DR. BELINDA CARBERRY: A CONSUMMATE PROFESSIONAL TALKS ABOUT OUR CHILDREN, EDUCATION AND THE CHALLENGES OF BEING AN EDUCATOR
By: D.A. Sears
While she has been and continues to be a woman who not only knows where she is going, but who also creates her own roadmap to getting where she wants and needs to be, she proudly points to her father as the reason she embarked upon a career in education. She is a consummate professional, whose unbridled energy and passion for education is fueled by a love for what she does. She is an educator who actually enjoys her work! She is a member of Unified Progress International Education’s (“UPI Education”) Advisory Board, the Principal of Jackie Robinson Middle School in New Haven, Connecticut .who is currently on special assignment for New Haven Public Schools. She is Dr. Belinda Carberry.
Dr. Carberry took time from her very busy schedule to chat with us about, among other things, the role models she had as she made the journey from childhood to adulthood, her unique experiences as she moved up the ranks from teacher to administrator in the New Haven, Connecticut public school system, and the Life Skills SolutionsTM curriculum offered by UPI Education which was founded by Mr. Frank Crump, a successful international businessman upon his return to the United States in 2004 after spending a quarter of a century working and living abroad.
Who is Dr. Belinda Carberry? Where did she grow up? Where was she educated? Who were her role models as she made the journey from childhood to adulthood?
“I was born and reared in Baltimore, Maryland. I am the youngest of three siblings. My education and love of learning began in the public schools of Baltimore, Maryland. The Low Rise Apartments at 1332 East Fayette Street was my home from elementary school to junior high school. I held my African American principals and teachers at Charles Carroll Elementary School of Carrolton, Maryland and Lombard Junior High School in high esteem. All of them were formidable, nurturing, young and beautiful or old and knowledgeable. They were role models and worthy to be respected. My father was a custodian in the Baltimore City school system. Sometimes I went to work with him and watched him buff the floors and clean classrooms. He made the school look brand new. Back then, the custodians cleaned desks, wiped the black board ledges and spot mopped the floors weekly. I thought the classroom was a wonderful place to work or teach. I matriculated through Morgan State College after attending Edmondson High School. While at Morgan, I learned how to study and make the Dean’s List. I was rewarded for being a good student with an opportunity to attend the University of Pennsylvania for one year as an exchange student. I took a writing course with Rhode Scholar John Widemann. This was my first experience in a diverse environment. I did not know that I could think just as well and better than students of other ethnic backgrounds. I completed my Bachelor of Arts degree in English and married in the same year. I was the first in my family to complete college. With a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, I thought I wanted to become a journalist, so I enrolled in the Master Degree program at the University of Maryland. I found technical writing more challenging than I anticipated; therefore, I took a few education courses at Morgan and received my first teaching position at Greenspring Junior High School in Baltimore. After experiencing all of the difficulties of a first year teacher, for example, always constantly having a sore throat and spending hours planning activities that would keep 7th graders engaged, I was nominated ‘Teacher Of The Year’ for my school and was honored at a Teacher Appreciation Luncheon with then Baltimore Mayor Donald Schaffer. I began working on my Master of Science degree at Johns Hopkins University in Secondary School Administration. Three years later, I had completed the degree program and had birthed my first child. Eighteen months after the birth of my son, my husband received a transfer. We were relocated to Connecticut where we have lived for 27 years. My husband traveled a lot which left my son and me to explore New England. I discovered a myriad of educational opportunities for myself and some very nice day care centers for my son. My first teaching job was at Lee High School where I replaced an outstanding teacher who had become the Supervisor of English for the City of New Haven. She was a hard act to follow, but she made me her mentee. The next school year, I was transferred to James Hillhouse High School where I taught English, Journalism and Drama. Because of Rhoda Spear, Supervisor of English and Dr. Burt Saxon, the 2005 Teacher of the Year for the State of Connecticut, I became a Fellow in the Yale New Haven Teacher Institute. Every summer for six years, I researched and wrote curricular units that I or any other teacher could use during the school year. I even taught in the Yale New Haven Summer High School with Spear and Saxon. The courses included intense study of literature, psychology and writing. Hillhouse was an exciting place in which to teach. The students reminded me of classmates I had back at my own high school. I found the students witty, energetic and very selective in whom they allowed to make them learn and behave. I was one of the few teachers that completed my goals and objectives for the year. My years of learning literature, grammar and writing along with my years at Hopkins learning teaching and classroom management strategies at Morgan made teaching at the high school level fun. I thought that maybe I would become an administrator, so I began to take courses at Southern Connecticut State University. In two years, I completed a Sixth Year Degree in School Administration. Then a new Superintendent came to town and started a Mentor/Mentee program to train administrators. I applied for that program. After one year of training, I became an Assistant Principal at the middle school level. Since then I have been an Assistant Principal at the high school level, and a Principal of an elementary school and high school. Somewhere between being a Principal of a high school, elementary school and middle school, I had a second child, and began and completed my Doctor of Education degree at Columbia University’s Teachers College,” Dr. Carberry responded.
