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Kristen Brink

Education 202
Final Case Study
This past semester I have had the amazing opportunity to go to
Green Leaf Elementary School and spend time in Ms. Js second grade
classroom full of twenty-five joyful students. Through my time here I
have been able to spend time with and observe Mary. Mary is a
dynamic 7-year-old White female, who seems to never run out of
energy or passion. Mary appears to be persistent in her work even
though has been recently diagnosed with ADHD and seems to have
trouble completely focusing in class (K. Jones, personal interview,
October 14, 2015). By the time I arrived at Green Leaf Elementary, Ms.
J had already met with several people to discuss workload adjustments,
offering her after school help, and implementing a mentor that she
would be able to spend time with whenever possible. Although she
seems to have a fun-loving personality, she is labeled an at-risk learner
because of a variety of factors that surround her. I will be focusing on
the impact of economics, race, culture, language, memory, attention,
and social development in regards to Mary and how these affect her
learning.
In order to better understand the demographics of the
neighborhood, I examined statistics from the Community Research
Institute from 2010. Green Leaf Elementary School is located in the
northeast corner of Wyoming, Michigan. This is a neighborhood that is

made up of 85.9% employed people, with only 14.5% of people being


under the poverty line. 68.2% of people who live in this community are
White, 19.4% are Hispanic, 6.6% Black, and roughly 6% of people who
are Asian or two or more races (Community Research 2010). As I drove
through the neighborhood, I saw that there were four different roads
that led to the entrance of Green Leaf Elementary. All four of the roads
that lead to the school are lined with houses. All of the houses seemed
to look older; they looked somewhat dirty and a bit run-down because
of the lack of yard work and upkeep. About four of the houses on Alba
Street, which is the street I took to drive there most days, had fences
and there were at least four cars parked along the side of the street.
There are railroad tracks located on the right side of the school where I
saw a police car sitting next to about half the times I visited. Along the
back of the school is a giant park that connects to a baseball field and
stretches all the way to the back of the Middle School. Around 1:15 in
the afternoon while I am driving to the school I noticed at least six
people walking on the sidewalks, at least half of them in professional
clothing. Based on the fact that there are eleven bus stops within a
mile radius of the school, I am guessing that many of the pedestrians
were on their way to or from a bus stop. When I leave school, it is the
end of the school day and about twenty students, including Mary, walk
home, other students get picked up by their parents or take a bus. My
guess is that if Mary walks home from school, she lives very close.

One thing that struck me as I drove through the neighborhood is


the amount of Spanish and Hispanic culture. I am not from Grand
Rapids, but have been at Calvin for two years now, and have not seen
the Spanish language prevalent around Calvin as much as I have in ten
minutes of driving around this neighborhood. For example, I see four
restaurants in a half-mile radius of the school that are authentic
Hispanic restaurants and three churches that either have a sign in
Spanish or advertise for a Spanish-speaking service. As I entered the
school, I continued to notice it; every sign they had in the front office
had words in English and directly underneath the same in Spanish. For
example a poster that said, Welcome! when you first enter, had
Bienvenidos! directly beneath. Not only did I see Spanish on posters
and papers, but I was hearing it as well; there were three women
working in the front office that were speaking Spanish to each other.
I loved the atmosphere of the school, but I was surprised
because it did not seem to match the statistics that I researched prior
to my first visit. The statistics of the school are much different than the
statistics of the neighborhood; 77% of students at Green Leaf
Elementary are Hispanic, 11% are White, 8% are Black, and 4% make
up other races (National Educational Statistics 2014). This mismatch of
statistics between the neighborhood and the school makes me wonder
if the neighborhood statistics from 2010 are out of date and if the
increase of Hispanics is a very recent happening. I also wonder if the

neighborhood statistics are for a more general area of Wyoming, and


this specific district just so happens to be more Hispanic populated, or
if White families choose to send their kids to school else where.
Ms. J also informed me that 94% of families who go to Green Leaf
Elementary are considered low economics, or economically
disadvantaged (K. Jones, personal interview, October 14, 2015). I know
that Mary comes from a single-parent household, and although I
cannot assume that Mary is part of the 94%, considering the different
factors, there is a great chance that she could be. Sonia Nieto and
Patty Bode (2012), authors of Affirming Diversity, explain that there is
a risk of achievement gap with a family falling into this category. They
define the achievement gap as the circumstances in which some
students, primarily those from racially, culturally, and linguistically
marginalized and low-income families, achieve less than other
students (pp. 13). Although 72.79% of adults in this district have at
least a high school diploma, only 6.37% of adults in this district have a
Bachelors degree (Godfrey-Lee 2015). There could be a variety of
factors that contribute to this statistic, including that it appears many
of the students are children of immigrants who never got the
opportunity to go to college. Through more research, however, I found
that family income is now nearly as strong as parental education in
predicting childrens achievement (S. Reardon, 2011, para. 5). These
statistics lead me to believe that it is quite possible many of these

