Summer 2015 Groundviews: Volunteers, making a direct impact

Below is the lead story of our Summer 2015 Groundviews newsletter. To read the entire newsletter or past issues, please visit our Groundviews webpage.

Through 12 years of volunteering, Matt* has tutored scores of students at our Broadview Shelter and Transitional Housing for women and their kids who are leaving domestic violence. Along the way he’s helped students get into major universities, and provided vital witness and support to others.

Matt, a longtime volunteer tutor at Broadview

Matt, a longtime volunteer tutor at Broadview

Matt began volunteering at Broadview in the fall of 2003, when he relocated to Seattle to pursue a tech career after graduating from Duke University. “I had done various volunteering opportunities when I was in college and high school; I was just looking for a way of getting involved out here,” he says.

Comfortable with math and a steady role model, Matt became a weekly tutor with middle and high school kids, many of whom face considerable challenges. In addition to overcoming domestic violence, Broadview residents include refugees and other families who have suffered additional trauma.

A flawed system
In Matt’s experience, the public education system often fails to adequately support these students. “They might be in huge classes where the teachers just don’t have time. I don’t fault the teachers. The system is not set up to help kids who may have been in a different school every year because of their homelessness. They can be three grade levels behind and getting pushed forward because we don’t hold kids back anymore. So they are pushed forward, pushed forward, pushed forward, and they wind up in middle school and high school.

“I’ve seen kids in high school probably at a fourth or fifth grade level. I think a comparatively small amount of input time can yield really large benefits for some of these kids. And the earlier that you can get them academic help can have really profound impacts on how they do later on.”

One of Matt’s students now goes to the independent Lakeside School, another attends Stanford University, and another graduated from University of Washington. The Stanford student now volunteers at Broadview as well. “Which is really awesome,” Matt says. “But here is the thing: Those kids, they needed a lot of help, but they really cared. They were passionate, they worked really hard. So I helped a lot, but I didn’t have to necessarily sit and explain, ‘Doing homework is important’ or ‘This is why we would do this.’ They really cared.

“The flipside of that is I’ve had many kids where the conversation ends up being, ‘Well, why am I doing this, why don’t I just drop out of high school?’ It ranges all the way from kids like that to kids who – it makes me sad – who are juniors in high school and will say ‘I want to be a video game designer’ or ‘I want to be a rocket scientist’ or something like that – but they can’t add.”

Opening doors
Matt says, “I think education is just super important. It is super important at least to empower people to have whatever opportunities they might want. I mean, people can go and choose to do anything with their life, but without certain basics, there are certain doors that I think will forever be closed.

“I think education is just super important."

“I think education is just super important.”

“I am very privileged and I recognize that. Good education, good job. I think coming here actually helps ground me in some of the realities that not only go on in this city, but go on elsewhere. I am personally upset by the increasing income inequality in this city.”

A positive impact in the local community
“My wife and I both feel that it is important to engage with the local community where we live. I’ve always been pretty impressed with Solid Ground. I feel like I am having some positive impact.

“We donate money to Solid Ground and we donate to other places. But I don’t think it is the same as donating your time. The dollar value of coming here one hour per week is not necessarily huge compared to what a check can give. But I feel like I am actually having a real direct impact in someone’s life.

“I think when I was younger, and maybe a little more gung-ho, I would have said, ‘We can bring any kid up to grade level!’ Or something like that. And now I don’t think that. I am more pragmatic in the sense that if I can come – and with some of the more difficult kids, if I can just show them that I am a responsible adult willing to come here once a week and care – that might be good enough. That might be really important; that’s the best that I can do with that kid.”

Visit Broadview’s webpage for more info.

*Matt requested that we not use his last name.

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Out from the hallways, into the classrooms

New Holly community members urged Seattle City and King County Councilmembers, and one Seattle School Board member, to reduce how often schools use suspensions and expulsions as disciplinary measures. Frustration boiled from every corner of the overflowing public forum, The School-to-Prison Pipeline: Education not Criminalization of our Youth. The community knows that youth of color are being disproportionately punished in school in ways that undermine their ability to succeed in the future. The school-to-prison pipeline, a reality in which zero-tolerance school disciplinary measures perpetuate future youth incarceration – particularly, youth of color – justifies the frustration.

