Leaving no child behind

Nov. 02, 2013 @ 01:59 PM

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, year in and year out, is one of the most outstanding school districts in the state. Its students’ test scores are stratospheric, its graduates head off to top colleges and universities and the quality of the schools is a compelling factor in drawing families with school-age children to the towns.

If there has been a cloud over that performance in years past, it has been that the district has often been criticized for not doing enough for its socio-economically challenged students.  Indeed, educating the sons and daughters of successful, highly educated parents – a big demographic in Chapel Hill – is far easier than addressing children that come from homes with fewer resources and far less mental stimulation in the critical birth-to-age-5 years.

In recent years, the district has taken significant steps to address that issue, and a marker of their progress came when the district last month hosted the Minority Student Achievement Network conference at Northside Elementary School. Many other districts were eager to learn from the steps the Chapel Hill-Carrboro district has taken.

As The Chapel Hill Herald’s Jamica Ashley reports on the front page of today’s edition, among the initiatives the district discussed at the conference was Student 6. In an innovative role reversal, student volunteers coach teachers on the best practices for dealing with minority students.  The number of teachers taking part in that program doubled this year, to 70, with 20 student trainers making up the “faculty” aided by master teachers.

“They call tell more about effective teaching than some professionals,” observed Craig Meyer, coordinator with the district’s Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate program.

“The students like being empowered and feel like they have stories and experiences to share that will help them and their peers,” said Teresa Bunner, an academic support specialist with the mentor-advocate program.

The program attracted the attention of conference participants.

“It’s a meaningful and impactful strategy in assisting students of color achieve their full potential,” Sue Zurvalec said of Student 6. She is superintendent of Farmington Public Schools in Farmington, Mich.

We suspect that everyone at the conference knows that there are no magic bullets to closing achievement gaps. It is a coordinated, refuse-to-lose concentration on a number of fronts that brings success.

But, as Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools realize, we really have no choice. Lifting every student to his or her potential, regardless of their background and home circumstances, is a moral duty. Moreover, in today’s information-driven, globally competitive economy, we have no choice.

We can afford to leave no child behind.