Who or what inspired Dr. Carberry to embark upon a career in education?
“My dad inspired me to become a teacher,” Dr. Carberry says proudly. “Because I had a degree in English, he thought I could teach children. I always wanted to work in a nice and clean environment. I learned quickly that if I wanted a nice, clean safe and orderly classroom environment, I had to create it by planning it. I took my work home. I rehearsed my goals, objectives and activities before I presented them to the students. I planned for the year, semester, marking period, week, and day and minutes it took to complete an activity. Experience taught me to ‘over plan’ rather than ‘under plan’. If hell broke out in the classroom, it would not be because the students were left idle. My dad was serious about his job. He planned what he would wear at night so that he could leave the house on time in the morning to be early to work. My dad never took a day off from work. I acquired his habits. I still prepare my clothes at night and rarely take a day off from work.”
When I asked Dr. Carberry to talk about the challenges and rewards of being an educator in the Millennium, she offered the following:
“School is no longer the greatest show on earth for too many children. Television has made children forget to do their homework, study for a test and even clean up their room before their parents return home from work. Even though television has taken precedence over students’ school responsibilities and a parent’s wrath, it is losing its competitive edge to what children are witnessing in real life. Children in urban settings are witnessing violence in their homes, on their sidewalks and even in their schools. Drugs and the AIDS epidemic are no longer drama they see on television. It has become a family matter in far too many homes. Television, the media and music sell the negative, the gross, the profane -- because it grabs one’s attention. So, when we educators try to teach ‘are you’ instead of ‘is you’, solving equations, or the importance of studying music, we are met with great resistance because their money-making rap idols say ‘is you’ and they didn’t need Algebra I or Geometry or AP Calculus to make the ‘digits’. The rewards of being an educator are not always immediate. Students who question the importance of an education often are late bloomers. I say better late then never. I have had students return several years later to tell me that something I said or did hit them and made them rethink their path. It is better to have to play catch up than never to have a chance to live the good life.”
What unique experiences did Dr. Carberry encounter as she moved through the ranks as a result of the various positions and levels of responsibility she assumed? How does the level of expectations and responsibilities for a teacher differ from the level of expectations and responsibilities for a school principal?
“Teachers are directly responsible for teaching up to 125 students per day. The principal is responsible for making certain that every child in the school receives a quality education, that every teacher is highly qualified to teach and manage his or her students and that the facility is a safe and orderly environment in which teaching and learning can take place. In addition, the principal is responsible for engaging stakeholders -- parents and the community -- in the educational process,” she answered.
Have our children changed over the years? In what ways? How has this change impacted upon the ability of educators and administrators to provide our children with the tools they will need to become productive and successful adults?
“Our children have not changed. Children have always been impressionable and easily misled. I believe more children than ever before are falling into this category because the ability to access all kinds of information is readily available. The Internet, satellite TV and all night television allow children to access information out of the purview of adults. Children’s behavior is shaped by what they see and hear. If a child’s environment lacks positive parental control then the child acquires the language and habits of the characters they see on TV. He may mimic inappropriate behaviors he hears in music or speak the slang he hears his peers speak instead of the standard English that is spoken at home and which he is encouraged to speak in school. The media has allowed our children to see too many rap stars who have made it -- owning big cars, big houses, big jewelry, and having big parties inviting males with six packs and scantily dressed buff girls. Our children see more teens becoming instant stars even before they finish high school. It is our responsibility as educators to stay current with best practices to counter the false images of success that our students see every day. In addition, we must share the success stories of those who have become successful through education,” Dr. Carberry observed.
