“Building Virtual Bridges of Hope between Struggling Schools and Successful Communities”
Belief in your ability to succeed makes success seem possible, and the effort worthwhile. Belief that failure is inevitable makes effort seem like a waste of time.
Many children remain destined to prepare for life in definitively inferior schools this year, trusting their parents and teachers to deliver equal opportunity for academic mastery in the muddled morass of school segregation, resource allocation and economic class. It’s shocking to remember the segregated deed restrictions on neighborhoods before 1968, and difficult for me to absorb the inability of the 21st century educational system to address inequalities of education found in our most economically challenged, and racially exclusive schools. As a Caucasian husband and parent of ninth grade twins, I have been pondering the 6/10/16 NY TImes article “Worlds Apart” article for the last two months. Now is the time to infuse these challenged school families with new confidence and peer role models, even if the resources are virtual, connecting through a small screen.
The perspective I offer is my experience in Connecticut, where my family resides, in a small racially diverse school system. As a real estate professional and previously experienced family counselor, I have heard too many times how people relocating to Greater New Haven don’t want certain communities, and prefer others, based on the academic success of the school systems. Within 20 miles of my home is some of the worst poverty and one of the most successful regional high schools in the state. My children were attended a racially diverse elementary school that ranked well in state and other school evaluation standards. The fifth grade seemed less individualized, so we began the search for something better. We were fortunate to discover and commit to a local magnet school that focuses on STEM rigor, achieving a better than average ranking for public high schools in the state.Our children have flourished there, taking Arabic and French, robotics, engineering and advanced mathematics before completing eighth grade. Next year they will move to their newly constructed school, which sits on the campus of a distinguished private university, and will have the opportunity to attend advanced placement, college level classes when they academically qualify. I can relate to the struggle of Mr. and Mrs. Jones, struggling with the decisions of what’s best for the community, their child and how that creates a degree of social responsibility.
No child “deserves” an inferior school, yet disadvantaged schools may not deliver the results every parent hopes for. I was surprised to read, “That the socioeconomic makeup of a school can play a larger role in achievement than the poverty of an individual student’s family”, as I believe that parents are the first and best teachers, so how can this be? Mrs. Nikole Hannah Jones (hereafter “Najya’s Mom”, since this is really about Najya’s future) continues to say, “One, or even a few families, cannot transform a segregated school, but if none of us were willing to go into them, nothing would change. Putting our child into a segregated school would not integrate it racially, but we are middle-class and would, at least, help to integrate it economically.” What are the economic, racial and cultural values of families that may help transform a disadvantaged school? And what values directly undermine success? This is a complex question to explore, as implying one group has certain values that help children become successful could be interpreted to mean the other group lacks these same values, which would be assumption without knowing the values of each family. Yet if those values, attitudes or behaviors could be examined, new meaning would evolve in discussion. “Chronic absenteeism as an educational barrier that plagues low income schools.” What is the family justification for not mandating attendance, addressing truancy with discipline, or rewarding attendance? How can a family feel school participation is not essential in the 21st century? These questions must be answered by those whose children who are truant. The pathway to success may not be equal due to racial bias, however, the pathway will be more difficult without commitment to academic success. What options will be closed without multidisciplinary knowledge, critical thinking skills and a minimum high school diploma? Children of today will live in a knowledge based economy, where one can learn so much for free, needing only the swipe of a finger.
Najya’s Mom witnessed how “the presence of even a handful of middle-class families made it less likely that a school would be neglected”. What did this small group of families do? Was this an exclusive set of decisions, commitments and actions that nobody else could achieve? A recipe for success? Success, like a recipe, can be duplicated with the right set of ingredients and technical experience. It seems so amazing, in such a connected world, that achievement methods are not better known, or more effectively shared. Is it possible that certain parents maintain a multi-generational belief system that conditions will never get better because of who they, and their ancestors were? Do successful students have family narratives that tell a story of struggle and success? Do families of successful students place educational value above all, encouraging and guiding developmental competence at all stages of a child’s life? I don’t know about other families, yet I know our family demonstrates a love for reading, music, exploring, wonder and creativity by visiting libraries, zoos, museums and other places that encourage imagination and creativity while creating a learning environment in our home. I would imagine parents of excellent students demanded accountability from the teachers and their children, by connecting with the teachers and principals of the school. Maybe parents of successful schools volunteered for some programing, secured donations to help fund the purchase of educational materials, or interactive experiences. Maybe they formed a social network, with a group text message. Or a discussion group. Or looked each other in the eyes and spoke about the expectation of excellence, and nothing less.
