This post is in a series about my experience at the inaugural Teaching and Learning Conference in Washington, DC March 13-15, 2014. These posts are not endorsed by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards nor the fine folks at the Teaching and Learning Conference. They consist entirely of my opinion. To read all of the posts in this series, click here.
This session featured McDowell County, West Virginia which is the 8th poorest county in West Virginia and a program they have called "Reconnecting McDowell County". This session featured a panel that discussed the trials of the district of McDowell County and the solutions they are putting into place to combat these trials.
It was stated that every state has its own "McDowell County". Student success depends upon the right curriculum but also the resources to overcome the challenges the students face.
In order to address multiple issues in poverty, you have to be willing to address all the issues.
It was stated multiple times: "Teachers can not do it all."
Poverty matters when it comes to student achievement.
--AT&T provided a grant for 20 high school juniors to be mentored
--Save the Children providing monies for after school programs and early reading intervention
There is a grade wherein 40% of the students in that grade hold a current Individualized Education Plan (IEP).
Community School Model is what needs to happen for all poverty-level children. The Community School model provides multiple resources to help families living in poverty get the help they need.
During a reward lunch at school, three girls were eating with the principal having a sort of "book club lunch". These young girls enthusiastically shared about the books they were reading and then casually changed the subject, as though commenting upon the weather and began to discuss the drugs they had watched their parents do the night previously. For these girls, it was just normal.
There was more to this session but I took a walk shortly after writing down the above information. Before the panel began, they showed this short video.
Watching the video and then hearing these stories, I had to leave the room and just take a walk for a moment. Not because I don't care of course...but because it hits home. It boggles my mind -- even though I know it is a reality in far more places than we think -- that still in today's society, your zip code matters. You can seriously LOSE the "Statisticks Lottery" simply because of where you happened to be born.
It bothers me. I know that West Virginia is not unique in this. Most of WV is very rural (even the college The Oldest goes to is still considered to be in a rural area) and they have a lot of poor families. I don't teach in a rural area but rather an urban one and sadly, our problems can mirror the situation shared by this county and the work they are doing.
All kids, regardless of where they are born and to whom they are born, deserve a rock-solid education. Unfortunately, your zip code plays a role and children from wealthier communities have better schools, more resources and thus tend to have a better life.
I will tell you that when I left this session, I was humbled. I posted on my FaceBook and Twitter accounts that if you ever wanted to complain about your teaching job again, to please consider 40% of one grade level requiring students to have an IEP because of fetal alcohol syndrome, drug use and who knows what else. How sad for those kids. I don't have the easiest job (is any teaching job really "easy" in this day and age?) but it is nothing compared to what some of our students face and even on the worst day, I think that fact needs to be remembered.
It could be so much worse. Thank God it isn't.