Just last week I wrote about how exciting it was to witness all the exciting things that are taking place within Saint Louis classrooms. This week, after attending our annual Teach For America holiday party, I felt that it’d be worth sharing how much support and enthusiasm is out in our greater community. I know from a teacher’s point of view, it can often seem like the school is a completely isolated entity from the rest of society and that it is hard to get the community invested in what is happening in the community. At our holiday party, however, we had a chance to meet with many community leaders and sponsors of the Teach For America-Saint Louis program. It was powerful to recognize how many people in the city feel compelled to improve our schools and enhance our students’ quality of life through education.
The community members who attended our holiday party included the Saint Louis mayor, Francis Slay, as well as our superintendent of school, Dr. Kelvin Adams, as well as the CEO of Build-A-Bear workshops, Maxine Clark (who also happens to be our sitting executive of the Teach For America-St. Louis board of directors). They all shared their firm support of what we are doing in our classroom, as well as our long-term vision as an organization—that “one day, all children will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.” These community leaders, as well as other private individual Teach For America supporters, all make regular visits to our classrooms and help out with classroom projects as needed. For example, my friend who teaches fourth grade enlisted the help of one of our community sponsors to help convert an old balcony at her school into a new learning patio. This community sponsor put her in touch with an architect, as well as other funding sources that will be able to make my friend’s school project a reality. Another friend of mine, who teaches the fifth grade, got her sponsor to help fund a school bus to take her students to the Junior Achievement Biztown in nearby Chesterfield. It is truly remarkable to realize how much schools benefit from such steadfast support of its community members.
As I think more about how much our schools, and the Teach For America organization, rely on the support of local communities, I realize how critical it is that more community members find their way into our classrooms. Much like Teach For America brings a group of predominantly young college graduates into struggling school districts and makes the educational inequalities all the more apparent to us, we need to get more community members into our schools so they too can share in the successes and struggles of their schools. I think it is far too easy for all of us to fall into the trap of thinking that the students in the inner city schools are “someone else’s child,” or that public schools aren’t our problem because our student goes to a private school in the county. The bottom line is that these children, my students, are all of our responsibilities and it is our duty to make sure we support their education as much as possible. Therefore, it is imperative that more community members come into our schools, realize the inequalities that exist, and then become inspired to make the change that so many of our Saint Louis sponsors and leaders are working towards.
In addition to all of this, it is by no means only the community’s responsibility to come into the schools and work to create change. I know all schools can do a better job of opening their doors to the community and facilitating increased involvement, whether that is by advertising school events to the public, or simply by hosting an open house night for everyone to attend—and not just parents and students. I think it would be great to have more programs in Saint Louis like Ready Readers who recruit local community members to go read once a week for a year in area classrooms. This kind of long-term investment is what it will take to cultivate relationships between communities and schools, as well as promote academic performance in some of our lowest performing districts. Given all the community involvement that I have seen already within Teach For America classrooms, as well as other community organizations, I am confident that we will be able to continue fostering such relationships. Our students deserve it, our future demands it.