We have to be in it for the long haul

At a rally after the Newtown shootings, I listened to Marian Wright Edelman exhort concerned citizens to be like fleas on the back of the NRA. She emphasized that, while each of us individually yields little power, our combined steady barrage of letters, emails, phone calls, and Facebook posts over the long haul would be effective. Like a dog perpetually trying to get at its flea-bitten back, the NRA having to deal with a million annoyances would disrupt its operations and weaken the force of its lobbying efforts.
I suggest we need a metaphor even more unsightly than fleas for effective community action to improve educational outcomes for the children of Monroe County—bedbugs. We need to model the bedbug’s unrelenting single-minded pursuit of its goal. When combined with its similarly tenacious fellow bedbugs, the infestation is difficult to eradicate and easily disrupts its victim’s game plan.
Beth Laidlaw teaches philosophy at Monroe Community College and is a member of the GS4A leadership team.

Beth Laidlaw teaches philosophy at Monroe Community College and is a member of the GS4A leadership team.

The recent denial of the proposal to extend the Keystone XL pipeline is evidence of the bedbug strategy used by 350.org. For many years, its members organized to bring light to the disadvantages of an enhanced cross-continental pipeline. 350.org members strategized about when, where, and how to protest for maximum annoyance to the government officials reviewing the Keystone XL application. Perhaps it was the 1200 arrested at the White House in 2011, or the 100,000 citizens who pledged to risk arrest in 2014 should the State Department approve the pipeline extension, or the many petitions, phone calls and emails sent by its members. The daily barrage of actions aimed at making the issue visible to decision makers was the key.

 We can point to the local “Let’s Make Lead History” and “Opting Out” efforts as successful bedbug strategies. In each effort, large numbers of citizens in Monroe County synchronized efforts to move forward toward a single goal. At Great Schools for All, we are in the midst of a very long effort to make schools on Monroe County much  more socioeconomically integrated.  After five years of researching, collaborating, and having many sometimes difficult conversations, both here and in Raleigh, NC, we have a plan to move forward. Moving forward requires the sustained organized effort that Marian Wright Edelman advocates.
 If you are reading this, you have an interest in improving the educational outcomes for our children. Whether you are a parent of a suburban student whose classroom would benefit from diversity, the parent of an urban student whose classroom would benefit from peers aiming for Ivy League schools, or a citizen of Monroe County who would benefit from the taxes contributed by better educated and employed neighbors, socioeconomic integration is an idea whose time has come.
 GS4A’s first goal? Pushing forward legislation that would allow for much more inter-district cooperation. Classrooms in Monroe County are constrained by the fences of 18 school district borders. The GS4A legislation will enable such collaborations as the opening of a second School of The Arts, perhaps at the Eastman School, and allowing suburban students to enroll.
 If you believe that every child can learn and each child deserves a chance, you need to join us.  Attend the town hall meeting at Saturday, Nov. 14, 10-11:30 a.m. at Trinity Emmanuel Presbyterian Church9 Shelter St, Rochester, NY 14611. Saturday morning you will be able to give your input on proposed legislation and suggest specific models for cross-district pollination.

Quality Summer Learning programs proof of a ‘sharing community’

A year ago, eleven of us traveled to Raleigh, N.C. to see what deconcentrating poverty looks like in a large urban school district. Schools don’t look different in Raleigh. Teachers don’t teach differently. What is different is how the Raleigh community feels about education. Every child in Raleigh is a child of promise, rather than a child at risk. School buildings are sharing communities. Because most schools in Raleigh are designed to cap the number of children from poor families (defined as those eligible for free or reduced price federal lunches) at 40 percent of the student population, 60 percent of families in a building have resources to share. Think about that. This deliberate 40/60 composition is a reflection of the community’s commitment to sharing. Walking into Joyner elementary school, I see a rack of clothes for those in need. The Joyner PTA stuffs backpacks with food each Friday afternoon to give to students at the social worker’s discretion. Sharing is part of the Wake County Central School District’s DNA.

Beth Laidlaw teaches philosophy at Monroe Community College and is a member of the GS4A leadership team.

Beth Laidlaw teaches philosophy at Monroe Community College and is a member of the GS4A leadership team.

But it’s not about the stuff. The Great Schools for All coalition here in Rochester has been working on concrete action steps to eliminate high poverty urban schools because the needs of so many poor children can overwhelm a school’s staff and resources. The same principle applies to summer learning: a socioeconomically diverse program reflects a commitment to sharing that will benefit both the poorest and most affluent children.  We’ve learned that a quality summer learning program (QSLP) engages students by weaving summer learning through a well-designed curriculum, exercise and enrichment and assessment of student progress. Some students in Rochester learned last summer through building rockets, learning scripts, and playing building-sized board games. Quality learning requires a lot of stuff. But Raleigh’s success is not about the stuff, it’s a mindset of caring about every student.

If you are paying for a 6-week QSLP (at The Harley School, or Nazareth College, or Lego Camp, for example), your child can expect quality instruction reinforced through exercise and enrichment (field trips, plays, rocket launchings). The City School District reports that as many as 12,500 students will be involved in some form of summer learning, but very few of those who need quality summer learning this year can afford $1000 or more for summer programs like those above. Maybe two in ten of our city’s children will be lucky enough to be selected for a free QSLP.

Hundreds of city children will attend day camp through the YMCA – a fun experience, but not a QSLP. Only 64 students from Schools 33 and 8 will be chosen for the Y’s free QSLP held at the Carlson branch. Many many children each summer sign up for Monroe Public Library’s Summer Reading Program which tracks the amount of time and number of books a child reads. Only 300 students, though, will be selected for the Library’s QSLP run by EnCompass. Only 700 children will be able to participate in the City School District’s premier QSLP, held last year at the School of the Arts, where the entire building became a game of Clue as students puzzled out a mystery.

And for our children in extreme poverty who find their way to a QSLP, the lack of food, clothing, and transportation continue to be barriers to learning. If your only meals are the breakfast and lunch served at school, you may choose not to eat. The directors of QSLPs report that some students squirrel away school meals in backpacks so that their siblings will have something to eat when they get home. Other children sit pool-side during swim time because they don’t own a swim suit or towel. And if transportation is not provided to the QSLP, students don’t go.

Scaling up the few free excellent quality summer learning programs in Rochester to fully enroll all the students needing them is not about getting more stuff, it is about sharing. If we adopted Raleigh’s perspective that each child is a child of promise and that schools are caring communities, we could leverage education and foundation dollars to support this critical learning. Join us on Tuesday, May 5th, from 8:00-12:30 at the GS4A  at Mt. Olivet Baptist Church as we hear action steps proposed by the Summer Learning work group as well as five other work groups from the Great Schools Coalition. In this atmosphere of promise and sharing, a caring Monroe community will discern ways to wrap our arms around our city’s children. It’s not about the stuff, it’s about the caring.