School2PrisonBanner

Fremont Fair parade banner illustrating the school-to-prison pipeline

Solid Ground President & CEO Gordon McHenry, Jr., the former Executive Director of Rainier Scholars, says, “The community has known for a long time there was a problem. The municipal and county leaders know there’s a problem. The school district knows there’s a problem, and the data that comes from both the school district and government validates that there is a problem.” With recognition coming from all levels that Seattle schools’ disciplinary structures are dangerously flawed, last week’s forum felt several decades overdue.

Schools, and for that matter the criminal justice system, often rely on punitive justice as opposed to restorative justice, says McHenry, Jr. The referral-suspension-expulsion disciplinary hierarchy takes students out of the classroom and compounds underlying behavioral issues with falling behind in class. Hallways, detention rooms, and youth prisons are all educationally broken environments that sentence students to insurmountable education gaps long after the actual punishment ends.

The community feels suspensions and expulsions should be measures of last resort, necessitated only when physical or emotional safety is at risk. Not looking the teacher in the eye, wearing jeans too low, or other behavioral missteps are better handled as teaching opportunities than justifications for dismissal.

Zero-tolerance policies for poor behavior inherently target certain groups because behavior is dictated by a student’s circumstances. A student who acts out in class because he sleeps in a car and can’t afford breakfast has as much right to equitable education as a student coming from more stable living conditions. McHenry, Jr. argues the goal for education is to “enable educators to educate all youth – not just the model youth that come from a stable home, [are] well fed, and have one or both parents employed.”

More inclusive schools can directly lessen the school-to-prison pipeline. Correlations between how far students get in school and incarceration rates confirms that by developing students’ knowledge, skills and cultural awareness, schools help keep youth out of prison. Although, the schools’ primary responsibility is to teach core subjects, the school has an additional responsibility for fostering a positive environment due to the dominant role they play in children’s lives.

The disconnect between what we assign our schools to do and their unacceptable failure to educate some students also stems from lack of resources. School funding to meet the mandated basic education requirements is not sufficient for supporting a culturally and economically diverse student body, says McHenry, Jr.

Ideally, teachers could create in-the-moment lessons for behavior misconduct that keeps disruptive students in the classroom. This might be as simple as a student learning to recognize their inappropriate behavior, or maybe more comprehensive action including apologies or community service. Policymakers and communities have the onus of getting teachers the support they need so they can productively address disruptive students while still continuing to teach to the entire class.

As one teacher mentioned in the forum, we need to pull students out from the hallways and into the classrooms if we want them to believe that’s where they belong. Forcing students out of learning is educationally and psychologically destructive. Hallways turn into detentions which turn into prisons. Equitable access to quality education is a critical first step to ending poverty. We owe them that.

Amicus brief to State Supreme Court: New revenue needed to McCleary

Last Monday, August 4, Pacifica Law Group filed an amicus brief with the Washington State Supreme Court on behalf Five-year-old-girl at the library.of the Washington State Budget & Policy Center (WSBPC), making it clear that legislators cannot responsibly address the requirements of the McCleary decision to fully fund education without raising new revenue.

Joining WSBPC as co-signers on the brief are Centerstone, Equity in Education Coalition, Eldercare Alliance, Solid Ground, Statewide Poverty Action Network and students from the University of Washington.

The amicus brief argues that the math doesn’t pencil out when you try to fully fund basic education without new revenue. It details the devastating impact of potential budget cuts on students, low-income families, communities of color, supports for older adults and children, and more.

More than two years after the court’s McCleary ruling was issued, the legislature has largely relied on unsustainable funding to make additional investments in basic education and remains behind schedule in adequately funding education.

For over forty years, Solid Ground has worked to end poverty through delivery of direct services, working to strengthen communities and advocating for public policies to address the causes and impacts of poverty. Every day at Solid Ground, we serve hundreds of families with children. We see firsthand that children need housing, food, medical care, counseling and more in order to achieve in school. When these basic needs go unmet, children have a difficult time staying in school, much less succeeding in school.

The amicus brief recommends that the court encourages the legislature to raise additional revenue that is stable and dependable in order to fully fund basic education. Failing to raise revenue to meet our education funding needs would result in cuts to other areas of the state budget that kids need to thrive. Without stable housing, access to health care and nutritious food, and other supports that create long-term economic security, we simply won’t create better outcomes for all kids in Washington. And isn’t that what McCleary is all about?

