Schools:What goes on inside the walls?

Published on Thu, Apr 7, 2005 by arren Aller

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Schools: What goes on inside the walls?

By Warren Aller

A great deal goes on within the walls of the school that most people outside the system are unaware of or have forgotten if they ever knew. The school is far more than a place where young people learn factual material although that is what most people see as the task. The nature of the school is contingent on the nature of the students; the tasks assigned them by state and federal government, and the values of the community around them. It is best to remember that schools are a microcosm of society and as social issues change, so do the functions of schools. The question is whether the political solutions legislated at the schools reflect understanding about the ramifications for those schools and communities. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is just one more in a long line of external pressures placed on the schools.

Schools have become the repository of community health since the time of Jonas Salk, Polio vaccine and the war on mumps measles, whooping cough, and rubella. In our state, immunizations are required for school attendance. The slogan, “No Shots – No School,” is obviously posted as a welcome to parents new to the school. The school is required to maintain immunization records and send them on when the child moves with costs coming out of the general budget.

Furthermore, schools check for scoliosis, kyphosis, vision, hearing, and even pediculosis (head lice). Schools have been doing this quietly and efficiently for years.

Special education is a world of its own. No matter how many students a district has who qualify for special education; the state will pay for a maximum of 13 percent of the total district population. All qualifying special education students above that percentage must be paid for out of the general fund.

Many students arrive at schools with an alphabet soup of learning and behavioral difficulties; Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism, Aspergers Syndrome, Tourettes Syndrome, Fragile X Syndrome, and Fetal Alcohol/Drug Syndrome are a few that come to mind. Medical science has made advancements to such an extent that many babies are saved at birth now but suffer from multiple handicapping conditions. The cost of educating one child with multiple handicaps can exceed $40,000 per year.

Each child in special education is required to have an individual educational plan (IEP); each IEP is structured around a multi-disciplinary team (MDT) composed of all parties who have a stake in the education of the child in question. I have served on MDTs consisting of over seven specialists.

Do children receiving special education services deserve the best education we can give them? Of course! However many people are unaware of the cost of schooling to meet legal requirements, not to mention the responsibility local schools have to educate these young people until their 21st birthday. These federal and state programs are regulated by law with staggering litigation costs associated.

Many children are living in poverty. Washington Kids Count in reporting U.S. census figures, notes more than one in four children in Washington (28 percent) live in families where no parent had full-time year-round employment. It is not at all uncommon to see a school where half of the children’s families fall below federal guidelines for poverty. Schools respond as best as they can with free and reduced price hot lunch and breakfast programs and provide many school supplies through the philanthropy of local groups.

If poverty were the only issue at stake here, the educational component could be handled, but poverty coupled with other social issues such as chemical and alcohol dependency, abuse of children due to family violence or neglect cause many children to come to school emotionally and sometimes physically challenged.

These are but a few illustrations of non-educational tasks assigned to schools that have little direct bearing on the educational process.
Schools can no longer handle the increasing expectations in isolation. Well meaning politicians legislate global solutions without understanding the ramifications to local schools and communities.
As an individual there are some things you can do to make a difference in your local schools and the lives of young people. Become involved in the education of a young person. Non-paid concerned adults are scarce in schools (especially middle and high schools) and research shows that the involvement of unrelated caring adults in the lives of young people helps them academically, socially and emotionally. It doesn’t take a lot of an adult mentor’s time and energy to make a real difference for a young person.

No single one of us can correct the inherent flaws embedded in the political morass called No Child Left Behind. However, if each of us takes the position that Helen Keller proposed we can make a difference in a child’s world.
“I am only one,
but still I am one
I cannot do everything
but still I can do something
I will not refuse to do
the something I can do”
Helen Keller

(Warren Aller is former principal at the Blaine school
district and a lecturer at Western Washington University.)