Education Matters: Other People's Children
"We need your help," came the email plea from my friend Steve.
Caught in the middle of the current Seattle school district boundary brouhaha, Steve wanted help crafting an email to the Seattle School Board explaining that under the proposed new boundaries, his children, who currently walk to their West Seattle schools, would be bused to new schools outside of their neighborhood. A neighbor had already tried this tactic. The response she received from her School Board representative: We've got to draw the line somewhere.
Following community feedback, adjustments were made to the proposed boundary changes. Here's a link to the latest boundary proposal, which was presented to the Seattle School Board on October 16. The public has until October 25 to provide feedback on this proposal. Here's a link to the feedback survey.
This, along with other education-related experiences and conversations I had last week, made me think about how often success in school and in life depends on which side of the line you are standing on.
At a recent meeting of my book club, a teacher friend, who teaches at the elementary school located two blocks from my house — the same school my kids attended — told us about one of her students, who is homeless.
"He falls asleep at school," she said. "We've set up a sleep schedule for him during the day, taking him to different rooms and also the nurse's office so he can sleep, but also making sure he has time to interact with the other kids."
This boy cannot read or write at grade level and is ineligible for additional social services from the school district. So it falls on the teachers, counselors and support staff at school to care for him, but their concerns extend outside of school.
"On the recent three-day weekend, I worried whether he was getting enough to eat," my teacher friend confessed. "I know where his family's van is parked and I thought about going down there to bring them a meal."
When I told my friend Steve this story, he stopped worrying about his boundary frustrations.
"How can I help?" he asked.
Our job, first and foremost, as parents is to advocate for our kids. But once in a while, it's good to be reminded about the challenges faced by other people's children. Effective teachers, administrators, school counselors , school board members and policy makers have to keep their best interests, and well as those of your children, at heart. It's a tall order.
Architects of the Road Map Project decided they could help promote college awareness by designating October 16 "Discover U Day." This multi-school-district college awareness day involved 275 schools in Seattle and South King County and featured a wide range of activities designed to get students thinking about their futures.
The event was the kick-off to the Road Map to College, an annual campaign of free events to support students in understanding and navigating the college enrollment process.
As part of the Road Map to College, from now till early December, high school seniors will receive college application support. In January and February they will receive assistance filling out financial aid forms and, in March and April, they will receive guidance on how to secure financial aid and take final college enrollment steps.
On Discover U Day, I visited the Tyee Educational Complex at Seatac, part of the Highline School District. This facility, which has received a number of innovation grants, is home to three small, specialized high schools: The Academy of Citizenship and Empowerment (ACE), Global Connections High School and Odyssey High School.
I shadowed students from Global Connections High School Science teacher Rebecca Michener's homeroom. The kids had taken the PSAT that morning. Their afternoon Discover U activities included meeting students from University of Washington's Dream Project, a program that benefits low-income and first generation college students; a "collaboration" game; and a stint in the computer lab gathering college information and learning the definitions of college-related words like “room and board,” “tuition,” “urban,” and “rural.”
According to Michener, they went to www.bigfuture.collegeboard.org and took a quiz to see which colleges fit their requirements, chose one college and gathered information about cost, size, majors, etc.
They also participated in a career panel, which was the part of the day's activities that I witnessed.
The kids didn't seem very motivated during the career panel. They were shy and reticent to ask questions or talk about their fledgling career aspirations and were probably wiped out from the morning's test regimen.
Michener, who possesses the spark of a memorable teacher, coaxed them out or their shells.
"You're interested in nursing," she reminded Yasmin, who then worked up the nerve to ask a question of the health care professional on the panel.
Later, Michener told me that despite their reticence in actually speaking to the community members, many students said they most enjoyed the career panel. They liked hearing the panelists share their experiences and learning the essential qualities for success in any career path: Punctuality, problem solving, fulfilling your obligations and networking.
"I think students were impressed that community members took time out of the day to come talk with them," she said. "It was a productive way to spend the afternoon of the PSAT test. The day had a solid theme of making plans for college and careers after high school."
I came away from my visit humbled.
Many years ago, when our kids were small, I chaperoned a school field trip with a friend. I don't remember whether she bent down to comfort a crying child or to admonish a kid to stop talking and listen to the teacher. But I do remember her rationale for intervening in the life of a kid she barely knew.
Once you become an education advocate, you become every child's education advocate.
I hope Rebecca Michener and my teacher friend choose to stay in the teaching profession.
Here are some insights into why teachers quit and why they stay.
Climate change: Seattle Public Schools is seeking nominations for its Positive Climate and Discipline Advisory Committee to the Superintendent, tasked with helping the district shape policies on discipline, alternatives to suspension, and positive climate in classrooms and schools. To be considered for the committee, applicants should complete and submit a nomination form by Friday, November 1, 2013. Application materials are available on the committee's page on the SPS website.
Female empowerment: The Seattle chapter of Soroptimist, a global organization dedicated to improving the lives of girls and women, offers Women's Opportunity Awards for women who serve as the family breadwinner to pursue education opportunities. Application deadline is December 1.