Education reform starts with savvy students

by Caroline Glass / Beacon Correspondent • October 26, 2016

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Students must find a way to directly affect the change they want to see
Courtesy of Caroline Glass
Students must find a way to directly affect the change they want to see
Courtesy of Caroline Glass
With Election Day just weeks away, we have all had many months to consider the issues that really matter to us and whom we feel will best represent our interests. I can’t go on Facebook or Twitter without reading a status or article debating the many different sides and opinions represented—and that’s a good thing. As we continue to learn and grow, it’s important for us to determine what we want to stand up and use our voices for. In a time when our leaders and government are in such disruption and turmoil, it is more important than ever for us to take on the responsibility of helping to solve the issues our country faces.
 
An issue that has become a top priority of mine is education. My interest in education reform started in high school when I began tutoring low-income elementary school students, typically first generation immigrants. I would go to their schools and see crumbling buildings, destroyed textbooks, and classroom sizes of 40 students. The students I worked with improved greatly with just a little extra support and resources. This experience gave me a glimpse at some of the major issues facing schools in low income communities. Since then, I have been especially passionate about education inequality and reform.
 
It isn’t hard to find countless articles and studies about education inequality and the importance of supplemental programming for low income students. In low income areas, schools do not have the resources and manpower to provide each child with the attention and care that they need in order to reach their full potential. This is a trend that can be seen starting in preschool and following that child through high school. After doing the research and seeing the evidence, I knew that I wanted to find a way that I could help make a difference. I was able to do this through an organization right here at Emerson: Jumpstart.
 
You may have seen Jumpstart around campus—sporting bright red shirts, usually traveling in groups of 4 or 5, and oftentimes carrying some sort of arts and crafts. Jumpstart is a national organization based in Boston that sends volunteers to local low-income preschools.
       
In the classroom, I teach a curriculum that promotes reading, language and literacy, and social development. My peers and I work in small groups with typically 3-5 partner children, where we read books, talks about letters, plays games, and participate in multiple centers. The curriculum is designed to confront what is known as the “achievement gap.” Low-income children are starting kindergarten 60 percent behind their peers from affluent communities. When children start behind, they tend to stay behind, and the gap will actually widen over time. This results in higher rates of dropout, incarceration, and unemployment.
 
These children need to be given the opportunity to succeed and programs like Jumpstart help increase their chances for success. I have seen it so clearly with many of the children that I have worked with.
 
My partner child was a three-year-old boy with a bird obsession. He was very quiet, and it took a while for him to get comfortable with me. He couldn’t identify any letters, and while I could tell he liked reading, he would rarely participate or add his thoughts. Over time though, he began to get excited when we would start a new book. He would yell, “Jumpstart’s here!” when we walked into the room. And after a couple of months, he began to recognize his letters. By the end of the year, he was writing his name, and could identify all the letters in the alphabet. But the best moment came when his mother visited the classroom, and told me that he had asked for books for his birthday.
 
Little victories like this are the way that we can truly enact the change that we want to see. No matter who wins the imminent election, there are always going to be problems. Now that we’ve had the opportunity to reflect on them through the debates, speeches, and discussions, we can be more motivated and prepared to confront them. I found a way to do this through Jumpstart. I identified what I cared about and was able to turn my words into action. I was able to confront the problems that I saw in a more direct and tangible way.
 
With the election almost over, the time we spend thinking about the problems in our country will probably decrease. Use this time to identify what you really care about. Whatever your cause is, whether it’s the environment or women’s rights or poverty or education, find a way that you can affect change directly. And you should too.