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Your Classroom

Nonprofit Gives Urban Students a Voice

By Lindy Bumgarner and Edward Cook

Imagine having something to say, but nowhere to say it. A heartfelt story to share, but no place to express it. That’s the reality for many students in America’s urban high schools. Because of budget cuts, programs like high school literary journals are often eliminated. In Richmond, we’re working to fill this void. Our small nonprofit, The Podium Foundation, has rallied support with Richmond Public Schools and across the community to produce an annual literary journal that provides a platform for young voices to be heard and stories to be shared. 
Students from all eight Richmond high schools now have the opportunity to be part of Podium Clubs. Facilitated by Podium staff members and volunteers, these students simply get a chance to write. They share their work with each other and, ultimately, with the entire city when their best pieces are published in the journal or on Podium’s new website. Of even more impact is the energy these young writers inject into their schools. Submissions to the journal, of both writing and artwork, come from not only club members, but the broader student population, as well. For the first three years of operation, we received an average of 1,000 submissions from the eight schools. Midway into the fourth year, we’ve already surpassed this number. Partly due to Podium’s efforts, writing is becoming a much more popular activity in Richmond’s high schools.

If there is any magic in this effort, it’s in the partnership between Podium and Richmond’s school administration and teachers. Podium has become part of the school day. The best of the collected works of the students becomes the official literary journal for Richmond Public Schools. This partnership is essential to our mission to engage teens in the irreducible skill of writing and artful expression. Additionally, The Podium Foundation draws upon the support of Virginia Commonwealth University for student interns, and Communities in Schools, which provides support for the Podium Clubs and the production of the journal. 

Perhaps the most poignant example of success occurred last year. One daring English teacher used the previous year’s journal as material for the final exam. Teenagers were so caught up in their peers’ work that they became more engaged in the exam than in any test in this teacher’s memory. After all, student work was being held up for study and examination just like Poe, Angelou or Dickens. By applying language and themes so accessible and familiar to students, the teacher touched their hearts at the same time he challenged their minds. Also, by elevating the journal to test material status, the teacher affirmed the value of these young voices, accepting that the stories emerging from their neighborhoods and lives are worth not only telling, but studying. Recognizing this powerful connection, The Podium Foundation has begun teaching teachers (with the help of local university professors) how to be better writing instructors and how to use the journal as a classroom resource. Through the support of local foundations, corporations, and public donors and volunteers, we’ve been able to create instructional materials to help teachers incorporate writing into instruction in new and creative ways. The early feedback from this program is highly positive: Teachers report student engagement is much higher when the journal is part of the lesson.

The beauty of the success of the Podium Journal in RPS is not how quickly it has taken hold, but how readily this model can be employed in other cities with a similar need. A partnership between a scrappy nonprofit and a willing public school system (with generous volunteer time from community members) has made this effort in Richmond a success. Fortunately, these key building materials are available elsewhere. Our young people just need someone to construct the podium.

Bumgarner is executive director and Cook chair of the board of The Podium Foundation.

American Teachers Putting
In More Time Than Peers

One of the most frustrating (and erroneous) things for teachers is knowing how hard they work, and then having to listen to how much time they supposedly get off.

Here’s a counter from a study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ( American teachers work longer hours than teachers in any of the major developed countries.

The organization’s study of 27 member nations found that the 1,097 average hours of instruction provided annually by U.S. teachers was the highest. The figure jumps to 1,913 hours per year when the time teachers spend on work at home and outside the classroom is taken into account. The study was based on data from 2009, the latest year available.

Following American teachers in hours spent per year on instruction were: New Zealand, 985; Netherlands, 930; France, 918; Spain, 880; Australia, 874; South Korea, 836; Brazil, 800; Israel, 788; Japan, 707; England, 635; Russia, 615; Greece, 589; and Poland, 489.

Figures come from the 2012 OECD report, “Preparing Teachers and Developing School Leaders for the 21st Century—Lessons From Around the World.”

NEA Grants Can
Make It Happen

The NEA Foundation offers a variety of grants that could be just what you’re looking for to get a classroom project or a professional development activity off the ground. Here are three ways the Foundation can help:

Learning and Leadership Grants provide opportunities for teachers and education support professionals to engage in high-quality professional development and to lead their colleagues in professional growth. Grant amounts are $2,000 for individual and $5,000 for groups studying together.

Student Achievement Grants provide $5,000 to improve the academic achievement of students by engaging in critical thinking and problem-solving that deepens knowledge of standards-based subject matter. The work should also improve students’ habits of inquiry, self-directed learning and critical reflection.

NEA Fine Arts Grants offer $2,000 to enable fine arts teachers to create and implement programs that promote learning among at-risk students.

Each program has its own application guidelines and deadlines, which can be found at the NEA Foundation’s website,

Help for Your Most
Challenging Students

Every teacher faces the additional challenge of meeting the needs of some students who are struggling to overcome learning disabilities. ( can help. Created by the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), this site provides current information on effective, research-based teaching strategies and also offers opportunities for interaction between some of the nation’s leading researchers and practicing teachers.

The Building Blocks
of Character

The International Center for Leadership in Education ( has come up with these 12 guiding principles for exceptional character as a base for character education programs:

• Adaptability – the ability and willingness to change, to put oneself in harmony with changed circumstances. To be ready and willing to adjust as necessary to changes in people and circumstances that arise in daily life.

• Compassion – Kindness.
The desire to help others in distress, and to show kindness and concern for others in distress by offering help whenever possible.

• Contemplation – Giving serious consideration to something. To think things through with proper care before taking action.

• Courage – Bravery. The willingness to put one’s beliefs into practice, the capacity to meet danger without giving way to fear. To face difficulty or danger and express your beliefs even if you are afraid.

• Honesty – Truthfulness, sincerity. The act or condition of never deceiving, stealing or taking advantage of the trust of others. To be truthful in all that you do.

• Initiative – Eagerness to do something. To take responsible action on your own, without prompting from others.

• Loyalty – Faithfulness, dependability. The quality of being faithful to another person in the performance of duty; adhering to a contract with another person. To show others that you are dependable when you’ve made a commitment to them.

• Optimism -- Positive beliefs. The inclination to take a hopeful view or think that all will work out for the best for yourself, others and the future.

• Perseverance – Hard work. The quality of trying hard and continuously in spite of obstacles and difficulties.

• Respect – Regard, value, admire, appreciate. Special esteem or consideration in which one holds another person or thing. To show regard for yourself, others and the world around you.

• Responsibility – Accountability. To consider oneself answerable for something. To demonstrate that you consider yourself to be accountable for your actions and that you follow through on your commitments.

• Trustworthiness – Reliability. Dependable, deserving of trust and confidence.




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