You Shouldn’t Have to Fight for Your Child’s Education Alone

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By Katrina Gibson

My son’s first grade teacher strongly suggested I get him tested.  I took him to the doctor and was in shock after my son was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder.  I didn’t even understand what this diagnosis meant for him.  I also didn’t know this would be the beginning of a fight for my son’s education.  

In my area, we have two elementary schools.  The lower school contains grades PreK-4 – 2 and the upper school contained grades 3-5.  I was nervous about my son transitioning to the upper elementary school.  I didn’t know how he would perform, but he did better than I expected.  His third grade teacher spoke highly of him.  His grades were so good that he even made the honor roll.  I was a proud parent, but everything began going downhill again when he entered fourth grade.  

His teacher reached out to me with a list of concerns.  We scheduled a conference and I met with the teacher and the principal.  In the meeting, the principal said she believed the teacher my son had the previous year in third grade gave him good grades because she was a pushover and liked him a lot.  I just found this explanation hard to believe.  It would be one thing if he barely passed, but he had A’s on his report card.  I’m sorry, but I have never seen a teacher handing out A’s like Oprah handed out cars.  If that was truly the case, I was not about to allow the school to punish my child for its shortcomings.  The principal continued to explain the teacher was known for passing students.  What was she really trying to say?  What she suggesting my child wasn’t smart?  During this meeting, I went from confused to pissed.  

Each conference afterward, I became more confused and more defeated.  They were using words I didn’t understand.  One conference was a 504 meeting.  During this particular meeting the committee of teachers and the principal decided as a group that my child should be tested for special education services.  I disagreed, but I allowed my child to be tested just to prove them wrong.

Then, I decided to call my sister-in-law who works in the education field.  After sharing my frustrations, she went over the accommodations plan with me and said I needed to find an advocate.  I didn’t know at the time how important that was, but it made a huge difference.  After researching, I found a group called Families Helping Families and worked with a lady named Laura Nettles.  After listening to my concerns, we scheduled a meeting with the school.  At this meeting, I felt so confident because I knew I had someone on my side fighting for my child.  Unbeknownst to me, Mrs. Nettles was a well known advocate.  The looks on everyone’s faces when we entered was priceless.  Mrs. Nettles went through every page of my child’s accommodations and made suggestions on which ones she felt would help my child and which ones would not.

I left that meeting empowered.  I was 100% confident that I had taken the right action by finding an advocate.  Not only did she help me navigate this conference, but she helped me learn about the education laws and she informed me of my son’s rights.

All parents should know how to find an advocate.  I would have been truly lost and still struggling without one.  Mrs. Nettle restored a hope I had lost and I don’t know if I can ever repay her for all she has done.

 

OF COURSE, IT MUST BE SEGREGATION WHEN THE PARENTS WHO CHOOSE ARE BLACK AND BROWN

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By Kimberly Smith and Trish Dziko, National Charter Collaborative

We’ve spent the past week trying to decipher the motivations behind the recent Associated Press article that claims charter schools are encouraging segregation solely by the fact that many educate underserved Black and Brown children. The articles – which appeared in localized versions in Albany, Detroit and Columbus – claim that while four percent of district schools enrolled a student body that is 99 percent students of color in 2014 – 2015, 17 percent of charters did as well.

To begin, charter schools are public schools that are free and open to all students. Despite overwhelming parent demand, charter schools still represent six percent of all public schools nationwide. The suggestion that charter schools are responsible for the lack of diversity in America’s public schools is flattering given our small scale but absurd.  

When did it become “segregation” to choose to invest in children who are living in poverty so they can have a fighting chance in the world? If charter schools are perpetuating segregation, then so are community health centers, inner city YMCA programs and homeless shelter food lines – all who serve predominantly Black and Brown people. It is utterly ridiculous to call efforts to support Black and Brown children segregation. The only reason these types of services are necessary is to counter the long list of injustices and inequalities inflicted on people of color. Our organization, the National Charter Collaborative, represents over 400 Black and Brown charter school leaders -- many of whom have dedicated their lives to educating underserved Black and Brown children, which, unfortunately is necessary because society has a habit of leaving children of color behind.

