Posts by Paul Costello1

America Needs a National Service Draft Now to Fight the Coronavirus

A World War II-era postcard.


My son, Liam, turned 18 in March, just as schools and universities were closing and stay-at-home orders began proliferating. On the day U.S. President Donald Trump declared war on the coronavirus, we received Liam’s selective service card in the mail. Were this a real war, Liam and his friends could have been called up to go off and risk their lives. Instead, he and millions of high school seniors and college students had just been instructed, by political leaders, school authorities, and the media, to do their part to beat this virus—by staying home. As a popular Facebook meme read: “Your grandparents were called to war. You’re being called to sit on your couch. You can do this.” Read More

Expand National Service Programs to Respond to COVID-19

Reed Seeks to Expand National Service Programs to Respond to COVID-19

4/22/2020 — Senator Reed

WASHINGTON, DC — In an effort to mobilize the power of national service, assist communities in need, and put more Americans to work combating the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and building a better future, U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI)Chris Coons (D-DE)Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), and several others are announcing new legislation to expand national service programs as the country works to respond and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Pandemic Response and Opportunity Through National Service Act would fund 750,000 national service positions over a three-year response and recovery period, in part to meet the projected need for as many as 300,000 public health workers.  The bill would also help grow the next generation of public service leaders by expanding partnerships between AmeriCorps and federal health agencies, and increase the AmeriCorps living allowance to ensure all Americans can step up to serve regardless of their financial circumstances.  The Senators are actively working to include this bill in the next COVID-19 relief package set to be considered by the Senate. Read More

A national service response to a national disaster

We can’t spend our way out of our problems, but we can serve our way out of them together.

Roll Call- By AnnMaura Connolly and Eric TanenblattPosted May 6, 2020 at 1:48pm

Faris Albakheet, left, of Busboys and Poets, and Robert Laster of Saval Foodservice, distribute free food to restaurant industry workers affected by the coronavirus pandemic at Fourteenth and V Streets Northwest in Washington, D.C., on April 17.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The crises the United States knows best — fires and floods, hurricanes and tornadoes, school shootings and mass violence — have all been proximate to individual communities or states.

Government and civil society are prepared for this backyard disaster paradigm because we’ve been called to respond to so many before. But the coronavirus pandemic is a uniquely national crisis affecting every nook and cranny of the country, and policymakers have struggled to develop a “whole of America” response.

Predictably, the gut reaction in Washington has been to spend money — lots. But even as Congress writes trillion-dollar checks to stabilize the economy, the unprecedented strain on our health systems, schools and essential public services is so acute that stimulus alone won’t be enough.

America will need to tap a well far deeper than its treasury if it’s going to pull itself out of this hole. We’re not going to spend our way out of these problems, but we can serve our way out of them together. Read More

We Need National Service. Now

By David Brooks Opinion Columnist May 7, 2020 New York Times

There is now a vast army of young people ready and yearning to serve their country. There are college graduates emerging into a workplace that has few jobs for them. There are more high school graduates who suddenly can’t afford college. There are college students who don’t want to return to a college experience. This is a passionate, idealistic generation that sees the emergency, wants to serve those around them and groans to live up to this moment.

Suddenly there is a wealth of work for them to do: contact tracing, sanitizing public places, bringing food to the hungry, supporting the elderly, taking temperatures at public gathering spots, supporting local government agencies, tutoring elementary school students so they can make up for lost time. Read More

Dealing with the COVID19 Crisis

5 Crisis Management steps for PMs to take during hardships

AmeriCorps Project CHANGE continues to serve the students of MCPS even though the school system has switched to the virtual classroom. We hope all our partners and members and the students they serve and all their families stay home and stay safe.

Montgomery County schools struggling to meet the needs

Recent reports in the Washington Post relate the disturbing news that the MCPS school system is struggling to keep with the needs of students and that attempts to address the achivement gap are not effective, says the report.

“Despite attempts by Maryland’s largest school system to close achievement gaps between black and Latino children and their white and Asian peers, those differences have barely budged in recent years, a new report finds. “

A more recent Editorial in the Post repeats the same message.

By Editorial Board Jan. 15, 2020 at 6:52 p.m. EST

THERE WAS a time, not so long ago, when Montgomery County was singled out for its efforts to shrink the achievement gap between black and Latino children and their white and Asian peers.“We are a tall tree in a short forest” was a favorite phrase of Jerry D. Weast, then the schools superintendent, noting progress as well as its relative enhancement by poor results elsewhere. Today, sadly, Montgomery County no longer stands so tall. Instead, like much of the U.S. education system, it struggles to devise solutions for the achievement gap. That should be a matter of urgent concern to school and county officials.

