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Friday, March 25, 2011

A Reality Check

We are very fortunate. We enjoy the privilege of being able to think about strategies to alleviate poverty, eliminate food insecurity and bring about racial equity. Others are not so fortunate. They are being hacked to death, starving to death or a few paychecks away from catastrophe.

In Paulo Freire's posthumously published Pedagogy of Indignation he challenged each of us to move beyond the prevailing discourse, the norm and the limitations of, let us say, closed minded realpolitik thinking. Instead Freire challenges stakeholders of all sorts to catalyze a pedagogy of possibility: we have arrived at this moment because of choices and decisions; our future will be made similarly; Freire makes it plain: preparing youth to navigate the choices (or seek alternatives) and empowering youth to make globally responsible decisions will, under the circumstances, most likely determine whether the 21st century descends into chaos or forges community. MLK foresaw these challenges 40 years ago. The challenges are upon us whether we resolve them or not.

We are participating in critical and innovative cross sector partnership discussions rooted in systems based analysis catalyzing transformative pedagogical praxis on the cutting edge of non-profit work eating away at a diverse range of inequalities uniquely manifesting in New Orleans but present across our nation and the globe.

The following two slides should remind us of the urgency of our work. They speak for themselves:

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Almost there!

As most of you know, the building that we use for staff/intern housing and the school has never been renovated since Hurricane Katrina. At the end of last summer we finally started rebuilding the upstairs where the Blair family used to live. We had to reframe nearly 75% of the building, we replaced all of the siding and painted with the help of Project Homecoming, the electrical is done, and the plumbing is done, and central air and heat is going to be a big welcome when we get the walls closed up.

We've come a long way and we need a little help. With everything ready to be insulated and sheetrock, we find ourselves at a standstill. We need an additional $2500 to purchase insulation that we don't already have, sheetrock, and bathroom fixtures.

Here's the challenge...if 25 people were to make a $10 donation online we would have $250. If those 25 people were to make sure that they each got 9 people to make a $10 donation we would be ready to rock. 

I know how resourceful everyone who has supported OSBG is, so let's see if we can make this happen by the end of the week.

New Beam to open up the kitchen space

Electrical Panel Upstairs

Shower Fixture Ready to start flowing

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

OSBG featured on 2010’s ‘Best of Democratic Education’ List :: IDEA

Our School at Blair Grocery was featured on the Institute for Democratic Education in America's 2010’s ‘Best of Democratic Education’ List. The article "Powerful Learning Grows in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward" by former OSBG faculty David Ferris was originally featured on YES! Magazine's website and Education Newsletter, which reaches over 10,000 educators across the United States. Support IDEA! Thanks IDEA for highlighting our efforts at Our School at Blair Grocery!

2010’s ‘Best of Democratic Education’ List 

Posted in on Jan 02, 2011 - 04:47 PM
I recently read through Education Week's "Revisiting the Most Popular Stories of 2010" list and was generally disenchanted. This is not to say it's a bad list, rather it didn't represent my work and passions in democratic and alternative education. After a few days of jogging my memory, looking through a few 'cheat sheets,' and asking around I now present to you my 'Best of Democratic Education' list for 2010. I've organized the links into a few categories with no ranking system (I wouldn't want Alfie Kohn to get mad).
Best of...
News, Commentary, & Blogs
The kind of mayoral engagement we can celebrate
Science Shows Making Lessons Relevant Really Matters
50 Ways to Make Your School More Democratic
Reframing the Education Debate
Matching kids with adults who live their dream
HuffPost's Greatest Person Of The Day: Omo Moses, Who Sees Math As 'The Great Equalizer'
How Democratic Are Our Schools?
The Case Against College Education
Why College is Overrated
Diversity Debate Convulses Elite High School
Valedictorian Speaks Out Against Schooling in Graduation Speech
Articles & Essays
Powerful Learning Grows in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward
Democracy in Action: Educating Students to Think, Create, Initiate
Parents Are People, Too
Towards an Organic Learning Community
The World Becomes What You Teach
Lives of Passion, School of Hope: The Alumni Project of Jefferson County Open School
Putting the Revolution into Education
Graeme Taylor Speaks Out on Behalf of Teacher
Sir Ken Robinson's 'Changing Education Paradigms' (RSA video & original talk) Make Your Voice Heard: Discover Democratic Education
Finding a Way Forward During Challenging Times: A New Agenda for Progressive Education
The Child-Driven Education
Democratic Education with Young Children
Quality Education as a Constitutional Right
Lives of Passion, School of Hope: How One Public School Ignites a Lifelong Love of Learning
Turning Points: 35 Visionaries in Education Tell Their Own Stories
Celebrate People's History!: The Poster Book of Resistance and Revolution
Race to Nowhere
Schooling the World: The White Man's Last Burden
August to June: Bring Life to School!
Beyond Tolerance: A Resource Guide for Addressing LGTBQI Issues in Schools
Free to Learn: A Radical Experiment in Education
Education Revolution: The Magazine of Educational Alternatives, a free online archive including current issues
Planning to Change the World: A Plan Book for Social Justice Teachers
IDEA's Democratic Education Resource Section
International Democratic Education Conference (Tel Aviv, Israel)
7th Annual AERO Conference (Albany, NY) See related post on IDEA's website
Northwest Teachers for Social Justice Conference (Portland, OR)
Education People's Movement Assembly at the United States Social Forum (Detroit, MI) (
Education Revolution's fall issue)
We the People Tour' Also see "Quality Education as a Constitutional Right" National Day of Action to Defend Public Education and also Education Revolution
Coalition of Essential Schools Fall Forum: Demanding Education That Matters(San Francisco, CA) see also Pedro Nogeura's opening keynote address: "Finding a Way Forward During Challenging Times: A New Agenda for Progressive Education"
2nd Annual Education Circle of Change (Santa Fe, NM)
Perhaps the greatest contemporary historian
Howard Zinn, 1922-2010, Our Favorite Teacher
Howard Zinn: One of the Great Democratic Educators
...and just for fun
The Funniest Kids Test Answers of All Time
Increasing Number Of Parents Opting To Have Children School-Homed
Precocious Kid's Christmas List
What would you add to my list? Let me know!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Growing a Garden with the Lower 9th Ward Fire Station

