Bells, Backpacks and Open Doors

featured on the Learning First Alliance website, August 18,  2014.

There is something almost magical about the beginning of a new school year. It is always full of hope and new possibilities. When my children were in elementary school, the school posted class lists a few days before school started. The lists were on the front window of the school. My husband and I would excitedly shepherd our two sons to see who their teacher and classmates would be that year. It was an anticipated and exciting moment for our family, because so many of our hopes for our children resided in their education. Our excitement transferred to them, and they couldn’t wait for that moment each year.

It’s time again for school bells to ring and backpacks to be stuffed. Schools across America are opening their doors again this month. Teachers are gearing up their classrooms and themselves for another cycle of teaching and learning. Schools are preparing to welcome students and families. Families are getting their children ready, savoring the last few days of vacation, and posting pictures of their children’s first day of school.

Parents have a saying that they are sending the best children they have to school. They have high hopes for their children and want them to get the best education possible. They want school to be a safe place for their children each day, and they worry that perhaps it is not a safe place. They want to be connected to their children’s education and to the school, but some parents do not know how. Many are living in poverty and often are working multiple jobs. Many do not speak English and are new to this country; they do not understand the education system. And yet, they still have high hopes for the school year and for their children’s education, as all parents do. I know this because I have met and talked with so many of them.

We know many of the things that are on teachers’ minds – how they will be evaluated, how Common Core State Standards will be implemented, how to ensure creativity in their classrooms in light of the emphasis on testing, and if teachers’ salaries will allow them to support their families. And yet most teachers are excited to teach again and are committed fully to their students.

We also know the many issues that schools have to deal with. They are busy trying to implement Common Core State Standards. They are trying to absorb all of the new laws their state legislatures have passed, while understanding the accountability system and what will be expected of them. They are reviewing curriculum, while installing metal detectors and other measures to keep children safe. But in the midst of all these things, they are trying to provide a place of community, safety, and learning for children. In spite of all the challenges we hand them, public schools keep opening their doors and doing their jobs.

It’s time for public schools to open those doors again and welcome all who will come. In spite of the challenges within our public school system, it remains the greatest single hope for the future of our country and of our democracy. That should give all of us a reason to support schools and to help them do the job we ask of them. Seventy five percent of adult Americans do not have children in school, but there is still plenty they can do to support public schools. Mentor a child. Tutor after school. Attend a school board meeting and listen to the business of public schools being conducted. Take cookies to the school for teachers’ coffee break. Vote in the school district’s bond election. Support quality school board candidates and vote for them. Attend student performances. Don’t criticize a school that you have never stepped into and have never helped.

We all want to live in an educated society, one that emphasizes the arts and the humanities. We also want low crime rates, high employment, a stable economy, and an engaged citizenry that votes. That kind of society requires quality public education. In order to have quality public education, it takes the support of all parts of the community.  School bells are ringing, and we have another chance to be a friend of public schools. They need all of us!