Public charter schools are here to give parents a choice on where to send their child to school -- the same choice an affluent suburban white parent is afforded. The same critics who slam school choice often have the privilege of living in high-quality school districts, have the ability to move closer to a higher performing school, chose private schools or homeschool their children. The wealthy exercise school choice all the time. It’s only when these conversations extend to giving parents with fewer resources more options that it becomes a debate.

To suggest that charter schools that locate in low-income neighborhoods to give parents choice are perpetuating segregation is just a veiled attempt to undermine the idea of school choice. Segregation is a purposeful and willful effort to separate individuals. At its worst, it creates a socio-economic chasm between white and Black, rich and poor. While the charter sector is not void of racial issues and tensions, the notion that charter schools are driving segregation is baseless. The real culprit is a society that creates a manifest destiny for impoverished children of color by denying their parents the right to choose a high-quality education – be it public charter or public district. Stop blaming the symptom and focus on the virus that caused the disease.

Yes, sometimes you do need to sit down with your child and help.

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By Reginald Barbour

One of the downsides of being a parent is watching your child struggle. As much as we want to solve their problems for them, we know that we shouldn’t. Doing so would thwart their opportunities to learn critical lessons of responsibility and life. Their critical thinking skills would not have an opportunity to grow.

However, there are times when yes, you do need to sit down with your child and help.

My sons attend a private school in Washington, D.C. There is an ongoing conversation among the parents at their school around whether parents should expect to help their children with their homework when they are “paying teachers” to ensure their children are being taught. It’s a fascinating dialogue. One group of parents believe that they shouldn’t have to spend time in the evenings actually helping their children with their homework. Checking over the work to ensure that it’s correct? Yes, they are willing to do that. But actually teaching the lesson in order to help their children understand the material? That should happen in school with the teachers whose salaries are paid using tuition payments.

Then there is the other group of parents who have absolutely no issue with helping their children with homework or projects. These are the parents who share best practices and encourage study groups as reinforcements for classwork.

My wife and I are really engrossed in these conversations. One of our close friends is in the first group. She is adamant that she should not have to help her child. She shouldn’t have to research ways to help her daughter understand social studies and reading lessons. She pays tuition for that after all. But her child is struggling and she continues to ask the school “why?”

Perhaps students learn better or easier when the person delivering the information is someone they feel the most comfortable with. I always hear that parents are our children’s first teachers. If that’s the case, should we stop being their teacher once they are in school? If so, what role should we continue to play?

I believe that we are our children’s first teacher all of their lives. It’s a huge part of the role that we play as parents. I don’t mind supplementing my child’s education with sitting down with him and working through his school assignments in addition to providing additional work through online learning and/or other educational resources. In my opinion, it’s not a sacrifice of time or effort to help your child with their homework regardless of what they are or are not learning in school. And regardless of the type of school system your child attends. I don’t think we should put all of our expectation eggs in one basket and charge one person or one group of people with the mountainous task of ensuring our children are properly educated.

Parents are a part of that equation too.

Should I make my kids participate in the school lunch program as a form of class solidarity?

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By Chris Stewart

My kids absolutely refuse to eat the hot lunch at school. Whenever we talk about it, they curl their little noses, roll their eyes, and act as if even considering school food is the funniest joke I’ve ever told.

They say they resist because the lunch is gross, which it usually is, but I suspect there is something more to the story.

When I visit their school in the morning, I notice a small population of students in the cafeteria eating breakfast. It looks to me that it’s mostly poor kids eating.

At lunchtime, it’s the same thing.I’m bothered by the question about whether or not eating at school has become a marker of class?

I could be wrong. I might be presuming too much. How do I know the kids are poor?

When I visit, I bring Subway for my kids, and there are always affirming comments from their friends who are opening up bright colored lunch totes full of deceivingly packaged not-really “organic” foods. (Yes, there are some pre-peeled mini-carrots in there, but often it just looks like more expensive crap with copywriting on the labels meant to make us feel like good parents. “No corn syrup!” “No GMOs” “No artificial colors!”)

Back in my school days when prophets rode dinosaurs, it was the poor kids who brought their lunch from home. When they fell behind on lunch payments, or their parents forgot to turn in paperwork, they would miss out on the majestic grandeur of Thursday’s doughy, saucy, tangy cheese pizza that we all coveted.

Maybe this isn’t your pet issue. Schools have real issues like violence, bullying, sexism, low test scores, big class sizes, and small overall budgets, so, there’s that. It would be nice to improve school lunch – as Michelle Obama (we miss you!) did, but is it a priority worth discussing?