The lack of real progress by the state’s largest school district was spotlighted in a recent report from the county’s Office of Legislative Oversight. The report examined a variety of performance measures, including graduation rates, SAT scores and state exams, and concluded that gaps between black and Latino students and their white and Asian peers had not changed appreciably despite the county’s efforts over the years. “Largely ineffective” was the verdict of the report, which alleged that money earmarked to help students at-risk or from impoverished families was not properly spent.

School officials challenged the accuracy of the analysis. They say the examination of student progress is too narrowly focused and doesn’t take into account the system’s efforts to expand access of minority and low-income students to advanced courses. Undisputed, though, is that disparities persist, with low-income students concentrated in schools where there are higher numbers of less experienced teachers.AD

Demographic changes in the schools in the past decade — more students, more from low-income families, more who are English-language learners — present new challenges for the district and might partly explain why there has been less success in closing the gap than there was during Mr. Weast’s tenure. That, though, doesn’t let the schools off the hook. Montgomery County Schools Superintendent Jack R. Smith has called the achievement gap a “crisis in our community” and has developed new reporting tools to hold schools accountable for student outcomes.

Clearly, though, there is a need for doubling down on programs that produce results, jettisoning those that are ineffective and developing new strategies. Should there be more investment in prekindergarten? Should the system attract more experienced teachers to the needier schools with higher pay? Should the system’s experiment with a longer school year be expanded? Should school boundaries be adjusted so that schools are more racially and socioeconomically diverse?

Montgomery County, which has always prided itself on being a leader in education, needs to start leading again in this critical area.

Living Stories Revisited

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….The stories that are shared in the plenary session are always powerful. People prove to be incredibly open and vulnerable. The day is so full of energy and engagement. Pablo, our co-host at Casa and myself observed that it’s like opening the valve of a story hose. People immediately want to meet and tell. But this is all the obvious stuff.  Something else is going on here but it takes some post-mortem reflection to understand what it is.

It is the quality of the Listening. That is the invisible mystery that perhaps we have not factored enough into our work and something that  has not penetrated deeply enough into our story community. What LS seems to do better than anything else is create a Listening Culture that ellicits the most powerful stories in the room. These stories are nothing like the spontaneous tellings that occur in our everyday conversations. They are tellings that grow with repetition because the listeners are invited into their co-creation. My colleague David Hutchins calls them Twice Told Stories but on Friday, they became Thrice Told Stories because the power resides in the iteration. Read More

Making sure you show up in your own story

Tomorrow we have our fourth Annual Storytelling Festival for the AmeriCorps programs of Maryland. Our hosts at Casa Maryland and Pablo Blank always provide a warm welcome in their amazing space.

Each year, we try different things and end with Living Stories, the signature process developed by Storywise.com over the past twenty years. Every time we invite people into this practice, we are amazed how much energy is released with the simple invitation for people to tell their own story in their own voice, to respectful and appreciative audiences.

Tomorrow, we will introduce some of our latest work that we call POND, the Principles of Narrative Design. Members of AmeriCorps are creating a new story, one that will lead to enduring memories of how they dedicated a year of their lives to serve their community. That is a remarkable story in and of itself.

But four months in, the members will be invited to map out the journey as one that goes through the predictable Beginning- Middle-Ending axis of coherence, where
-Beginnings hold the creative space,
-Middles hold the Complication and Recommitment space, and
-Endings hold the completion space.

If you want to have a great story at the end, design it from the beginning. Don’t leave it to chance. That is what POND teaches us.

Tomorrow, we will push the chairs aside, open up the room so space has a voice. We will ignore the Power Point and shut off the phones, and invite the members to walk back into the story of their service, retracing WHERE it began, ( not why or when) and then walk into the space that reveals their expanding horizon of possibility. We will ask the magic question “What do you know from here that you did not know from there that will help you get to where you are headed?”

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We get so tangled up in the Why or the How. We forget a far more important question- Where? We start with WHERE. Even that word “question” is loaded with the same insight because it contains a “Quest,” which wikipedia calls “a long or arduous search for something.” To ask a question is to be going somewhere.

