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People and Places

How Jackson, Miss., barbershops are improving the city’s literacy rate; a teacher’s travel helps to bridge an education divide between the U.S. and China; and Wisconsin students and educators get up close and personal with Mother Nature.
Published: January 11, 2016

Books in Barbershops

One city's way to improve literacy rate

In Jackson, Miss., many barbershops and beauty salons are cornerstones of the community, and the stylists are role models for the young people who visit. So when reports of stagnate literacy rates of young children surfaced, educators, local leaders, and businesses joined forces. The result: “Books in the Barbershop,” an initiative to encourage students to read.

The masterminds behind the initiative are the Jackson Association of Educators (JAE), Jackson Council PTA/PTSA (JCPTA), parents, community leaders, and the school board. By building small libraries in shops across the city, the hope of the project is to put books into the hands of those who may not have them at home, to promote reading as an activity that can be done beyond the classroom, and to develop barbers and stylists as literacy ambassadors—encouraging young children to read and celebrating their efforts.

In 2014, the Literacy Based Promotion Act was implemented, which would test third graders to determine whether or not they would be promoted to the fourth grade. This mandate requires teachers to evaluate students’ reading level from kindergarten through the third grade, and provide intensive reading instruction to third graders who show the need for assistance. With limited interventionists, resources, literacy coaches and other support, about 6,000 of the state’s 38,000 third graders, or 15 percent, failed to pass the 50-question computerized statewide test. According to local news reports, Jackson Public Schools (JPS) had 72 percent of third graders pass the initial assessment while only two schools had 100 percent of the third graders pass. Statewide, only 11 schools achieved at this level.

The project began with 11 barbershops strategically selected within the seven school feeder patterns in the city. They wanted every community in Jackson to have a participating barbershop nearby. To get the initiative off to a good start, library crates were donated by Parents for Public Schools; books and training were provided by the local Association; and the JPS provided space to receive and store donated books. The JCPTA coordinates the entire initiative. The City of Jackson and Watch DOGS (Dads of Great Students) also provides support in several areas, including book donation and collection. To support the initiative, Lily Eskelsen García paid a visit to a local barbershop during the 2015 Back-to-School Tour.

Additionally, JAE Board Member Shannon Champion and other educators led workshops at Alignment Jackson’s Family Literacy Boot Camps this past summer. Sessions were designed to help parents with elementary-aged students to strengthen their child’s reading skills.          

—Brenda Álvarez

A Four-Year Journey from New Hampshire to China

A teacher's passport, passion helping bridge an education divide

Go ahead. Ask Evan Czyzowski what he’s been doing on his summer vacations since 2012. The English and drama teacher at Sanborn Regional High School in Kingston, N.H., took his first trip to China in the summer of 2012, working alongside Chinese teachers of English in Xi’an and Bao Ji as a volunteer in the Sino-American Bridge for Education and Health (SABEH) program. Since then, Czyzowski has made China his destination each summer.

“I love this program because Chinese and American teachers are constantly learning from one another about what works best in the classroom to engage and promote student learning,” Czyzowski says. “Everyone has such a passion for education, which is even evident during our meal times when conversations about teaching and learning continue.”

Each year he returned, Czyzowski took on expanded roles as a lead teacher with SABEH, a competitive program that attracts U.S. applicants. His interest and hard work over the years paid off when Czyzowski was named SABEH’s director of education, a position he was appointed to from 2014 – 2015, and served while still teaching full time in New Hampshire. With experience leading a similar volunteer, education program in Poland, Czyzowski’s work in China has included overseeing teacher training programs at the Fujian Teachers’ College in Fuzhou, China and at the Greentown K–12 Yuhua School in Hangzhou.

