Posts Tagged ‘Self-awareness’

Riding the Bus Routes to Deliver Meals to Homes is Eye Opening Experience in Rural New England

March 11, 2021 Comments off

Our local newspaper, the Valley News, invited readers to share their personal stories about the pandemic and today’s piece by veteran teacher Ted Pogacar reminded me how important it is for educators to become familiar with the homes children live in… and how impossible that is when things are “normal”.

To his credit, Mr. Pogacar does not mention the squalor I am certain he must have witnessed in some of the homes he visited but instead focuses on the work of the unsung heroes who keep track of the households that need additional food and help mete out the provisions available.

The article brought to mind my first year working as Principal in Western Maine, an assignment I took after teaching in an economically depressed section of Philadelphia and serving as Assistant Principal in a blue collar suburb whose fortunes were on the decline. My experience in rural New England was recreational: hiking and camping in the White Mountains as a child and sightseeing and hiking as an adult. When visiting rural New England I was stuck by its serene woods, stunning mountain landscapes, clear waters in the brooks that cascade out of the mountains, and separation from the bustle and problems of the city. When I started talking to the counselors, office staff, custodians, and colleagues who lived in the beautiful region where I landed I heard stories of the economic hardship children in the school experienced, stories that were much like those I encountered in West Philadelphia and the “rough and tumble” district I worked in just outside of Philadelphia. The peaceful woods hid the many ramshackle homes that children in school lived in and the clean, well cared for town centers masked the poverty that spread throughout the back country.

The impact of poverty in urban areas is clear and obvious. Boarded up buildings, poorly maintained public spaces, and treeless desolate streets all signal a neighborhoods distress. The distress in rural New England is not obvious at first glance… but the bus drivers witness it daily, the cafeteria workers know the kids who need to get seconds, and the teachers and counselors who connect with children raised in poverty all know the hardships they endure. The lone guidance counselor who served the 700 middle and high school students in the high school I led took me on a trip through the woods when I first came so that I would be aware that not every child came from the kinds of homes in town that I was familiar with or was raised in the kind of household I knew as a child. It made me appreciate that rural poverty poses the same challenges for children as poverty in the urban areas… and those challenges are far more daunting than anything I encountered growing up.

GOP’s Latest Wedge Issue: School Re-Opening

February 13, 2021 Comments off

Yesterday’s NYTimes had an article by Carl Hulse titled “Republicans Seize on Shuttered Schools as Rallying Cry“. The GOP has  hopes of using school reopening as a wedge issue… but it seems to me that without too much effort the Democrats could easily turn this around. How? By asking these questions:

  • Will the GOP support mandatory vaccinations for children who return to school?
  • Will the GOP support schools who discipline children and parents who fail to comply with mandatory mask wearing?
  • Will the GOP provide funds to ensure that ALL schools have basics like soap and running water, sound HVAC systems, and extra funding for masks, hand sanitizer and nurses.
  • Will the GOP provide more funds for State and local governments so that they can avoid having to make budget cuts?
  • Will the GOP support public schools who require that parents bring their children to school even if the parents are fearful of having them attend? Or, stated more positively, will they fund the resources schools need to woo reluctant parents pack to school?
  • Last, but clearly not least, will the CDC fully support the recommendations advanced by the CDC for school reopening? Those recommendations, issued yesterday, will be discussed in future posts… and the cost for implementing this recommendations will surely be a bone of contention in the coming weeks as Congress debates the pandemic aid package the President has proposed?

And those last question could be an achilles heel should the GOP hope to drive a wedge, for they want to characterize the school closures as “unions vs. teachers”, a notion that is preposterous given that the majority of teachers in the country are NOT union members and a sizable minority of parents are NOT eager to send their children back to school. These paragraphs from an article profiling union leader Randi Weingarten need to be kept in mind if the GOP wants to use openings as a wedge issue:

And like teachers, many parents do not feel ready to return students to classrooms. In big cities with partially open schools, like New York and Washington, D.C., the majority of families offered in-person seats have declined them.

Black, Latino and Asian parents have been especially likely to opt out, both because the virus has disproportionately affected communities of color, and because they may have less confidence than white parents that their children’s needs will be met in public schools.

Reopening COULD be a wedge issue… but not in the way the GOP is envisioning now. They could end up being hoist on their own petard if they are unwilling to fully provide the funds needed to ensure the SAFE return of ALL children to school.

School Reopening SHOULD Hinge on Community COVID Compliance… and THAT Requires Sacrifice

February 10, 2021 Comments off

The USA Today article below describes how the most successful State in the country in terms of COVID incidence rates was able to navigate school openings… and it had nothing to do with schools and everything to do with community support for the health department mandates. Bibba Kahn, a middle school world language in Montpelier, and 2020 Vermont Teacher of the year and Anne Sosin, Dartmouth College’s Head of the Center for Global Health Equity, concluded that the successful and relatively uncontroversial reopening of schools took place in Vermont because the communities in that State respected the mandates put forth, even those that seemed intrusive. They suggest five steps as the best way forward for all states:

We must stop debating policies that displace risk and burden onto school staff and instead align all our public health responses to support schools to open not only safely but in an environment that honors the work of educators and fosters learning and connection. As an immediate priority, leaders can and should restrict other activities to decrease community transmission. Secondly, states should accelerate plans to vaccinate school staff. Thirdly, leaders must ensure that schools have resources to implement adequate mitigation strategies. Finally, the country should dedicate resources to meet other needs, including increased staffing and operational costs.Finally, the public health and education communities must see their mission as a shared one and partner support this process.

I realize that many readers will suggest that what works in Vermont will not work anywhere else… but I believe what works in Vermont is the same thing that is “working” everywhere else— the ethos of the State is dictating their response to a crisis. Vermont’s communities as fiercely independent. They value their local autonomy above all else when it comes to issues like school governance and setting town policies. But townspeople look out for each other and accept the advice of trusted experts— and they trust the health officials. So when health officials recommended 14-day quarantines for anyone who left the state over the Christmas Holidays and schools enforced that in various ways, parents complained but they grudgingly complied because they witnessed the successful opening of their schools while those in other states remained closed and they witnessed the very low incidence rates in their state while others skyrocketed. The communitarian ethos and respect for science and intellectualism in general is part of Vermont’s DNA. The libertarian ethos and low grade anti-intellectualism of New Hampshire contributes to their higher incidence rates— which are four times that of Vermont… and the ethos of rampant anti-intellectualism combined with fierce streaks of individualism that dominate western and southern states contributes to their adverse incidence rates.

The solution is obvious. A belief that science is real and a sense that your neighbors are counting on you will conquer COVID. If the nation would adopt the Vermont ethos, we could put COVID in the rear view mirror.