students are going to deal/are dealing with some sort of achievement


gap, including Mary. Ms. J told me that Marys dad has high
expectations for her and really wants her to succeed, yet he does not
do much to help further her learning at home (K. Jones, personal
interview, October 14, 2015). Pearson supports this claim by explaining
that low-income families are generally interested in the education of
their children but may face serious obstacles in their efforts to become
involved (Taylor & Whittaker, 2015, pp.14).
Although Mary, being White, is considered a majority, at school
she is a minority. Ms. J has a class of twenty-five students: seventeen
Hispanic students, five White students, and three Black studentsthis
range of cultural diversity also impacts the learning environment. Nieto
and Body (2012) explain that cultural differences in the classroom can
affect learning because of their learning styles, interactional or
communication styles, and language differences (163). More than half
of the students in Ms. Js class are bilingual, and there is one student
who knows know English at all. This means that Spanish does need to
be spoken occasionally. When I first arrived at Green Leaf Elementary,
Ms. J explained to me that Mary is medicated for ADHD, which affects
her mood, behaviors, and social development (K. Jones, personal
interview, October 14, 2015). However, during my time there I began
to wonder if maybe some of the reason why she lacks social

development is because of the disconnect in culture and language;


maybe it is unrelated, or maybe it is a mix of both.
While spending time in the classroom, I made many observations
on Mary. From these observations, I attempted to make tentative
judgments using what I had observed in the classroom and what I have
learned from various sources. Mary has strengths in many areas that
have been defined by her teacher, mentor, dad, and myself. Based on
the artifacts I collected and the observations that I made during my
time there I am led to believe that she excels in Cognitive Activation
and Receptive Language. Cognitive activation requires students to
constantly link new information to information they have already
learned, that way students can activate new information to information
that they already had in their minds; this way new information is more
integrally linked to old information (Barringer, Pohlman & Robinson,
2010, pp. 41). Many times it appears as though a light bulb goes on
in Marys mind when Ms. J finds a way to explain a new concept to one
they already know. This is a very encouraging neurodevelopmental
variable to have because as long as one understands basic concepts,
one will be able to build and connect them to new concepts and
information. However, it seems as though Mary did not execute basic
concepts early on, therefore making it harder to build on ideas that are
being presented to her. I wonder if it would be beneficial to hold her
back a grade in order to execute and get a better understanding of

basic ideas and concepts, specifically in reading and understanding


language. Even with Marys slight lack of reading skills, however, her
teacher and peers enjoy her presence in the classroom.
One of the variables I have been focusing on in order to
understand Mary better is language, particularly written expressive
language. Expressive language is the output, and this is the
neurodevelopmental variable that communicates her thoughts onto
paper. It appears as though she knows what she wants to say, but for
some reason she cannot find a way to write it down. I wonder if it is
because she seems to struggle with basic language skills as well,
which could emphasize a deficit in expressive language even more
profoundly. Active working memory is defined as the brains workspace
that processes both auditory and visual information; it is where we
mentally juggle information while using it (Barringer, Pohlman &
Robinson, 2010 pp. 46). I wonder if her active working memory could
be another reason why her expressive language suffers; she may not
be able to juggle many things mentally, therefore causing another
variable to be inadequate. Mel Levine (2012), author of A Mind at a
Time, explains four ways in which active working memory works, [it
provides] mind space for the combining or developing ideas[it offers]
a mechanism for holding together the parts of a task while engaged in
that task[it makes] available a meeting place where short-term
memory can get together with long-term memoryand [it serves] as a

place to hold multiple immediate plans and intentions (pp. 100).


Active working memory is an essential part of reading, comprehension,
writing, and in the case of Marys book which I am about to highlight,
multi-tasking. The following is an excerpt from Case Study Part II that
explains an experience I had with her one class period:
They were supposed to make a book making up a story of a
crazy day. Ms. J starting with the cover of the book told them
what each page should entail.
Ms. J: The cover should have the title of the book. The title of
your book can be My Crazy Day or you can name it something
else that has to do with your crazy day
*After Mary struggles for a few minutes by herself, she moves to
the back table to sit by me so I can help her
Mary: How do you spell almost?
Me: A-L-M-O-S-T
Mary: T, thats it?
Me: Yes.
Mary: Dang I messed up She proceeds to cross it all out.
*After working for a few more minutes
Mary: Im never going to do it She starts to cry.
Me: Whats wrong?
Mary: I cant do it, I dont want to be here. I dont want to do this
no more, I give up.
Me: How about you tell me what you want your story to say
instead of writing it down?
Mary: No, I dont want to say my story anymore.
*After softly banging her head on the table for about a minute
Ms. J tells her to stop because she is being a distraction. She then
lays her head down on the desk for about a minute.
Mary: How do you spell holiday?
Me: H-O-
*She writes an A instead of an O
Mary: Oops, I like writing As.
*She crosses out what she wrote, and then she crumples
the whole book up and throws it in the garbage. She then asks
Ms. J for a new book, but only has time to write a title and then it
is time to move on to the next activity.

