How do we change the trajectory of large numbers of kids in a neighborhood from vulnerable circumstances to ones of economic success?
This was the question I was challenged with just over five years ago, at the inception of Growing Together. This was such a personally challenging question as the focus of this question was my neighborhood and the result of this question would affect the children of my neighbors and my close friends. So, we got to work – starting with the most powerful tool in our arsenal: education.
In 2013, we identified and raised the support for a series of gold-standard organizations to improve the quality of education in the Growing Together schools. Talent Development Secondary, City Year, Communities in Schools, College Summit and Reading Partners all set up shop in the neighborhoods we serve: Eugene Field and Kendall-Whittier. Shortly after, we brought on our first local partner in the YMCA, and then aligned a number of existing partners like, Educare, CAP Tulsa, Crosstown and the University of Tulsa’s True Blue Neighbors. We continue to work closely with each organization to ensure the highest quality of collaboration and academic results. The results have been remarkable. We are seeing unprecedented gains in 3rd grade reading, attendance, and behavior and core performance.
However, a strong education system is not enough.
The gains we are seeing are not enough to provide the life-altering effects we want to see in this current generation. Further, even if it was, a price tag of $8+ million dollars, annually, is not sustainable.
Aside from a quality education, we believe that we will see success of our Mission of breaking the cycle of poverty for children by having a healthier economic mix in our schools.
It is becoming a very highly documented fact that the odds of going to college and on to a living wage career, are substantially lower for children who attend schools where the majority of students are coming from challenging socio-economic backgrounds.
To be clear, I am NOT stating that low-income children are less capable. In fact, I would argue that on many measures, they are more capable due to the barriers they have to overcome. These children are coming from circumstances that make the fight for success a MUCH more challenging one.
Take Kendall-Whittier Elementary, for instance. We know that this school is 90% comprised of kids who live in economically-challenged circumstances, enough to qualify them for free lunch assistance, since their families are struggling such that a lunch is not always guaranteed.
Unfortunately, it is safe to say that if you are a family of means, you have transferred your child out of Kendall-Whittier and into another school not challenged with the messy issues that poverty often brings.
Aside from the obvious socio-economic challenges, these children’s school and living community is comprised of families in the same vulnerable circumstances that they find themselves. They have limited exposure and influence from education and career-minded individuals who inspire and encourage them.
Conversely, it’s also been documented that if a student from a family of means (middle income and above) is engaged with peers from families of vulnerable backgrounds, their lives and educational experience will be enriched by it.
However, the protectionist perspective is the prevailing one. Unfortunately, this view, I would argue, is complicit in causing such inequality and injustice in our communities. Said differently, if you are a person of means, I would argue that in believing that you are protecting your kids from my community, you are actually robbing them of the beauty that my community can offer. I’ve experienced it. My family has experienced it. My children have experienced it. I can’t explain it – you just have to come experience it for yourself.
More to come in part 2 … next week!
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