I get a kick out of seeing young people receive recognition for their achievements, graduate, and step out on their own. These young people inspire hope for a better world.
At the last monthly Rochester school board meeting, several dozen students received awards for outstanding athletic achievement. The presenters made a point of telling the audience that the students had high attendance and gave their grade point averages. Many of the students have averages above 4.0 and they are planning on attending colleges such as the University of Rochester and Yale.
A couple of school board members noted that good things like this do happen in the district, but they don’t get reported. One said that the media tends to focus too much on stories about how city children can’t learn because they’re poor.
The board members are partly right. A lot of good things happen in every school district, including Rochester’s, that go unreported. And a lot is written about the concentration of poverty in the city’s schools. But that’s because it’s an inextricable fact. Of course it doesn’t mean that poor students can’t learn. But does anyone seriously believe that students benefit from poverty?
It’s hard to hear that Rochester’s graduation rate remains dismally low without wondering why this group of students did so well. What’s the secret ingredient? Better teachers? Brighter students? Better managed schools? More resources?
That’s the million-dollar question, and surely there’s more than one answer.
But there was one thing that almost every student who received an award last week had in common. Nearly every one of them was accompanied by a parent or family member. Some were teary-eyed. Some were busy taking photos and videos. And others just watched with obvious pride.
Parental engagement in most city schools is undeniably low. And there are many explanations for it — some more valid than others. Yes, it’s possible to mitigate some of the effects of poverty. It’s difficult and costly, but it can be done. But last week’s awards ceremony was a reminder that the most effective mitigation of poverty’s influence on students just might begin with parents.