First Day

Do you remember your first day of school as a child?

I recently came across some photographs my mother took on our first day of school in Huron, Ohio. In one, a line-up of neighborhood children are waiting for the bus. Bus Zero – Bunky’s bus. How I can even recall those details so many years later is a testament to the pleasant memories I had growing up in a small town in northwestern Ohio.

In another photograph, the first day of third grade for me, I am sitting on a rock boarder near our garage. From that image came a flood of memories – the smell of stiff new leather shoes, a new metal lunchbox stylishly tartan plaid, hair pulled back into a tight pony tail, and of course the smell of air on a morning in September when summer fades toward fall.

Those warm and wonderful memories are juxtaposed with the reports from Mississippi detailing the aftermath of ICE raids on the first day of school. The children of workers rounded up by ICE went off to their first day of school with all of the anticipation that encapsulates a first day of school, but those young children return home from their first day of school was not the stuff from which warm memories are created. It was nightmarish and cruel.

Those children arrived home to uncertainty and fear. Not knowing what has happened to your parent and the insecurity of figuring out where you will stay or who will take care of you is a cruel brand of separation anxiety that is likely to scar these children for years. Acting DHS Secretary McAleenan may claim that the 680 workers were given an opportunity to use cellphones, make arrangements, released, whatever, but the reality is that did not always happen. Many questions linger including whether the cooperation – and timing of the raids – from the processing plants’ managers was retaliation for harassment charges.

In my opinion, if our immigration and naturalization policies and laws need to address new realities, have that discussion and revise accordingly. Instilling a sense of insecurity, anxiety, and fear because it is expedient to enact a round-up of immigrant parents is cruel, and without a doubt will result in irreparable harm to the children whose first day of school in Mississippi featured chaos and anxiety.

Massive round-ups of and raids on immigrant workers, many of whom seem to have been knowingly employed under suspicious circumstances, does not make this country “safer”. It makes our country heartless and without empathy and the collateral damage can be found in the fears of children.

We Have Become Insane

From the New York Times, August 8, 2019

This was a story featured in the online edition of the New York Times this morning. And it has really driven home for me how insane and “normalized” mass shootings have become, as if that wasn’t totally obvious already.

Apparently, along with this week’s advice for potty-training a child, we now need expert advice in helping kiddos to cope with our own – and the child’s – fears after a mass shooting. Our country has experienced so many of these gut-wrenching mass shootings that advice is needed?

Allow me to rant a bit here. There are actual solutions to the number of violent terroristic acts involving mass shootings. Licensing and strict registration of guns for example. Or amunition. Yet legislation always seems to be dead on arrival in the hallowed halls of the US Congress. So what happens? Experts offer advice about everything except to address the elephant in the room.

As an educator, I was trained to respond to an active shooting situation during our yearly active shooting drills. Specifically, that meant instructing my 8-, 9-, and 10-year old students how to defend themselves should a shooter enter our school building and/or classroom. We planned to stack classroom furniture in front of our door, throw whatever was handy (like a stapler), hide silently against wall so as to not be visible to anyone looking from the hallway into our classroom interior, and/or run like hell to a “meeting place.” My paraprofessional and I scoped out a closet that I and a mobility-disabled student could attempt to hide in since a sprint out of the building was not possible. We removed the closet bar and brainstormed ways to make that closet a viable hiding place.

So I ask: Have we become insane? The solution to mass shootings is to stop them. This week over 30 families have a huge hole in their hearts where a loved one once lived. Many other families are coping with serious injury that will take weeks to physically heal and a lifetime of therapy to cope and recover, if that is even possible.

Are we to believe that the solution to mass shootings is to learn to live with that fear?

You say potato: Losing track of low income/economically disadvantaged students

WBUR’s Max Larkin’s piece on the way Massachusetts has changed counting children living in poverty, How Massachusetts Lost Count of Its Poor Students, was published yesterday. While Massachusetts educators are paying attention, this is a topic that deserves much broader discussion as the unintended consequences are substantial.

In 2015, the Commonwealth began recalculating the number of students living in poverty based upon a new metric which included enrollment in programs like SNAP. Using this new way of counting and classifying the needs of students meant the use a new label, “economically disadvantaged”, replacing the term “low income”. However, more than a change in labeling data collection resulted.

In Lowell prior to the new measures, the average (and I stress the use of the word AVERAGE) poverty rate district-wide was in the 75.1% (2013-14 DESE Select Population data). In the particular school in which I taught, that rate was closer to 85% (84.9%). Using the new means of measurement, in 2014-15, Lowell’s District calculation of students in poverty, now referenced as “economically disadvantaged” was reduced to 49%. So according to the new measure, over the summer break about one-third of Lowell Public School’s students disappeared from the count of children who lived in poverty.

Why does this matter? When we look at student growth and achievement, there are factors within the school and classroom over which educators have control but there are also factors which influence student growth over which educators have little to no control. One of those factors is the impact of living in poverty. This is a huge reason school districts make every attempt to provide students who are low income or economically disadvantaged with additional services. Such services range from wrap-around services for health and housing security to additional educational opportunities like books for home enjoyment and field trips.

As an educator, it did not make sense to me that over the summer break one-third of our students were suddenly no longer in need of such extra supports. Certainly no one could imagine that over the summer months about a third of Lowell’s students for whom poverty was a factor had suddenly become financially stable.

Poverty levels are often a consideration for needs-based grants. Here’s an example: In Lowell, the United Teachers of Lowell applied for participation in the FirstBook Books on Wheels free book distribution program in 2015. To qualify, the District needs-based percentage had to be 70%. Under the new calculation using CEP, Lowell’s 49.1% economically disadvantaged calculation would have disqualified our students and their families from the benefits this wonderful program: books to add to a home library. Luckily our Title I office had actual data which did allow us to qualify for the program.

Which makes me wonder: what other needs-based programs are our children living in poverty missing because a district or school no longer qualifies based upon economically disadvantaged data collected by Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education? Are our children who are living in poverty missing the additional services needed to help them be as successful as their more affluent peers based upon a falsely “improved” low income number?

When the Commonwealth falsely represents students living in poverty based on a flawed new metric, the consequences have a significant and real impact on our most vulnerable students.