As we acknowledge American Education Week, I find myself appreciative of all your hard work, and at the same time, poised on the brink of greater challenges than anything I think most of us had anticipated.
This week, schools and communities across the nation join together to celebrate American Education Week. Created in 1921, in response to a 25 percent illiteracy rate among World War I soldiers, the event began as an attempt by the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Legion to generate public support for education. Today, American Education Week, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education and 12 national organizations, continues that effort by providing opportunities for strengthening the spirit of community within schools and developing partnerships between schools and local communities.
This week the U.S Department of Education is facing an uncertain future, and indeed, so are public schools. The recent election has injected a huge amount of uncertainty into the national conversation about the role of government in schooling. At the most granular level, which for us is how individual students experience schools, the election has sown seeds that I fear will continue to sprout and bear an unpleasant harvest.
Neighboring districts are experiencing what can only be described as hate behaviors, which were soundly endorsed for the last 16 months. Across the state and nation we are getting reports of similar acts of students intimidating their fellow students based on their race, their disability or their sexual preferences or gender identities. It is indeed a sad moment on the eve of American Education Week.
Public Education has been one of the greatest gifts this nation has ever benefitted from. In the face of such acts, both regionally and nationally it is clear we must continue our core work of creating safe spaces for our students to learn and thrive. I am suggesting we must help our student understand something many of us did not think would come to pass and in fact, struggle to understand ourselves. Why this came to pass will be discussed for generations. In the short term we recognize our diversity has always been our strength and now we must take the time to celebrate and model that very behavior, indeed are similarities are far greater than our differences.
In the face of an overwhelming challenge little acts make huge differences cumulatively, both to our personal wellbeing and that of the children we serve. The following activities may prove helpful and a constructive use of some of our time this week:
- Please take the time to engage in this vital work for each and every student in our charge.
- Reassure them that they are welcome in our schools and community.
- Let our students know that if they have questions and concerns to contact you or our counselors or administrators.
- During this week that was founded to celebrate a war on illiteracy please join in the war on ignorance and intolerance.
- Take the time to have students make lists of behaviors that make our nation a great nation including things they appreciate.
- Ask them what they think they can do to make all students feel welcome. Make classroom lists of behaviors that support safe and inclusive communities.
- Help all our students understand that this remains a nation of law and order and that all remain protected—no one needs to tolerate harassment and those behaviors will be dealt with firmly.
- Help them understand winning an election is not a zero sum game—we still need to work with, and live alongside, each other despite the outcome of any election.
- That is four years the election will happen again and the results may change.
In Centennial we have many strengths: our graduation rates are up, our drop out rates are down, our students are increasingly being accepted by more rigorous universities than historically expected and we are meeting the needs of a huge range of diverse learners.
I celebrate your successes! This week that celebrates public education is a celebration of your work and your commit to a grand ideal. Every child in front of you has not only the legal right to be there, more importantly they have the moral right to be here to pursue their version of the American Dream.
On their behalf thank you for all you do!