Wednesday, January 15, 2014

5 Ways to Support Public School (And Why You Should)



I was a public-school mom way before I was a public-school advocate.

Before we moved to this neighborhood, we were part of a robust public school system, one that prompted more than one homeschooling mom to say, "I wouldn't be homeschooling if I were in that school system." It ranks as a favorite in this area, and our experience there was positive if not perfect.

Back then, I didn't give this topic much thought, mostly because I didn't need to. I lived where the living was easy. My involvement never went beyond taking birthday treats to Calvin's classroom and showing up for programs. I never considered joining the PTO and I actually saw parent-involvement in the classroom as unnecessary and even a bit overbearing. After all, parents were never in my classrooms when I was a kid.

Of course most of this was unfounded. I was lulled into apathy, when I'm sure our previous school system could have used much of the same support I'm quick to offer now.

It's difficult to pinpoint exactly what it was that flipped the switch. It was probably a combination of things. For one, I was curious about what exactly went on inside that old, brick building. I wanted to nose in and sniff around. Basically, volunteering provided a good cover for my latent helicoptering.

Once I was in, it was impossible not to notice the level of excellence among the teachers and administration. I saw the lack of parent volunteers and quickly realized I had something to offer.

Even more than that, I became consumed with the swarms of little people. I was probably compelled to them even more, knowing the vast majority of them were low-income, marginalized, struggling in ways that were foreign to me (but ways I was becoming more aware of with every passing week.) There is something about seeing a child's innocence and having a hunch about the path in front of them. For me, it inspired action and it galvanized my belief that all children deserve equal opportunity and all children have the same capacity for success.

The majority of students at our neighborhood school are locked into generational poverty. Their parents might be less involved in their education for a number of reasons, most likely not because they don't care, but because they are working (often multiple, low-paying jobs) or because a language barrier keeps them removed. Our school responds to these unique needs with great sensitivity and creativity. Every paper that comes home from the school is bi-lingual, and they cater to the schedule of a working families who may not have access to transportation. Both breakfast and lunch are provided free for all students. From Kindergarten, there's an emphasis placed on the potential of the students, with the eventual goal of attending college.  Right now different roads are being paved for these kids. These early years carry the weighty responsibility of teaching them to love and value learning. I suppose I want to be a small part of that. It feels important.

I understand the United States educational system is broken in many ways. We are lucky to have landed in a Title I school where the administration has not simply thrown up their hands. By and large, they work tirelessly, and with passion. I don't know what I would be writing right now if our school was resistant to parental involvement, or if I got the sense that the teachers didn't give a rip. I don't know if my resolve would be worn down if the classrooms were constantly chaotic, or if it were obvious that my kids weren't being taught to their potential.

Maybe you read the lively riot of comments in yesterday's post, so it may be redundant, but this is what my family was called to. (And just as your callings and your reasons do not threaten ours, I hope ours don't threaten yours.) We were called out of several layers of fear, into a crumbling neighborhood with an "under-performing" school two blocks down our street. It wouldn't have made sense for our family to move here, wanting to live among our neighbors, then decide the education of their children is unfit or inadequate for ours. By educating our kiddos with the rest of the kids in this neighborhood, we have greater incentive to see that a quality education is being offered, and that benefits the entire community.

We are privileged to live in a country that allows the freedom of choice, and this is how we exercise our choice. We choose what is seen and even described by many as less-than, and we find so much more than we could have imagined. We had no guarantee that this would be the outcome, but we're so thankful it is. In making this choice, we're choosing stubborn optimism and hard work. We're choosing to see the opportunity to care about our entire neighborhood while caring for our kids at the very same time.

It's a reality that low-income students do not perform (on average) as well as other demographics. As such, low-income schools typically do not perform as well, at least on paper. The roots of this under-performance issue are tangled. I'm not knowledgeable enough about our educational system to solve that larger problem in one blog post.

What I can do is offer some suggestions on getting involved and being a presence in the local public school system, particularly in the under-privileged schools where resources (money, time, etc..) are non-existent and many of the students are more worried about not having adequate heat in the winter or enough food in the house than they are acing their spelling test or mastering the elusive cursive Z.
Many of these ideas may sound small, but I can attest to their impact.

