I had the privilege of joining legislators and other interested community members on the annual Legislative Education Tour on Oct. 29. This tour gives our local legislators a chance to survey the Twin Falls School District with prepared briefings as well as to hear comments from the community about what they take away from the tour. This year, the tour drilled down on classroom experience in a way that I found both interesting and challenging.
I will get to the personal challenge first. I was educated in the Denver Public Schools during a period after WWII when the community had a progressive leaning, and the schools, along with the students they were educating, were a top priority. I graduated being told that I had one of the best K-12 experiences in the nation! That was then. Schools today, just in academic subjects, must impart two or even three times the academic material which was considered sufficient even through the ’70s. I realize that applying my personal experience to answer today’s K-12 education needs is woefully out of date.
The larger challenge for all of us as a community is the economic insecurity of a significant number of the students in Twin Falls classrooms. The conditions of families living in poverty have a broader range than ever before, but they have one thing in common. They send children to school from emotionally stressed environments. And even families who are not as economically challenged live stressful lives both because of time constraints and the economic reality of being one unexpected expense from insufficiency. The truth is, we are sometimes guilty of stigmatizing these families. If they are non-white families, there is another layer to the stigma, and within that group, there can be the impulse to identify reasons to demean others. This shows the important need for us to build a strong community that cares about each other and demonstrates civility in both public and private spaces.
Now for the excitement! Our school district is doing a commendable job of re-thinking how to do things as they meet both academic and social changes. It is accepted truth that no amount of facts taught to the K-12 students today will be enough for them to be completely competent in the years to come. There is just too much growth in knowledge. There will be facts which must be known to function in the years to come which are unknown today. The exciting thing to me is that our schools are teaching our kids current facts in addition to how to keep up with new facts. They are learning critical thinking skills at the earliest possible age and they are called on to sharpen those skills every year.
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Another exciting thing being done is career planning. Part of that is the Career Technical Education being done in high schools. Students can move into skilled jobs and apprenticeships from high school! But that is not all. Students are encouraged to think about what they want to do when they grow up throughout their student experience. They are introduced to possibilities and, at the same time, are encouraged to identify the interests, skills and abilities they will use when selecting occupations.
The final thing I am excited about is parent education and involvement. An invitation to be active in your child’s school no longer means fundraising. The really big deal these days is learning how to improve your child’s learning. It’s called a Community School model, and resources continue to be put in place to educate parents along with children on everything from academics to the softer skills needed for family communication. I’ve learned that grandparents who are concerned for their grandchildren can encourage the parents to engage at school and find resources that will produce good outcomes for both parent and child. It is how schools are meeting the social barriers to education that many of us worry about.
Schools aren’t perfect. The bar of perfection is constantly moving. However, many of the complaints I hear are being addressed. You can help. Know the facts. Applaud success. Suggest solutions. Most of all, know that tax dollars are needed for schools to function.