Since 2005, SABEH, a non-profit organization, that develops and provides exchange programs for experienced American and Chinese teachers and healthcare workers, has been sending U.S. teachers to 10 cities across China to conduct workshops on student-centered classrooms. In many ways, SABEH has been his passport to global teaching and learning. Czyzowski, who serves as an NEA-New Hampshire Executive Board Member and president of the Sanborn Regional Education Association, says collaboration has been a significant step toward understanding and bridging China-U.S. education systems. Realizing that they share some of the same challenges to teaching and learning, like keeping students engaged, teaching large classes, and the impact of high-stakes testing on students and teachers, has also helped draw Chinese and American educators closer, Czyzowski says. In China, for example, scores on the goa kao, China’s national, annual college-entrance exam can determine whether a student gets into college. That’s why Chinese teachers, Czyzowski says, are eager to learn from American teachers about techniques that they can use to create student-centered classrooms that move beyond traditional memorization.

Over the years,  Czyzowski’s work in China has provided opportunities to share and learn: “Not only do I use what I have learned about best practice in my classroom, but I also share my understanding of China with my students and colleagues. It renews my passion for education!”

To learn more about Sino-American Bridge for Education and Health or to apply, visit

—by Rosemary Hunter*

*This story by Rosemary Hunter, vice-chair of the SinoAmerican Bridge for Education and Health first appeared in the New Hampshire Educator (September 2015). It was adapted by NEA Today writer, B. Denise Hawkins.

Students and Educators Get Up Close and Personal with Mother Nature

Nearly 30 years ago, Save the Rainforest started out as a typical after-school program at Dodgeville High School in Wisconsin. Club founder and biology teacher Bruce Calhoun taught students about rainforest biology and the threats they face. Students also raised money for conservation efforts in Costa Rica, Belize, and Ecuador. Soon, the club turned into more than an after-school program.

For more than two decades, Save the Rainforest, now a nonprofit, has offered trips to tropical rainforest destinations that students and educators were helping to save. The first trip, in 1990, took about 60 students and educators to Costa Rica. Since then, more than 8,000 students and educators have particpated in Save the Rain Forest educational adventures.

Calhoun, who serves as Save the Rainforest president, says, “Seeing and learning about the rainforest with the conservationists and educators who are committed to saving tropical habitats is inspiring for students who care about the well being of our planet, and is often considered by these students—and educators—to be one of the most memorable experiences of their lives.”

After-school programs, like Save the Rainforest, are not only “memorable” and full of academic benefits, but the experiences have been game-changers for educators and students, too.

Early in his career, Mike Schaefer, a 27-year veteran, was teaching his middle school students about tropical rainforests worldwide—“we [even] turned our entire classroom into a rainforest,” says the seventh-grade math teacher at Fesler Junior High School in Santa Maria, Calif. The activity also turned into a fundraiser that helped locals purchase land threatened by development in Costa Rica. Since then, he’s taken countless of students on nature adventures throughout California and in Oregon, teaching them to protect natural spaces.

Schaefer has enhanced his own profession by taking part in a rainforest excursion. Last summer, he arranged to take a group to Panama to learn about the culture and environment, which then is passed down to his students.

“My travels have helped to shape my life as an educator,” says the math teacher. “My students have been involved in programs to revitalize a damaged watershed, clean local beaches, and provide habitat for Monarch butterflies.

We may not always be able to help the tropical rainforests, but we can protect the natural spaces that we live near.”

Heidi Meudt, a botany research scientist says Save the Rainforest influenced her career path. Meudt was a freshman at Dodgeville when the club started, and as a young science enthusiast, her involvement was a natural fit.

Her first expedition was to Belize in 1991 and to Ecuador the following year, where she participated in biological research and cultural activities. “I remember performing early morning bird counts and identifying tropical trees alongside biologists at the biological station, as well as learning from a local tribe how to prepare local foods and make several tools using natural materials,” says Meudt.

Today, she works at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa—the national museum based in Wellington—where she works in the field, herbarium, and laboratory to gather and analyze data about the biodiversity of plant species.

These types of programs are a critical piece to a well-rounded education, and many have the potential to shape lives. Meudt says, “The [Save the Rainforest] trips showed me the possibility of a future career for myself in which I could combine my budding interests in both science and languages.”

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—Brenda Álvarez

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