As a teacher education candidate, I’ve heard horror stories about working with children in poverty-stricken areas. Being an idealist, I chose to begin observing at a school mainly comprised of poor Hispanic children in Chicopee, Mass. At the Gen. John J. Stefanik School, 91 percent of students come from low-income families. However, rather than witnessing problems, I saw many possible solutions that do not include firing educators.
Stefanik School was unlike any other I’ve attended. The school nurse also served as a Spanish translator. In the classroom, three additional paraprofessionals were ready to assist small groups with challenging math and reading.
It was clear that the school had found a solution to serve the many children with disabilities and language barriers. I also observed the bucket of snacks for hungry kids, free breakfast program for everyone and a large number of parents who came to escort their children home from school. The extra effort to accommodate for the problems in the area has been a great success.
Unlike the Buffalo schools, Stefanik does not blame anyone; instead, it utilizes resources to improve students’ quality of life, which translates into more effective learning.
I wholeheartedly disagree with Rod Watson’s view that teachers are the main reason for failure in Buffalo. Although “Bad teachers need to be weeded out” (Jan. 14 News) pointed out that the majority of teachers in Buffalo are highly rated, I do not think that most of the problems within the district are due to misevaluation, though there may be some. Instead, I believe that the district needs to find ways to combat environmental concerns that threaten student success.
Even the best teacher may not be able to find a way to overcome chronic absenteeism, hunger, poverty, abuse, exposure to violence and parental apathy outside of school time. In my school-age years, I was clothed, fed and stimulated by two parents who cared about my education. However, many children in Buffalo do not have these necessities, especially parental involvement.
Other parents may not have the educational or linguistic background necessary to help their children learn.
The only sure way to improve dismal success rates in Buffalo is not to fire teachers who are courageous and caring enough to teach there. We need to find other ways to reach out to parents and other programs to keep kids off the streets and in a nurturing environment. What about more after-school programs, intervention services, mandatory summer programs and parent engagement programs?
Mr. Watson, it’s time to stop blaming caring professionals and start fixing the real problems plaguing schools: the ones that happen after dismissal.
Carolyn Hurley, of Buffalo, is studying education and psychology at Marist College.