  • Volunteer your time in the classroom Even one hour a week can make a big difference to a teacher who is past capacity. There's a good possibility you're the only volunteer he or she has, and her appreciation will probably be obvious. Even if she's not the overly-appreciative type, by taking some of the busy work off her hands, you're essentially handing her the gift of more time to provide quality education to your child - and all the kids. Win!
  • Join the PTO The PTO gave me a quick segue-way into the culture of our school by offering many outlets of involvement and connecting me with other moms who care about our school. These were some of my first friends in our new community, our shared concern for the students bonding us quickly. These opportunities also gave me a chance to start getting to know the kids, and as many of you mentioned in the comments, it's pretty awesome to offer a little piece of your heart to these brave little people whose lives probably aren't as simple as they should be.
  • Clip box-tops & sign up for grocery store credits* I had no clue how important this could be to a low-income school before we arrived here. This is such a simple thing that so many of us take for granted. I was shocked to learn each Box Top for Education is worth ten cents! Collecting, sorting, and clipping can be a time-sucker, but totally worth it. Start sending them with your child or if you don't have a child in a public school, send them to your local public school anyway. It's essentially free money, and I have to believe any school would be wowed by your caring generosity.

    Chamberlain earns thousands of dollars each year and these dollars can be used for things like building a new playground or funding field trips (just to name 2). I was surprised to learn that many of these things have to be community-funded, and when the community is dirt poor, that capacity is seriously limited. Every dollar, and every box top, counts!
  • Engage your local church I've talked about this before, but we visited our church for the first time because it's a block-and-a-half away. We stayed because their mission statement is centered around serving the neighborhood and the school. We're constantly blown away by the way they have chosen to bloom where they're planted, honoring the call to love the poor around them, and doing so with much authenticity and heart, never to proselytize, but to be present, supportive, and encouraging in very tangible ways.

    For example, our teeny, tiny, white-haired church serves dinner to the teachers and staff on Parent-Teacher Conference day, a day that runs them all ragged. A hot meal they can grab on the fly shows them we value their hard work. Our church also provides tutors to the Boys & Girls Club located next to the school and collects box tops. In December, they staffed the gift-wrap station at the Santa Store (one of the wrappers was a dear friend of mine who happily home-schools her son!), and the following day, Mike showed up as Santa, with our pastor as his Elf. :)
         Additionally, our church prioritizes praying for our school, the kids, and the staff. A few
         Sundays ago our bulletins were stuffed with these purple slips of paper:
Today, O Lord, I pray for the teachers and staff at Chamberlain Elementary School.  Lord, encourage them in their work. Continually lift their spirits in the face of the many challenges they face each day. Let them know that you are with them. Give them the wisdom and knowledge they need to teach and guide the children under their care. Protect them in their work against all evil and harm, and day by day bless the work of their hands.  In Jesus name, Amen.

Today, O Lord, I pray for the children of the neighborhood around our church. Jesus says, “Let the children come to me.” So let them come to you, Lord. Let them experience the fullness of your salvation. Protect them from all evil and harm. Make them secure in the knowledge of your love. Help them to grow up strong in faith as well as in body and mind, and lead them always in your way, your truth, and your life in Jesus. Amen.

Today, O Lord, I pray for the parents of the children who attend Chamberlain Elementary School. Many of them struggle to make ends meet. Many are single parents trying to balance the demands of home and work. Let the light and love of Christ shine in their lives. Encourage them in faith, hope, and love. Let them know that you are the one who sees all needs and can lift all burdens. And provide us with new opportunities to witness to them so that they might see your love and grace shining through us. In Jesus name. Amen
When my kids finally went back to school after break, I handed the paper slips to our Principal (knowing she's a Christian) in the drop-off line and she instantly teared up, which made me tear up, causing both of us eyeball freezage and allowing me to notice again that these things matter.
"Church involvement in schools is often limited to lobbying for prayer in school or protesting the science curriculum. We're very quick to judge what is being done wrong, or what doesn't line up with our theology, meanwhile, these kids are hungry or even homeless, the schools are under-funded, the teachers are over-worked. There aren't enough volunteers. We are missing out." - Educating All God's Children by Nicole Baker Fulgham
  • Meet with the School Counselor One of the first things I did when we moved was schedule a meeting with our School Counselor. I probably freaked her out a little with some of my crazier ideas and my unbridled enthusiasm, but a month or so later, she contacted me with a very tangible need: laundry soap. She offered no details and I didn't ask. I just bought a bunch of laundry soap and dropped it off at her office. Being familiar with the Counselor is key, because he/she has a deep understanding of the population and its needs. And, I would imagine, he/she doesn't have people banging on the door to offer help.

That's my list, and I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments.