These days, I don’t fully accept the concept of schools without resources, especially when I see everyone with a tablet, smart-phone or some other screen to access the internet data stream. I am typesetting this story on my 10 year old Gateway, researching the internet and working from my home thanks to my $19 a month, 6mbs Frontier DSL. I wonder how others have not discovered these resources, since there seems to be instructional material for everything a school age student could want to learn, if children want to learn, and are not distracted playing streaming video games, listening to music, or watching homemade videos. It seems to me if you can wander around searching for pokemons you could work on spelling and mathematics, critical thinking, or research a topical theme of interest. I read 7–12 year olds can help plan family vacations, and shop online. One could certainly improve grade level mastery of grammar, spelling, composition, math and other skills over time, if the student was consistently guided to understand the joy and importance of mastery.
But it’s not about that, it’s about Najya, her Mom and dad, and their awareness that something is different in the other school. I have to agree, but it’s not just money. Najya’s dad rightly asks, “Are we experimenting with our child based on our idealism about public schools? Are we putting her at a disadvantage?” Probably so, and in agreement with Dr. Kenneth Clark, a psychologist whose research showed the debilitating effects of segregation on black children, and who chose not to enroll his children in the segregated schools he was fighting against.
But wait, as I read along we are introduced to P.S. 307 whose students live in five of the 10 buildings that make up the Farragut Houses, a public-housing project with 3,200 residents across from the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Here, a remarkable principal, Roberta Davenport, rejected the educational expectations for poor children, as her school received money from a federal magnet grant, which funded a science, engineering and technology program. These children learned Mandarin, took violin lessons, played chess, observed reptiles in the science room, and learned piano during music class. The difference was the expectations of what was possible, and the rejection of what could never be achieved. Ability, intelligence and potential are not fixed attributes like ones eye color or height. Competence levels are unique personal qualities in development that transform based on the individuals choice to seek excellence. Introducing and modeling a route that delivers the ability to move beyond who and where a student is to a desired outcome is key to attaining the developmental goals of education. Students have to believe they can accomplish goals they have never considered while overcoming adversity and attitudes their families have embraced with all their lives. The Carr School to Family Bridge teaches positive metal attitude and belief-in-outcome sculpting. By deciding the goal is attainable one can begin the long journey, a belief structure embraced by our nation in the race for the land people on the moon, and so many other technologies that are now part of our daily life to.
Physical integration remains an elusive goal that has been documented to make lifetime differences in a student’s entire life, and the lives of their descendants. Decades of studies have affirmed integration’s power. Adults who attended desegregated schools were less likely to be poor, suffer health problems or go to jail, and more likely to go to college, reside in integrated neighborhoods and live longer. Yet it seems physical integration remains an elusive goal due to bias and income inequality. We know enrichment programs, mentoring and holistic educational processes are almost assured to deliver successful students, who will likely become successful adults, parents and contributing members of the community. While we know integration is a means to achieve the goal, we continue to find communities staring through the fence of economic resources and physical proximity.
While communities may not be able to get everyone through the gateway of equal opportunity in education, maybe parents can pass ideas, concepts and skills through this fence, by expanding our definition of integration. The idea of social-cultural integration is not new, yet it seems to be missing as people struggle to move students with buses, or with neighborhood rezoning, while not fully optimizing the resources of cogitative- behavioral integration.
In 2007 Thomas Hylland Eriksen was published by Ethnic and Racial Studies (Vol. 30 №6), where he explored “Complexity in Social and Cultural Integration.” The importance of a multidisciplinary approach to segregation is essential, as people move in many circles, more than were available in 2007 due to the evolution of social media and communication technology. We are reminded how our expectation of individuality affects the search for inclusion. People are asked to question “the criteria of exclusion and inclusion in a given social environment, and define their roles in society and community.”
