Giving More than Lip Service: Reaching the Whole Child Part 2

An empty house, a post-surgical knee, and a welcomed spring break have me reflecting quite a bit.  As I began searching for the answer to what it means to reach the whole child, I expected difficulties, but the resistance I have found is quite unexpected.

To explain, let me first lay out some successes.

  • As was explain out in part one of this series, these are the reasons I started creating a small school within a school at my struggling middle school, and here are the components of the project thus far.
  • There have been many successes thus far.  We secured funding for the teachers for the program as well as a case manager for the academy.  We have the support of the school’s administration.  We have money to spend and technology to use.  In other words, the common roadblocks to any startup such as this are seemingly avoided.
  • We have decided on the profile of the students we want to identify.  Research shows that students whose parents are incarcerated, who are in the foster system, or who live with a non-parental guardian face unique educational challenges that we seek to overcome.
  • The funding for my job at my school is secured for another four years which gives me time to continue to work on the project.

When written like this, it is hard to imagine that this program won’t get off the ground. Furthermore, in a district like mine where students’ demographics are collected constantly due to high transience within the district, it is hard to imagine that we can’t find the students.  Yet this assumption is precisely where the project has stalled.

After speaking to staff at my school and officials in the district, I was told that the district does not collect a record of students with incarcerated parents or students in the foster system.

I am floored.  How can this be true?  If, as school districts, we are to do all we can for all we serve, how can this imperiled population go unaccounted for?  I am, as of writing this, waiting for a call from an old colleague of mine to explain why this is the case.  I am sure there is a good reason for it, yet I am still frustrated.  Beyond the creation of my program, this seems like a serious breach in the ethical contract we have with students.  Every year, I am told to meet every child where they are.  I want this to not be, as is said in the title, lip service.  Yet when I am not armed with critical information, I cannot help but feel that lip service is all I can give.  Students with jailed parents or who live with someone besides a parent present a unique set of challenges and educational needs.  How can I meet those needs and circumvent those challenges if I cannot even identify them?  I have a request.  Please help me.

This may seem like a rant, and in truth, it partially is.  This feels unjust, unfair, or just existentially absurd.  Yes, this is a rant, but it is also a plea.  If anyone out there reads this and has ideas, workarounds, experience, or just guidance, please reply to this blog.  I ask of you, share this far and wide.  Talk to people around you.  Together we are stronger, and though I may not know you, I claim your students as my own as I hope you do mine. Together we are stronger, and in many ways, the future of our society is dependent on changing systems that don’t work.  We have the power to change the narrative of what it means to reach every child every day.

I entered this profession to perform my duty of tikkun olam; I entered this profession to repair the world and to leave it better than I how I found it.  Please help me fulfill this need.

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