Dr. Reulan Levin remembers growing up on the South Side of Chicago where many of the students her age were falling to the perils of the streets.
However, it wasn’t like that at all in her household. Education meant success, and Levin and her siblings were taught to succeed.
“It was a big deal,” Levin remembers. “Education, religion, family. That was it. It wasn’t a matter of if you were going to college in my family. The question was where.”
The experience instilled the importance of education in Levin, who is now an associate professor of education at Avila University in Kansas City, Mo. In addition to her university teaching, Levin is part of a national group that is helping teachers in suburban school districts learn ways to connect better with inner-city students who are increasingly heading into their classrooms.
She’s part of the National Urban Alliance for Effective Education, which works with school districts nationwide in this effort.
Founded by Dr. Eric Cooper, the organization has enlisted some of the nation’s top educational minds to act as mentors to teachers and administrators to close the gap between students and teachers.
“The National Urban Alliance has emerged as one of the most dynamic and exciting forces in the school reform scenario as it affects the lives of children in our cities, and especially the lives of children in Black and Hispanic neighborhoods,” stated author Jonathon Kozol, according to the NUA’s Web site, www.nuatc.org.
“Their focus is research and cultural-based,” adds Levin. “That’s kind of how it differentiates from regular research-based studies.”
An example of their work is in Minneapolis. There, school officials have a program called The Choice Is Yours, in which parents of some lower performing students can choose to send their children to any school among several area school districts. But in many of the surburban school districts that the parents were sending their children to, the White students were still faring much better than Black students, particularly in reading and writing. That’s where NUA came in.
Along with the West Metropolitan Education Program (a consortium of Minneapolis area school districts), NUA came up with a literacy program that specifically addresses the needs of Black students.
But with urban students moving into the suburban districts, NUA is also seeking to address the issue of communications between students and teachers. “
A lot of urban and suburban teachers have a history of having kids who have to have a lot of motivation,” Levin says. “They may also have the skills, but their learning styles may be different.
“The teachers don’t have the strategies to help bring about the educational and cultural attachment to the curriculum,” Levin says. “You teach the teachers about learning styles and research strategies that reach all students.”
Minneapolis teachers have bought into the some of the recommended NUA strategies such as making sure teachers at a each school have a common instructional goal for students across different grades and using a more student- centered approach to teaching that would promote independent thinking among students. NUA also recommended that teachers pay more attention to ways they can connect with students across cultural boundaries.
For Levin, it’s all a part of helping those to achieve their maximum potential. It’s something the former single parent/college student practices and preaches.
She’s the person who told one of her former high school students who needed a bit of a boost that she’d won a scholarship to college. The money actually came out of Levin’s own modest pockets.
“I’m just doing the things that I’m supposed to be doing,” Levin says.
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