When communities go to school…
For adults that do not have a background in education or counseling, their ability to directly help students is severely hampered. To counter this lack of community involvement inside schools, I want to present to you an idea I have stewed over for the past week.Far too many students, especially in urban districts, start the day without a healthy breakfast, attend schools with over-sized classes, read limited or outdated text books, and receive constant pressure to do two things – show up on Count Day (where state per-pupil education funds are allocated based on attendance) and perform well on standardized tests. After school, students go home to a household where the parent’s (or guardian’s) extent of educational accountability is often in the form of three questions – Did you do your homework? How are you doing in school? When do you get your report card? Unfortunately, the follow-up to these questions by care-givers are woefully inadequate and through it all, the significance of academic achievement rings hollow for students.
From my personal work with students, I find that what many youth need is the unique accountability that comes from people outside of their school and family. My idea is to create a program for students in grades 6-12 whereby schools designate a half hour for “Community Time” everyday. This program would welcome community members into the classroom to share life experiences, instill context for the importance of academic achievement, and provide encouragement.
When most adults decide to get involved in helping to tutor/mentor youth, they are often directed to volunteer their time at after-school programs. This model is commendable and there are many after-school programs that do great work, but after-school programs are designed to supplement what happens during school, not replace it. As Patricia Bursch details in a May 2007 report for the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice,
The Supplemental Educational Services (or SES, is a major component of the No Child Left Behind legislation) reform reflects such marketplace values as outsourcing, limited government regulation, competition and choice. It also incorporates elements of government contracting, in that school districts contract with outside firms to provide the mandated tutoring… The system for holding SES providers accountable for academic outcomes is both much less rigorous and much more ambiguous than AYP requirements for schools.
I deeply respect the work of teachers and guidance counselors, but there must be a systematic way that students gain wisdom and insight from people that live in their community.
This program would require community members to go through two months of training over the summer to receive a crash course in guidance counseling. Of course, there would be extensive background checks to ensure that not just anyone could have access to our kids. For adults that work during the day, school districts and city government officials could work with businesses to provide incentives for their employees to get involved in the program. (e.g. paid-time off for the time employees spend in the schools, nominal gas reimbursements, tax breaks for businesses based on the total number of hours their employees donate, etc.)
This vision is not perfect and needs development, but my plan is to develop this idea into a proposal. If I sparked something within you, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.