My older sister has been blogging lately and the results have been spectacular. Her latest post was the focus of my most recent run on the hamster wheel and I felt like I needed a place to document my thoughts. I will likely return to this topic often as my thoughts evolve because I generally like to overthink something that feels as significant as this until I feel like I’ve come up with a personal plan of action.
For me, something that has contributed to the level of significance that I feel about this topic is that I went to a viewing of the movie Paper Tigers last Tuesday as a professional development opportunity with Mr. B. There were some technological issues getting the movie started but I was disappointed when I felt like the discussion was cut short at the end of the movie. The administrators of the PD posed the question, “What now?” after watching the film, one person shared something that wasn’t particularly memorable, and then they said, “Make sure you fill out your evaluation form and pick up for form for PD hours on your way out.” I was like, wait, what? This is it? But I still don’t know “What now?”!! I NEED TO KNOW WHAT TO DO NOW!!! The focus of the movie is an alternative school in Washington state that has turned their program upside down. The principal of the school learned about the ACES study and the impact of chronic stress on brain function. He realized that the majority of the students at his school were too stressed to learn effectively. He started designing an educational environment focused on building self-esteem, connection, and community. The school also offered a physical health clinic, mental health services, and substance abuse treatment to students because the administration recognized that they often didn’t have access to these services through their families due to financial constraints, transportation issues, or home responsibilities that might keep them from being able to attend appointments after school hours. I’ve often thought about how we forbid tobacco on our school campuses and punish students that are caught with tobacco products but aren’t offering help to addicted students to help them find resources to overcome their addiction. I can’t imagine what it is like to be addicted to nicotine, have limited coping mechanisms, and be without access to nicotine for 7 hours a day. I’m sure this contributes to the stress some of our students experience. I’m also willing to guess that nicotine isn’t the only addiction some of our students are facing. Also, in my small, rural community, there isn’t any public transportation available and there are no mental health or substance abuse services in our immediate community. We do have a small health clinic but I also am not sure that the majority of our students are getting regular medical treatment beyond what is required for screenings to attend school and participate in athletics. Our school has over 50% free and reduced lunch so we have children that experience many of the issues that come with low socioeconomic status. My sister’s post referenced the social determinants of health and the socioeconomic factors have been identified as having the greatest impact.
This pyramid reminded me of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs that we learned about in educational psychology.
Achieving one’s full potential in school cannot happen until these prior needs are met and unfortunately this isn’t happening for many of our students. The socioeconomic divide in our country seems to be an increasingly wide gap and our students reflect this divide as well. At our school, we have students that are able to focus on their education and understand the importance of their educational opportunities. They aren’t the majority though. Many of our students have chronic stress associated with the needs on the first four levels of Maslow’s hierarchy. What are we doing to address these needs in our current educational system? I know teachers are often under stress to increase test scores and to meet the needs of the college-bound students. Their parents are often the most attentive and involved, which also adds an element of expectation and certainly we should be preparing these students for their future. However, what about these other students that aren’t even emotionally available to attend to their education? What are we doing for these students? I see clearly how this disparity is continuing to contribute to the widening socioeconomic divide.
I see this issue as overlapping with my sister’s reflection on obesity and the ACA. How can people reach their full potential if their basic needs are not met? How can we better support people that are struggling? Another perspective that has helped open my eyes to this issue is addressed by this article. The rural working class (I decided to change the WWC label from the article when we discussed it in class because the issue isn’t specific to race) tends to resent professionals and teachers as well as doctors fall into this category. This isn’t helping our cause. Also, when I think about how we can better prepare our non-college track students, are teachers equipped to design this type of curriculum? We all went to college. Some teachers had jobs prior to teaching but many of those positions were also at the professional level. Very few of us have the background of watching our parents struggle only to live those same struggles ourselves. Teachers constantly complain about pay because it is low for the education required. However, and this is a big however, we are privileged to hold the the positions we have and in rural America, our pay, benefits, hours, and job opportunities are far superior to the majority of our students’ parents and what our students will also likely face after graduating high school.
I’m tempted to take another tangent here and point out that our school still sells soda during the school day and has candy available through the vending machines. I’m also tempted to mention that our sports-obsessed culture has done absolutely nothing to help promote lifetime health and fitness habits for our children. I fear that these topics might need to wait for another day because it is getting late.
Even without addressing those obvious contributors to childhood obesity that I see play out daily in the school in which I teach, I see the obesity issue and the education issue as similar because they both have our country’s socioeconomic divide at the root of the issue. How do we address the issues that the lower SES citizens of our country face? How do we decrease the divide? I believe the healthcare industry and the educational system could be major players in solving this issue and the government controls the funding for both. I personally want to be a part of the solution but the biggest question is: Where do we start?