Under the most difficult set of circumstances, educators and administrators in our nation’s public education system go about the business of providing our children with the best possible learning experience. Despite these herculean efforts, it has been reported that while our fourth grade students test well against students in the same grade in other countries, by 12th grade, their test scores in mathematics and science put them in last place. What role can and should institutions and individuals outside of the public education system play in assisting educators and administrators in strengthening our children’s mathematics and science skills?
“It is our responsibility as educators to make connections with institutions that are grounded in mathematics and science, for instance, to invite them as school partners or true stakeholders. Students do not blindly follow adults any more. They need to see results immediately. Therefore, students need to shadow or become interns to professionals whose success is based on his or her mathematics or science background. These partners need to visit classrooms and become stakeholders in the curriculum that is taught. City officials and politicians need to continue visiting elementary schools on ‘Read Aloud Day.’ They need to praise students for what they do right instead of allowing newspapers to publish state scores that depict children as failures,” Dr. Carberry remarked.
We have learned that a number of students enrolled in the New Haven, Connecticut public education system who were also enrolled in and successfully completed the Unified Progress Education (“UPI Education”) Life Skills SolutionsTM curriculum, which was taught as an accredited course, achieved a 16.4% increase in overall grade point averages. It has also been reported that these students, who comprised the general school population, demonstrated a 23.6% reduction in school absences and an astounding reduction in school disciplinary actions. Is this true? How is this possible? What is it about UPI Education’s program that motivates our children in such positive ways that they achieve better grades?
“Like I said earlier, students are affected by their environment. If you place positive role models before students, it is likely that students will respond positively. If you place highly qualified people before students who can explain things to them using accurate and age appropriate examples, then students will begin to see the worth in coming to school, paying attention, following directions, doing homework and making honors.”
I noted that American students fare poorly on national assessments and international comparisons of academic performance, such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (“NAFP”), the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (“TIMSS”), and the Programme for International Student Assessments (“PISA”) all of which are clear indications that our young people may struggle to thrive in an increasingly interdependent and competitive global economy. What has to happen to facilitate the implementation of successful alternative solutions such as UPI Education in school systems? When will the trend change?
“UPI is composed of professional individuals who work or have worked in Corporate America and other pertinent service fields. These are the people whom educators are seeking to help students make the connection between school work and the world of work,” Dr. Carberry pointed out. “These professional people may not and, in most cases, have not taken courses in education theory. However, they are practitioners whose skills must be embraced by educators if we expect to pry our students’ minds away from our competitors -- television, Internet and all night television. School has to be the greatest show on earth. If it means we have to bring in some players -- a better word would be ‘stakeholders,’ then we must do this. We say, ‘It takes a whole village to educate a child.’ We must believe this. Churches have changed in how parishioners are attracted to them; we must change how we can re-engage students in learning.”
Our society has experienced a significant reduction in the extent to which parents support schools in maintaining classroom discipline. Today, many parents become advocates for their children and too often threaten to “call a lawyer” if the school insists on enforcing discipline for student misconduct. What will it take to make parents and students realize that actions have consequences? What has caused our society, parents and students to become so indifferent? Must we offer parents as well as students “life skills”?
“We are living in times where the media has helped to expose the weaknesses of presidents, politicians, doctors, educators as well as parents. I think role models are hard to find in the public’s eye. Everyone is subject to criticism and ridicule, unfortunately. Some parents hide behind their own shortcomings by pointing the finger at administrators and teachers. These types of parents can wreak havoc on teachers, administrators and schools if the school has not become totally committed to teaching all students. All staff, including administrators, must engage in staff development that improves classroom management and teaching strategies. Schools must set and follow policies of discipline for students and employees. Communication of what will be taught, accepted and not negotiated must be clear and assessable to all stakeholders, including parents. I am a huge advocate of Dr. Comer’s Six Developmental Pathways. I strongly believe that parents need to know what it takes for a child to develop and grow. Parents need to know that children must develop cognitively, physically, ethically, socially, psychologically and their speech and language must be cultivated. Many parents have nurtured their children along these pathways intuitively. Others need to take a class. Schools can offer to do this,” Dr. Carberry commented thoughtfully.
