Hitting the books again

Aug. 26, 2013 @ 04:55 PM

Labor Day’s almost a week away and the autumnal equinox won’t signal the official start of fall for nearly a month.

But if you’re a student, parent of one or teacher of one, you know that summer is for all practical purposes over. It is once again time to hit the books.

Traditional-calendar students in Durham, Chapel Hill-Carrboro and Orange County schools all headed back to the classroom Monday.  Year-round calendar classes began weeks ago. Area colleges are cranked up for the new term, too.

As always, the beginning of a new school year brings excitement and the prospect of fresh beginnings.  No essays have come back yet littered with a teacher’s corrections, no math quizzes have been muffed, no calls gone out to parents about classroom or schoolyard misbehavior. 

Those and other misfortunes lie ahead – with still the prospect of heading any and all of them off, and the prospect instead of kudos and celebration. As the year progresses, there will be many opportunities for that – the rewards of diligent studying and discipline yielding the expected A’s, yes, but also the unexpected ones where to a teacher’s delight a student who has been struggling makes a breakthrough.

Teachers, it should be said, face a difficult task, made more challenging by often being asked to shoulder the blame for educational shortcomings that may, indeed, at times be the result of poor instruction but more often stem from resource scarcity, external pressures students face and parental indifference or distractedness. And what seems to be our ever-shrinking attention span, for adults and youngsters alike, raises the bar of difficulty for imparting knowledge that doesn’t come as easily as tapping an app on a touch screen.

Some of the most intense external pressures may come to bear on students who through no fault of theirs have no place to call home. The Herald-Sun’s Jamica Ashley wrote Monday of Durham Public Schools’ efforts to help the system’s “displaced” students – 829 of them last school year.  That’s about 2.5 percent of the system’s enrollment, it’s worth noting – and probably an undercount.

“This doesn’t include the students we don’t know about,” said Jackie Love, DPS’s homeless liaison. Understandably, many students and their families are reluctant to acknowledge their plight. “You cannot look at a student and tell that they are homeless,” Love said.  “The parents don’t want the school district to know they are homeless.”

As Ashley’s story indicated, the system makes strenuous efforts, though, both to figure out if a student is homeless, and then to go an extra mile or more to help overcome the many obstacles that can raise to getting an education.

For all the folks working to help the homeless students – and the thousands of other teachers, counselors, administrators, media specialists, resource officers, all those who help our children through the school day and toward a better future – we offer, as the school year gets underway, our thanks.