Our Budget Should Take Care of Our Kids

By Sharon Culver

Right now, DC isn’t doing enough to take care of our kids. Our city’s budget reflects our values — and as a parent and an educator, I know we can, and must, do better.

Imagine a 6-year-old African American male student exploding with emotions.

He stands in the hallway outside of his classroom, kicking the door, yelling and screaming “open the door you son of a B” and other expletives.

The crisis prevention team arrives to escort the child to the counselor’s office to get him to calm down. Although “prevention” would lead you to believe that they were proactively trying to stop the crisis before it started, that is not the case this time — but that’s another blog post.

His actions resulted in a three-day suspension, just a few days after he returned from a five-day suspension.

As I tried to wrap my head around this, I wondered to myself “Did anyone ask him what happened?” Maybe they did, although none of the people I talked to mentioned it. But two simple words, “What happened?”, certainly could have de-escalated the situation a lot sooner.

“What happened?” tells the child that you are listening.

“What happened?” allows the student to share his side of the story, right or wrong.

“What happened?” makes the student feel heard and believe that he and his feelings are valued.

“What happened?” shows the student that you are not automatically against him.

“What happened?”

Two words can lead to a whole story that we’ve never heard.

As an educator, I witness these types of scenarios way too often. Yet, it also reminds me that as an educator, I am not totally equipped to deal with them. Mental illness is a medical issue, one that I was never taught or trained to encounter — let alone treat — during my teacher preparation program. We learn how to teach academics, not the social-emotional connection, and certainly not how to provide mental health support.

$54 million in the DC city budget would allow children to have access to quality mental health professionals within the school setting. Additionally, it would provide social emotional learning programs and allow all school staff to be trained in trauma-informed and trauma-responsive practices so educators like me can truly support our kids.

Without these supports, our children will continue to suffer emotionally and mentally. This would dramatically impact their academic achievements, their ability to go to college or develop a career, and their standing in society.

Unfortunately, the current budget does not yet make these supports possible. We can get closer to the $54 million we need by increasing the at-risk weight in the UPSFF, giving schools — especially those that serve our most vulnerable children — sustainable and flexible funding to provide high-quality mental health supports. The Committee on Education Report includes just a 0.001 increase to the at-risk weight, bringing it up from 0.224 to 0.225. This increase is still far from what we need to fully support all of our students.

As an educator AND a DC parent, I feel compelled to ask our city leaders, “What happened?”

For my students, for my kids, and for all kids in the District, we must come together to #DoMoreWith54. Only then can all of our kids get the supports they need to not just survive, but thrive. After all, children really are our future.

Sharon Culver is a native Washington, parent and a recent graduate of Trinity University’s School of Education, Educating for Change Program. She received her Bachelor’s of Science Dual Degree in Early Childhood Education and Special Education, from Bowie State University in 2009. Sharon’s five-year-old attends Educare and her youngest two children attend in-home daycare. Through her marriage to Cinque Culver, Sharon has four bonus children who live in Florida with their mother.