When I first entered the door of William Fox Elementary school almost twenty years ago I had no idea what I was getting into. I had no idea the trials, tribulations and endless conversations I would have about middle schools, misuse of school funds, classroom sizes and school conditions.
I had no idea that some years I would spend the equivalent of a part time job supplementing the kid’s education with fundraising, volunteering time and tutoring in the classroom to try to makeup for the City’s lack of interest and enthusiasm for our kids and their education.
I have since entered and exited seven Richmond Public Schools and while some things have changed, they mostly stay frustratingly the same.
I have watched my kids get everything from a mediocre education to an amazing one, despite circumstances. I have dealt with teachers who should have retired long ago so beaten down were they by the system and teachers who spent entire weekends preparing lesson plans that should be trademarked on Pinterest, spending their own money and holding their hope for their students close to their heart.
I believe in public schools. I believe an education just because it is free shouldn’t be mediocre. I believe in diversity and my child meeting people from all walks of life.
I won’t pretend to understand the money, the administrative woes, the endless paperwork, and the politics of school administration and city funding because I don’t. I’ve tried to educate myself and do my homework but often times I’m more confused then educated at the end of my studies.
This I do understand:
Class sizes need to be smaller.
Teachers need to be paid more and supported instead of harassed and micromanaged and told what to teach at every turn.
Electives are so important in a city where some of its citizens are so poor they never see a piece of artwork, enter a library, or hear a piece of classical music until they get to the classroom.
Physical education is part of our kid’s education. If schools don’t have a gym or equipment or outdoor facilities then our children are being woefully underserved in their health and wellbeing and they will suffer both in the classroom because of it and their lives beyond their school experience.
Free lunch is a farce if it consists of nachos as a main meal. My son said he never knew a vegetable could look the way it did in his lunchroom.
Conditions in many of our school are deplorable, the buildings are falling apart, mold is growing and rats roam the rooms.
I just said rats roam the rooms.
It requires cash; it requires putting your money where your mouth is. It requires cutting back on things like Redskins football practice fields and new baseball stadiums.
It requires renovating the elementary school down the street instead of city hall.
“The reality is that only about eleven percent of our populations is being served by RPS,” Mayor Jones said in an attempt to explain fund allocations and no one said a word.
No one said, “Sir, it might be eleven percent but it is the most important eleven percent we will ever invest in because that that eleven percent is the future of our fair city.”
That eleven percent will grow up to perhaps become citizens of this city and they will have either learned that education and the care of our youngest ones is indeed a priority or they will learn otherwise.
Otherwise is where we are headed.
We know what to do we just won’t do it.
And though we let those kids down time after time and turn after turn, they still rise up; they march on city hall and protest teacher cuts and the conditions of their classrooms and they learn despite their city and in doing so teach those in power a lesson that they should be embarrassed they haven’t learned yet.
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