January 04, 2014

How to close the gap on learning for kids at risk


How to close the gap in learning for children at all socioeconomic levels: THE UNSTOPPABLE POWER OF APPLYING MASLOW’S LAWS TODAY


Those who refuse to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it, said George Santayana nearly a century ago.  Yet our public school system continues to operate on the myth that what teachers do in classrooms is enough to close the gap on learning between children at all socioeconomic levels.  Government policy-makers have not learned from the past or experts on children, behavior, learning, or teaching and continue down a road that leaves EVERY child behind, some much farther than others.  In 1943, Abraham Maslow published "A Theory of Human Motivation”, the lessons of which are more critical today than at the time.  Maslow taught that at any age, until a person’s basic, primal needs are met, he/she is motivated to do little more than survive.  Thus, it is clear why children that do not have proper nutrition, food security, shelter, clothing, medical/dental care, support, and safety, do not arrive at school ready to learn.  Bottom line: closing the gap on learning for children at risk requires commitment to whatever is necessary to ensure the fulfillment of every basic need for children AND their families.   It’s a simple, elegant, highly challenging solution and one about which every responsible U.S. citizen should be concerned. 


It is irrational to hold teachers accountable for the failure of children whose needs are not met. It’s simple and obvious, but contradicts current Federal or State policy.  Test data lust is the antithesis of the holistic child-centric approach that is necessary.  Pushing teachers and children to compete for resources based on test scores simply exacerbates the learning gap.  NCLB and RTTP have developed  The Hunger Games” protocol of education, forcing students and families to battle for desperately needed diplomas and skills that literally decide their futures.  Common sense suggests it is time to analyze lessons learned, and redesign schools,  this time listening to brilliant people like Santayana and Maslow, and most importantly, the Subject Matter Experts of education, educators themselves, NOT politicians, NOT celebrities, NOT corporate leaders, NOT oligarchs, and certainly NOT profiteering producers of tests and prep materials.


Since 2007, educators from 61 countries have met to deconstruct current failing school models, and create one that actually addresses ALL of the needs of children, and provides a robust education unfiltered and diluted by aggressive testing prep.  It’s time to put schools in the hands of the communities with a vested interest in the success of their children.  The model will take form in 2014, the first riser in a long staircase that will scaffold children at risk to learning readiness.  Only then can the gap in learning between children of rich and poor, be closed once and for all.  


A key to ensuring the success of every child in this model is a multi-step, detailed, holistic assessment of his/her needs, conducted in a comfortable setting by human services professionals and educators.  Assessment of how every child’s current situation meets his/her basic needs per Maslow will define the roadmap for the support, materials, intervention, advocacy, and opportunities he/she will require.  In partnership with community members and resources, the school will in fact “be everything to all children” and lay the foundation for their success and the welfare of their families.


How can such a school exist without government funding, and be freed from debilitating policies like NCLB, RTTP, and Common Core? The new school model, based on the philosophy above and comprehensive research is composed of specific blocks each of which addresses different critical needs of children and their families.  The Financial Block, that will support and sustain the community-owned school, relies on a unique combination of income streams, proven as highly successful individually elsewhere and meshed in this case.  These include bartering of services, shares (as in Community Sustained Agricultural programs), local business sponsorships, sliding tuition scale, community enrichment grants, as well as products and services developed and marketed in partnership with the community. As is done on college campuses, every needed activity and program is budgeted and self-funded by multithreaded incomes.  Thus, every child of the community can be welcomed, unlimited by household income.


Each building block of this new school model fulfills specific critical needs of children and families at risk.  For example, Pre- and Post-School Day Blocks include round-the-clock programming providing supervised activities for students, siblings, and elderly family members seven days per week.  In addition to 24-hour daycare that supports the grueling work schedules of many families at risk, this programming will provide onsite single-point coordination of family social and human service benefits.   Round-the-clock programs will include homework help, mentorship, extracurricular activities, vocational skills training, sustained nutrition activities, literacy courses, citizenship preparation, diversity workshops, Performance Arts practice and exhibition, and much more.  


The Curriculum Block was born of best practices, scholarly research and the recommendations of experienced educators.  K-12 children will be immersed in learning that embraces age/development appropriate core curricula, integrated with practical application, solo and in teams, in non-standard learning space indoors and outdoors, not limited to rows of desks or chairs circling tables.   Planned adjunct community center space and offsite locations will allow children to explore learning, while physically active, and reaping the benefits of fresh air and Nature.


Extended school programs will provide children outreach, involvement, and community engagement integrated with learning. The school café will provide family style meals for students at school and home, deliver meals to needy elderly, exhibit the culinary expertise of students, and fund after-school activities. The school’s sustained nutrition program with local organic farms will provide hands-on agricultural education and micro-businesses for community families. Performing arts showcases will display student talents, and raise funds for elder care and student trips. Fashion design classes will supply the school boutique with chic clothing for sale and exhibition at community fashion shows.  Program planning will provide students with project management experience.


The 2104 pilot, planned for launch in California, will demonstrate how to give children at risk a chance at becoming true, independent leaders of the future, contributors to the global community.  


By: Rosanna Pittella PhD, author, blog writer, international speaker on education, ethicist, and researcher is the facilitator of global collaboration of educators resulting in the design of the new fair and accessible school model designed to close the gap in learning for children at all socioeconomic levels. Educators who wish to join these global work groups can contact Dr. Pittella via www.elementalethics.com, or by calling 267-287-8357.