Gridiron Guests Stoke King Students’ Dreams

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On Tuesday of this week, dozens of boys at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School for Science and Technology had what one 4th grader described as "the best day of the year."

Football players from Tulane University, along with Head Coach Bob Toledo and other members of the coaching staff, held a clinic for the 3rd through 8th grade boys out on the yard of the school in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward. For more than an hour, the boys hustled and sweated through drills in running, throwing, catching, backpedaling, and dodging hits.

After the drills, Mr. Toledo gathered them all into a giant huddle, along with King's two coaches, Enos Hicks and Antoinette Gay, for a pep talk.

Tulane defensive line coach Grant Higgison, right, shows students at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Charter School for Science and Technology how to line up in a defensive stance and fire off the ball on the snap.
Tulane defensive line coach Grant Higgison, right, shows students at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Charter School for Science and Technology how to line up in a defensive stance and fire off the ball on the snap.
—Travis Goff/Tulane University

"The one thing about Tulane University is that if you don't get good grades in high school, you can't go there and you can't play football there," Mr. Toledo told the boys. "Your education is the most important thing."

That’s a message that the faculty and staff of King have been working hard to impart throughout their first academic year back at their home campus since flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina drowned the school in 14 feet of water in August 2005.

Now they have only seven weeks of instruction before the 2007-08 year winds down for good. But big things are still happening, and other milestones remain.

There's the school science fair to prepare for, and the spring pageant to rehearse. Scores on Louisiana’s state exams will come out, and King's administrators, led by Principal Doris R. Hicks, may have to scramble to hire nine new teachers and find space for a 9th grade program that they hope to start next fall. School leaders have been anxious to find out whether their proposal to expand their charter school into a high school program will be approved by the state board of education.

And this week, third-quarter report cards came out. That meant teachers were getting ready to convey their own version of Coach Toledo’s message as they met one-on-one with parents to discuss their children's progress.

Bracing to Break the News

In the 2nd grade, teachers Felicia Kelly, Barbara Florent, and Ann Ford had agreed that four of their 64 students should be held back next year.

All four came to King last fall with no reading skills, and though they had made progress, the teachers decided they were still too shaky to move to 3rd grade. Now, the teachers were preparing to share their recommendation for retention with the children’s parents during the report card conferences.

The View From King

The "View From King" dispatches are part of Education Week’s 2007-08 special series focusing on education recovery and reform efforts in New Orleans.
• Learn more about our year-long NOLA series.

"We want them to be running when they hit the 3rd grade, and that's what we tell the parents," said Ms. Ford, who has focused on working with the 15 pupils who came to 2nd grade with few to no reading skills. "It is better for them if we hold on to them another year and make sure their skills are stronger."

Ms. Ford's struggling readers had spent the morning working to master how to turn singular words such as half, leaf, and wife into their plural versions.

Ms. Florent read aloud two stories by Mary Ann Hoberman to prepare students for a visit later in the week from the author. The 2nd graders had also written and illustrated a book of rhyming poetry to honor the author, whose stories are always written in rhyme.

In the afternoon, with a half-hour left till dismissal, Ms. Ford, Ms. Florent, and Ms. Kelly assembled all the 2nd graders in one room. It was time to start selecting the dancers for the class's spring-pageant performance.

With Michael Jackson's "P.Y.T." (Pretty Young Thing) blaring from a small CD player, the children wriggled, shook, spun, gyrated, and shrieked with laughter.

Meanwhile, King’s older boys were closing out the day on an equally upbeat note.

Breathless as they headed back inside for a final half-hour of instruction, Joseph Recasner's 4th grade boys chattered about their futures as professional-football stars.

Ortega Roberts, cheeks still flushed from the workout, shared in the excitement. But in an echo of their earlier pep talk, he soberly reminded his classmates: "Remember, you got to go to high school and college first."

Vol. 27, Issue 34

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