When Mary first started writing, she understood what the


instructions were (which leads me to believe she has a strength in
receptive language during this exercise), and she was excited.
However, Mary needed to be familiar with all the levels of language in
order to write her book: word sounds, meaningful word parts, whole
words, sentences, and multiple sentences (Barringer, Pohlman, &
Robinson 2010, pp. 43), and it appears as though all of her focus was
the on language and spelling, therefore causing her to forget what her
storyline was going to be. I wonder if her expressive language would
be strengthened if she talks about what she is going to write about
before she physically writes them. It seems as the activity went on she
became increasingly frustrated, and later when I asked her why she
threw away her book, she explained to me that she does not like
reading or writing (Mary, personal conversation, 2015, November 11).
This makes me wonder if the reason she does not like it is because she
may struggle with it, if she is unmotivated, or if she is just uninterested
in this particular subject. I wonder if her lack of reading skill has to with
the achievement gap that I talked about earlier, and if so, what are
some ways Ms. J could help Mary in this particular struggle or
disinterest.
Mary is also diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit
Hyperactivity Disorder), which is defined as inattention, impulsivity,
and/or hyperactivity that affects functioning and development

(Supportive Information 2015). Although there are strengths and


weaknesses in every neurodevelopmental area, this diagnosis leads
me to believe that attention in a general sense is something she has
struggled with for a while now. Attention is closely related to many
other neurodevelopmental variables as well. In regards to Mary, I have
noticed attention in conjunction with oral and written expressive
language. I noticed attention in conjunction with oral expressive
language when I would ask her questions and she would answer with
what appeared to be the first thing that came to mind. For example,
one day when I asked her how her day was, she responded with, (at
the top of her lungs) Rockin around the Christmas tree! which I later
found out they rehearsed for their Christmas program earlier that day. I
have also noticed attention in conjunction with written expressive
language very often in her writing. For example, in one of the artifacts I
presented in Case Study II, Mary wrote a journal at her time on
ArtPrize. Instead of writing about the many things they saw and visited,
she chose to write about how she ate a hotdog for lunch (this is a
tentative claim and there are many other variables that could have
influenced these answers as well). I wonder if a lot of her other
neurodevelopmental variables including high-order cognition are
affected by this, and by how much.
I am very grateful for my time at Green Leaf Elementary School
and everything that my student, Mary, has taught me. It has been a joy

to learn more about her, her neurodevelopmental variables, and her


context variables, but I can only pray that I somehow impacted her and
showed her that there are many people surrounding her that love her
and care about her success. I have seen her determination take action
while trying to figure out how to spell a word, and her silliness when
she is telling a story. She, just like every student, is much more than a
label or two; she is resilient and willing to work hard to please her
teacher, her dad, and many others around her.

Bibliography
Barringer, M., Pohlman, C., & Robinson, M. (2010). Schools for All Kinds
of Minds: Boosting Student Success by Embracing Learning
Variation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Community Research Institute. (2010). Wyoming, Michigan. [Data File]
Retrieved from http://cridata.org.
Godfrey-Lee Early Childhood Center. (2015). Retrieved from
http://www.neighborhoodscout.com/mi/wyoming/schools/261608
001131/.
J, Kara. (2015, October 14). Personal Interview.
National Center for Education Statistics. (2013-2014). Godfrey Lee
Early Childhood Center. [Data File]. Retrieved from
https://nces.ed.gov/globallocator/sch_info_popup.asp?
Type=Public&ID=261608001131
Nieto, S., & Bode, P. (2012). Affirming Diversity: The Sociopolitical
Context of Multicultural Education. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Levine, M. D. (2002). A Mind at a Time. New York, NY: Simon and
Schuster Paperback.
Mary. (2015, November 11). Conversation.
Taylor, L. S., & Whittaker, C. R. (2015). Building Partnerships with
Diverse Families and Communities. Boston, MA: Pearson Learning
Solutions.
Reardon, S. (2011, July 1). The Widening Academic Achievement Gap
Between the Rich and the Poor: New Evidence and Possible
Explanations. Retrieved from
https://cepa.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/reardon whither
opportunity - chapter 5.pdf
Supportive information on ADHD. (2015). Retrieved from
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