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2013-2014 Press

Tennessee Classroom Chronicles 11/20/2013
Memphis Seniors Get National Attention for Research on Poverty

Kelia Williams and Landon Hawthorne pose for a picture at the Kiva U Global Youth Summit in San Fransisco, California.

Two Memphis seniors that we featured on Classroom Chronicles this fall for their research on poverty are gaining national attention. In September we told you the story of Kelia Williams and Landon Hawthorne, both students at Southwind High School in Shelby County Schools. Williams and Hawthorne were part of a student group that traveled to the Ninth Ward of New Orleans this summer to study the effects of small business loans on poverty. Their work on examining poverty at the local level has now garnered them national attention.

Just last month, Williams and Hawthorne were invited to be the only high school student presenters at the Kiva U Global Youth Summit. Williams, Hawthorne, and their economics teacher, Biba Kavass, traveled to San Francisco for the conference in October put on by, a national non-profit organization dedicated to giving out small business loans to eradicate poverty worldwide.

Williams and Hawthorne led a presentation for other students from across the country on, “Understanding and Messaging Poverty in High School.”  During their presentation, participants collaborated to collectively define poverty. Hawthorne remembers an incredible level of engagement during their presentation. “We were both completely astonished at each student’s definition for poverty,” said Hawthorne. “Participants really tapped into all that they knew were essential ingredients for life. I could tell these teenagers were not your average high school students, but instead, the future leaders of Kiva and the fight against poverty.”

Williams and Hawthorne serve as the vice-president and president of the Southwind High School KIVA Club. They are currently editing video footage of their journey this summer for a documentary. The pair will also travel with their economics teacher next summer to the Lakota Indian Reservation in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, to continue their documentary on small business loans and poverty. For more information about Williams and Hawthorne’s work in their Kiva club, you can visit the club’s website.

You can also watch footage from their drive through the Ninth Ward in a sneak peak of their documentary on poverty at the top of this post. Listen as Williams narrates the lessons they have learned.

Related News

PRWEB 10/2/2013

From Economics to Mariachi Music, McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation Disburses over $141K for Youth Enrichment across the Nation: Minority and economically disadvantaged students benefit from unique enrichment programs.

One of last year's exceptional projects, a student run graphics company at Overton High School in Miami-Dade County Public Schools, draws a straight line between learning and career.

One of last year’s exceptional projects, a student run graphics company at Overton High School in Miami-Dade County Public Schools, draws a straight line between learning and career.

Salt Lake City, UT (PRWEB) October 02, 2013

Ever-tightening budgets make it more likely that educators will seek grants to introduce new programs and projects to students who need them most. If the types of projects educators piloting today are any indication, numbers is the name of the game. From studying economics in a new way, to incorporating the Mariachi music in courses, it’s a very exciting time to return to school – especially if your school is benefitting from the $141,468 investment McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation disbursed in educational grants and scholarships this year.

Sarah J. McCarthey, President of the Foundation remarked, “The projects are outstanding in their conceptual sophistication, their real-world significance and their collaborative focus. Our newly funded projects help students achieve Common Core Standards, but also go beyond the standards to develop innovative contributions to their communities.”

“Academic Enrichment Grants integrate hands-on learning with a focus on real issues and problems,” noted McCarthey. “What is amazing is how collaborative efforts bring students from different backgrounds together while improving academic performance.” One way teachers at Lakeridge Junior High in Orem, UT are tackling this is in a project called Sustainable Education Through International Understanding. Integrating sustainable education through international understanding helps students think globally while making connections to their daily lives.

Serving a primarily minority student body in Tucson, AZ, the educators at Billy Lane Lauffer Middle School have chosen a different beat. Students involved in music tend to excel in math, reading, learning rhythms and decoding notes and symbols. The Mariachi Cascabel Youth Organization project aims to improve academic skills while giving their students a chance to connect with their roots and culture.

Educators also benefit from mentorship and resources to improve their practice. Teacher Development Grants provide funding for training and support needed for enrichment. “The teamwork among teachers of different levels of experience, expertise and specialization will significantly contribute to the quality of teaching and learning,” commented McCarthey.

Project RENEW at West Elementary School, Manhattan, KS focuses on the developing knowledge among teachers. This project is being spearheaded by three rural districts in Kansas with an ultimate goal of taking it statewide. With a much higher focus on Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, teachers are realizing they will need to rethink their approach to teaching mathematics.

The teachers at Poudre High School, Ft. Collins, CO are looking at mathematics education from a different angle. They are trying the Workshop Model: Building Students’ Self Esteem and Ability to Think Mathematically. Teachers will guide students collaborating with their peers to solve specifically designed problems and present to each other as “math experts.” Teachers will explore new ways to have students engage with mathematics as well as creating more effective classroom management, questioning techniques, and formative assessment to improve future instruction.

