Growing up in a small, rural, Texas town you really aren’t aware of any other options but the public school. You don’t even call it the public school… it is school. There is no debate about school choice or what is best. In all honesty, you are thankful for the school in your town. The idea of paying for school is ridiculous and only reserved for when you go to college (or if you do for many in a small town).
I was raised to believe in the idea of public school. With a dad whose career was in public education since I was in fifth grade, I learned the importance of every child receiving an education. It wasn’t just something my dad did, it became a strongly held belief and value for our entire family (probably why my sister and I both work in public education even though we did not become teachers).
So often we read headlines about the failing public schools and how private schools or charter schools are the only answer. I strongly disagree with these thoughts for a variety of reasons but one of the main reasons, is these schools of choice, don’t do what public schools do…. educate every child who walks through the door.
Last Tuesday, I went to one of our elementary schools to read Polar Express. The campus has an amazing staff working to make sure each child who comes through their doors not only receives a quality education but also knows they are valuable and important. The campus has about 80% of their students regarded as low-income, over 40% of their students are bilingual and 13% of the students qualify for special education services. I went to read as a lead up to a Polar Express night where all families are invited for an evening of fun, learning, and celebrating. This idea of building a community for all students is what happens in public education.
On Wednesday I was a “chaperone” for some elementary kids (first grade to be exact) as they went to a high school for a holiday party. All the students come from homes where there is not extra for presents or many treats. Started by a high school teacher last year, the idea was implemented across the district this year. Different high school classes adopted a few students from an elementary school and threw them a party. I saw high school students sit and color holiday sheets with the little kids and there was even some gingerbread house making. I honestly don’t know who was more excited, the elementary or high school students. What I do know, this is what happens in public education.
Thursday included me going with some middle school students to tour a few colleges and universities. The students were mainly students who have no one at home who attended college… they are what is considered a first generation student. There was also an ESL class on the bus with teacher translating every word of the tour so the students would understand the opportunities for them after high school. The students toured a small liberal arts college, a state university, and a community college. By the end of the day, they better understood what could be their future. This is what happens in public education.
For me, working in public education is not just a job, it is an honor. Not many weeks do I get so many opportunities to interact directly with students, but last week filled my heart in a way I can’t describe. Every child deserves an opportunity and when I say every child, I mean every child… regardless of diagnosis, language, background, income. Public education is the one answer for every child.