Heather Hodson believes she has been called to serve inner-city children. When trying to figure out her next move after college, “God opened the doors for me,” she says. Heather wanted to move to Buffalo, New York and was looking for a fulfilling job when a professor Dr. Charles Massey, told her about AmeriCorps and an opportunity to serve at the King Center Charter School. “AmeriCorps would offer me free housing, a living stipend and a job, right out of college; that was more than a college graduate could hope for!” In her three years as an AmeriCorps member, she was an assistant in the 3rd grade, became the Librarian and the Literacy Coordinator, and finally in her last year served again as the Literacy Coordinator and Director of the “Royal Reader Book Club,” (started by an AmeriCorps member!) held on Saturday mornings for the entire community. She also helped with the tutoring and test preparation for 4th graders. “Raising test scores was a big concern, but preparing the students both emotionally and mentally was part of our job. Sometimes a student would get frustrated and we would stop the practice test, help them to focus and encourage them to work through it. It was important for them to try to answer questions on the test because they sometimes could receive partial credit.”
The King Center Charter School is located on the east side of Buffalo, which is known as one of the worst side for violence and deters many qualified teachers from working there. The King Center is a K-4th grade charter school that opened in 2000 and is hoping to expand to 8th grade in the near future. It serves an at-risk population in East Buffalo and uses the holistic model for early childhood development based on the multiple intelligences work of Howard Gardner. The school is located in space available in a renovated church building housing the King Urban Life Center, a non-profit community-based organization. The school has unique partnerships with University at Buffalo, the State University Colleges at Buffalo and Fredonia, and Houghton College, whereby early childhood educators and students participate in distance learning via King Center's state-of-the-art multi-media center located in what was once the sanctuary of the church. The organization also currently runs after-school and weekend programs and summer programs for children in East Buffalo1. It is regulated by the New York State Board of Education and the Charter School Institute through a renewal process, rigorous test score standards and through both teacher interviews and observations.
Heather explains the charter school gets 80% of the funding that the public school gets and is able to apply for grants. This allows the charter school to use technology, like wireless computers, which larger schools have trouble financing. The low student-teacher ratio is also a plus. Usually the classes stay at about one teacher to ten students whereas in a public school the ratio jumps to one teacher to numbers exceeding 25 students. This makes it harder for students to have access to technology, but it’s also a major reason why some parents prefer charter schools because they trust that their child will be getting more individual attention. For Heather, serving at the King Center was a blessing. “I got to know the children on a personal level. The parents knew we were able to give close attention to their children, so when we talked with them they were able to trust our opinions more. Plus, parents are encouraged to be a part of their child’s learning and a parent group was formed to conduct fundraisers to help pay for field trips and picnics.” Word seems to have spread because there is and always has been a waiting list for the King Center.
As an elementary education major from Houchton College in Houchton, New York, Heather knew she wanted to be a teacher for inner-city kids, but wanted to build her confidence by learning from experienced teachers. Her experience with the King Center taught her a number of things. She learned that having the love and heart for inner-city kids was one thing, but gaining the trust of the child was another, “You have to learn to be vulnerable, to let go of inhibitions in order to be trusted. Sometimes you just have to be silly and know that no matter what happens, at the end of the day that you are a good person.” There were some challenges for Heather, especially on those days when certain students didn’t trust her and she had to deal with disciplinary issues, “Many days I went home upset, but woke up the next morning saying to herself, “Today is a new day, give them time.” She told a story about a friend who did everything in her power to get the kids to trust her. She asked their parents if she could take them out for some fun or take them to church. If a child found an interest in something she would bring to class something that would help them learn more about their interest. “Bringing a little something extra could help lessen behavior issues because the students were shown they were something worth fighting for.” And it’s this kind of person she believes should get involved with Charter school education.
Heather also recognized that a good staff is also important. Dr. Claity Massey, the principal of the King Center, “is dedicated to the staff and to the students which is the reason it’s so successful,” says Heather. Heather felt protected and incredibly supported by the administration and felt because there was “less political junk, and the kids were protected instead of bad teachers and salaries.” She is not a big supporter of unions for those reasons and feels charter schools are able to focus on the children because the teachers aren’t unionized.
Heather is currently working towards her Masters in Childhood and Early Childhood Curriculum Instruction (PreK-6) at Buffalo State. She is working at the Cornerstone Manor- in Buffalo, NY- a homeless shelter and transitional housing establishment for women and children, and because of the strength and confidence gained in her charter school experience, she is now the head teacher and sole pre-school teacher. But she hasn’t forgotten her “roots.” She plans on visiting the King Center Charter School on the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday because she misses them and likes to keep in touch. She wants to continue working for charter schools and encourages anyone who can overcome the stereotypes of inner-city kids to get involved because says, Ms. Hodson, “They need it more that anyone. They need to know that you won’t give up on them and that they ARE valuable.”
If you would like more information about the King Center Charter School, please visit, www.kingcentercharterschool.org. And for more information on charter school, please visit, www.nationalcharterschools.org or www.newyorkcharters.org.
To view Heather's profile, please click here
1. Information about the King Center obtained from www.greatschools.net