Your local school could use your help – whether you knew it or not.
A week ago, I was invited to a Parent Teacher Organization meeting at Oglethorpe Avenue Elementary School here in Athens. Given the changes I’ve made to my career I have more time to devote to the community involvement of Free Radical Labs and on its face the invitation seemed like a good opportunity to meet like-minded people in my community. Throughout the course of the week, I found that the meeting was tied into a Title I meeting along with some other activities at the school. Our main purpose was to help low-income families sign up for low-cost internet that is being offered by AT&T because – well – basic internet access outside of school is a necessity.
Before I get too much farther into the story, I need to talk about numbers. According to multiple sources in the school, 92% of the students come from families living below the poverty line and everyone in the school (and district) gets free lunch. The school is approximately, 40% African-American, 40% Hispanic, 10% Caucasian and the balance identifying as mixed-race or other. If the 92% number does not give you some measure of pause – then you are probably an educator in a similar situation.
I called around at AT&T only to find that there is not someone locally (including ATLANTA) who does not oversee this program. You cannot even go into a retail location to sign up for their low-cost internet. You have to fill out an application online, apply over the phone or mail a print copy into AT&T. The irony of this whole week was I heard a radio advertisement for the AT&T program driving home from Atlanta last weekend. I could not help but wonder if AT&T was willing to advertise in a major market - why is there not someone who I can reach from a programmatic perspective. I called the 855 number only to find the supervisor did not who they could contact for more information. I reached out to folks I know in the Atlanta area and they could not help me (and they tried). I do not want to appear disingenuous towards AT&T, but it is frustrating when you need to find the accountable individual for a product that is important enough to advertise but not so much to have a name tied to it.
I walked into the meeting on Thursday knowing very little. The school is right down the street but beyond that I was walking into the complete unknown. I found the front office and before I could even sign in I heard a young man being admonished by his guardian for putting his hands on others. And yes, I did say guardian because the older woman speaking to him was not his mother – which for whatever reason bothers me. Children need their parents and I understand this is not the reality in which we live – HOWEVER – I get a familiar pain in my stomach when I see children being raised (not babysat) by guardians.
I met up with my contact within the PTO who had our table all set up. She had printed applications for parents (in English and Spanish) and the school was kind enough to provide iPads to help the parents sign up for the internet. It may sound weird, but I’ve never seen a table with so much purpose. As soon as the meeting began, I could see that there were parents who really cared about what was going on in the school. Title I meetings are a requirement and notoriously boring but there were necks craning attempting to see the charts and information that was being shared. This gave me hope.
During the meeting, I asked someone I know who works in a near 100% poverty school district why they do it and have done it for nearly 20 years. The answer I got was “if I don’t do it, who else will stand in and help end the foolishness?” Frankly, that was not the answer I was expecting and it set me on my heels. I’d let the numbers set in and had begun to let a sense of foreboding set in. That is where I needed to correct my mindset. Mathematically, I know what faces these kids – but I dare you to openly express that sentiment in that school. The math will lead to doubt and doubt is what is unacceptable.
Doubt is the virus that spreads and allows stereotypes to persist.
There are numerous opportunities for you to help your local schools better serve our children. Being a parent is scary enough but sending your child to school is a whole new level of angst fueled by an ever-growing number of unknowns. Even if you are not a parent there are ways you can help your local schools improve and you have a stake in their success. On one hand you should be interested in how your tax dollars are being spent. On the other, bettering your community’s future betters your own. Every child that has a proper education is one less that has to make bad decisions simply to survive.
Support your local PTA or PTO.
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