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We need school boards to be visionary, creating learning environments where every student succeeds.

Heroic school board members ensure all students thrive. Three-headed hydras fail to grasp how schools can evolve.

“HEROES VS HYDRAS” SERIES

This fifteen-part series introduces you to the heroic partners you and your community will require to survive and thrive during pandemics and economic disruptions. The articles also provide tips on avoiding the three-headed hydras of apathy, envy and fear, those people in positions of power who are fighting to keep a broken status quo.

Schools are poised to be centers for healing and learning — or they can deny that large segments of their students are living without vital services for surviving and thriving.

Your School Board

Much has been written about schools defining democracy. Believe it with all your heart. Public schools have the potential to be the one place in a community where skills and support are offered to support every resident, regardless of income level. At least, that was the idea, long ago.

Heroic school board members are leading the call for school policies that can radically improve every public school and the lives of every student and their families.

The truth is, our public schools are ground zero for a host of long-standing challenges including students without access to stable housing, a secure line of food, medical care, behavioral health care and transportation to engage in activities that empower. Add adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) to this and that means students may spend far more time worrying about the abuse and neglect that await them at home, rather than completing math homework.

Yet, if you review school programming and policy, you wouldn’t know that in some classrooms, a third of the students’ families report no access to medical care or that half of the class might be enduring three or more forms of child maltreatment.

This is not an article about blaming schools for society’s ills. That’s an old complaint we can move past. We know the solution to these challenges exists in the form of the community school model.

A proven model awaiting implementation

It is important to acknowledge that until a few decades ago, most educators accepted that a school’s role was limited to teaching reading, writing, math and a bit of US history. As community and family structures have broken down, and government abandoned families to fix themselves without support, teachers have faced a tsunami of deeply troubled and traumatized students along with their parents.

The community schools movement arose out of the reality of students arriving at school without any fundamental social skills, and with many students simply left to parent themselves as their own parents struggled to secure employment and stable housing. It’s a movement that believes that our schools must be places of healing as well as learning.

Just like their counterparts in county and city government, most school board members don’t run on campaigns asking a district to address long-standing education, health and opportunity disparities and engage in groundbreaking systemwide initiatives. They may need to in the post-pandemic future where the entire school community, including most students and parents, are facing a host of challenges.

So busy putting out fires, there’s not time to become fire-proof.

Many schools are places where people are putting out fires and addressing emergencies hourly, not just daily. For some school administrators, there is no time in the week to address big picture problems like lack of access to health care and nine other vital interconnected services, and the marginalization of traumatized students due to ACEs and social adversity. Some school board members, as well as superintendents and principals, are just relieved to survive a school day without a death threat, attempted assault on a teacher or a student’s suicidal ideation being reported to the news.

Up until today, in many counties, the low level of school funding has trapped most public schools in a cycle of dysfunction and lack of vital resources where students struggle with academics, untreated illness, hunger and host of soul-crushing challenges.

The good news is that the community schools model can radically change the funding, staffing and capacity of public schools. But, for such a bold change to evolve, school board members have to understand the basics of the social determinants of health. The environments that all students grow up in impact their physical, emotional and intellectual development, their capacity to learn, and have repercussions on their success in school and, eventually, work.

As you research the community schools model, you will learn how in this time of radical change, the model can provide a foundation for stability and empowerment. Is the idea of turning all schools into fully resourced and staffed community schools, complete with school-based health centers serving students and their families, a paradigm shift worth considering? Living in a world where the next public health crisis could arrive at your county’s border at any moment, we think the answer is clear.

How do I meet a school board member and a superintendent?

The superintendent works for the school board, and in a perfect world, both are working to ensure the health and safety of all students, seeking to end any marginalization of students due to any challenges. But, the reality is that many school officials have been told for decades from above to focus solely on test scores and have not been supported in connecting the dots between access to surviving services and the capacity to learn.

You will find allies with the school community, including the school board, and these relationships need to be nurtured. Some of our work must be ensuring that our elected school boards and their district staff are working to make school environments places where all students, regardless of physical and emotional challenges or income level, are safe and successful. Priority topics to raise with them are: the need for a well-researched community school model and the development of school-based health care in every school. The ultimate goal is to create a learning environment where all students are safe and healthy, both in school and at home, and their education aligns with future job markets. This will prepare every student to function and succeed in both their employment and community life.

Bottom line

School board members control the quality and outcomes of public education in your local community, which means that they control the capacity of schools to serve as hubs for the community, with the resources to address health disparities and education disparities. Collaboration between schools, local government and health care leadership can result in funding streams to fully resource state-of-the-art, tech-empowered, family-friendly community schools. Our students deserve nothing less.

The future is what we make it. Join the evolution.

Please excuse any typos as I construct an article at 3am on only one cup of Joe. These stories are mine and mine alone. I do not represent any organization here. If one of my illustrations looks like a real human or three-headed hydra, that’s total coincidence. Words and images ©Dominic Cappello but share with everyone you know. Any questions? The future awaits: www.tenvitalservices.org

Written by

A NY Times bestselling author, social justice activist, Oprah guest, co-author of Attack of the Three-Headed Hydras, 100% Community and Anna, Age Eight.

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