In 2013-2014, the Foundation has funded two new Academic Enrichment Grants at middle schools serving minority and economically disadvantaged students; two Teacher Development grants at a middle school and elementary school with similar demographics; and two student teacher scholarships. Recipients include:

●     Merinda Davis – Lakeridge Junior High School, Orem, Utah – Academic Enrichment Grant
●     Daniel Dong – Billy Lane Lauffer Middle School, Tucson, Arizona – Academic Enrichment Grant
●     Kelly Shank – Poudre High School, Ft. Collins, Colorado – Teacher Development Grant
●     Angie McCune – West Elementary School, Manhattan, Kansas- Teacher Development Grant
●     Rebecca Guerra, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico – Scholarship
●     Katherine Leung, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas – Scholarship

Including the grants and scholarships listed above, the McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation funded 22 enrichment efforts for the 2013-2014 school year. Recipients include the New York Urban Debate League and The Water Quality Project. The application deadline is April 15 of each year for proposals with significant potential to enrich the educational experiences for youth. To learn more visit

Tennessee Classroom Chronicles 09/13/2013
Memphis Econ Students Travel to Ninth Ward to Learn about Poverty

Southwind High School Students

When Southwind High School economics teacher Biba Kavass traded in PowerPoint slides and charts for a raw view of economics and poverty, she never could have predicted the life lessons her students would learn. Instead of offering only bonus activities and leadership roles to her top students, Kavass gave the Memphis high schoolers a front row seat to a shocking reality.

Kavass drove her students slowly through the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, stopping every few blocks to open the doors and brave the suffocating summer heat. Amongst dilapidated houses, FEMA trailers scattered down the street, and exhausted structures covered in graffiti, her passengers sat in mutual shock. The first question one of her students asked: “When did Hurricane Katrina happen again?” When she responded, “eight years ago,” her students were in disbelief. It was a drive that senior Landon Hawthorne remembers as heartbreaking.

“Poverty is one of the worst things you can experience,” he said. “You can’t understand unless you see and feel it and communicate it. This trip has opened me up to a world that not many people can see.”

Kavass says one of the most visible signs of desperation was the graffiti—not the vulgar language or gang affiliations, but the messages: “No jobs, no help.” It was this message that Kavass and her students wanted to learn how to change.

Ninth Ward

The Ninth Ward in New Orleans

The group was on a 10-day trek to study the positive impact of small business loans on poverty, starting at home in Memphis, traveling through the Mississippi Delta, and ending in Louisiana. Before the trip, some in her group had never left the city of Memphis. Southwind High, a school where 78 percent of students receive free and reduced-price lunch, is home to many students living in poverty. But despite the hardships at home, Kavass wanted her kids to learn an important lesson.

“This [poverty] exists in the world, and not just in their neighborhood, and in ways that far surpass the poverty they live in in Memphis,” she said.

Along their route, Kavass scheduled interviews with small loan success stories to show the group how one small business loan could change someone’s life.

After their drive through the Ninth Ward and on the way to their last meeting in New Orleans, Kavass said her students began to notice a change in their surroundings. A few blocks away from the near decade-old devastation, her students saw signs of revitalization.

“You could see it in the faces of the people in the streets,” Kavass said. “They held their heads a little bit higher, they walked with a purpose.”

The stark contrast that shocked her group in New Orleans also brought many personal fears about their own future to light. When interviewing small business owners, Kavass heard her students ask advice not just about small loans but also perseverance, failure, fear and never giving up.

While Kavass heard her students banter about business terms and economics on the way home, more than anything she heard students ask, “How can I do more?” Just weeks after they returned home, her students found a way. Kavass used money raised from the school’s KIVA club (a club devoted to small business loans which the entire traveling group belongs to) to provide a small $75 loan to a woman in New Orleans restarting a small concessions business.

Watching her students reflect on the realities they saw first-hand, Kavass realized she had also given the group a window into themselves.

“It changed all of us including me,” she said.

Kavass and her students are currently working to edit video footage from their trip into a documentary on the power of small business loans.

Greater Memphis Chamber 7/2103
Southwind High School Students Travel Through MS Delta to Explore ”Microfinance In Action”

Cora Texas Manufacturing, White Castle, LA

Students at Southwind High School recently returned from a week-long trip traveling through the Mississippi Delta down to New Orleans, Louisiana, to explore “Microfinance in Action.”  With the aid of a generous 3- year field-research based grant from the McCarthey Dressman Foundation, students were able to take this trip to produce a video documentary of poverty in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana and show how microfinance (lending of small amounts of funds to individuals/groups that normally do not qualify for business loans through commercial banks due to lack of credit and/or collateral) can serve as one of the tools to eradicate poverty.

Thomas Brown

Determined to provide an opportunity for her students to go beyond their textbooks to experience economics in real life situations, Ms. Biba S. Kavass, Economics teacher at Southwind High School, planned a trip that included a visit to the 2nd largest sugar refinery in Louisiana, a meeting with ASI Federal Credit Union to hear about their KIVA microfinance loans and community redevelopment programs in the 9th Ward in New Orleans, visits with several entrepreneurs that have received microfinance loans, and a meeting with the founder of the Good Work Network in New Orleans, a nonprofit that focuses on aiding minority and women owned businesses start, grow, and succeed. Kentesha Green, a senior at SHS, wrote, “Going on this trip helped me understand the possibilities of eradicating poverty. I was able to meet interesting people and receive inspiring advice. Seeing what all these people are doing and what they are trying to become has encouraged me to not only support them but to also encourage others to help out as well.”