So happy and honored to be in the trenches with you guys, wherever your trench happens to be. The internet has its detractors, but I see it as such a source of encouragement and support and you inspire me to more compassion all the time.

Thanks for letting me talk even when our feelings differ.

This is community. Let's push ourselves to take it out there, because we all need the same things.

Much Love,
FPFG



* Many of you have generously sent box tops to our school and everyone is excited about it at Chamberlain. I love getting texts or hearing from the school Secretary that another envelope came in the mail. They can't believe people in different states and even in different countries and continents care about our little place! You guys ROCK!!!

71 comments:

  1. my heart sings...more box tops for education on the way ...thank you for allowing me to be able to volunteer and help...

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  2. See, just the title (And Why You Should) contradicts what you're saying about everyone having different places to serve. Please feel me that I'm not TRYING to argue here, but yes, this feels judgmental.

    I'm not against what you're doing, and happen to agree that there's a definite need for it. Do we volunteer and contribute at the school system - no. But we are involved in several other programs in our area, one in particular a friend of mine started with children in an after care kind of program. My husband volunteers hundreds of hours a year in a local baseball program that serves "scholarship" players who wouldn't ordinarily be able to afford to play - because that's where his strengths lie.

    We don't volunteer at the school (we are in a small enough area that there is only one each elementary, middle & high) - but that DOES NOT MEAN that we're not involved in community and helping where we can help. But that's how your post reads to me, and I can't help it. (I'm glad to know about the box tops, though - what a great way to help out).

    Like I said yesterday, I live the discussion - here & with myself - that comes with your posts. You never fail to make me think & I love that! :-)

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    1. Listen, this happens to be my soap box right now. I strongly believe in this. And part of what we do with a platform is share our passions. People are telling me all the time what I "should" do. Sometimes I agree with their passion, and often I do not.

      I listed many simple ways to support the public school system, whether your child actually attends it or not, and I don't see a reason around being involved on some level. The children of our community need us in their lives, in some way.

      If you happen to disagree, that is absolutely your right!

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  3. Point taken. I don't typically like being the dissenting opinion. But isn't that where discussion comes in? Love your heart - thanks for sharing your passion. xo

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    1. Yes, I'm all for respectful discussion! And I love hearing from those who don't necessarily agree with me. Thanks for speaking with love.

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  4. GREAT suggestions! My kiddos are all products of both home school and public school. My youngest one graduated last May. Because we live in the neighborhood with "good schools", I have tended to wish them well as I looked through the rear view mirror.

    This post provided some great suggestions and maybe I need to take a detour and see how I might help in the adjacent district. Just because we are past that stage does not mean that I am exempt from responsibility!

    btw....I LOVE the heart of your church!

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  5. Our elementary school was the biggest in town. We had a pretty good PTO. I joined and right away ended up as co-treasurer. After 2 years,I spent another 3 as Treasurer. In our school, PTO was the BEST way to find out what was going on in the school. The principal attended the meetings and always gave a report about what testing was happening and what activities the kids had planned. By being treasurer, I was ALWAYS in and out of the school. Got to know the secretaries and principal and teachers. Now that my kids are in high school and middle school, I applied to sub teach and get to see all of the schools.

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  6. I agree that this title is a bit misleading. Telling me I "should" do something while telling me a few paragraphs later that it's okay for me to choose what's right for my family doesn't seem like "it's okay to have differing opinions". We happen to live in an area that has FABULOUS public schools. We still choose to pay A LOT A LOT of money to send our children to private christian schools. THAT is what we've chosen for our family. I don't care if others choose differently, that's their prerogative. I absolutely do not feel like I SHOULD support the local public schools that my children do not attend. Not gonna happen. Nor would I expect the parents of those children to support the private school my children attend. Never mind that, while America is supposedly ALL about "freedom of choice", my tax dollars go to support the schools that my children don't attend and I have no say in the matter. It's the law. I get that. And it's entirely my choice to send them elsewhere. I get that too. The "poor" that we are commanded to help in the Bible are not only in low-income public schools in questionable parts of town. We have chosen to minister in a different way and, trust me, there are many "poor" children in my kids' schools that need the love of Jesus just as much as those kids in the local public schools. "Poor" is much more than monetary. And I'm pretty sure God is okay with the choices we've made for our family, just as he is okay with the choices others make for theirs.

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    1. Just to clarify, my comment was regarding the freedom to choose where we educate our children.

      I happen to believe people should be involved in their actual, physical community (even if they educate elsewhere) and a neighborhood school is a perfect place for involvement, with so much need.

