Monday, December 16, 2013

The Best That Money Can Buy

I just read this article in Education Week highlighting the widening gap between students in families with financial means to enhance their child's education and students in families who are not financially established enough to keep up.  For some reason, it really struck me, the difference in time and money and experience these two groups of kids have.

My daughter didn't necessarily grow up in a rich family -- we are pretty much your typical middle class family.  But here are the things my daughter got to experience between the ages of 4 and 12 beyond her regular school day:

  • A parent who was home with her during school breaks and the summer.
  • Trips to the library with family.
  • Trips to museums with family.
  • Preschool.
  • Summer camp.
  • Vacations to numerous places, including Disney World, Disney Land, King's Island, Washington, D.C., Houston, Galveston, Minnesota, Key West, and Cancun.
  • Week long summer camp at Sea World in San Antonio.
  • Bowling lessons.
  • Soccer.
  • Dance classes.
  • Tumbling and gymnastics classes.
  • Karate lessons.
  • Being on a poms team and a cheerleading squad.
  • Participating in track and field.
And I am sure this list is nowhere near exhaustive.  To me, she seemed to have a pretty typical childhood, with a few extra nice things thrown in.  She had parents whose schedules allowed for her to participate in activities beyond her school day, and parents who were willing to outlay cash for those experiences.  Some of those things were funded by other family members in whole or in part, but all of the activities listed above gave my daughter a huge wealth of experiences to draw from.  Clearly her social and academic skills were helped by all the things she got to do in those few very important years.

Then I think about kids who are in families where parents are out of jobs, or where parents earn particularly low salaries, or where there might be only one parent at home, or where a student might be a "latch-key kid" who comes home to an empty house, or a child whose parent(s) work nights, or a kid who has to help with household responsibilities like cook, clean, do laundry, or babysit for the family.  How many of the things listed above are going to be readily and easily accessible to these kids?  It requires great effort and sacrifice by parents who are already having to put forth great effort and sacrifice to maintain the basics.

If you are like me (or in an even better situation financially), stop and think about the experiences your own kid has had thus far in life.  Now think how many of them would still be there if you were a single parent working a custodian job from 3 - 11 PM.   I can tell you that almost every one of those things would be off the table for my own child if that were me.

It's no wonder that gap exists and widens so deeply.  I guess to me, that means it's that much more important for schools to do what they can to help bridge that gap.  And I'm not just talking academically, but finding ways to enrich the lives of students.  Just making sure kids can read, write, and do math is not enough.  They need to experience things that give context to their learning, that make then enjoy living, that give them ideas for the future.

I don't know why that gap never made sense to me before, but it does now.

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