Saturday, May 17, 2008

Poverty, Schools, and Tutor/Mentoring

As I finish my student teaching at a high school in Garfield Park (near the border of Humboldt Park), it has become clear that many of the kids I am working with on the city's West Side need more practice with skills they will need to compete in the job market, or in any higher education pursuits. Some of the kids I work with are incredibly bright, but have not only been left far behind academically, many have no idea how to behave in the professional or academic world. How could they? The schools are overburdened trying to secure federal funding, focusing all their attention on squeezing maximum PSAE/ACT scores from students with reading skills far below "high school" level. No one is teaching kids how to behave in interviews, that's for sure. Myself? My father worked in a big company and had gone to college. My mother was a businesswoman. I suppose they taught me all the little nuances growing up - what to say, how to sit, when to smile and nod my head approvingly, etc. All the tricks of the trade. Maybe some of these kids have this help at home. All I know is I don't see a lot of it in the classroom.

So not only are most of my kids fighting academic deficiencies. Many have been left shorthanded on people skills. For example, one student in one of my classes knows full well that she's out of her element in such situations, telling me, horrified, that "I don't know what to say" when confronted with a table full of college recruiters at a recent college fair. I had to hold her hand and introduce her to the recruiter, explaining that the girl was interested in a career in criminal justice. Another boy in one of my classes openly resents that he didn't get accepted to schools like Lane Tech - schools with more diversity in a different neighborhood. He tells me has only had black friends his whole life. He does well in school - pretty smart kid, but he thinks he'll probably just stay on the West Side after high school.

I'm sure a lot of these kids who are isolated in hypersegregated neighborhoods have similar fears and regrets. Obviously Tutor/Mentor programs can help provide mentorship and confidence. T/MCs can also help kids network, introducing friends and contacts from other parts of the city.

So here's the map I made today, with all this in mind. It shows areas of extreme poverty on the West Side (including the hood where I'm currently student teaching). It shows all the public schools as well as the Tutor/Mentor Centers that are working with kids after school.

While the area around Cabrini Connections (near Halsted and Chicago) seems to have a pretty big cluster of T/MCs, I can't help but notice some empty expanses in the Humboldt Park and Austin areas out west. I also always wonder whether these schools and T/M Centers are working together, sharing data and resources, working to give kids opportunities to work on "real life" skills.

That's all I have for this weekend. Student teaching has been fun, but I look forward to working with Cabrini Connections full time in June to address some of these challenges, make more maps, and drum up some more support for the great service these programs provide for school-age kids throughout the city.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Good to be back

Wow. I seriously underestimated how intense student teaching was going to be. It took me a few weeks but I think I finally have things under control in my lesson planning to where I can begin focusing on Cabrini Connection maps every Saturday. In another four weeks, my student teaching internship will be finished and I’ll be able to focus on these maps full time. (I can’t wait!)

Meantime, my mapping program is very close to finished. I have most of the code in place. As always when developing an application, there is a little debugging work to do. If anyone knows how to address any of these issues using VBA - ArcGIS 9.1, it would be incredibly helpful!

Here are some problems I am having:

1. I need a way to determine which neighborhood is focused when the program starts up. In other words I need to determine the center point of the visible map and determine which neighborhood polygon is overlapped with this point. A guy at the ESRI forums gave me some code which should work, but it currently does not. I suspect it has something to do with the way the layer is projected versus the rest of the layers. I’ve been lazy with my projections while trying to build the core mapping application and really need to clean this up. I've recruited David Goldblatt at Loyola for his "second pair of eyes" here.

2. I’m not sure yet how to programmatically isolate the symbols on a layer, and then modify the symbols’ color and size. You’d think this would be straight forward, but there are a bunch of different objects in the ESRI API that look very similar to what I need and I haven’t found a way to access the properties I need at this point. This will be a painful trial and error process in all likelihood.

3. If anyone knows…. how do you center the visible map to an address selected from a select box? I need to research this further.

4. Speaking of that select box above, how do you allow a user to multi-selection a bunch of addresses from a specific layer, and then tell ArcGIS to only show this partial selection of features from a shape file? Again, someone at the ESRI forum has given me code that may or may not work. I'm very open to other ideas.

5. When the user turns layers on or off, the legend resizes automatically, but doesn’t seem to want to align to the same y position in the layout, even though I have the legend object anchored to top/left. This is a minor thing, but I'd like to get it to work.

So there you have it – if I can get those to function correctly, I should be in business.

Oh – also, while I have you:

I was able to update the shapefile for Tutor-Mentor locations today, using current data.

If anyone out there knows where I can go to find updated location data for religious buildings (ie. churches/synagogue/mosque/etc.)… or local business locations, I would be eternally grateful!

More maps to come next week.