When I was kid, I didn’t appreciate the importance of education to my future. For me, going to school (when I attended) served a very practical purpose – nourishment. School breakfast and lunch was often my only reliable meal. I am not an outlier; for many poor children, this also is their reality.
With that said, there are many poor children for whom education is the principal reason they go to school. They have parents and other adults in their lives who extol the benefits of excelling early academically – potential for scholarships, choice of trade or traditional university, and more importantly, a brighter, more productive future. They get a shot at achieving more than their parents dreamed possible.
That’s why when I read a recent article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about the challenges students in the Normandy school district face, I had a visceral reaction. These are students who desperately want to learn, but can’t due to the resources and conditions of their current educational environment.
This article made me feel a range of emotions beginning with embarrassment, disappointment and outrage. I was embarrassed that our region could tolerate this flagrant act of neglect for any child. I questioned how this failed system and others like it are allowed to limp along maiming our young people in the process. My wife was even outraged and felt that we should all feel the same when reading the article. (She rarely shows this kind of emotion.)
I also felt hopeful and was compelled to act. I believe in our potential as a region. I believe that there are people who care about our future and are willing to invest the time and energy needed to help us achieve great things. What are we going to do about it? And how will we do it? Here are seven small things that we can do now to help:
- Read up on the educational policies that locally impact our kids. Once you understand, help someone else understand. Let’s encourage local media outlets to provide simple explanations to us. We need broad based understanding to mobilize a collective response.
- Ask tough questions to those who you elect to represent you. Understand why they have voted a certain way. Local media can help facilitate the discussion.
- Partner with elected officials and other leaders to foster awareness in your circle of influence. Some people need a little more help to get plugged in—adults should aim to hit the basic message points about the state of education in our region and what needs to be done. We must be all-in to secure the necessary momentum.
- Voice your interest in education by showing up to board meetings. It is insufficient to throw rocks from the sidelines. Partner with educators and governing bodies to help kids.
- Encourage your kids or your neighbors’ kids to focus in school. Individual responsibility is just as important as collective responsibility and system reform.
- Help young people expand their perspectives by volunteering to take them on trips beyond the typical neighborhood sites. When you live in a constant state of devastation or deprivation, it has the potential to arrest your development. Young people need to see the world beyond them, and trust me, they will reach for it if nurtured.
- Challenge anyone who suggests that our kids are somehow deficient and don’t have the right stuff to be successful.
Let’s get the best thinkers and leaders together to map out an agenda to change the trajectory of a generation and our region. We can and must do this!