Opinion: ‘We can do better’ for our kids | PostIndependent.com

Opinion: ‘We can do better’ for our kids

Robyn Parker
Free Press Opinion Columnist

Since my earliest lessons in fire safety, I’d fretted about whether I would actually remember to stay low to the floor to avoid smoke inhalation in an emergency. The question was resolved my son’s sophomore year in high school when he took a chemistry class.

It was late at night when he and his buddy were making way too much noise in my kitchen. As I was getting out of bed to holler at them, I heard a “whoosh.” It was unlike anything I’d ever heard before, and it was clearly something bad.

The boys were making homemade smoke bombs by carmelizing sugar and potassium when the concoction exploded. Flames raced over my kitchen cupboards in a flash fire. Smoke was so thick that it was impossible to see the flashing lights on the smoke detectors. The air in the bottom half of the house remained clear and the obvious place to be.

When I notified the chemistry teacher of the incident, she informed me that it was the third experiment gone awry, resulting in fire, which she’d heard about that semester. It was like a right of passage for aspiring scientists.

I couldn’t be too mad. They were good kids applying what they’d learned in school. I’ve always tried to make my home a place where they are free to imagine and invent. One year, when my son and his friends made props for a scene from MacBeth, they inadvertently spray painted all the lettuce in my garden silver. My kitchen table still bares paint streaks in the assorted colors of school projects my kids, their friends, and neighbor kids completed there.

As a stay-at-home mom specializing in school volunteerism, I have been blessed with one of the best jobs ever. The first group of kids I’ve gotten to know well graduated this month. I have had the pleasure of working with students from preschool through high school. Some were high-achieving kids destined to be top students attending the best colleges, and others were the so-called “troublemakers,” unlikely to last until graduation.

There was a boy in my son’s fourth grade class who was always in trouble for something or another. He did not do well academically and lived in a rundown neighborhood with parents working multiple jobs.

As a punishment for some misdeed, he was kicked off the bus and made to walk two miles to and from school for several days. The first day was chilly, and when he passed my house, I noticed he wasn’t dressed appropriately. I gave him a hat and gloves and began giving him a ride to school.

He wore the hat and gloves every day, but when the temperature dropped to 17 degrees one morning, his coat was still unzipped. When I questioned him about his attire, he informed me that he’d like to dress warmly but that his zipper was broken.

In the 13 years my son spent in Grand Junction’s schools, tens of millions of dollars were cut from the budget. Some classes are so overcrowded that students sit on floors or the counter tops in the back of classrooms. Opportunities for electives such as art, woodworking, and auto shop have been slashed.

Teachers have lost freedom for creativity and flexibility as they have been forced to make standardized testing a priority. “No Child Left Behind” pushes everyone to be the same and has resulted in an expectation that higher-achieving students slow down to wait for everyone else to catch up. At one point in elementary school, my daughter was required to stop working on math because she was getting too far ahead.

Every child is special and full of potential. Too many have unfair disadvantages. For some, it’s the lack of a computer or Internet at home. For others, it’s a lack of parental involvement, hunger, or even homelessness. Schools can help balance challenges and opportunities, but they can’t do it without community support.

Every child deserves an opportunity to succeed, and we are leaving too many behind. We can do better.

I thank the students I’ve met over the years for the opportunity to work with them and wish them the best in their endeavors.

A fourth generation Coloradan, GJ Free Press columnist Robyn Parker is the former host of the progressive community radio show, Grand Valley Live. She is a stay-at-home mom, active community volunteer and board member for local environmental and social justice organizations. Robyn may be reached at gjrobyn@gmail.com.

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