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Over 90% of our graduates complete high school within four years, in a city with an on-time high school graduation rate that hovers around 65%.

A Synopsis of Gesu School’s 18th Annual Symposium on Inner-City Education

“We want our children to be curious learners and critical thinkers,” said Gesu School President and CEO, Bryan Carter, to set the context for the 2015 Symposium—Tragedies and Current Events: Helping Students Understand What They See, Read, and Hear in the News.

With today’s technology, school-aged students are exposed to mass media with intense subject matter. What are the psychological effects? How can educators teach news literacy? What protocols can schools implement to help students cope when tragic events are reported? The 2015 Symposium addressed these probing questions, with prominent speakers delivering TED-style talks to an audience of teachers, education administrators, legislators, and supporters of inner-city education.

Mary McNaughton-Cassill, PhD, Professor of Psychology at the University of Texas at San Antonio, shared guidelines for helping students to cope with growing exposure to media. “There is a constant onslaught of information from lots of different sources, from lots of different points of view, and much of it is negative and disturbing for us, and of course, also for children,” states McNaughton-Cassill.

To help students cope, McNaughton-Cassill advocates a paradigm from the Department of Education: “protect, listen, model, connect, teach, find hope, act, and choice.” She emphasizes watching news with children, listening to their reactions, and talking about news that could be upsetting. She relays that adults should be transparent with children about what is being done to protect them. Adults should actively teach children ways to cope, for example to distinguish “what’s accurate and real and what might be an exaggeration.” Teachers and parents can help children “find hope” by recognizing positive role models within their communities and in the media. They can also point children to efforts to solve what the media may present as systemic issues, such as global warming, by engaging in local-level projects that help address the problem. Finally, McNaughton-Cassill encourages adults to discern which type of news is suitable for them and their children—television, print, or social media.

“We are swimming in information,” says Michael A. Spikes, Director of the Digital Resource Center with the Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University, who presented theory and practical applications to help students become smart consumers of news.

Spikes spurred the audience to think about the power of new forms of media, such as tablets and smartphones, that make communication pervasive and instantaneous. Spikes also notes “that mass communication has been democratized,” affording individuals “some of the same tools that your CBS affiliate, your ABC affiliate, your NBC affiliate has to communicate with large groups of people, and there’s a responsibility that comes with that. Because not only can we spread information, but we can also spread misinformation.”

With this shift or “information revolution,” and the availability of “raw news” that is not always filtered through “traditional gatekeepers,” such as The Associated Press, the news consumer, according to Spikes, is now also “in charge of determining what is reliable and what is not reliable.” How can consumers make this determination? Spikes defines “reliable information as actionable. It allows news consumers to make a decision, take action, or share responsibly with others.”

Spikes encourages consumers to question news and explore multiple viewpoints and sources. Key questions are: “Where is this information coming from? Who is saying this? And how are they verifying that information?” He cautions consumers to be mindful that “breaking news is chaotic” and that it is crucial to “follow the story over time.”

To offer a different perspective on how to help students cope with tragic or intense news, Dana Weeks, Head of School at Germantown Friends School, presented on a protocol based in the Quaker tradition—“communal expectant silence.” As children’s daily lives have become saturated with media, this practice is a deliberately “slow evolution to help our children,” says Weeks.

Students meet for 40 minutes per week in silence. If they desire, students may share their thoughts with others, but no one responds. Rather, students reflect. They turn inward to discover their own concerns or opinions. Weeks describes the practice as a “perfect place or space for a teenager to find his or her own voice, to grapple with these questions, and to speak their truth.” She also touts that the meetings help students learn to develop empathy and “a real sense of responsibility for the other.” She describes the practice as a method “that has a value in helping our children today on managing stresses in their life and dealing with crisis or tragedy.” It also forges the “personal connection” with others that Weeks deems so vital in protecting our children in our current world. Weeks suggests that the practice of communal expectant silence can benefit any classroom, even for three minutes a day.

Taunya English, Senior Writer/Health Reporter for WHYY’s “The Pulse,” a weekly radio show on health, science, and innovation, moderated a lively Q&A, posing thought-provoking questions, collating take-aways from the speakers, and eliciting transferable ideas for the audience to bring to their schools and communities. English lent sharp insights into the discussion and suggested students can become “broadcasters” with “their own platform and audience.” Participants and speakers echoed that more engagement with media could help shape news in a more positive direction, particularly in inner-city neighborhoods.

See more photos from the event on our Facebook page. View video footage on the Gesu YouTube page.

Read media coverage of the event by KYW NewsRadio and CBS Philly – John McDevitt

Read media coverage of the event by CatholicPhilly.com

Photos by Edward Savaria 

We thank our 2015 Symposium sponsors:


Daryl Shore '94, Mark & Paula Solomon
The Ehret Family, in honor of Vivienne Ehret

Valedictorian Sponsors
James & Diane Brecker
Morgan Lewis
Susan & Richard Tressider 
Craig White

Salutatorian Sponsors
CVS Health
Locust Capital Management LLC
Philadelphia School Partnership
The Shipley School 
St. Joseph's Prep
Well Fargo

Graduate Sponsor
Richard & Mary Cornelius