Our other focus will be to invite stories that go beyond excuse and blame, stories of the decisions and choices that members made to get this far and the decisions and choices that lie ahead. Too often, our lives in the telling sound like experience after experience, “this happened” and then, “this happened,” or as one writer put it, “one damned thing after another.” But this only masks the character in the story who is walking the road and deciding which path to take. Even deciding to take no path is deciding on a path. Decision comes from the same word as “incision” meaning cutting off one option to pursue another. A choice of a path is a choice about what story you get to tell.

We may not be the sole creators of our history as we live it, but we are the creators of our own history in how we choose to remember it. Though our lives can be assaulted by enormous challenges, we are a species that knows instinctively that how we tell the story is how we manage to name and tame our chaos, how to get beyond it and how even to transform the most painful memories into moments of epiphany.

We will ask members to share from three directions:

1) Go to the place that holds the story of your decision to serve at the beginning- the Genesis story or origins.

2) Go to the place that holds the stories of your decisions you are having to make every day to honor and deepen that commitment- the Exodus story or passage.

3) Go to the place where this decision might grow into something about the kind of life you are choosing to live, the kind of world you are choosing to create, and most of all, the kind of person you are choosing to become. That is the story of Revelation.

We joke at storywise that before 35, you can blame parents and family and circumstances all you like but there comes a time when you have to grow beyond that and stop showing up as a prop in someone else’s story. Its time to show up in your own- the story of your fateful, faithful choices.

Surely, your choice as a member of AmeriCorps to serve, to put your other life on hold, to live on a barely livable allowance, all in the name of a higher good that you are bringing into the world is a story worth showing up in.

See you tomorrow.

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Maryland Schools Report Card- Washington Post Dec 3/19- Donna St.George


Fewer public schools in the Maryland suburbs received the highest ratings — four or five stars — in a statewide system for tracking school performance, according to data released Tuesday as the initiative marked a second year.

The dip in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, just outside of Washington, followed adjustments in how state officials measure school success, with several factors added to give a fuller picture of performance on school-by-school “report cards.”

Notably, there were 13 fewer five-star schools in high-performing Montgomery County and five fewer in Prince George’s, according to an analysis of state data by The Washington Post.

State officials said this year’s ratings go a step beyond last year’s, when they rolled out the new approach, which brings together an array of data and comes up with ratings of one to five stars for each public school. They pointed to the system as a way for schools to get better.

“It really is a local school system charge to take a look at their data . . . to decide, ‘What do we really need to focus on in order to improve?’ ” State Superintendent Karen Salmon told the state board of education at its Tuesday meeting. “That’s what this report card is all about. It’s about giving everyone that look, that transparent look, at where they are and where they need to go.”

Statewide, more than half of schools earned the highest star ratings — four or five — as was the case last year, although the data showed a slight decline, with roughly 55 percent of schools reaching that level, compared with 59 percent in 2018.

Star power: More than half of Maryland schools get highest ratings in new system

The star ratings of 853 schools stayed the same from the rollout to this year, while 275 schools lost a star or two and 181 added one or more stars. State officials did not detail reasons for the rise or fall of schools.AD

In Montgomery County, with Maryland’s largest school system, about 68 percent of schools earned four or five stars — down from 78 percent last year.

In Prince George’s County, with the second-largest enrollment in Maryland, 35 percent of schools reached four stars or above — compared with 44 percent last year.

Many of the state’s one-star schools were in Baltimore.

Of the state’s 189 five-star schools, 37 were in Montgomery County (down from 50 last year) and four were in Prince George’s (compared with nine last year).

The state’s system also presents percentile rankings for each school. Maryland has about 1,400 public schools, most of which were included in the star ratings.

States across the country and the Districtare adopting similar approaches to accountability, in keeping with the requirements of federal education law.

D.C. schools reported its second-year data last week, with results showing schools that serve a more affluent population were more likely to receive five stars. The highest concentrations of one- and two-star schools were in the city’s poorest wards.

In Maryland, schools are evaluated according to a formula that touches on test scores, student growth, curriculum, absenteeism, graduation rates, English-language proficiency and other factors.

New for this year are data related to science assessments, indicators of progress since the previous year, and numbers reflecting surveys of students and educators on school climate.

State officials said students in fifth to 11th grade completed surveys about the quality and character of their schools. Overall, students felt a little less favorable about their schools than educators did, state officials said.AD

Prince George’s County officials said Tuesday they were still analyzing the data and examining the effect of the newly added factors on school ratings.

In a letter to the community, Monica Goldson, chief executive of Prince George’s County Public Schools, said 80 percent of county schools earned a three-, four- or five-star rating.