Today we got a visit from some of the fire fighters from our only fire station on the in the Lower Ninth Ward who continue, more than 5 years after Hurricane Katrina to operate out of no more than a trailer.

Our local fire fighters continue to be really excited and supportive of our project and it seems like our work to grow good food locally on available land is catching on. They came by today to ask us about soil and compost for a small garden the fire fighters plan to start on the vacant property next to them.

So, we decided we'd get them started with some of our amazing compost in a small bed they built to grow tomatoes, squash, and peppers and we'll expand together with local youth from there.

The fire fighters dedication to healthy, local, organic food was an inspiration. One even committed to becoming a monthly member of our "Good Food Box" program. We're really excited to see where we can continue to develop this relationship while growing good food together and exposing the young people we work with to the possibility of careers in fire fighting.

Thanks guys! Hopefully this is just the beginning of the growing and learning we can do together for years to come.

More questions than answers: Race and response in New Orleans

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Posted: February 28, 2011 | Author: armikaipainen | Filed under: E. Kaipainen's posts | Leave a comment »

Calgary Serves programs provide students with opportunities to explore issues in our world today through volunteer work. Lectures, community visits and group discussions prepare students to develop a more complex understanding of the issues; in cases such as the program in New Orleans, students came away with more questions than they started with.
  • Why did it take so long for the US to respond to the flooding after Hurricane Katrina?
  • To what extent does racism and segregation still exist in Louisiana?
  • Now that the cameras are gone, what is really being done to clean up the Gulf region and compensate those impacted by the oil spill? What is being done, or what should be done to protect the wetlands around New Orleans?

Students with the home owner (middle)
The Calgary Serves group worked with the St. Bernard Project, a non-profit organization that focuses on rebuilding homes impacted by the destruction and flooding of Hurricane Katrina. Students spent the week doing ‘mold remediation’ in a home for Genevieve Ross, a woman who fled before the storm, but who moved around between states in the years following Katrina. After her husband died last year, she decided to try to move back to her family’s home in St. Bernard Parish. Once the mold remediation is complete (a tedious, multi-step process to ensure the safety of the home), the insulation and drywall will go in, the plumbing and electrical work will be done, and after five and a half years, Genevieve will finally go home.
Beyond their work on the construction site, students met with local experts to learn about the impact of the oil spill on the Gulf Region and learn more about the deteriorating wetlands around New Orleans. Students learned that the two disasters to impact New Orleans in the last five years are not divorced from one another; for instance, the Gulf Region’s deteriorating wetlands, often because of development and exploration for natural resources, make the region increasingly vulnerable to flooding. Wetlands in the region provide the first line of defence to storm surges, such as that that swept through various New Orleans communities in late August 2005. Every 3-4 miles of wetlands reduces the height of a storm surge by 1ft. Open water on the other hand, provides no protection whatsoever.
Nat Turner, Our School at Blair Grocery in the Lower 9th Ward
Students are challenged by a new revelation on their final day in New Orleans. They’ve spent the last 5 days in St. Bernard Parish in the communities of Arabi and Chalmette rebuilding a home for a black woman in Violet. St. Bernard Parish they know, was one of the worst affected areas in the 2005 storm. But on this day Nat Turner of Our School at Blair Grocery talks about racism in the Parish; unlike the Lower 9th Ward where Turner works with his urban farm and after school program for marginalized youth (mostly black), the Parish is mostly white and not only that, until recently, had regulations on who could buy property; these policies effectively kept many blacks from returning, and kept other blacks from buying land in the Parish. The biggest controversy relates to the public housing units that were closed and demolished after the storm. Most of the former residents in social housing were black. It’s difficult not to see this as an intentional practice to keep a particular population out and selectively decide who can move back and who cannot.
Entrepreneurs cut grass for those who haven't returned or rebuilt.
Other practices keep blacks from returning to the Lower 9th Ward, a traditionally poor, black, working-class community; families who are still yet to return (about 90% of the population) are taxed heavily for failing to cut their grass. Turner’s frank discussion about racism in Louisiana, particularly post-Katrina, pushes students to ask – why isn’t there a supermarket in the lower 9th? Do residents have access to medical care in their community? Why has the fire station in St. Bernard been rebuilt while the fire station in the Lower 9th consists of a trailer with a fire truck parked beside it? Will the former residents of the Lower 9th ever return? And if they don’t what will become of the community in five years or ten years? Will this traditionally black community be rebuilt and gentrified with condos for middle-class, white New Orleanians? Is that what it will take to bring back the supermarkets and city services?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Soil test!

Student Anthony Johnson and intern Max Penraat testing soil from the new raised beds. They tested the Ph, Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and potassium levels.
The Results
PH level- Neutral 
Nitrogen level- High
 Phosphorus level- High
Potassium level- High

Looks like we have some great soil on our hands.