      The wonderful thing about life is that we're allowed differing opinions. The wonderful thing about writing a blog is that I have a place to share mine! (And I welcome you to share yours.)

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  7. My children go to school where my husband and I went to school. I have such a strong attachment to this place. I love their school, and I should do more than I do. I am a member of the PTA, but I never go to any of the meetings. That has got to change. This was a great post!

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  8. Oh volunteering at our neighborhood elementary and high school are absolutely my favorite hours of the week. For sure! :-) And they dont even HAVE a PTO :-( sad . . .

    Anyways, i love you and your heart and your kiddos and just everything about this. Also, miss you!

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  9. We homeschool, but our church "adopts" a local school. For years Ethan and I helped pack Sacks of Love (food items for needy children to carry home over the weekends when they may not have a meal served to them until they get back to school) for that school. I think they are up to 40 sacks now. There are those who tutor students after school just because they want to invest in the lives of the kids. I agree it's a good thing to be involved even if we aren't using the services.

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    1. Thanks, Renee! Love this way of serving and that you see value in supporting your local school in a unique way.

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    2. That's great that you use the Sacks of Love to serve but let me challenge you in this. You're meeting a need that has probably already been met by a social service agency. The church needs to meet practical needs and also spread the Gospel message. The church has failed in many ways that's why so many social service agencies exist. We need to return to our primary purpose of first serving church members who are in need and then serving our neighbors and offering them eternal hope not just the next meal.

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  10. I have loved reading your posts the last two days. You brought up so many points that hit close to home - talking about that nagging feeling that your kids are missing out and then coming back to knowing they should be in the public school; the danger of letting fear rule our decisions; being directly involved in community - I think it's all great. And I like how you point out that you have had a positive experience with teachers, administration, etc. and that does make a difference. It is very encouraging to me, because my kids are in the public school system as well. I waver and waffle and wonder if we are making the right decision, but I feel like God has confirmed and reconfirmed that this is what he has asked of our family for right now. Thanks so much! I love your heart in writing this.

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  11. KIDS HOPE USA Mentoring is a great way to get folks in your church involved in serving the local elementary shcool and community. I mentor a 4th grader, this is our 2nd year together, and I have been working to build a relationship with her whole family. I've been to their home, they all came to a Christmas cookie party at the church, and we're slowly but surely getting to know each other. :)

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    1. "slowly but surely" Yes!!! Sometimes I wish I could speed things up, but then I remember that much of this is God's job, and His timing often seems slow to impatient ol' me. :)

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  12. Part of the joy of your blog for me is being pushed with you shoulds. They don't always match up with what I end up taking on but they always make me think about reacquainting myself with discomfort. I've even framed and hung the saying "Life begins at the end of your comfort zone" as a daily reminder near my coffee station. You've given this perspective to me.

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  13. YES! Also, recruit senior citizens/retirees to come listen to little ones read or go through math facts flash cards with them (or do colors, shapes, letters, numbers, counting exercises, whatever). Help the office stock extra mittens, scarves and hats for those who forget theirs or have none. Help them with boxes of snacks if needed, and lice kits (gross, I know, but it does happen and those kits are expensive and it takes 2 of them to really get rid of the critters). Translators are awesome; if you speak Spanish (or any other language spoken in your district like Thai, West African languages, Croatian, etc.) you will be utterly invaluable on conference night. Help teachers put together wish lists -- these are great for churches to help with because people can select something they want to provide. We have provided hand sanitizer, Kleenexes, dry erase markers, board games and Legos for indoor recess (sooooo important) and books for the classroom. Many of these things are little but they make an impact. Box tops are awesome -- our PTO funds all our field trips from box tops, and those field trips provide valuable experiences for kids that they would not otherwise get.

    In my experience, suburban churches are often looking for ways to partner in ministry with something -- if you know people in a suburban church, you could explore having them partner with a low-income school This has to be done carefully, so the community doesn't feel disempowered, but it can be an awesome way to get volunteers into the school. Our church has helped with wish lists, bought uniform pants, provided "power packs" (food for kids to take home over the weekend, in case they don't get fed at home), and provided listeners for reading groups. They've even had volunteers just go in and collate materials or cut out stuff for teachers. It all helps. Again, you have to be sensitive not to overwhelm the school with good intentions; you want to help them, not make them feel inadequate and helpless.

    Capacity is more than just class sizes; it's also our human limits for dealing with multiple needs in the classroom. These teachers are heroes in every sense of the word. And unlike suburban schools, they often don't receive much recognition for what they do; in fact, they're often just asked to do more. Notes of appreciation, sincerely written, are always appreciated.

