Alicia Keys says reading the script for “The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete” was heart wrenching. She was a co-producer of the film that tells the story of two boys growing up in the Bronx. (Alejandro Alba / SHFWire)

First lady, Alicia Keys screen movie at White House as part of education push

WASHINGTON – Michelle Obama brought a backup to a film screening at the White House Wednesday as part of her campaign to encourage children to go to college. Singer and songwriter Alicia Keys co-produced the film, “The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete,” which a group of teachers and other educators watched and discussed. Keys and a teacher led a discussion of the film, and Obama talked to the crowd about her reaction to the film. “The minute I got through watching this movie, I said, ‘I’m going to screen it at the White House,’” Michelle Obama said. “This is the movie that should begin the conversation that is already happening on what it is we have to do to invest in kids in this community.”

The film tells the story of two grade-school boys who are living with the day-to-day struggles of fending for themselves in the Bronx.

The children (little eagles, I presume) are in a semi-line and wearing school uniforms. (Cheryl Howard/

First degree, second degree, third degree

EL PASO – Interrogation. Education. Why does a good one cost so much when we pay teachers so poorly? If education is only about training for a job, why not revert to the apprentice system? What are we teaching our children and is that what they are learning?

El Dorado High School's faculty consider that dual degree classes help raise the academic level of all students because it sets the bar at a highest level. (Nicole Castillo/

High-school students load up on academic work to get college credit

EL PASO – The sound of the alarm going off at 5 a.m. every morning is an all too familiar sound for Bryce Neria and his fellow classmates as they prepare for a 12-hour day of schoolwork. High school students aware of the importance of a college education now have a new opportunity to get a leg up on advanced studies while still in high school. A dual credit program allows current high school students to take advantage of an early college education while in high school. Neria says he doesn’t mind the rigors of the program. “Its absolutely worth it!

Zen Telegrams

Teaching and Learning and Caring Blog

EL PASO — It started at the dinner table. It was a Tuesday. Tuesdays were a “try a new recipe or fancy up an old one, invite people over, and sit down at the dining room table, light the candles” ritual.  Josie, Raymundo, and Yolanda were there. My daughter asked us to choose a book to take with us into a post-apocalyptic world or to the proverbial desert island where we would be stranded and alone for an unknown length of time, perhaps forever. I remember only my own answer to the question.

‘Even Start’ brings literacy home

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. — Every morning as Mayne Beceria gets ready for school, so does her young daughter Melanie. Too young for kindergarten, the dark-haired, giggly girl goes to a special school — Johnson City Even Start. “Oh, Mommy. Let’s go to my school, Melanie’s school!” Melanie tells her mother.

Tackling the pounds—Changes in state policy fight student obesity

EL PASO — Not too many years ago, students eagerly awaited the bell that signals lunchtime, anticipating french fries, a can of Pepsi, and a chocolate chip cookie. Now, however, those same students have been challenged to abandon some of the junk foods they crave. In 2007, revisions were made to the Texas Public School Nutrition Policy to create a weapon to battle obesity in children. Texas public high schools have had to start abiding by laws that mandate healthier lunch foods, as well as changing vending machine products on their campuses. “Our snack bars are all run by the district cafeterias and have to abide by the changes in the law,” says Dr. Carla Gonzales, Chapin High School Principal.

What a plant knows, how a plant grows

Teaching and Learning and Caring Blog

My parents weren’t farmers, but I don’t remember NOT knowing what a young tomato plant looks like.  There was a tomato plant growing outside Old Main, probably from a tailgate party earlier in the semester.  I asked if anyone had noticed it.  I asked and I asked.  I sent students out to look for it.  I took them there and said, “Here it is.”  They said, “Where?”  I couldn’t believe it.  Most students didn’t know what the plant that grew such a common vegetable looked like.  How had this knowledge been lost or never acquired?  Their grandparents or great grandparents were likely farmers. Growing vegetables is a lot like teaching.  You plant seeds and water and hope.  Some seeds are planted too deep and never germinate, some too shallow and blow away, some in poor soil, some too early in the season, some too late.  And the miracle of growth, when it happens, is enough to bring a smile to even a wrinkled old teacher—I mean farmer. It’s been many years since I had a real garden.  I call it my “zen” garden, by which I mean raised planting beds of different shapes designed around a small pomegranate tree ensconced in a reclaimed tire. There are two places to sit (or contemplate) and a rock wall with marbles and glass embedded in cement.  More artwork is planned.  I don’t plan to rake rocks or anything like that. In reality the crops are all over the front and back yards in planting beds, in containers and in plain dirt.  They include: squash, corn, cucumbers, chile, okra, eggplant, tomatoes, collard and mustard greens, snow peas, spinach, watermelon, pumpkin, basil, mint, and cilantro.  The beans and carrots and green onions haven’t come up, and I had to pull up the radishes that were being devoured by bugs, and finally killed by my daughter who mixed a concoction of vinegar and vodka to kill the bugs but ended up killing the whole plant.  The fig tree had to be radically pruned after the extremely cold week in winter.  Each plant has its own challenges and potential rewards

This year gardening is even more rewarding because I have someone to share the joy with.  Raymundo has helped with all the heavy work:  tearing down an old fence and playhouse, building raised beds and hauling garden soil.  Together we have planted and watered and watched.  Some cherry tomatoes are already turning orange.  The snow peas have finally flowered and are making little pods; we had to add additional support for the fragile plants.  One zucchini will be ready in a few days and the pumpkins need thinning.  Raymundo is eager to learn about every plant, its peculiarities and pests, like white cabbage butterflies that lay eggs on the undersides of leaves.  I am eager to teach him what I know and both of us have more to learn; every season (or semester) brings new lessons.

Proposed Texas education cuts imperil Latino students’ future

Impending massive budget reductions in flat-broke Texas are about to slam education’s door on its Latino youth, who at 2.34 million now comprise about half of its public school students. Experts and community advocates across the state agree on the danger it portents to the state’s economic future as well. Once among the nation’s wealthiest, the Lone Star State has become the Loan Starved State. It is grappling with a budget shortfall somewhere between $15 billion and $27 billion. The proposed solution by Gov. Rick Perry, with traction offered by conservatives within the GOP-controlled legislature, targets the schools.

Immigrant high school graduates seek a pathway to U.S. citizenship

EL PASO, Texas — Many of the 65,000 illegal immigrants who graduate from high school in the U.S. every year live under the entrapment radar, risking deportation at any time as they attempt to attend college or serve in the U.S. military services. According to statistics from the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), most of these students in all grade levels have been raised in America, in American public school systems, American cities. Many only speak English and the American culture is what they know.  They have little left of their culture of origin. “It’s a very sad experience to forget where you came from because you’re accustomed to life here.  You could hardly remember that you came here from another country,” said a student who wishes to remain anonymous.  The student at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) is an illegal immigrant because, like the thousands of illegal high school students who graduate every year in the U.S., this student was not brought to America by choice.  The parents made that choice. “It’s a difficult situation.

Resources are not the most important factor in student achievement

Spending two hours at the school to see the challenges faced by rural schools in Mexico opened my eyes to reflect on my own teaching experience. What I saw was that education as the great equalizer is often unequal in the resources available to a school, but poor schools often equal equal academic success.