Rethinking School for Poor Communities
News flash: America's poor children are probably not going to disappear after the next presidential election.
In fact, a May 2012 report released by UNICEF revealed that of 35 developed nations, the U.S. has the second-highest child poverty rate behind Romania. Not only do tens of millions of American children live in poverty, but we have also created a school system that deliberately relegates them to the most under-resourced schools.
By 2022, educators will need an even deeper set of teaching skills and multiple levels of cooperation to serve a more diverse and challenging range of students than we have ever seen in American public education.
However, by 2022, students at the Delta's network of community-centered schools could be succeeding in learning and life thanks to several important and interrelated factors including:
• Flexible, well-coordinated education teams who follow cohorts of students over the course of their educational experience.
- These teams have at their core, a cadre of highly trained, National Board-certified teachers. Working with them are academic specialists, flex-teachers, and teaching residents. (Flex-teachers are people who do not intend to make lifelong careers of teaching, but are assigned to specific areas for limited service based on their skill level and expertise.)
- Teams also share services of educational support personnel, medical/mental/social service providers, community agencies, and rotating groups of parent/family representatives. Some of the team members will be on-site; others virtual.
- The rotating leadership of these teams together constitute the administrative team of the school with technical support on as-needed basis.
• Personal learning plans co-developed and co-managed with each student and his/her family. No grade levels; every student advances through his/her learning plan based on accomplishment of mutually established learning challenges and goals. Those goals may come from, but are not limited to, a national or state curriculum.
• Re-designed school financing that no longer ties the resources available for our school to local property taxes. Since the community-centered school is part of an educational continuum from what we now call pre-school through collegiate levels, those formerly separate and contested funding streams are now combined. The school also directly receives the funding for the various medical, social, and cultural programs now coordinated through it.
• Community-focused, culturally appropriate service projects and programs (some of which will be self-supporting) designed by students as part of their learning plans. Many of these will be collaborations not only among students based at the school, but also with their global or community partners.
Some of these features are already being developed in models around the country; all of them are within our reach, if we can find the moral and political backbone to do what's right.
Renee Moore has taught English and journalism for 20 years in the Mississippi Delta region at both high school and community college levels.