When I was an elementary principal of a Title 1 school, my favorite thing to do was to stand out front every morning to greet students, staff and parents. Regardless of race, gender, socioeconomic status, political persuasion, religion or ability, every child who walked into our doors was welcomed, loved, challenged and encouraged to be the best person he or she could be. It was an honor to participate and witness the daily greetings, conversations, hugs, breakfast tacos, laughter and strong sense of community in the school.
Children played together, parents volunteered together, and everyone worked together in a way that was like no other I had experienced. It wasn’t perfect. There were differences sometimes, and disagreements, but people generally looked out for each other because they were connected through their school in a powerful way. The sense of community was palpable, and I’ve experienced it in every school district where I have worked.
This happens every day in community schools across our nation, and we shouldn’t take it for granted. Neighbors who don’t even know each other suddenly become friends due to the connections their children make at school. They sit together at Back to School nights, revel together in music performances or field days where their children display their best efforts, arrange playdates and create car pools to help each other.
Community schools bring people together through stronger relationships, through better understanding and through the common cause of doing the best possible for children. These experiences help us to have a deeper understanding and empathy for one another, something that is often lacking in other parts of our society. Community schools build social capital in a way that no other institution can do because they serve EVERYONE, and they represent EVERYONE; EVERYONE has a say in how they are governed, and EVERYONE helps to pay their fair share for the costs.
Our theme at TASA’s Midwinter Conference in January 2020 is “Uniting Public Education Champions.” Through this event, and throughout this school year, we encourage everyone to unite together and serve as champions for our public, community schools, that have served as a bedrock of our nation for more than two centuries.
One way for us to unite as champions is to remind ourselves and others that community schools themselves help to unite Americans because they are truly for everyone.
I think we as a society today need to remember and champion the things that bring us together.