Thursday, January 25, 2007

can volunteers and technology help to fix the city schools?

In a recent radio interview, Dan Rivers from 570 wkbn (it took years, but they are finally streaming online) was discussing inequalities within the public education system with YSU professor Paul Sracic. Sracic is the author of "San Antonio V. Rodriguez and the Pursuit of Equal Education: The Debate over Discrimination And School Funding", a look the landmark case from about 30 years ago where the Supreme Court ruled that a quality and equal education is not essentially a right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

This "right to a quality education" has recently become a hot topic in the Buckeye State, as there are groups pushing to edit Ohio's Constitution to make this right to a quality education the law of the land. Pho in Akron does a nice job of recapping this issue, as well as providing links to editorials and judicial opinions at his recent posts here and here. Really nice work, Pho.

So while this blogger will leave to it the reader to further explore the arguements about the amendment, a central question needs to be answered:

Are there steps that we can take to minimize the existing inequalities?

Furthermore, are there cost-effective solutions out there to avoid what some callers to the show labeled "throwing more and more money into a broken system"?

- - -

So while the following two suggestions may only chip away at small pieces of the problem of inequities instead of solving the entire state's school system, maybe that is the best place to start.

Because even the longest journey begins with a single step.

a - I know a few retired schoolteachers. Thirty years of being in a classroom has not only made them experienced teachers, but also employees who are well-deserving of a retirement.

Some of these teachers however, have gone back to volunteer for free in the schools, if only for a few hours a week.

It's my bet that there are many many retired teachers throughout the region, and a lot of them can still make a difference in children's lives. But instead of placing them in a classroom with twenty-five or more kids throughout an entire school year, is it possible to match a single teacher with a single city school student for two hours a week?

Maybe a neat pilot program would be to create after-school meetings for academically troubled school students matching teachers who may be willing to provide a few hours a week of tutoring, and even perhaps some inspiration and personal guidance as well.

But then, why stop at teachers? Can our region's engineers, artists, accountants and machinists - our region's individuals - provide two hours of mentoring one day, every other week, to one student?

If loads of people can help in this fashion of incremental assistance, then perhaps a unique safety web and source of inspiration can exist for every city school student who needs it.

b - A great organization I had the opportunity to work with in the past was TECH CORPS in Georgia. Their goal was to minimize the digital divide that existed for inner city school children who lack an exposure to computers throughout their lives.

Volunteers would sort through donated and discarded computer equipment, often installing software and performing upgrades before giving the computer to the families of city school students who did not already have one. The organization also provided training for the entire family to learn basic computer skills, skills that are essential to future employment in many sectors of today's economy. That way, the children can work with computers not just during the short time of the day they are in school, but in their home as well.

So then I checked the web if this group is in Ohio. And sure enough, they are. And they can be found at this website.

But the interesting thing is, the group is not statewide. It only operates in 10 out of Ohio's 88 counties, none of which are in the Mahoning Valley.

But they would like to expand their presence in the state! Click here for more details on their long-range hopes for the group.

So maybe the next step is to find out what we can do to help TECH CORPS Ohio expand into our region. To help us get organized in this area, to train volunteers, and to eventually provide students with computers they can use, and to develop a more highly-skilled workforce for the future.

Are you looking to volunteer with an organization? Maybe TECH CORPS is a good place to start, and your assistance will have a big impact on the future.

- - -

The Rivers' show ended with an interesting discussion, asking Sracic what he sees in this region that others who live here are not aware of. Sracic's response was that the Mahoning Valley still has a great sense of community - a tight-knit community that other parts of the country just don't have.

So perhaps this same community can rise up and say "you know, there are just some things that the state and property taxes can't alone solve" and it is up to individuals who volunteer their time which bit by bit, can start to make a difference in the inner city schools.




quick news note:
Michigan is experiencing some pains at the moment as Pfizer announced it will be closing their operations within the state, effectively laying off thousands of workers. You can read two stories about what happened here and here. It just goes to show how turbulent the economy is sometimes, and the churn that exists even in high-tech industries.

Let's hope Michigan quits losing jobs like these, and instead returns to something they are really good at losing . . .

namely football games.


sheilak said...

I really enjoyed your blog, esp. since I am a Youngstown-American as well. I appreciate you raising some of the educational issues (technology, inequality, etc.) because without a better education system we can't complete any real redevelopment of Youngstown. Good schools attract families and add stability and once you have better schools you have higher housing prices and higher housing feeds the tax base to go back into the schools. It is cyclical. I don't want to imply that I am not a proponent of affordable housing, but the schools are part of the solution. I like your ideas about the technology non-profit extending into Youngstown, it is an idea I had many years ago as a teenager. I substitute taught in the Youngstown schools a couple years ago and now teach in Brooklyn, NY and the digital divide is tremendous!!!! I finally bitched and complained and got 4 outdated computers placed in my classroom for the use of all 225 of our high school students to share. And how can they compete later on?!!??!! My point is that we need to think outside the box as Scracic (who I had a class with afew years ago...)suggested. I am currently working on my Masters degree at Teachers College-Columbia University in NYC (taking some education policy classes)and hope to return to Youngstown to help revitalize the community. I could go on...but will spare you ;) I enjoyed your blog and if you like, check mine out as well:

Anonymous said...

Born and Raised in Youngstown, living in Tampa FL now. A program I recently saw advertised in our city seems as though it may be a good opportunity for both the city and the students. RoadRunner/Your Cable Co Here are running a promotion that any student (k-8) who logs 50 hours of community service in a year, as well as holding a 2.5 GPA (yes our education systems aren't so hot here) will be eligible for a drawing providing 100 students with a laptop as well as a free year of high speed internet service. I would approach Warner about this one...They are still the cable co right?

Lisa said...

Hey There! Are you still interested in expanding TECH CORPS Ohio into the YOungstown area? If so, contact me - we are registering schools and youth-serving organization for participation during the 2007-08 school year!
TECH CORPS Ohio State Director