From my systemic epistemology, it seems integrating mentoring relationships that model academic excellence can make a difference in unjustly segregated schools, when physical society cannot be manipulated by school integration. The expectations of successful school societies must be internalized by parents who want their children to succeed, and demonstrated to children failing to thrive in school. By accepting the responsibility to make education a family priority, parents are choosing to become part of a closed society that does not accept poor family role modeling. The closed society of academic success demands no lack of accountability, or inattention to academic progress by parents or students. The successful academic society requires students and families to demand and model known behaviors and attitudes that contribute to a holistic recipe for life path success, while consciously questioning, then discarding behavior and beliefs that do not support the goal of success. These expectations may be agreed upon by the entire school community after exploring cultural differences in high versus low performing students, and schools. Expectation may include participation in after school and home based intervention groups, homework support teams, online lesson review, handwriting, chess and debate clubs. Music, textured artistic expression, foreign language acquisition, physical education, community volunteering, expressive writing, personal finance, health, cooking, and mandatory academic achievement in traditional subjects will be the norm, before free time is squandered on perceived entitlements (television, mobile electronics, video games, etc.). As relationships grow and ideas are shared, inspiration may create hope. Seeing others being successful, then understanding why is a powerful catalyst for change. Current research demonstrates a connection between exercise and increased brain activity, showing better retention when subjects exercise four hours after learning. Could a schedule change help students achieve more? How about the location and environment for reading out of school? Or the 2940 hours a year of free time a student has compared to 1440 hours a year of school attendance? The daily reading and speaking of personal affirmations of success will make a difference as well, since most people remember the difference in The Little Engine That Could was that I think I can, I think I can, I think I can .
While all school families may not have the multi-generational experience of scholastic success, a means must exist to present the pathway of success to the philosophically unified school community. The Carr Virtual School to Family Bridge, is a new and unique intervention that reaches across district, city or state lines. Successful school communities will embrace fledgling students and families, bridging geographical, economic and cultural barriers in the search of a greater good for all. The mentoring academic communities that choose to share their road maps for success will join with struggling schools to deliver the economic capitol benefits that seem to be a missing component in challenged districts. Via secure streaming video, secure web conferencing, task specific social media, instructional videos and closed community instant messaging, resource sharing will develop into relationships of understanding and potential between the children in the adopted school, supported by the intellectual capitol delivery of the mentor school. Successful students and their families will experience the joy of making an unconditional gift to a community they have not yet visited. Imagine the day when a bus travels to a mentored school. The families that have learned new techniques will look into the faces of those who have illuminated a new direction of realized hope. Imagine the brightened dreams when more successful students share study techniques, using instant message or video chat to create homework help teams. The possibilities will grow compounded by the creativity of each person who joins the team, as a mentor or apprentice.
When an apprentice school makes the commitment to seek a mentor school, a student-family instructional expectation agreement is signed. Local School to Family Bridges must be established, where designated mentors will develop relationships with the families of failing students, in the students home. The Carr School to Family Bridge will provide a method for guided family assessment of:
1) Their child’s current academic condition and class ranking position.
2) The relationship of academic success to future earnings and life satisfaction.
3) The relationship of academic failure to multifaceted life failures.
4) The relationship of family participation in education and home study to success in school, secondary education and future employment and earning options.
5) The importance of learning as a lifelong process.
6) The importance of having a place to study.
7) The availability of equipment to define a space to study.
8) Ongoing individual and group coaching and support for parents
While adverse conditions may be unique in each family, existing rituals, relationships, resources, expectations and shared history may contribute to emergence of a family that embodies the ingredients of success in the particular school. Negative assumptions and expectations must be explored and re-framed to avoid unproductive outcomes.
Each mentored student and family must agree to act on examples and expectations that have been embraced by the successful mentor school community, or accept the possibility of future non-participation in their academic success group. Non participation would be explored through community based assessment and counseling, as no parent really wants their child to fail, and everybody wants a brighter future for the next generation. While struggling families may not have realized a history of success, the history of struggle, persistence and resilience can be an enlightening, inspirational narrative as well. Change happens in the future, where we will all live. Maybe this School to Family Bridge will only happen with a certain percentage of students in a given school in each grade, however the opportunity to track students and families in the same school, who subscribe to or ignore a systematic lifestyle intervention, would be an exciting step into re-imagining the possibilities of integration.
In closing, my vision is to increase the availability of quality educational experiences to children through systemic intervention. By expanding the definition of the school community and potential resources, new opportunity is created. Providing a platform for flourishing student communities to empower challenged students facilitates community service and cross cultural awareness. Developing integrative systems that connect people and ideas can make the educational system better for everyone, as new resources, methods of learning, and role modeling will have the virtual place to develop,
“Building Virtual Bridges of Hope between Struggling Schools and Successful Communities”
By David Carr, MA
Copyright 2016 All Rights Reserved
Author of “4015 Days” and “Virtual Immersion Drowns Holistic Development”