'ghost-town' like atmosphere”. With a variety of activities and its location close to the beach, students have plenty of reasons to stay on campus. There are almost 300 student organizations and UNC Weekends provides many events for students. Additionally, students have the opportunity to choose from 11 Learning Communities.

HONORS. There is a variety of merit scholarships available for students such as the competitive Honors Fellows Scholarship. University scholarships do not require a separate application; however, for consideration applicants must apply early action. The Honors scholarship does require a separate application and a recommendation for the school counselor or a teacher.

What are the benefits of the Honors program? Early registration, scholarships, special study abroad opportunities and living in a residence hall with like-minded students are a few of the perks. Early registration means students register for classes after the athletes, but before everyone else, including seniors. 

FIRST GENERATION COLLEGE STUDENTS. UNCW offers support for first-generation students through traditional student support service such as academic advising.  The Seahawk Links, student advisors who spend time with first year students assisting them in the transition to college. Eligible students may receive SOAR Ambassador Program scholarship, which also has opportunities to demonstrate leadership and civic duty. Listen to Senior Assistant Admissions Director Hannah Brown’s suggestions on North Carolina Public Radio (starting around 20:00) for first generation college students.

TRANSFER. UNCW’s incoming class includes approximately 45% transfer students. Students interested in transferring to Wilmington may register for special tours on certain Fridays to visit the home of the Seahawks.

The University of North Carolina – Wilmington, a public research university, is one of 17 schools in the UNC System. Can’t visit? Check them out on their YouTube channel or read about UNCW here.

Let's Not Get It Twisted

This article first appeared on LinkedIn on October 22, 2018.

How was your weekend? College essay reviews, a trip to the veterinarian and laundry filled my weekend, but this little thing also happened. Interviewed by a reporter from The NY Times about the lawsuit against Harvard, I had a small quote in this article. Haven't heard about this lawsuit? Google it!

For more than 30 years, the kids in the East Providence Public Schools (Rhode Island) were my kids, first as a middle and high school Social Studies teacher, then as a professional school counselor. During those school counseling years, I encouraged my seniors to cast a wide net when applying to colleges. We have wonderful colleges in New England, ranging from two-year community colleges to the Ivy League. My mission then and now, in North Carolina and nationally, focuses on helping students create a list of colleges meeting their needs academically, socially and increasingly, financially, which brings me back to the aforementioned article.

So, here's where I don't want it to get twisted. All of my kids (including some young adults who might not appreciate the label kid) receive encouragement and recommendations from me to look beyond the schools whose names come readily to the tips of their tongues. There are too many fine institutions in our country and abroad for students to be stuck on a few. In our discussions, if there is a piece of information I feel adds to the value of our conversations, we will chat about it. In this case, I'd have to be living 

under a rock in the mantle of the Earth (knowledge left over from teaching Geography to 7th graders) to not know about this current lawsuit. My opinion about the pros and cons aren't at issue here; what is at issue is making sure I'm doing right by my kids and sometimes, that means having difficult conversations about perceptions. 

One by-product of my foray into speaking with a reporter is an increase in invitations to connect on LinkedIn. If you don't know me and we haven't met, you have to give me a little more than an impersonal invitation. And please remember, my kids apply to an array of post-secondary institutions. 

Like the rest of my colleagues, I am following this court case because it affects my kids now and may very well affect their futures. "Helping families eliminate random acts of college planning" is my purpose. Like to connect on LinkedIn? Tell me why.

A Letter to My College Students: Kindness Matters

“Hey, who made the sweet potato and corn soup?” I asked the young worker at the grill counter when I ordered my grilled cheese and tomato sandwich. From off to the side, a growly voice with a hint of a challenge asked, “Who wants to know?”  Taken aback by this response, I hesitated for a minute, and then replied, “I just wanted to give the chef compliment. I love this soup!” “Oh, okay. I thought you had a complaint about it. Usually when someone is asking about something, it’s to complain.”  And, that’s how I met Walter, the head chef in Alumni Hall Food Court at Providence College, where I worked for six years as the counselor-in-residence of the Rhode Island School Counseling Project.

 

Walter is on my mind because I made his sweet potato and corn soup the other day and I couldn’t help chuckling about our first meeting. What I didn’t know at the time is his reputation for being cantankerous and a little ornery. He was both that day but I used my best school counselor skills and from that day forward, whenever the soup was on the menu, Walter would set some aside for me if I didn’t make it to the dining hall before It closed. I still have the container from the last time he extended this kindness.

So what does Walter and soup have to do with going to college? Let me make the connection for you. During your time on campus, you are going to meet so many people and you have the power to decide your relationship with them. Yes, transitioning to a new place is challenging and overwhelms you at times and there will be new experiences and new people.  You will have professors who push you out of your comfort zone by having high expectations of you and then there will be professors who are less than enthusiastic about their subject matter. Maybe that roommate questionnaire you completed during orientation fell a little flat in the selection process and your current roommate is not ideal. That throat-clearing noise is obnoxious, especially when you need to study.  How about your new Biology lab partner who annoys you with his habit of always being late? Then, what if you discovered your Calculus professor, who seems uninterested in his class, had a terminally ill relative? Or that your roommate didn’t know her habit annoyed you because you didn’t say anything. Did you know your Biology lab partner worked extra hours to pay his college bill and the only shift available was on the same day as the lab? I didn’t know Walter had a reputation when I chose kindness in my response to him.

Kindness. We’re in short supply of it these days.

On one of my last visits to Providence College, I went over to Alumni Hall Food Court to say hi to Walter. I’m glad I made the time to visit him because he was moving to another job not at the college. This time I accepted his offer to give me the recipe for Belinda’s Sweet Potato and Corn Soup. You see, after our initial meeting, he named the soup after me because he knew how much I enjoyed it. When I make that soup now, I smile because it connects me to a time in my life that was full of joy.

Kindness matters. Practice it daily.

Bonus - here's the recipe. I hope it makes you smile.

                                         

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