Yes. There are inequalities within the public schooling system in the United States.
Yes. These problems stem from the way that the school system put into place.
Yes. Many people can be blamed for the way the school system is now.
But, the real question is how do we fix it?
There are so many different people with so many different ideas trying to answer this million dollar question. This is especially true in the frustrating world of academia where there are theories and ideals and articles and case studies and research on these questions, which then I, being a student, must read and formulate my own theories and ideals and theses. While all of these ideas and research serve their own good purpose and I am not trying to downgrade the need for analytical thought, I would like to propose a very small beginning step to begin real change within the schooling system.
When most people see this word they think monetary investment, but I am speaking to a much broader definition. I propose investment in the hearts of the students, teachers, administrators, and policymakers. Now I know this sounds like a cheesy ideal from one of those TED talks on education reform, but I do firmly believe that this could change the education system forever because I have seen this firsthand.
La Salle Academy in Philadelphia runs their school based on the San Miguel Model. This model works almost exclusively in very poor areas, runs on an extended calendar, has an extended school day, and has class sizes that do not exceed 15 students. This model focuses on providing a rigorous curriculum, while also encouraging the hearts and minds of the students and providing the resources needed to accomplish those goals. When I was told all of this information when I got to the school I was very skeptical. I honestly did not think a school that served some of the poorest students in the country could succeed in this way. How could a school like this properly serve families living off of only $18,000 a year for a family of four?
This answer is so simple.
This school works time and time again because of the constant and ever-remaining investment in the students by the actual investors, the administrators, the parents, and especially the teachers. This school is affiliated with the Catholic Church, but it runs independently of the Diocese of Philadelphia. Instead it gets a lot of it’s funds from businesses and people who decide that the education of these children is important. Although money is not the whole answer, these people and businesses do add a critical component in the school gathering and maintaing the resources necessary to run this school at such a high capacity. Not only do the businesses provide monetary fulfillment, but most also give the school supplies for the students, the uniforms that the students wear, food to give to the students for their families and so much more.
The administrators and teachers do the heavy work in investing in these students. These students must feel loved, cared for, thought about, respected, and believed in and the teachers and administrators do just that. The principal knows every student by name, she knows what is going on in their lives and this makes a difference. Each teacher has a unique and intentional relationship with each of their students allowing for the growth of trust and respect within the classroom. Extended school days allows the students to participate in after school activities that they otherwise might not be able to do within a normal school timeframe, such as ballroom dancing. An extended school year gives them the opportunity to go to the pool as a school on those hot summer days.
The last component is investment in their hearts. All of these people are working towards not only growing the intellectual abilities of each and every student, but also their character. Each class has leadership development every week, they are taught Christian morals, and there are high expectations associated with the way that they behave in and outside of school. This is where the real learning takes place. Not only does La Salle Academy care about how much their students know, but how much their students care for and love others.
Investment in the whole student is the key for a major shift in education. We must stop looking at the numbers, data, and statistics showing how so many schools are failing. Instead , we must look at the whole person. Are we educating our children to believe in themselves? Are we giving them good moral foundations? Are we allowing them opportunities to grow and become the people that they are meant to be? If we allow ourselves to think about education holistically, we will begin to make real changes in the lives of our students.
This school is concrete action to me in the world of theories.