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    1. YAY!!! for this.
      Thanks for all the awesomeness.
      "Box tops are awesome -- our PTO funds all our field trips from box tops, and those field trips provide valuable experiences for kids that they would not otherwise get." --- YES!
      Also loved this line, "if you know people in a suburban church, you could explore having them partner with a low-income school This has to be done carefully, so the community doesn't feel disempowered" Thanks for pointing out the sensitivity required by all of us, especially those coming from outside the community. It doesn't mean we shouldn't help, simply that everyone is entitled to their dignity and we never want to risk harming that.

      Thanks again for all these ideas!

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  14. Shannan, I love your honesty and bravery. Whether we like it or not and whether or not it's fashionable to say so, the life of a disciple of Christ is chock full of shoulds. Even [gasp] musts. If we say we love God, we must care for our brother. We want a pure and faultless religion, we must care for the orphan and widow. (And I would be so bold to say that if we choose disobedience to this mandate, then our religion is defiled and flawed, and what good is that?) "Go into all the world" doesn't exclude too many places, no matter what education plan best fits your family. Keep fighting the good fight. xoxo

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  15. Um, correct me if I am wrong...but you listed 5 ways we can (and should) support our local school, and thus be involved in our community. We can PICK one or more of five creative options.

    THIS FEELS LIKE FREEDOM!

    Last time I checked, sending my box tops and praying for my local school is not a wholesale giving up of My Best Life Now (gah) - nor a threat to my educational choices OR a referendum on my spiritual passion.

    I request the very highest of fives for this post,
    One Who Homeschooled All Four of Hers Through Graduation (and isn't threatened by other perspectives)

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    1. You just made me cry a little.
      IAMSOFORREAL.

      xo

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  16. Dang girl, I love this. I'm reading thinking.."does she live in the same neighborhood as me?!" love it. Love your passion and your honesty. I'm all fired up now! Thanks for being bold.

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    1. Beautiful!

      Also, this: "So here is to living in the middle"...I JUST wrote (for another "project") "The middle is where the magic is, after all". Truth!! :)

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  18. Thank you for this follow up post. The first felt a little all or nothing and finger-pointing. I know that is not your heart, but the tone came across that way a bit. I love the 5 suggestions. I think how we were parented influences our schooling decision. Both parents worked and I was put into a rough public school with my caucasian self being a minority. Not enough time with parents due to work and being surrounded by spiritual poverty in school was difficult. We chose me staying at home and homeschool to swing the pendulum back. Even as a homeschooling mom I am excited to go talk to the school counselor at our local school to find how we can help. Great idea.

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    1. Just remember, for my family, this does happen to be an all-or-nothing situation. And I wrote yesterday's post from OUR perspective. :)
      Thanks for the comment and I hope your meeting with the counselor goes well!

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  19. I have two more suggestions: a little one and a big one. First, the dream-big-one: become a teacher! Before I became a homeschooling momma I taught at our public high school for almost ten years. I loved my years there and I was able to advocate for kids whose parents didn't know how or could not. If you are considering a career change or if you are just starting, maybe this is the path for you. Second, a littler-one: volunteer at a community homework center (or start one with other families?). The last church we attended has a ministry where public school kids can come after school, get a snack and get tutoring for homework. If you can't participate in the public school during the day (you work, or homeschool your kids, or whatever), give an hour or two in the afternoon to help kids with homework. Older homeschooled kids can help as well with little elementary age ones.

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    1. Become a teacher!! Fantastico! (Also, duh, Shannan!) haha
      I'm so glad you mentioned this.
      Thanks for the ideas!

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  20. okay, i love your blog to the moon and back. you are living an authentic life and its inspirational!

    here is my one little observation. i want to get rid of the word "should" forever. should causes us to act out of obligation. for me, in an authentic life there is no room left for "should". what feels right to each one of us does.

    i love the ideas you put forth, i love to hear your story and how you make your choices! when i read about stories (like yours) that change and broaden my thinking what happens is that i'm moved to action, not out of obligation but on a deeper level.

    i just cringe every time i hear anyone use the word should because i believe the world needs more of each of us doing what really makes us come alive instead of what we think we should. its the reason i keep coming back here - because there is life abounding!

    i hope this came across in the most loving, most inclusive, clear and helpful way possible!!

    liv

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    1. Totally read this as inclusive love.
      It's no secret that I have bossy tendencies. :)
      Thanks for the comment!

