Today, a conversation with my coworker reminded me of a fundamental flaw in our academic goals for students. While sharing the award winning documentary Waiting for Superman with my students, I noticed their general lack of internalization of the message. The documentary seeks to communicate that there are structural flaws in education due to many competing variables. The film articulates that an informed, collaborative, and consistent effort is necessary to disrupt the social, racial, and economic systems of disadvantage that exist in many students’ lives.
As a current teacher for a charter network in Nashville, I am often bombarded with the hurdles we must jump just to get kids to reach grade level. Students often enter our doors at the fifth grade level with staggering deficiencies. They are lacking the academic foundations to be successful, as well as the culture of achievement habits that they should have formed at a young age.
My coworker’s daughter will be entering second grade next year, and he is met with the challenge of identifying a high- quality elementary school for her. He knows what great schools look like. He knows what type of educational opportunities he wants to offer his daughter. In a rapidly growing and diversifying city, facing new educational challenges, options that are high quality and consistent are not readily available in many parts of the city at the elementary level. This leads to a situation where charter middle schools are challenged with the task of catching kids up.
This is not to say that there are not high-quality elementary schools available within the city.
There are. But there are not many.
When we consider a child’s education and the importance of starting and ending strong, we certainly don’t want to drop the ball in the final minutes of the game (i.e. high school). But if the foundations are not set for success, aren’t we merely perpetuating a system of disadvantage and creating a larger opportunity gap from the beginning? What must we do to better support our students at the middle school level?
I grew up in this city. I am a product of the public education system. I am the teacher who returned to her hometown to evoke change, and I am met with the same challenges I saw in Chicago and other school districts that I have visited. Our goals are the same. We are aiming to prepare students for college and careers. It may seem that I am merely stating the obvious, but, to have students that are college bound we must prepare them from the very beginning of their educational careers.