“We know that ratings alone do not tell a school’s story,” she wrote, adding that ratings may not reflect all factors that contribute to a school’s success.

“Ratings provide an indication of our strengths and highlight areas that we should better support,” she wrote.

Montgomery County Superintendent Jack Smith said the state report card data showed most schools performing at high levels. “However, the data also confirms that there is much more work to do to ensure each student at every school is meeting their full potential,” he said in a statement.AD

Smith noted that the new factors that have been included in state ratings make it hard to directly compare this year with 2018 results and said the state report card provides “a limited view” of student progress.

He pointed to the equity and accountability report cards that Montgomery has created, which he said use multiple and frequent measures of student progress to get at issues of whether schools are serving all who attend.

Prince George’s officials said they are launching a local accountability system to provide “real-time data” on several measures that are part of the state system, along with factors such as student discipline — to help staff members develop interventions.

Cynthia Simonson, a vice president with the Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations, said that the state’s website appeared to be extremely slow or down Tuesday and that parents were having trouble accessing their school ratings.AD

Some families will be glad to see schools get additional stars, but for those that lose a star, questions will arise — questions that may be tough for principals to explain, Simonson said.

“There doesn’t seem to be a quick and dirty guide to what these things mean, and what it means in the context of our school system,” she said.

Tammy Clark, a mother of three in Montgomery County, said her son’s school — Montgomery Village Middle — got two stars last year, and earned three in the latest rating.

“Last year’s two was a hard thing to swallow,” she said, attributing some of the low rating to a factor involving curriculum. “We’re moving in the right direction.”

Andrew Ross, a father in Germantown who has a daughter at A. Mario Loiederman Middle School, was not bothered to hear the school lost a star.

“Regardless of what any stars say, I would judge with my own eyes, and I am completely satisfied with Loiederman,” he said.

Being There for others 100%

..but only 50% remember it right.

Woody Allen once said ( supposedly) that 80% of success in life is about “showing up.” I thought he said it was 90% but I must have been away that day. Perhaps that is a tad too general but for AmeriCorps Project CHANGE, we can say that for the students that we serve, success in service is 100% about showing up.

High needs students are struggling to succeed because their family or their home or their life cicumstances are not stable enough to trust the past or predict the future. They have got used to carers who come and go, or teachers who try and give up, or life cicumstances where one day, they are living at risk in one country and the next, they are refugees seeking assylum in another, minus family or friends. They are immersed in a language and culture they do not understand and so is it any wonder they feel they are drowning?

For all students wanting to build a life, it first of all means building some sort of reliable platform, some sort of launching pad that is going to hold the weight of all their challenges, and yet, energize their dreams. If the ground beneath young lives keeps shifting, then they grow to distrust what life has to offer and learn to distrust anyone who shows up offering to make a difference. A child will want to know “Do they really care?” like they say they do? How will I know?

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No matter what the member intends or what circumstances intervene, a student is usually a better observer than interpreter. They will know if a member cares not simply by the smiles or the words but by the sheer fact of presence. Is the member showing up all the time? Is the member here, ready, energized to engage with me, or is the member coming late, coming tired, or not coming at all? That sends the loudest message to the students about who cares for them. It is those who consistently show up for them.

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Over the years, Project CHANGE has met some great people who apply to serve and who sign on, but for whom the commitment to serve was never going to work because the member needed first to be committed to meeting their own needs. It is the oft told tale of the plane losing cabin pressure and the instruction we hear to put the oxygen masks on ourselves first before we strap up our kids. How can we help others in real need if we are not able to create a stable life for ourselves or meet our own needs.

Then at best it becomes a competition- will I be there for the students or will I go pay my mother’s rent so she is not evicted? It becomes win-lose. And at its worst, a member will be so needy that the students he is trying to help are tasked with keeping the member together. That is an abuse of the position.

One daunting question to ask applicants but one we hope they answer honestly is- Are you someone who is successful in meeting your own needs in such a way that you can model to your students what that looks like? And in how you meet your own needs, does that create enough freedom for you to being there for them, untrammelled by other competing responsibilities or urgencies? Some members fall into the trap of allowing their generosity to grow beyond their resources. Needy people are not the best carers for people with needs. And for students who often are a bundle of tangled and conflicting needs, they need a mentor who has worked that out and is not using AmeriCorps service as a life experiment to sort out their own lives.

Our students deserve better. Even if a member does not know that, all she has to do is ask her students. They know, in an instant. Being there for them is wonderful and great but an illusion if there is no there there.