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Over 90% of our graduates complete high school within four years, in a city with an on-time high school graduation rate that hovers around 65%.

A Synopsis of the 19th Annual Gesu Symposium on Transforming Inner-City Education

On November 4, 2016, Gesu School held its 19th Annual Symposium on Transforming Inner-City Education. As a national model for inner-city education, Gesu School remains at the forefront of identifying new ways to better serve our students and sharing these key learnings with others. The symposium has been a time-honored tradition for that purpose.

This year’s topic was cultural responsiveness in the urban classroom and featured Christopher Emdin, Ph.D., author and Associate Professor in the Department of Mathematics, Science and Technology at Teachers College, Columbia University, as well as a panel of educational leaders. At a time when many urban educators are teaching students with cultural backgrounds and experiences that vary from their own, dialogue on educating to the students’ life narrative is key. The symposium examined how the teacher-student relationship should be framed in cultural awareness.

Taking inspiration from the Gesu School Gospel Choir’s performance of “Expect a Miracle” by Elbernita Clark, Dr. Emdin energized the audience of nearly 300 teachers, educational administrators, and supporters of inner-city education by encouraging each to be "an activist” for improving urban education. Focusing on the “seven C’s of reality pedagogy” from his book, For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…And the Rest of Y’all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education, which is on the New York Times Best Sellers List, Dr. Emdin led a dynamic, candid keynote on strategies to understand students’ realities and engage them in their learning through this lens. “The only solution to improving urban education lies within urban communities,” noted Dr. Emdin.

Dr. Emdin then joined a panel of leaders in K-12 and higher education, who responded to the keynote and shared relevant methods to integrate students’ communities, families, and culture into the classroom as central to their learning.

Tamika Michelle Evans, CEO & Principal of Global Leadership Academy Southwest and Gesu School alumna, noted the importance of forging relationships by identifying “who is impacting students’ lives on a daily basis” from their communities, such as coaches or community centers, and “bring[ing] them into the school setting.”  

David P. Hardy, Co-Founder & CEO of Boys’ Latin of Philadelphia Charter School, emphasized the need for school leaders and teachers to connect with students and families in their neighborhood spaces by being “visible” and “accessible” and for higher education teacher preparation programs to immerse themselves more frequently and fully in K-12 schools to understand schools’ needs and “to see what the landscape looks like.”  

Pamela Barnett, Ph.D., Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences at Trinity Washington University, shared a higher education perspective, stressing the need for “valuing different voices” in academic settings, inclusive of students and faculty of color, and to craft “a curriculum that is built on what the students are bringing to the class” and that enables students to “make connections between course content, including theory, and their practical lived experience.”

The audience generated thoughtful dialogue, and Steven S. Piltch, Ed.D., Head of School of The Shipley School and Gesu School Board Member, moderated a lively discussion.

Reflecting upon the event and the student-teacher relationship, Bryan Carter, Gesu School President and CEO remarked, “We need to meet the children where they are and let them have some ownership of their teaching and learning.”

Watch video footage of the panel discussion and audience Q&A on Gesu School’s YouTube page. See more event photos on Gesu School’s Facebook page.  

In the spirit of the event, Gesu School hopes that all attendees continue this important dialogue with students, families, and staff in their schools and communities. As the Gesu Gospel Choir reminds us, “The sky is the limit!”

We thank our 2016 Symposium sponsors:

Valedictorian Sponsor
Cozen O’Connor

Salutatorian Sponsor
Gordon & Gretchen Cooney
Hamilton Family Foundation 
Craig E. White

Graduate Sponsor
Wells Fargo

Photos by Edward Savaria
Video footage by Jeffry E. Soriano

Photo by Kellsey Turner 

Always seeking to improve education for all of America’s inner-city children, Gesu School launched our Annual Symposium on Transforming Inner-City Education in 1997 to tackle tough issues in inner-city education. From our first moderator, the late Tim Russert, to outstanding panelists such as Stedman Graham, Joe Klein, and Paul Tough, the annual gathering brings together leading thinkers to stimulate productive conversation and energize us for our work in the field.