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  21. i guess i just want to add one more thing - the things that make us come alive...thats really love

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  22. Hi Shannan -- I really enjoy and am inspired and challenged by your writing. I have 3 boys (4th grade, 1st grade, and a 4 year old) and I wrestle with and pray about these schooling issues constantly. Currently my older two are in public school and the littlest is home with me, though we have also homeschooled and attended a Christian school in the past. I can't volunteer at the school yet, since I have my little guy with me at all times. Weighing the pros and cons of the different choices has me swinging so hard: one day I'm sure I want to homeschool, and the next day I want to do what you are doing! I think that the longer term is what I am tripping over, meaning junior high and high school. Junior high can be so very brutal, and our local high school has a reputation for being rough. I don't want to make any decisions based on fear, but a kid can just get so broken in those years. I'd love to know what your thoughts are on that. What are your plans for a few years out? I am surrounded by homeschoolers (and they are awesome) but it's great to hear other perspectives. And ultimately I am earnestly seeking to know what God would have me and my family to do.

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    1. Lady, I'm scared stiff about Middle School and just thankful God has years to guide me and soften me up before we're "there". Also thankful for a handful of friends ahead of me by a few years, who make the MS/HS thing seem not so terrifying after all. Keep fighting the good fight! Thanks for the comment.

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    2. shan, i've a friend (who was THE volunteer parent in my class of first graders at parkside, circa 99-2000) with twins who just graduated from ghs a couple years back. (let's all pause for a moment of silence on how old that makes me.) her hubby is a prof at goshen college, and those kiddos are the sweetest two young people in our planetary system. anyway, i could connect you two if you want an insider's perspective on middle/high years there. lmk. :)

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    3. All four of our kids went through public school, K-12, in a district that is 68% lower SES. There have been challenges but more because of funding cuts than the kids. I would encourage you Susan and Shannan to spend some time volunteering at your local Middle School before you have to make that decision. You will quickly discover that those tough looking kids are...just kids. A little bigger. A little rougher around the edges, but just kids. Most are sweet and warm and so responsive. You will fall in love with the kids at your local middle school. I promise! Plus the need is great for additional engaged adults and you can bring so much to so many.

      My kids have thanked us many times for putting them in public school. I have two college graduates; our son became a teacher and is working with autistic children. Our second daughter is a senior in college and our second son is a senior in High School. Our home has been the gathering place, the home where all the friends hang out. We have had a tradition of Friday night tacos forever. Literally, every Friday night...without fail...my kid's friends from school show up to have tacos and spend the evening. When they go off to college and they are home on break, they return for taco night. Be an anchor in more than just your own kids lives. The blessings will be returned tenfold!

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  23. Maybe you come across as bossy, but isn't that why there are different parts to the body? I have had to rethink all that we are doing because the passion the Lord has given us for Africa has meant a trading for things we love here (our local school and our presence there...which we are going to have to stop after this year even while we are still in the States due to travel). We are all allowed our passions and our priorities (I won't tell you that your 5 ways to serve others involves moving with us to Africa and living without indoor plumbing, regular electricity, or internet...not to mention all the other things!). Thanks for the discussion and the ideas!

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  24. THANK YOU! My husband and I are both public school teachers. I love that my kids are in public school. You are SO right…..supporting your school is supporting your community! Last year my PreK-8 school started a Character Ed program. Each month a local church (different church each month) sponsors a breakfast for students who were nominated by their teacher for exhibiting a specific character trait that month. This has been a great way to get community involvement even from folks who do not have children in our school!

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  25. My first job out of grad school was working as a school counselor at a low-income school in the heart of Kansas City, Missouri. My experience there was brief but powerful. Simply put: it changed me. On behalf of school counselors everywhere, I just wanted to say THANK YOU for your initiative, your persistence, and your faith. We need you.

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  26. This is really timely. Our church community has a local Christian school til Gr 10, which I attended til Gr 8 (the 9 & 10 came later and I wouldn't have gone anyways). Anyways, we are always as a church doing things for that school community - but essentially, it is a white-bread, high-middle to upper level of the community that attends that school (because of the cost) and while there are many ways to help defray those costs, someone with 0$ is not likely to consider it. I think our church needs to think in our neighbourhood like you've written (and some of the comments) not just our community. Much to ponder!

