When was the last time you stepped into a public school — I mean really walked past the threshold to see what happens behind closed doors?
Please allow me to paint a picture surely to be recognized by the hundreds of weary, yet hopeful, principals, teachers and a few brave volunteers.
Behind the closed doors is a remarkable world, operating in manual drive where adult drivers try to move forward with feet on the accelerator. All the while, forces work against them simultaneously stomping on the brakes, presenting the unfortunate scenario of jerking a nauseating back and forth motion, barely inching along.
Behind closed doors you may find hundreds to more than 1,000 students scurrying along in the halls, each with his own suitcase of baggage, which is sometimes too heavy to carry for a growing population of students – suitcases loaded with hunger, depression, anger, loneliness, disappointment, poverty, being overwhelmed, failure, illiteracy – the list goes on.
In a world expected to produce the best and the brightest despite the level of individual preparation, schools are expected to work miracles and get the job done.
Instead of complaining, our public schools have heroically taken on an assignment as miracle workers, forced to not only teach our children but to also raise them. So now, instead of focusing primarily on reading, writing and arithmetic (you may call them the basics), principals and teachers must first attempt to empty these suitcases daily before teaching can commence.
As education advocate and author Jamie Vollmer reminds us – teen pregnancy awareness, school lunch programs, character education, at-risk and dropout prevention programs, child abuse monitoring, driver’s education, after-school programs, and the list continues – countless programs have stealthily worked themselves into public school curricula, soaring operating budgets at the permission of parents and society.
Vollmer also reminds us despite all that, we’ve not added one second to the school day.
Behind closed doors, you would be amazed to see the great lengths principals and teachers take daily to help children, while some parents seemingly don’t care.
There is after-school tutoring, walls painted with individual student score cards to develop personalized academic plans, online credit recovery programs, reading recovery initiatives, food pantries to feed hungry students, and even sharing office space to the overly frustrated child who just needs a cool down period.
Furthermore, principals spend money and time begging parents to check on their children; many who seem to only care when graduation time nears.
Some parents put more energy into planning the graduation party than ensuring their child is well fed, comes to school daily and on time, has the necessary support and supplies to achieve, is reading on grade level, and receives what I call “good home training” to establish a strong foundation for life.
And before we get too high-minded, don’t think this is a problem confined to the low-income and poverty-stricken families. Not so. Many children are often left to raise themselves, only to be supervised by Aunt Twitter and Uncle Facebook, with company from First Cousin Marijuana and Second Cousin Crystal Meth.
Getting a good education is the last thing on their minds.
We all must re-evaluate our way of thinking about schools today.
Students, you must remember that education matters and without it, you are potentially setting a course for your life of hardship and struggle.
Parents, please remember what the word “parent” is all about.
The schools can only do with your child what you encourage or endorse from home.
Lawmakers, work with local school districts to devise laws to help our students, families and educators instead of dropping them in an ocean of bureaucracy without life jackets.
Community, schools cannot do it alone, as my friend Vollmer reminds us.
See, he too, was a critic of public schools until he stepped behind the closed doors to witness what really happens in today’s schools. Whether or not we have children in school, we are all impacted by their successes or their failures.
Let’s figure out today how we can support our public schools, which are the cornerstone of any community. And if you’re feeling particularly courageous after reading this column, take a look behind closed doors.
You may be surprised to learn the schools just might need you.
Donna Moore Wesby is a former Aiken school board member. She is founder and host of “Education Matters with Donna Moore Wesby” radio and television broadcasts and “Education Matters” nonprofit corporation.