The last several weeks have been busy with high school graduations and elementary and middle school commencement ceremonies. I have listened to the principals, teachers and faculty talk about the accomplishments of their schools as a whole and the students as individuals. I have watched the students and I have watched the parents, family and friends of those graduating and moving up to middle and high school. Here are some of my thoughts as we move into summer and away from another school year.
We have to do better for our children. I was amazed at some of the achievements of the students! Students graduating with grade point averages (GPA) over 4.0; volunteering in a variety of organizations and causes; or participating in various social or educational clubs. Students earning the Presidential Award in Gold or Silver, depending on their GPA; participating in band, chorus or orchestra; or participating in a variety of sports. These kids are amazing!
While so many of the children I heard about the last few weeks have accomplished great things, I worry about those who haven’t. What about those students that didn’t graduate with their class? What about those that were held back and won’t be moving up with their friends and classmates? Or worse, what about those students that will move up but will be even further behind in their education next year than they were this year?
As John Dewey said, “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”
We must do better for our teachers. Teachers have one of the most difficult and thankless jobs. We require them to teach our children, some of whom have no food or stability at home, many of whom are already struggling or behind in school through no fault of the current teacher. And let’s face it, a good portion of students would rather be almost anywhere besides the classroom.
Despite these challenges, we pay teachers much less than they could earn in corporate America. They work on a year-to-year basis with a pay structure in which teachers with 10 years of experience earn less than incoming teachers straight out of school! In Broward County, teachers find it difficult to afford to buy a home because of this.
As parents and adults, we need to be better examples for our children. Each of the ceremonies I attended started with some basic announcement regarding how the ceremony would precede, a reminder to turn off cell phones and, most importantly, asking parents to conduct themselves so that each child’s name could be heard and recognized. Unfortunately, the latter didn’t always happen. At some points, parents/family/friends were so loud that the name of the child behind theirs couldn’t be heard. This is just a small example of how we as adults misbehave with our children watching.
In the grander scope, adults have an obligation to behave in a manner we would want our children to emulate. I’m not sure when it became okay and the norm to belittle people and call them names just because we have a different point of view. We as a society no longer feel the need to try to understand each other. Instead we fling insults with utter disregard for the other person or for the fact that our children are watching and learning. Is this really how we want our children to behave, or can we work toward and hope for better?
As a community, we need to do more and be more involved. As a community, we need to hold the Florida Legislature’s feet to the fire. Make education and our teachers a true priority and then fund education accordingly. Education funding has been slashed and diced with games played at the cost of our education system. This past legislative session, with the eyes of the world on the Florida Legislature and a focus on school safety, our schools received a whopping 47 cents more per student. The tax breaks that were also passed added up to much more than that! As a donor county, Broward sends more money up to Tallahassee than we get back. This is unacceptable.
When the Florida Lottery was passed by the voters across the state, the idea was that the lottery dollars would be used to enhance our education system, not to supplement dollars used elsewhere.
We need a concerted effort to make our senators and representatives know that Broward County will no longer stand for these games! Our children are depending on us to get the funding back into our public schools and to stop the raids on education funding. We must demand higher per pupil funding and then make sure it actually ends up in the classroom. We must demand that our teachers receive raises and be awarded contracts as the professionals they are. We must demand funding for additional programs that target children that fall or start school behind the others or that learn differently from their peers.
And last but not least, we need to ensure EVERY child has what he or she needs to walk into school ready to learn; be that food, clean clothes, school supplies, or the knowledge that their school is a safe space.