Hell yeah.

First, as a parent, I know I should work hard to make sure my kids understand class and fight its social trappings.

That’s for me to teach. It was easier with my oldest son because he was on the free lunch program, as were most of his friends, so we didn’t have to discuss it. I’ve learned so much since then about how classism kills the dream of public schooling. If communal eating is an issue, it’s one we can fix.

Second, the food program itself is a shame-and-blame system.

I’m writing this message today because my wife received a call from our district saying we were behind on our lunch payments. Several times a year we’re contacted about a ghost account even though we’re not on the program. When you’re account is due our district sends text messages robocalls, and collection calls from live humans.

I know they’re doing their jobs, but they act like a terroristic bag of dicks when they come for their money.

Is this really what we’re doing these days? Are we ok with harassing poor parents for chump change?

Even worse, in some cases, we’re ripping the trays of food out of the hands of children when their parents haven’t paid. The food goes in the trash, and the kid gets a cheese sandwich.

That makes me want to cry.

Can we see a way to feed ALL children in a country that throws away more food than some nations consume? In a country so awash in food that we can fork over billions of dollars to a diet industry, it is a failure of morality and adult politics that we can’t do the right thing.

 Third, our sub-zero lunch budget traps our schools into buying eatable horseshit.

The debt our district was trying to collect today was a mere $1.25. A kid in our son’s class checked our son’s name on a breakfast form instead of his own, and the total was a stinking $1.25.

What on Earth can you feed a growing child for $1.25 in 2017?

Eons ago when I first visited a central nutrition center for public schools, I found the answer to that question.

I noticed the district-owned large ovens, soup kettles, and industrial kitchen assets that were collecting dust. In the room, next door poorly paid women with hairnets and gloves were dropping pre-cooked finger foods into plastic trays that moved quickly down a conveyer belt and into boxes headed for schools.

When I asked about the process district staff told me it was wholly a matter of budget.

The cost per meal needed to be so low that it would attract vendors like Tyson foods who offered such delicacies as hormone-laden chicken nuggets formed into the shape of farm animals. Our average per student meal was below $2.00. Two districts over in Minnetonka that cost was closer to $10.00. They had sushi, fresh fruit, and salads because their students could afford to pay for lunch.

Not only are lunch budgets inequitable between rich and poor districts, but food portions within a district can also be a problem too.

I met a principal in an impoverished North Minneapolis school who privately told a group and me that she discovered the nutrition center was giving her 8th graders the same portions as the kindergarteners, but 8th graders the district’s more affluent K-8 schools were given more substantial age-appropriate portions.

We were incredulous. On top of every other inequity we layer on to schools, we let hungry kids be the hungriest when they’re poor? Sadly, it was true.

Finally, the food waste is outrageous, and adults are the problem.

We aren’t teaching eating expectations, manners, and skills. The kids I join for lunch start with the sweetest thing on their tray; usually, some plastic wrapped bullshit that looks like it came straight from Miss Debbie’s factory.

From there they may take a bite or two out of their entree, and then throw away full cartons of milk and untouched fruit. I blame staff and parents for that one.

I’ve visited schools where the lunch period was an extension of other learning periods. It wasn’t a free-for-all. Some parents might fight me on this one, I know. I can hear the protests about how kids need to be kids, and how they need free-time to be wild, loud, and childish.

Wherever you are working today, look at the co-worker who gets on your last nerve. That person had parents like the ones I just described.

I will continue to work on my kids’ attitudes about eating at school, and not participating in a class-based demarcation between those who bring home food and those who don’t.

I will keep visiting and modeling lunchtime behavior for my kids, and for their classmates who can’t get enough of me (I’m the cool Dad, sorry if you’re not) when I join them.

And, for the love of God, I will keep yelping and write about the fact that we feed American children like little prisoners.

Let’s stop that.

This article was first published on Huffingtonpost.com

ACE in the Place

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Students at Phelps High School in Washington, D.C. are learning critical thinking and critical trades, with focus on architecture, construction and engineering.  Principal Willie Jackson wants to make sure that his students not only learn a trade and graduate from Phelps, but also continue their education and own their on companies.

“We’ve been rebranded. You have to come with a sense of critical-thinking skills . . . You not only have to work well with your hands, but also your brains.”

Read more here