Poverty Action at the Capitol

On Martin Luther King Jr., Day 2014, Statewide Poverty Action Network members and volunteers took their fight for social justice to the Washington State Capitol in Olympia. Over 200 members joined us for a day of action, and together, our network covered the Capitol in ‘Poverty Action Purple’ and made our voices heard, visiting nearly every member of the Washington State Legislature.

We stood for increasing support for basic needs programs, housing, health care, fighting predatory debt practices, and increasing educational opportunities for all Washingtonians. Thank you to all who participated in this inspiring day; without your support this could not have been possible!

For more information about Poverty Action or to become a member, visit: www.povertyaction.org.

Public education: Show us the money!

When it comes to K-12 education funding in Washington State, now is the time to ask tough questions:

  • Do you know how much we spend per student?
  • Are we falling short?
  • Are we adequately addressing the achievement gap that continues to affect low-income students and students of color?
  • How do we fix our broken funding system?

The Community Forums Network (CFN) is surveying Washington State residents until October 28 to gather public input for policy makers, local media and other stakeholders.

Please take 10-15 minutes to get your voice into the conversation!

To get started, go to the CFN website. Watch the six-minute video that frames the issue, then take the online survey. At the end of the survey you can select Solid Ground to receive points toward earning a grant.

Solid Ground’s Advocacy Director Tony Lee is currently helping build a coalition of groups representing minority communities to advocate for additional resources for programs and strategies to eliminate the achievement gap impacting low-income students and students of color in K-12 education. A question about this strategy is included in the survey.

CFN is dedicated to asking great questions and starting valuable conversations that help our communities move forward. They are making it easier for all of us to dive in and be heard.

Upon completion of its research, CFN will prepare a “Where’s the consensus?” report for local decision makers, media partners and all of us.

“That way we amplify your voice and focus on finding solutions together,” states the CFN website. “In the end, open communication builds stronger communities.”

We need YOU: Join the Washington Reading Corps!

WRC logoWant to make a long-term difference in kids’ lives? Consider a year of service with the Washington Reading Corps (WRC) of King County!

WRC is a statewide program that helps struggling preschool to elementary students improve their reading skills and succeed in school. WRC believes access to education and closing the achievement gap are key social justice issues with far ranging consequences directly related to our mission to end poverty and undo racism. Literacy is one of the most important factors in school success, and our goal is to ensure that all students can read by the end of 3rd grade. We also support family and community involvement in schools.

Solid Ground coordinates the WRC of King County, which serves over 1,600 students a year at more than 20 schools and community sites. Since 1997, WRC has boosted the literacy skills of close to 150,000 students statewide. Each year we place stipended AmeriCorps Members to tutor and coordinate family literacy events at WRC sites across King County.

During your year of service as a stipended, full-time AmeriCorps Member with WRC, you’ll receive extensive para-educator reading training to:

  • Tutor struggling readers, both one-to-one and in small groups.
  • Coordinate Family Literacy Nights to engage families in their children’s schools.
  • Develop analyses of institutionalized racism and low literacy, and their connection to poverty.
  • Recruit, train and support community volunteers.

Solid Ground’s WRC program is unique in the level of training Members receive in understanding and developing the skill set to be an active member of the anti-racism and social justice communities. In turn, AmeriCorps Members help recruit and train community volunteers and provide one-to-one and small-group tutoring for students.

Former WRC Member Quentin D. Ergane Johnson describes the Reading Corps experience for people considering a year of service:

Former WRC Member Quentin D. Ergane Johnson I would tell them that it would be challenging, but it would be the best challenge they’ve ever had of their lives. I would tell them the reward of a child’s smile is immeasurable, and you can’t even understand unless you get one. I would tell them that there’s something really magical when your students start to really understand words and language – when they really start to get it. Oh, there’s nothing like it!”

How to become a Washington Reading Corps (WRC) Member:

WRC of King County is currently seeking full-time Members for the 2012/13 school year. Benefits include:

  • bi-weekly living allowance totalling $1,050/month
  • $5,550 education award at the end of your year of service
  • health coverage

To apply, go to the My AmeriCorps website and use the Seattle WRC Listing ID #: 5006, and visit the WRC ‘s webpage for more information.

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