Tuesday, March 10, 2009

School stuff

Lots of interesting PTA posts here, here and here.

One thing I find interesting is the assumption that a school with lots of poor kids is a bad school - a failing school - a school in which no child would ever achieve.

I disagree with that.

Yes, there are very real problems at a school like ours, in which 70% of the kids are on some kind of public assistance.  We have a constant shortage of mittens, glue sticks, and snacks. We have kids who arrive at school hungry and kids for whom spring break simply means a week without regular meals. Childhood poverty is a serious issue, and one that I fear is widely misunderstood.  Poor kids are an underrepresented voice in our society.

But, our school?  Our school is fantastic. Our Principal?  Amazing. Our teachers? Best in the country. (OK, that may be a subjective bit of analysis there....but seriously - they are that good.)

Yes, our test scores are low.  (But your test score would be low too if you were taking it in your second or third language.)

Yes, our school population has more melanin than the average school. But that just makes us more interesting to look at.

I would even argue that our school is BETTER than some of the more wealthy schools.  Yes, I said better.  My third grader has 11 kids in her class.  Thank you SAGE program (Wisconsin's answer to Title 1.)

Some of the PTA posts included comments of parents complaining about PTA sponsored things like insufferable talent shows that they are forced to sit through. Our talent show is later this month and it is one of my favorite events of the entire year. I suspect that other (more wealthy) schools have showcases for rich kids showing off their piano or violin lessons. Not our school.

At our school, there is not a dry eye in the house at the end of the talent show.  The kids group together to create amazing acts. An African-American 3rd-grade boy raps while a Caucasian 4th-grade girl dances as a 2nd grade Hmong girl jump-ropes and a 5th-grade boy, who happens to be seriously autistic, sings along. It never once occurs to them that kids of lawyers wouldn't hang out with kids whose parents work at McDonalds.  Or that the seriously disabled shouldn't be part of the show. 

Frankly, there might not be a lot of actual talent at our talent show - but you are fighting so hard to hold back the tears that you don't notice. Right before your very eyes, the promise of what you believe America stands for, at our core, is unfolding. It's pretty powerful.

So, while I am the first person to recognize the very real problems of childhood poverty, I just want to point out that a school full of poor kids can still be a great school.  A really great school.

Some lessons in life can't be measured by a test score.  Some take a choreographed rap song, accompanied by jump rope.


Bridgett said...

I love the feeling with which you write about your kids' school. It is inspiring (my kids attend a charter school in st. louis city--I didn't have the hope you have for our public schools--I wish I did).

Jackie said...

I would love to go to that talent show! Your school sounds great, and I'm glad you added your voice to the conversation.

Judith said...

And I have tears, just reading your description. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

This is fantastic! Thanks for your post, so that I found yours.

LisaS said...

my sister actually came out and said one time "poor kids are dangerous" ... something a lot of people seem to think but won't admit to. i think what's dangerous is raising children in a world where most everyone is the same within degrees, be it by race, income, etc.

hers may have a better book education. mine will be better prepared for life in a world where upper-middle class white Americans are the exception, not the rule.