I grew up attending private/catholic schools for most of my formal education. I didn’t think there was really any difference between the schools I attended and the public schools my friends went to aside from the obvious– I wore a uniform every day, attended mass at least once during the school week, and had some nuns and monks as teachers. I almost attended a well known public high school in Detroit with a great reputation. However, it was too far away from where we lived and where my mom worked, so I missed that opportunity. My only interaction with public schools was in sports settings; my school teams would sometimes participate in tournaments, scrimmages, exhibitions or friendship games with public school teams. Fast forward to my first volunteer experience in a public elementary school in Detroit and I was shocked at how old the building was. Even more so, I was surprised at the lack of resources and supplies, and at the large number of students that each teacher had in his/her classroom.
I’ll admit that prior to this experience I “drank the kool-aid” and started to believe that students in Detroit were lazy and didn’t care about doing well in school because that’s what was being said and written. I found out that that narrative was biased and one-sided. After one week in that school, I saw how hungry the students were–literally and figuratively. The school provided breakfast for all students (something I did not experience at my schools), and even then, kids were still asking for more. When I worked with students to improve their reading skills, I learned that these kids just needed some extra help; they weren’t stupid or lazy, they just didn’t know how to read! I also learned about how tough a lot of the students’ home lives were. I had a 5th grader who had 3 younger siblings that he took care of. They didn’t have proper winter coats, so we got them some. The next day his teacher asked if we had any coats left because the 5th grader’s coat was stolen when they were at the shelter the night before. Yes, they were homeless for a time (they lived in a car and did homework with just the dome light), and when they finally found a home it was so far that they had to take 5 different buses just to get to school (that’s not lazy at all!). You might be asking “Well, why didn’t they just go to a school that was near their new house?” Well, there wasn’t a school near their new house, and they felt safe at this school because they knew the teachers and staff cared for them. They loved that school so much that they rode those 5 different buses on most days just so they could get an education and a meal (sometimes they didn’t have the bus fare, or it was too cold to walk to the bus stop, especially for the kindergartner and first grader). I could tell you more stories about the challenges students face every day, but you’ve probably heard them all– or maybe not, but I don’t know if telling another story will be enough to convince anyone that students in Detroit want and deserve a good education.
Recently, the state school reform office said they were going to close 38 schools in Michigan (25 in Detroit) because of their failure to perform academically. I’m not an expert by any means, but it feels like this is going to make students’ lives much more difficult. If these schools are closed, what options will these students have, and can anyone promise that these options will be better? Will they have better transportation so they don’t have to take 5+ buses? Will these schools be close enough so the students wont have to get up at 5am just to get to school and be tired the entire day? Will these schools even have enough teachers and room for these new students? Why can’t we give schools the resources, personnel and training they need so they can help these students instead of displacing them?
I can’t find the article that I’m remembering this sentiment is from, but it has stuck with me. It said something like “You want us to perform better on tests? We don’t have any teachers so how are we suppose to learn and improve?” Yes, how are students suppose to do better if they have no one to teach them? I have so much more to say regarding the pressure teachers are under and the ridiculous expectations that are placed on them (they have no control over how students lives are once they leave that classroom!), but I’ve run out of space, so I’ll have to save that for another blog. Until then, I implore you think about the children who will again be the ones to suffer the most and have the least amount of say in this situation. This is their education, the FUTURE, we’re experimenting with.
Let’s please consider what’s best for the children, and not just what is easiest and most profitable.
Related: “Deal with poverty: Most, if not all, of the schools on the potential closure list in Detroit are in high-poverty areas and educate students with a range of challenges. Sharon Griffin, who heads the turnaround efforts in the Shelby County Schools district, said addressing poverty is just as important as focusing on improving math and reading skills.
“It can’t just be about student achievement,” Griffin said.
Supporting students’ social and emotional needs is the only way to break the cycle of poverty and address the catastrophic lives some children live. Schools, she said, need to be “homes away from home.”