The Good and the Bad?

The Good & the Bad?

When I said I wanted to be on the school board, I imagined I’d hear about the music program, the reading materials, the field trips and the lunch room.  I figured I would hear about their test scores, the schools’ constant reach for improvement and the winter sports programs.  I imagined heart-felt discussions about our social curriculums, and how our teachers work to instill community values.

I love that part of the meeting. 

At our meeting last week, we heard about fifth graders from Green Street School going to Sturbridge Village, County Fair Day fun at Academy School, and an Oak Grove field trip that was entitled “All About Compost”. Special family breakfasts served families at both Academy and Oak Grove.  Green Street was gearing up for their annual “6th grade vs. staff kickball game”.  Teddy Bear Teas hosted preschoolers at all the schools, 6th grade graduation plans were being finalized and kindergarten placements were coming along nicely.  The New England Youth Theater program culminated with performances, the Girls on the Run completed their 5K, and the Maple Leaf  writing project for fifth and sixth graders celebrated by listening to the stories penned by classmates.

Every month, at our request, our principals also present us with stark statistics.  I don’t like this part of the monthly review nearly as much.  I’d much rather hear that the kindergartens visited a Lilac Ridge Farm, and that the fifth graders went to the ropes course.  But we need to know, so we listen as the principals highlight the data they collect.

As of June 1st, Academy School has five homeless students, Oak Grove has two, and Green Street has seven.  To put that into perspective, we compare it to the total number of students. Academy has 357, Oak Grove has 125 and Green Street has 219.  The percentage, then, of homeless students in Brattleboro’s schools is 1.4% at Academy, 1.6% at Oak Grove, and 3% at Green Street.  We are also starting to track how many times the schools have had to contact the Department of Child and Family services and how many children are in foster care (some now fostered by their teachers).

The rates for free & reduced lunch are also tracked: Academy is at 61%, Oak Grove at 64% and Green Street at 66%.  At the same time, the administrators pass information onto the board about the Vermont Foodbank Backpack Program, which delivers food in a quiet way to 25 families at Oak Grove and 60 at Green Street every weekend.  We have heard about the need for a quality, universal breakfast to be available to all students, regardless of income.  After the staff worked hard to come up with a highly nutritious option (which largely passed the taste testes done with the kids), the board also approved universal breakfast for the Brattleboro elementary schools for the fall of 2016.  

Sometimes, when I look at those statistics, I forget about all the fun and positive stuff that I hear during the rest of the meeting.  

But those negative thoughts go away when I walk through our elementary schools.  There, I see students jumping, running and laughing as they scatter out the doors at the end of the day… kids practicing for their variety show, belting out show tunes at the top of their lungs… colorful artwork that proudly bears their names… charts of progress tacked up in their classrooms… writing projects displayed on the hallway walls… little people running up to hug their teacher so often she can’t even walk to her classroom easily… book fair purchasers buying books for their friends who don’t have money… staff giving hugs to someone who fell and scraped a knee… a quiet talk from an adult with an arm around a shoulder of a youngster whose actions were a bit over the line…

What I’ve seen being put into practice is not the stuff of gloom and doom.  And as school turns out again for another summer, I’m carrying that picture of kids of all different backgrounds and all interests, with adults committed to helping them become all that they dream they can–and maybe even a little bit more.

 

Jill Stahl Tyler is a parent to three children involved in the local schools, at the high school and elementary school levels.  She firmly believes in all education, and currently sits on the board for the Brattleboro School Endowment and the Brattleboro Town School Board.  She is also a member of the Study Committee for Act 46. Contact her at jill@globalcow.com.

 

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