The Center for Innovation in Urban Education (CIUE): A Year in Review

Program director reflects on the 2014-15 academic year

By Stephanie Flores-Koulish, Ph.D.  |  Photo courtesy of Stephanie Flores-Koulish

Just a few days before Baltimore City residents came together to understand what happened to Freddie Gray in late April, a group of students, educators, and administrators gathered at Loyola University Maryland to discuss abuse of power as it relates to school suspensions.

The School of Education’s Center for Innovation in Urban Education (CIUE) event brought to light the fact that conversations over abuse of power are long overdue, and that they needn’t remain in an accusatory or punitive tone, but can rise above to wish for restorative justice—or even avoidance at the root.

The root, however, is expansive. And all parties—school administrators, teachers, and parents—must take responsibility.

Wide Angle Media with Stephanie Flores-Koulish

Wide Angle Media with Stephanie Flores-Koulish

Engaging in local and national conversations about young people in urban environments and schools is a major focus of the CIUE, for which I now serve as director after serving as the interim director for the 2014-15 academic year.

As interim director, my goals were to keep the CIUE moving forward, while welcoming new urban education faculty. We collaborated on a visioning process, beginning with noting our shared beliefs, which led to a revised mission statement and, ultimately, a vision for the CIUE.

I was drawn to the work of the CIUE based on previous events I coordinated in the mid-2000s at Loyola related to urban education. Additionally, much of my teaching and research touches on issues germane to urban education, such as educational inequity, marginalized identities, and culturally responsive teaching. This only furthered my interest in serving as the director of the CIUE.

During the spring semester, the CIUE hosted a series with two events: a lecture by Adrienne Dixson, Ph.D., associate professor of critical race theory and education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a screening of a Wide Angle Youth Media youth-produced film, Second Chances: Reducing Suspensions in Maryland. Dr. Dixson expanded upon our fall lecture by Dr. Gloria Ladson Billings by discussing the ways in which culturally relevant pedagogy can remain truly relevant. The Second Chances film documents the racial and disability disproportionality of suspensions in Maryland schools.

This year’s events were poignant, particularly given what happened in Baltimore this past spring following the death of Freddie Gray. The unrest in Baltimore showed the immense frustration that exists in our city due to entrenched institutional racism, neglect, abuse of power, and a lack of opportunities for its most vulnerable citizens. And though education scholar David Berliner is the latest voice to underscore the importance of income inequality as more influential than teaching and teachers, it is still important to continue discussions of innovations in urban education that occurred at our CIUE events and in other forums in Baltimore. Getting urban educators and administrators to consider the complex cultural contexts of their students before planning lessons, doling out discipline, and otherwise operating in a colorblind vacuum is crucial.

In addition to this awareness, the events offered strategic alternatives. Following the Second Chances film screening, for example, experts proposed suspension alternativesfrom engaging more directly with students’ families to using holistic methods, like yoga and mindfulness techniques, in schools.

The resounding theme among this year’s speakers is that we must continue to focus on the whole child.

As part of its mission, the CIUE strives to support students while also engaging with the community where those students live, one of the major factors to students’ success in the classroom. To that end, the CIUE partnered with the Enoch Pratt Free Library and Dew More Baltimore earlier this summer to host a spoken word jam for Baltimore youth to express their feelings about the unrest in the city. This outlet provided a positive and productive way for youth to speak about their feelings and to hear from others.

As we prepare for a new academic year, we will continue to work with organizations like Wide Angle Youth Media, specifically on a professional development guide for teachers and administrators to use when they show Second Chances in their classrooms, and also with the Enoch Pratt Free Library for an upcoming collaborative event series focused on Latinos in Baltimore city. In addition, we will continue to collaborate with the four Archdiocese Catholic Community Schools in Baltimore City to provide professional development opportunities and intensive faculty mentoring. Finally, our faculty will continue to reach out to various Baltimore city schools in a variety of capacities to share our faculty expertise and deepen our collaborative work. These initiatives support positive activism and promising youth in our city.

I am confident—and honored—that our events will continue to be a forum for community-based collaboration for positive change.

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