I tried something a little different this year. Instead of using Monday to recover from a vicious hangover (although thanks to the New York fucking football Giants, I had every excuse to be hammered) I volunteered with Greater DC Cares.
I ended up spending the morning painting at Benning Elementary School, on 41st and Ames NE, where the principal greeted us shouting “GO BIG BLUE,”and wearing a Giants sweatshirt and hat. I took this to mean that God is smiting His team for some reason (and by reason, I mean Jessica Simpson.) At any rate, we painted the main office, a HUGE kindergarten classroom, and a computer lab. Then we went back to Hines Middle School (right by Eastern Market) to listen to a panel discussion about DC schools. The state superintendent of education, who in the pre-Chancellor days would have headed DCPS, was there (her name is Deborah Gist,) along with Jason King, from Turning the Page, and Jeff Smith of DC VOICE. The panel was moderated by Theola Labbe, the DC/MD schools beat writer for the Post.
The panel was the most interesting part of the day. Everyone spoke about the challenges of standardized testing, the tension between DCPS and charter schools, and how to get the community involved in the schools. I come from a family where education is a given- you WILL get good grades in school, you WILL go to college, etc. etc. I am also a product of the public school system (both North Carolina, and Prince George’s County in MD.)
So while I haven’t been in the DC schools, have no friends with kids in them, and have NO plans to have kids in them…I still feel a connection. And I am quite aware that not everyone has the benefit (or hassel) of a mother or grandparents or aunts and uncles who are DETERMINED to make sure you get the most from your education. Jeff Smith’s commentary came the closest to reflecting my thoughts about DCPS. He said that part of the problem with charter schools is that the parents who care, the parents who would be willing to fight to take back their school(s), the ones who are involved, are often the same ones who leave for charter schools. And really, I can’t blame them. You cannot expect any parent to leave their child in a failing school to prove a point. No parent is going to sacrifice their child to improve the school system, and I for one, will not fault them for that. But at the same time, if all you have left in your local public school are parents who don’t care, decrepit facilities, and kids with no hope…how can you ever expect any change? It’s a vicious cycle, and a problem that I don’t think has an answer. Smith pointed out that in situations like this- the community has to take an interest in the school- take pride it in, regardless of whether individuals in the community have a direct connection or not.
I’m probably not being very articulate, but it was a great panel. I’m several years removed from the worries of public primary education. But, as a resident of DC, it seems to me that I should take an interest nonetheless.
Also, the whole shebang made me think back to the last season of “The Wire”- the one that covered Baltimore’s schools.