MSNBC: Michigan teacher says she was fired for supporting student fundraiser for Trayvon Martin

10 04 2012

This is an interesting and sad story. Given, we’ve only heard the teacher’s side of things, but she sounds like an outstanding educator who used student interest in the Trayvon Martin case as a “teachable moment, came up with some creative and relevant learning activities around it, and allowed her students to come to their own conclusions. On top of that, when the students wanted to do more outside of the classroom, she involved the administration in the process and got permission from the principal. I can’t see anything wrong with anything she did.

Of course, we only have her side of the story, and a few ambiguous non-statements from the superintendent responsible for her firing. There could be more to the story, or a completely unrelated issue that resulted in her firing. That said, on the surface it looks like Pontiac Academy is losing an outstanding teacher for no good reason.

– dEV

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By Jay Scott Smith 8:20 AM on 04/10/2012

PONTIAC, Mich. – A suburban Detroit teacher’s eighth grade class wanted to do something to help Trayvon Martin’s family and came up with a creative fundraiser. That effort, the teacher says, led to her suspension and subsequent firing that has led to a national call to have here reinstated.

Brooke Harris, 26, was in her third year teaching seventh and eighth graders at the Pontiac Academy for Excellence, which is located 30 minutes north of Detroit. Pontiac Academy is a charter school — whose teachers are non-union and can be fired at will — and is the only high-performing school in the struggling district.

“One of the main things that I don’t want to get lost is that I still think it is a great school,” Harris said in an exclusive interview with TheGrio. “I still want my job back. It’s got a great administration based on ability and it has a great staff that’s really dedicated to the kids.”

“The kids clearly are amazing. They are very bright and very intelligent and very aware of the things that actually matter outside of their textbooks.”

The school’s population mirrors that of Pontiac: largely black and Latino. Pontiac is one of the poorest cities in Michigan and suffers from the same issues of crime and violence as nearby Detroit and Flint. The students receive free lunches through the federal government free lunch program.

Harris, who was twice named the school’s “Teacher of the Year” and had no previous infractions at the school, overheard two of her students talking about Trayvon Martin and helped them come up with an idea to do something to help.

“It was the students’ idea,” said Harris, who holds a degree in English from the University of Michigan. “It was my first hour class, which is Yearbook, and they were working on sections about basketball and English class when in passing a couple of the boys were talking about Trayvon Martin, or as they put it, ‘the boy who was shot over some Skittles’ and they were going back and forth having a really good conversation.

“Since it was a Journalism class, I thought they should write an editorial about it. I gave them basic facts and played the 911 tapes. They watched videos about that. I didn’t tell them my opinion, they simply wrote editorials about their opinion.”

Harris said that most of the students were very affected by Trayvon’s death, with some even crying about it after hearing the 911 tapes, and some wrote of their fears about the shooting, including walking to the corner store. After reading their editorials and having conversations with the students about their feelings, they decided to do something more.

“We’re a uniformed school,” Harris said, “Once a month we have ‘dress-down’ days where kids pay $1 and get to wear their jeans and sneakers and whatever they want. Usually, that money goes toward the school, either toward athletics or something like that, but instead of the money going toward the school, they wanted to donate it to the family. So the kids could ‘dress down’ and wear a hoodie on the last day before Spring Break.”

This was not meant as a form of protest. The students were not going to wear the hoods over their heads, walk out of class, or cause a disruption. Harris ran the idea past a co-worker and filled out the requisite paperwork for the fundraiser; it was cleared by the schools principal to take place on March 28.

(Full Story with Video)

http://www.thegrio.com/specials/trayvon-martin/michigan-teacher-fired-for-supporting-student-fundraiser-for-trayvon-martin.php#47004857

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