This past December, NPR aired this story on a place that is very near and dear to my heart, Central Falls High School, where I taught last year:
I immediately wanted to share it here, but wasn't sure what to say about it, because it just made me so sad. I know the students, I know the teachers, and I know the administrators. And at every level, there are amazing people, and there are people who are far too effective at dragging school culture down. But ultimately, Central Falls has just become too polarized to operate effectively. In such a small city, there is so much potential for unity and community intervention, but because everyone is so eager to assign blame and shirk responsibility, they seem to have progressed far beyond the possibility of reform. Reform requires real systemic change, and no one has yet managed to take that approach in Central Falls.
During this year, I have continued to talk with teachers and students there, and they paint a very sad picture. No one is happy. I'll be visiting this month, and I really hope to see individual progress in my former students, because I don't think the place is doing well as a whole.
So where is the positive spin I was hoping to put on this story? I used to have an idealistic vision that the world was headed toward some type of ultimate utopia, that we were knocking down our problems one by one to eventually resolve them all. Now it seems that every time we knock down one problem, another one pops up. There will always be more. But this is not at all depressing to me anymore. Nor is it a reason to stop tackling our problems. On the contrary, it seems to be the very reason we have to live. Every time we figure out one problem, we learn something about ourselves as individuals, and as a human society. And while there is always more suffering, being able to alleviate any of it is still a beautiful thing.
A couple of weeks ago, my mom sent me an email saying, "The world is changing." She was sharing some news of corporate recycling and composting. Just a few days ago, my brother sent me an email with an innovative way to feed the homeless. And yesterday, I attended a colloquium that detailed the work of City Connects, a Boston College program that works to provide services to students who need intervention at the academic, social, health and family levels. I was really impressed, and felt that the world might be changing.
City Connects is such a laudable program, because it bridges the gap between academic problem-solving and real-world implementation. They are improving the lives and test scores of urban, high-risk students as I write. Their solution is cost-effective and ultimately, very logical. They address the risk factors that children face outside of school and seek to alleviate those stresses. They work with teachers to build a better understanding of students. And they relieve the teachers of the external burdens that their students bring to class, so they can focus more on their teaching, and less on the physical and emotional well-being of students.
One of my frustrations with the medical community has been its inability to see the body and mind holistically. In other words, we go from specialist to specialist without looking at the big picture. And each doctor has no idea what the other is doing (more on this later). I think the same is true in education. We now know that factors both internal and external to school have an enormous effect on student performance. City Connects is like a holistic doctor. It centralizes the information on the student, so that schools, families, and social services can all address individual needs. It works to address academic success in a holistic way, one that addresses every factor which has an effect on success. And it holds everyone responsible, including the student.
So when I am saddened by the status of Central Falls, I remember that the world is changing, and that despite all the negativity in that school, there are still teachers there changing the fates of their students. And while they still have a whole slew of problems to address, there are teachers, students and leaders there, working tirelessly to knock down the little ones, one at a time.