While health does not equate to success, a healthy student is more likely to succeed. Why? They are not simultaneously tackling the world and their own body. If the body will not work for the student, the mind is unable to perform at capacity.
School is hard enough without having health concerns that can disrupt a whole day in a matter of seconds. Students with chronic illnesses, disabilities, compromised immune systems, mental health concerns, and any body issue that will infringe on their success are at a major disadvantage in the current American Public Education System (APES.)
The APES is built for students who will do their very best and no less, and sometimes even their best is not enough. The APES is built to disguise its failures as those of its students, which is shameful and needlessly unamerican. A system so expansive is bound to have faults, but certainly not a tear as massive as this, the disregarding of a major population of people. To discredit a population because it is a minority is not only illegal but plain rude. Yes, “Alternative Centers” exist, but they shouldn’t have to.
What is the cost comparison of opening an entirely separate campus for ‘different’ students as opposed to training a more effective staff on one campus, and not segregating by health condition? My own district spends more than six million dollars on staff development, the metro we border spends more than fifteen million. How difficult would it be to include a little Teaching a Diverse Student training in there? How difficult is it to learn to teach a Spoonie?
Public general education school campuses need to beef up their comprehensive training before falling victim to recession and budget cuts once families discover that private, magnet, and charter education opportunities will better suit the needs of their diverse student. Humans are diverse, so education should be too. No amount of affordable legal taxation will make up for funding cuts as public campuses continue to fail.
While charter and magnet campuses already have much more to offer a student body that is ready for better-suited education than a PS can offer, public schools should not suffer in the wake of the societal change. Education is power, and if power is not acquirable in our general education schools, then we have failed as a nation. Requiring families to choose their homes based on what companies are running the schools in the area, what ideas the local campus is teaching, what kind of funding is going into what kind of curriculum, is cruelly unrealistic for low-income families who make their decisions in very different ways than upper-middle-class Americans who can afford to puddle hop when they aren’t completely satisfied.
Improve the schools we have, work harder to create an environment of accessible success, instead of leaving the ‘lesser’ to the wolves and privatizing education. Yes, charter schools are public, but the teachers and staff are handpicked to cater to very specific needs and demographics. The idea that the campus will ‘reflect the desires of the community’ insinuates that the entire community shares a desire. This type of thinking polarizes education, creating environments of sheltering similar to toxic forms of homeschool. Parents begin sending their children to the Charter of Choice that supports their political and social ideas of rightness for their child, removing the diversity of a public education, spitting out not model citizens, but modeled citizens.
How to improve the schools we have:
- Teach the Teachers how to make small classroom accommodations that benefit diverse learners, especially as those with physical and mental health concerns.
- Encourage networking between in- and out-of- district campuses to strategize ways to better accommodate diverse learners, and boost awareness of the different types of teaching and learning that can exist.
- Offer various administrations of courses, such as online or small-group. If money exists to open an Alternative Education Center with its own building costs and staffing fees and maintenance requirements, then money exists to have additional staff on existing campuses utilizing existing space and resource technology such as labs and libraries to provide “class” in different forms.
- Create campus health programs that inform nursing and caregiving staff about the wide spectrum of physical and mental health conditions affecting students beyond the general scope of ‘common.’ Offer staff opportunities to learn about these conditions and understand their true meanings.
- Create voluntary club organizations for students with conditions that require accommodations of any kind. Knowing they’re not alone is a powerful part of feeling safe and accounted for in public schools.
- Make sure administrators in the Section 504/IDEA/SpEd departments are informed about the vast variety of conditions affecting students and are willing to push for accommodating those students. In my own experience, I have had campus authorities not ‘believe’ in my condition, and therefore refuse to accommodate, even with explicit notice from medical professionals responsible for my care. A letter stating I struggle with overly stimulating environments that doesn’t specifically state that I will need to be allowed to enter less stimulating environments at any time is disregarded, despite the fact that any competent person understands the implication of the necessity of access.
- Have accessible spaces available. An empty counselor’s office (with a trusty adult nearby,) a library supply closet turned into a (one-at-a-time, pass accessible) quiet room, a standing pass for the nurse to take an emergency nap, any of these can turn a Big Scary School into a safer place quite easily.
- Do not assume that students that struggle with over stimulation are weak or exaggerating, the response to stimuli is out of the person’s control. Do not assume that a student with a hearing aid can simply ‘turn off’ their auditory receptors. Do not assume that a student that medicates at certain times of the day will always remember, or that forgetting means they don’t really need their medication, or that forgetting means they don’t care. Do not assume anything about a student’s condition, at any time, for any reason.
- Expect challenges.
Let’s get to work.