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    1. I forgot the other part. We chose to not send our child to that school and yet at church, when "school kids" are prayed for, it is always in the context of the kids that attend the Christian school - which continually irks me as it is not a "everyone only goes there" - it is more than just my son, but even if it weren't, it would irk me. Time for me to speak up about it. :)

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  27. Your school is different in that it allows the church to get involved. I just read about a little girl in a government school who was chastised for speaking of Jesus and the Bible. Your children's school sounds like the exception rather than the rule. I prefer my grandchildren go to a Christian school if possible. It is up to parents to see that their children get the best education, but unfortunately, there are far too many who give their job to the schools and wonder what happened when their children can't read.

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    1. Just to be clear - in our church's involvement in the school, we aren't ever talking to the kids about Jesus or the Bible. We're just there to provide tangible help, however we can.

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  28. Public school teacher right here who is in the trenches every day and we all appreciate your support. Thank you.
    xoxo

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  29. thank you for this shannan :) passed it along too....love your heart!

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  30. Totally agree with everything on the list, and also echoing the fact that people can still support public schools without having to send their children to one. We need to remember that we have brothers or sisters in Christ who ARE teaching in these public schools and have committed themselves to getting down in the trenches every day to educate these kids and serve these families -- it's a form of ministry and missionary work. They need support and assistance just like other brothers and sisters in Christ in a mission field. Just because God hasn't called YOU to move to Kenya doesn't mean you can't pray for and provide support for those who have been called there.

    We (I'm a public school teacher) once had a mother and middle-school-aged homeschooled daughter come to our public school a few times a week to volunteer in the media center shelving books and organizing resources -- the mother saw that as a "community service" function for her daughter. That's not an option if you have several small children, but could be something for parents homeschooling older children to consider - you may have the flexibility to make this more of a "family project" by involving your older children.

    Another area of need sometimes in low-income schools is help with class parties (if they still have them -- some schools do not) like those for Valentine's Day or Winter Holidays. Also, if you're cleaning out toys at home and find puzzles or educational games or books that are still in decent condition that your children no longer need, call a local school and see if they need them. Winter coats or hats that you no longer need? Call the school and see if they need them. We have an awesome parent in our school who comes in every so often and just puts a big bowl of candy in the staff lounge as a way of encouraging the staff...or you could bring in a tray of cookies or a coffee cake sometime. If you're not able to volunteer in your child's school because you work full-time or have an infant or toddler at home (though I've had parent volunteers "child swap" before -- Mom #1 watches Mom #2's toddler on Monday so Mom #2 can volunteer...and Mom #2 watches Mom #1's kid on Wednesday so Mom #1 can volunteer), elementary teachers would often love to send stuff home that needs to be cut out or sorted or colored or glued or stapled and you can work on it at your own convenience.

    Before trying to volunteer in person in any school, plan on contacting the school office first. Some schools require criminal background checks that can take a couple of weeks to come back before allowing people to work with students.

    Love the post. Thanks for not shying away from a topic that can apparently be controversial.

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  31. I LOVE what you are doing!! It's so wonderful to get into the schools and actually DO something to make a difference in the lives of these kids! It was a huge passion of mine while my kids were in school and I did everything from helping first graders write stories, to helping the Seniors run their fashion show. Some of my fondest memories are of the reading groups that I met with at lunch. I still keep in touch with some of those kids, and it's a joy to see what wonderful people they are turning out to be.

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  32. I love your thoughts, your passion and your faith to step out and do what your family was called to do! I pray this inspires many to think about the positives THEY can contribute to public education. This is the reality in our country and using our resources and our Christianity is the least we can do to help the marginalized! Thank you!!

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    1. I definitely should have said WE;)

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  33. I would love to send my box tops to your school. What is the address please?

    Thanks and what a fantastic post. You really should be a writer. You are superb!

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    1. Hey, thanks! (for the box tops and the kind words)
      The address is over on the sidebar, towards the bottom.
      :)

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  34. WOW. Words escape me as I struggle to speak around the lump in my throat. This post did something to my heart. Jesus used you to move my heart and mind. Thank you!! I'm allowed to select a school to benefit each time I use my Target RED card. I'll check and see if I can choose Chamberlain! Thank you again for this beautiful post!

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  35. Great post! Our 5 kiddos attend a Title 1 school also - and I truly am thankful for their experiences and the administration's work to engage all students and close that education gap. I'm a social worker and currently developing a program to reach the parents of many of our at-risk students from ages 0-5.

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  36. Way to be brave and write from your heart. : ) So um, wow, people feel strongly about this topic. You know my story--how we've done both. And how I've realized the tremendous freedom AND responsibility we all have.

