Wise Choices by Schools Improve Students’ Choices
By Jill Jenkins
Decisions made in youth affect the economic stability and life-long quality of life. Many factors affect young people’s ability to make effective decisions: socio-economic factors, supportive, involved parents, available educational resources, perceived ability and sense of self-worth. Educators may have no control over socio-economic factors or involved, supportive parents, but there are ways to improve their choices and thus their quality of life.
Lower Socio-Economic Groups
Although teachers cannot change their students’ socio-economic status, there are ways to reduce its negative impact and enhance students’ ability to make productive choices. Many students from lower-economic groups lack access to computers and/or the internet. Since success has become tied to technology, lack of access to technology can inhibit their ability to be successful. To resolve this problem, schools can computer labs available to students before school, at lunch and after school. North Kansas City Schools and the Coquille School District Superintendent Tim Sweeney have another solution. Both school districts have put WiFi in their school buses so students can access the internet with Chromebooks. Many school districts in rural areas do not have access to internet providers and many students in urban areas cannot afford them. Providing this service is less expensive than many districts may imagine. According to the Kanas City Star, “Coquille School District Superintendent Tim Sweeney said that his district was able to convince the Oregon Department of Education to reimburse 70 percent of the equipment cost for two wireless routers, each one coming in at around $1,100. Sweeney said ODE regularly reimburses school districts for student travel-related expenses, since long-distance road trips are just part of the students' reality in rural Oregon. The district would be responsible for paying the approximately $80 a month bill from Verizon Wireless, the Internet provider used by the district.” Some internet providers provide low-cost internet connections and computers to low-income students. For example, Comcast Cable offers $9.95 per month internet connections and low cost lap tops for $149.00. Schools need to inform parents about this resource in their own language.
Most parents want to support their students’ education regardless of their economic situation. Language barriers and fear of being deported often prevents them from being actively involved. To help parents become more involved, invitations to parent workshops need to be delivered in the parent’s native language either by telephone or in handwritten invitations. The human touch will lessen the parents’ anxieties. Workshops about how parents might help their children with their academic lessons, resources that might be available to help them, and the processes of enrolling in college and finding financial aid would help parents be more proactive in their children’s choices. Some parents will erroneously believe that since they never received a college degree, their children certainly shouldn’t require one. I understand. My father supported a wife and five children on an eighth grade education. However, those jobs either no longer exist or pay so little that the child’s quality of life would be significantly reduced. Workshops for parents about the economic advantage of education should begin as early as preschool or elementary school and continue through high school. Beginning the process in high school is too late.
Resources need to be available for students during, before and after school. This means that communities need to financially support schools. At South Jordan Middle School in South Jordan, Utah, a group of teachers are paid to provide tutoring during lunch hour (Lunch School or No Zeros Allowed). Students who are identified by their teachers are given a sack lunch and their classwork is collected in a centralized location. The student arrives at the location to eat his lunch while working one-on-one on his/her assigned work with a qualified teacher. The student gets the individualized instruction he/she needs and completes assigned that he/she has chosen not to complete. Both skills and understanding are enhanced and his/her ability to make responsible decisions is enhanced as he/she is not allowed to choose to be lackadaisical. Teachers are the greatest resource and computers and the internet are available. Students who feel teachers’ care about them and want them to be successful are more likely to make more responsible decision in an attempt to foster that relationship.
Perceived Ability and Self-Worth
Students who do not believe they are capable will not feel confident to make positive decisions. According to Luis J Rodriguez’s book, Always Running, La Vida Loco: Gang Days in L.A, as a student who spoke no English, he was placed in the back of the room and made to feel inadequate and incapable. A positive, warm environment is essential for a student to feel inspired and motivated to learn. As a result, teachers spend hours decorating classrooms and bulletin boards. Classrooms like those in Detroit’s City Schools that are not clean, safe and appealing send a message to students that their learning is unimportant to society. Education needs the support of the entire community to instill in students that their success is a priority to the larger community. Students not only need to feel that they can be successful, but that their success is important. Teachers and schools need to make every effort to support every student with the resources he/she needs to be successful. Doing all of this to improve students’ confidence (which means no negative language or insulting attitudes) and self-worth will greatly enhance his/her ability to make constructive decisions.
Every action has an equal, and opposite reaction; every choice has a natural consequence. Students should not be protected from the consequences of their action: whether they are positive or negative. In order to understand the consequences of hard work, students who choose not to work must be given more supervision to complete the work or suffer the negative consequences. Lunch school, summer school or weekend schools all provide students with opportunities and consequences. They get an opportunity to complete work, but they lose the freedom of socializing with their friends during lunch. Furthermore, students who refuse to take advantage of the opportunity lose more freedom by having to make up the class in the summer. Parents should not be allowed to interfere with this learning opportunity because teaching students to behave responsible is too important.
Having an educated, productive community improves prosperity, reduces those incarcerated, homeless or on welfare. Everyone wins. Urban areas are filled with homeless populations who are not only disenfranchised, but a drain on resources. It is not their fault. When schools fail to provide students with the skills to make good choices, those students become entrenched in poverty and unhappiness. Their frustration results in both drug use and increased crime. Nevertheless, if these same people are given the skills they need to make more appropriate decisions, they become an asset to communities. Wasting the resources of a bright, capable individual is a travesty. Properly funding education is an investment not only of the individual, but of the entire society.