The September 1, 2006 airing of “Stupid In America: How We Cheat Our Kids” on ABC’s 20/20 echoed the frustrations of millions of American parents in reporting that “…the wheels are falling off America’s education wagon.” Nonetheless, the report pointed out that there are individuals and entities -- not to mention -- government funding, grants, corporate and private foundation funding available to aid the field of education. Are we falling short when we blame our students and the system? Are we not all to blame when billions of dollars are doled out into thousands of different directions only to find that our world ranking for education is on a fatal nose dive? Where is the roadmap to our national educational success? How do we reproduce tangible results like those produced by UPI Education’s Life Skills SolutionsTM curriculum? What will it take to get these various funds and school systems on the same page?
“America is the country where people have more freedom and choices than most. Americans move in all different directions. Our government gives us the right to choose to eat meat, vegetables and a starch; in other countries the majority of people may only have one choice of food. Children can decide to wear jeans, ‘Jordans’, and jewelry to school. In some countries, they are mandated to wear a uniform. In our country, children can go to school as long as they want; in some countries formal learning ends after high school. We are more distracted by fashion, music, and entertainment, while students in other countries are more focused on the possibilities an education can offer them and their families. Children come to America not speaking English, but within three years outperform American students in mathematics and science because they are not distracted by all of the freedom American children possess. Our country gives us freedom; yet, with the freedom to choose we have created a culture that has become more concerned with convenience in the ‘here and now’ than in the long term affects of short-term thinking. Students in other countries have not become as complacent as American students. It is not that American students do not have the potential to excel. They have become blinded by how fast they can get what they want -- such as food without a home-cooked meal, information without going to the library, using the cell phone instead of a pen to write a message, and a diploma without having taken courses that help preserve families, our communities, our nation and our planet. Our government must help to eradicate the complacency in the schools by insisting on the hiring of highly qualified teachers. However, these teachers must be able to receive the funds to get to college to train in the best colleges and universities. And even before these college students begin to train, they must be taught in accredited schools. The government‘s task is broad. It must provide funds for schools to receive the supplies and materials to teach. The government should be responsible for helping deserving students matriculate through college. It must support colleges and universities in the training of teachers. The government must control some of the industries that distract students from learning. As Forrest Gump says, ‘Stupid is what Stupid does’. We must ask ourselves, ‘Who is allowing the stupidity?’ UPI Education is a program that helps diffuse the stimuli that has blinded our children’s vision of becoming scientists and chemists and community activists and world leaders. Before we can teach, we must have students in their seats. UPI Education is inspiring students to attend school and to come ready to listen and learn,” Carberry passionately opined.
In view of the fact that the United States’ world ranking in education is very low and that “alternative education vehicles” may be necessary to provide our children with the tools they will need to become successful and productive adults in a global marketplace, what does the future hold for public education?
“The beauty of living in America is the fact that if you do not like what you see, you can keep trying something else until you get what you like. If you do not like public education, one can try a charter school, private school or home school or parochial school. Parents who do not like their neighborhood school can receive a transfer to a ‘better’ school if they are adamant enough. I believe the ‘No Child Left Behind’ movement had the potential to make a real difference on how schooling is done in all public schools if the mandates were interpreted correctly and the funding was forthcoming and distributed equitably. Public education in America has lost its international position at the top of the academic ladder. Research shows that fewer American students are enrolled in universities as Science and Math majors. More
students are enrolled in Science and Math courses in other countries and are outperforming American students in Science and Math en masse. We can redeem ourselves with the help of the ‘whole village’. UPI Education is a stakeholder that understands the concept of ‘school partner’ and ‘stakeholder.’ There is enough work to be done to redeem our place in academia. School systems, the government and stakeholders like UPI must come together for the sake of our communities and country,” Dr. Carberry stated with unabashed honesty.
What’s next for Dr. Belinda Carberry?
“I would like to continue my research in educational organization and leadership and perhaps start a charter school.”
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