The trip turned out to be even more inspiring than was imagined. The individuals that we interviewed were remarkable survivors who had overcome really harsh times to become successful small business owners. One individual that inspired the students more than any other we met was Thomas Brown. Landon Hawthorne, a senior at SHS, wrote, “A great inspirational story that I feel should be told to all upcoming graduates and promising entrepreneurs. Thomas Brown started from rock bottom and made his way out of poverty to open a commercial cleaning business. Formerly, a janitor for a large commercial company, Mr. Brown was told one day by his boss to climb a 6 foot ladder. He complied and when he reached the top of the ladder his boss told him ‘that was the highest he was ever going to get in life.’” From that day on Mr. Brown was determined to start his own business. He told us that motivation was the key to his success and staying focused on his goals was the main force in bringing him that success. He pointed out some of the stark realities that come with starting your own business and how the assistance of Good Work Network and a microfinance loan were able to get him going. Mr. Brown’s story needs to be told to everyone so others can be inspired by his tremendous accomplishments. He can inspire so many young teenagers to strive for excellence in education and stick with whatever plans they make.”

Students will now spend the next couple of weeks editing the video that was shot to produce Part I of their video-documentary. Personal stories from the field will be published in a guidebook being written entitled “Microfinance in Action: A Guide for Teenagers.”  This year’s seniors will focus on poverty in and around Memphis and how microfinance loans are being used in our city to aid in business development. We are hoping to get other high schools in the area involved in a collaborative effort to work on this part of the project. Finally, next summer, several students will be joining Ms. Kavass to travel to the Lakota Indian Reservation in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, and then in the summer of 2015, students will be traveling to the Dominican Republic to finish up the video documentary.

For further information on this project, please visit our website at

2012-2013 Press

National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards 11/2012

New York City Urban Debate League


Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice

244 East 163rd Street
Bronx, NY 10451
Phone: 917.455.1079

Focus: Debate, Humanities, Rhetoric

Annual Number Participating: 300

Ages: K–College

Annual Budget: $90,000

Partners: Bella Abzug Leadership Institute, Hunter College; Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice; City University of New York & CUNY Debate Team; Columbia University Institute for Urban and Minority Education; Eagle Academy Foundation; Girls Inc.; Institute for Urban and Minority Education, Columbia University; International Debate and Education Association; National Association for Urban Debate Leagues; New York City Charter School Center; New York City Department of Education; St. John’s University & Debate Team; Teach for America; Teachers College, Columbia University

Funders: Brian and Pam Fogel; Brown Rudnick Charitable Foundation; David Budinger; Donors Choose; Fund for Teachers; Good Neighbors—Ford Foundation; McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation; Morvillo, Abramowitz, Grand, Iason, Anello & Bohrer, PC; Municipal Credit Union; NYC Citizens Committee

It doesn’t take visitors to the School for Law, Government and Justice long to figure out what the most popular extracurricular activity is at this small public high school in the South Bronx. Inside the school’s front door, a long glass-sided display case is crammed with hundreds of trophies, plaques, and medals—awards earned not by athletic heroes, but by the school’s champion debaters.

While this school has one of the most active debate teams in the area, it is not unique. Some 30 New York City public schools—many located in areas of high poverty and few opportunities—also offer students the chance to become “great debaters.” That’s thanks to the New York City Urban Debate League (NYCUDL), an organization that sponsors The NYC Great Debaters! and offers debate training, weekend tournaments, and summer debate camps—all at no charge to participants. The league is run by a group of passionate volunteers who are convinced that debate holds the key to young people’s academic and professional success.

“There is nothing more rigorous, yet more fun, than debate,” states Erik Fogel, executive director of NYCUDL. As students research debate topics, they’re exposed to ideas and disciplines rarely included in a standard public school curriculum—from philosophy and public affairs to law, ethics, and economics, he points out. And, as students formulate and practice their arguments, they strengthen writing, critical-thinking, and public-speaking skills.

The weekend tournaments, held on college campuses along the East Coast, further expand participants’ sense of possibility, by exposing them to college environments and by showing them that they can compete successfully against students from more privileged circumstances. Lenny Herrera, an 11th grader from the Baccalaureate School for Global Education in Long Island, who took first place in the New York City Championships and was a finalist at the New York State Championships, says debate has given him the chance to go up against some of the most prestigious high schools and debaters in the Nation. “This feeling of being able to compete with the best is what motivates me to debate and, ultimately, keeps me going to every debate tournament,” he adds.

You learn many skills that you can apply to your schoolwork, such as researching, argumentation, time management, and working well with others. As an individual, debate teaches you to stand firm by what you believe in.

Zully Rodriguez, 10th Grade Debater, Dewitt Clinton High School, South Bronx, NY

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