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  37. Great post! I only take issue with just one line... "I understand the United States educational system is broken in many ways." I would disagree with that statement. I would say most of our public schools are fundamentally sound, with excellent, committed and caring educators. Many of our urban schools, however, struggle valiantly under the challenges brought about by poverty. The "system" works but the support for the "system" is often inadequate. Teachers and administrators are our "first responders" in the "war on poverty" and we must, as a nation, be willing to resource these "first responders" adequately...realistically. It is the smartest investment we can make as a country.

    I applaud you for making the decision to be an engaged, compassionate parent in a school that sounds bereft of parent volunteers. Deciding to send your children to a high poverty school is often a difficult but very worthwhile choice. We know. We made the same choice. We are kindred spirits! Our passion for public education led us to produce a film and web-based interactive project called GO PUBLIC: A Day in the Life of an American School District. Check it out. www.gopublicproject.org Thanks again for the inspirational words and keep on sharing your heart.

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  38. The "system" works but the support for the "system" is often inadequate. >> Interesting point! Thanks for this. I know so little about the actual "system"...it gets a bit convoluted for me. Thanks for sharing! And I will absolutely check out that book.

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  39. I applaud what you are doing. Truly.

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  40. I have been saving my box tops for your school since last summer (fall?) when you mentioned it. I know that this is the time of year that the schools start asking to have them sent in so they can get everything processed before the end of the year. I've been composing this email in my head to prove to you that it really is safe to tell me what school your kids go to and lo and behold there is the address right there on your sidebar! lol Consider my package from Texas on it's way!

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  41. Yes yes yes!! Lots of good thoughts/suggestions here.

    Josiah's preschool is a state funded, tuition free program and the majority of the kiddos are from low-income families. When I offered to volunteer each Monday in the classroom, the teachers hugged me so tight and did not hesitate to put me to work. They are so committed to these little ones and love them so fiercely. AND they need help. (They won't ever ask, but they do need it!!) Donated tissue boxes or snow pants or books, a few hours each week/month spent reading or wiping tables or supervising lunch....the list of simple but make-a-huge-difference things we can do goes on and on and on.

    Josh makes it a point a few days a week to do pick up/drop off, not just because Josiah loves it, but because so many kids throughout the entire elementary school know and adore him from our community outreach activities. He walks through the halls and kids race to give him high fives shouting 'Pastor Olson!!!". It's his simple way of showing up, calling the kids by name, and encouraging them with a smile or "how's that math going?". THIS is our mission field. We don't have to shout Jesus' name to show His love. These kiddos don't have to sit with us in the pew on a Sunday morning to deserve our attention and effort. They don't have to be our own children to want what's best for them.

    I'm getting teary just thinking about all of this. Why would we (and I mean WE) hold back on this?? Why would we question our place of support in these schools??
    I can't seem to think of a good answer. Because there isn't one.

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  42. What a great article! I'm so glad you shared this. I have very young children not yet in school, but more and more my husband and I are drawn to the public school system, for so many of the reasons you mentioned in your post. Just beautiful, and I'm thankful you are being an example of a family loving the world, not running from it. Bless you all.

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  43. As a teacher in a title 1 school (In Brea California) and a believer who holds my faith dear, you can't imagine how much I love this post.

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  44. I'm so excited to read this! We spent two years at our local public school before God moved us to another school. I loved the teachers I met there. They had such big challenges ahead of them but were so good! I'm tucking away this idea that I could meet with the school counselor and become a liaison for community needs. Who knows when God might use that thought someday.

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  45. Please remember to tell your readers to VOTE!!! Vote for lawmakers and school board members who support public school and speak highly of the system. It really makes a difference.

    As a teacher of English Language Learners, I thank you for being sensitive to their struggles. They often go between a school culture that seems to want to deny their home culture. As soon as they enter school, they are encouraged to learn English, and their home language is pushed under the carpet as if it's a detriment. These beautiful children are a national treasure!

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    1. Once again, I say, "DUH, Shannan!"
      Yes, yes, Voting!
      Thanks for that reminder.
      And I LOVE your last line: These beautiful children are a national treasure!

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  46. Shannon,
    I love that you are opening up much dialogue on this subject. Here is an article you might want to check out. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/01/18/everything-you-need-to-know-about-common-core-ravitch/
    Also, have you heard of Moms in Prayer? Check out there website. It is a great comfort for many facets of the "system" that are out of our control.

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  47. Such an important lesson for kids to learn. Thanks for sharing. Keynote Speaker

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