We don’t give up on kids

The following appear as an opinion piece in The Guardian on April 15, 2015.

The right education must be offered to every student

Parents, guardians, teachers, administrators and staff from schools across Prince Edward Island gathered in Charlottetown last week for the 62nd annual general meeting of the P.E.I. Home and School Federation.

The meeting included the discussion of and voting on policy resolutions brought forward by local associations, the collaborative development of questions for a Leaders Debate on Education, and workshops on a variety of topics.

The common themes that tied together all of our activities were equity and communication.

Discussion of a policy resolution calling for the establishment of a school lunch program, for example, focused on the connection between nutrition and learning: education cannot be equitable if some students arrive at the classroom without a healthy breakfast behind them and a healthy lunch ahead.

Another resolution called for the establishment of enrichment programs: the discussion around that resolution reinforced that enrichment can mean many things: for some students it’s different or more challenging work in certain subjects, for others it can be a well-resourced school library, and for still others its access to psychological assessments to ensure that their learning can be optimized.

The key is that all students have a right to an education that caters to their unique set of skills, interests, and abilities.

Closely tied to the need for equity in education is the need to communicate more clearly, and more regularly, throughout the education system.

This can mean providing parents and guardians with more fine-grained information about their children’s foundational skills (the topic of an afternoon workshop on Progress Monitoring), or it can mean ensuring that families are kept abreast of changes in transportation plans and are involved in the formulation of policies related to transportation and storm closures (both items the subject of policy resolutions).

Communication is also key to ensuring that local innovations at the school level are nurtured, and that home and school associations are regularly consulted about changes in policy that might affect these innovations (another resolution).

Home and schools are unique in the education system in that they bring together all of us who view students first as individuals. Parents, guardians, teachers, administrators and staff have the privilege of knowing each child’s strengths and challenges, their interests and their passions.

While others in the system, necessarily so, must look at systems and populations and trends and province-wide test results, our members start from the position of our child, our student.

And so we are naturally concerned, both that we are as well informed about everything from the quality of the food in the school cafeteria to the specifics of the curriculum. And that every child receives the education they need to “become themselves.”

Gerry Hopkirk, a retired teacher and administrator, who attended our meeting, tells of the time he was charged with leading the effort to develop a mission statement for a school: after much deliberation what emerged was the simple, powerful statement “we don’t give up on kids.”

To live the promise of that mission statement requires we realize the centrality of equity to everything that happens in the education of our children: that the right education must be offered to every single student, no matter their style of learning, their family income, their school.

And that we realize effective education relies on a close working relationship among students, parents and guardians, and the school, with regular communication amongst all.

To see more than 120 home and school members, from schools large and small, gather on a spring morning with trustees, board and department staff, and retired educators, and spend many hours talking about the best way forward, in a collaborative, positive spirit holds out hope that the promise of “we don’t give up on kids” is one we can live up to