As a new school year begins, we are asking ourselves and all residents of Southeastern N.C. — what can each of us do to ensure that all students have a successful year?
Forget about the political issues for now. They are important, but don’t tell the entire story of how our children are educated. Regardless of funding and strategies from Raleigh and school district central offices, we believe the people of our communities possess a certain amount of power — and, indeed, have a responsibility — to help all children get a great education.
Do we have the schools we want? If not, are we willing to try to make them better? Can we make them better? We think the answer is yes.
“School” is a bit of an all-encompassing word. There are facilities, of course, but, more important, there are the people. Not only do we need great teachers, we also need great students. We don’t mean children that already know the subject matter and can ace every test.
A “great student” is one who comes to school rested, nourished, healthy and prepared to learn. A great student can go home to an environment where there is a moderate level of support and where education is valued.
We believe that, for a variety of reasons, some understandable, some not, too many children are coming to school unprepared and getting little or no real support at home. We know that many — but not all — of those students are coming from areas with high poverty rates, where crime is prevalent and homes are dysfunctional.
And let’s be clear — this is not about race; it’s about poverty and home life. That is the common factor. We wish all students met our definition of “great,” but we know that’s not the case.
We know, too, that some people in the community will say it’s not their problem; that it’s up to each family to take care of their own.
We don’t think that’s a sensible or viable option. We need to figure out how to educate the students we have, not the ones we wish we had. Our state constitution mandates it. And we should not be afraid to try new ideas. In fact, when students are not thriving, we must try new strategies. That was one of the ideas behind charter schools — to serve as laboratories to discover best practices.
Fortunately, we think there are enough people out there who do care and are willing to help.
There are many groups — including churches — that adopt local schools. There are many individuals, too, who volunteer and provide other needed support to schools.
And we are in no way limiting our challenge to get involved to traditional public schools. Charter schools, private and parochial schools and even home schools all need our support.
The primary work of public education still has to be funded and executed by the state, local governments and school boards. But help from the people of our communities is essential. Having great schools and great students must be a priority. And we are convinced we have the people and resources to make that happen. We are not convinced that we’ve always wanted it badly enough. And we know that too often we don’t know how to help.
This school year, let’s all find someway to help a school, either as part of a group or as an individual. Let’s not let teachers pay for classroom supplies or students who need them go without tutors. Let’s look for ways to help students living in dysfunctional homes.
Let’s demand of our leaders, our communities and of ourselves that we have great schools and great students.
— The Wilmington Star-News