Youth activism: Washburn High School theater teaches advocacy

Eshay Brantley didn’t know what to expect walking into the Theatre I class at Washburn High School in Minneapolis. But, having felt as though she hadn’t found her niche in school yet, she went in with an open mind.Two years later, Brantley’s a senior, and identifies as a spoken word artist and has competed in the spoken word competition Brave New Voices through Tru Art Speaks, performed at locations including Macalester College, and received an award for her role as a youth educator at the Twin Cities Social Justice Education Fair.“We save lives here every single day, just by having students get on stage and actually speak from their heart,” Brantley said.Theatre I is just one of five classes now being taught at Washburn through their Black Box Acting Program. The series, which started in 2008, provides three levels of theater classes, as well as a spoken word class and one aimed at students with developmental disabilities. The program is meant to help students further explore social justice issues, and teach them skills to help them better advocate their needs and beliefs.Brantley said she came from a family that didn’t talk about social justice issues, so the theater classes provided her with an outlet to explore social issues like marginalized communities and systematic oppression. The classes also helped her figure out her role in those issues and within her community, she said.“[It] made me think less about myself and more about the people around me and what I see is affecting the people around me,” Brantley said.Brantley’s experience with the program is not an anomaly. Continue Reading

Southwest Minneapolis parents raise questions about Washburn expansion, overcrowded classrooms and ‘little jewel box’ schools

Sore subjects abounded at a November 20 “listening session” at Washburn High School in Minneapolis. Beginning with an apology letter from school board member Carla Bates, the meeting addressed the proposed $40 million expansion of Southwest High, as well as questions of overcrowded classrooms, school choice vs. community schools, and gifted and talented programs. The meeting, led by Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) Associate Superintendent Cecillia Sadler, was held to inform the Area C community of southwest Minneapolis about the school district’s latest Five Year Enrollment Plan ideas. For related stories on Five Year Enrollment Plan, click here.The first issue emerged before the meeting started, when participants arrived at Washburn to find an unsigned letter placed on seats in the school’s auditorium. It was soon evident that the letter was from school board member Carla Bates, who was not in attendance. The letter addressed controversial remarks she had made at the November 12 school board meeting, when she said she made a “misstatement” when questioning the district’s plan to spend $40 million to add on to the over-crowded Southwest High School.At the school board meeting, Bates asked why the district would invest such money in Southwest, saying, “the most important kids we want to invest in are not even there.” This statement rippled through the Southwest community and Bates wrote the letter to “apologize for speaking so poorly,” because she believes “all of our kids are ‘the most important kids.’”What she intended to say, according to her letter, is that she believes investing heavily in adding on to Southwest is short-sighted for these main reasons: Washburn has more room for additional space, Roosevelt High School is gaining steam as a strong high school option, and her view that investing more in “high tech, individualized learning models” throughout the city makes sense.Some parents in attendance seemed to agree with Bates that adding on to Southwest was a short-term solution at best, since the school is already over-crowded, and more space is needed for the students who are there now, let alone those who are part of the expected enrollment growth in Area C.However, Area C parent Blaire Hartley was not sold on the idea that online learning options will help ease overcrowding at Southwest. Continue Reading

Winning the school lottery: Minneapolis family chooses Clara Barton

When it came time to choose a school for her two children, Minneapolis resident Jody King knew where she wanted them to be: Clara Barton Open School in southwest Minneapolis. For King, getting her kids into Barton felt like “winning the lottery.” That’s exactly what the school choice process for Minneapolis magnet schools uses for schools that, like Clara Barton, have more applicants than spaces.FULL DISCLOSURE: The author of this article is also a Barton parent.King wanted a K-8 school, and one that provided a “nurturing, safe place,” for her son, Anthony, and her daughter, Maya. What she found at Barton was a “supportive community of families and teachers.” Some unique aspects of Barton’s Open School focus were especially attractive. Students at Barton, for example, stay with their classroom teacher for two years in first-sixth grades, and King ended up seeing the benefits of this longer connection between teacher and child.Seventh and eighth grade students at Barton often pair up with early primary students in a “buddy” system. The older kids are matched with a younger child for the whole school year, and they spend time reading books together, getting to know one another, and doing some classroom work as a team. Continue Reading

What’s next for Minneapolis Washburn High School?

Washburn High School has had a tough year. During the 2012-2013 school year, high profile student misconduct with racist overtones, student protests, and a dispute between the athletic director and principal led to the sudden removal of principal Carol Markham Cousins. In the aftermath of these incidents, many in the Washburn community in Minneapolis anxiously wondered who would become the school’s new principal.On August 1, the Minneapolis Public School district announced that Patrick Exner, who had been working as an administrator at Ubah Medical Academy charter school in Hopkins, would be Washburn’s new principal. By August 8, he was removed from the job amid allegations that he falsified test scores in his previous post at Ubah Medical Academy, and later disclosures that his resumé contained some exaggerations.This rolling tide of events led the district to hold a community meeting at Washburn on Thursday, August 15, in order to address the hiring and immediate firing of Exner, and to assure community members that the school will be ready to welcome students for the 2013-2014 school year. About 200 parents and community members gathered in the Washburn gym to hear from Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson, parent leaders, and interim Washburn principal Linda Conley, among others.Sarah Lahm attended the August 15 meeting both as a Washburn parent and as a reporter. Continue Reading