Monday April 8, 2024

Where Should Teachers Focus?

All children have the ability to learn. That is a fact. But, creating an environment where all children arrive at school each day ready to learn and equipped with the tools they need to be successful is about equity. Generational poverty plays a huge role in access to resources and expecting schools to fill all the gaps on their own is a huge and impossible order.
The Oklahoma City Public Schools Foundation has a focus on equity as part of our mission, and every program/initiative we undertake uses that lens. From providing winter coats to supporting our paraprofessionals on their journey to becoming teachers in the district and more, everything we do is about providing equitable access for all of our students. The Foundation launched our partnership with DonorsChoose in 2014 as a way to provide innovative support to teachers. We wanted to alleviate teachers using their own money for classroom items and projects they couldn’t otherwise access. It has worked. Since 2014, we’ve assisted in putting more than $11 million into our classrooms. DonorsChoose has evolved into not just providing creative project and classroom supplies, but with an eye towards students’ needs at home – filling projects for food and shoes and hygiene items to name a few.
Mark Twain Elementary School is located west of downtown OKC. As soon as you walk in the school you feel the positive culture and learning environment. With enrollment of about 300, 73% are economically disadvantaged and 15% are homeless. Jennifer Reyes-Garcia, 4th grade teacher, site teacher of the year and OKCPS district teacher of the year finalist, has taken advantage of the Foundation’s partnership with DonorsChoose and the huge national network of citizen donors who support public education through DonorsChoose by posting projects for these personal items for her students and all 4th graders at Mark Twain. Since February, projects have been funded for 500 food bags for students and Reyes-Garcia shared that they’ve just distributed their 100th pair of new shoes, a pair for every 4th grade student in the school. In addition to the energy she puts into teaching her students every day, this extra effort is making a difference in their school readiness.
We live in a community with many generous people who do what they can to help those in need, yet there are still so many who don’t realize how many in our city are struggling. We live in the greatest country on the planet with so many resources at our disposal, yet we continue to have children who go to school hungry, with tattered shoes and without a warm winter coat. We are asking our teachers and educators to do so much more than teach. Schools and the nonprofits who support them will not stop doing what we do for our kids. But, the overarching issues created by poverty take a toll. Taking a realistic view of what real and long term improvements for families will do for students, our community and state is critical to our future. It will take all of us working differently and working together to change policies to create an environment where all citizens have opportunities to provide for their families. We can and must do better.
–Mary Mélon-Tully, President and CEO of the Oklahoma City Public Schools Foundation

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