A new school year

Aug. 22, 2014 @ 04:34 PM

Summer comes to an unofficial end Monday for children in local school systems.
School’s opening is usually accompanied by a mix of emotions. There are nerves and excitement. Some students (and parents and teachers) are scared. Some dread going back. And some can’t wait for the challenge of a new year, of which 2014-15 promises many.
Teachers are going into the 2014-15 school year with the fight over tenure and pay still fresh in people’s minds, as well as a new leader at the helm of Durham Public Schools.
The legislature has voted to eliminate the Common Core curriculum, which will still be taught this year, but has not decided what should be taught in its place.
Low pay and tight budgets are reflected in needs inside classrooms. The “Fill That Bus!” campaign drew support from numerous civic and professional organizations, with donations of much-needed classroom supplies. But the need for such a drive clearly shows that teachers don’t have the basic tools necessary for doing their jobs, and that the community is fully aware that those are the conditions in which educators are working.
Durham and Orange counties are wonderfully supportive of education, but we wonder what happens in other counties where the community is either less willing or less able to supplement what teachers have.
Two other events that also point challenges within public education are the Rescue Mission’s annual back-to-school giveaway and the Durham Department of Public Health’s Back to School Smiles.
Durham (as well as other cities, as noted in this week’s Grit Award) has far too many children whose families cannot afford the basics for school -- backpacks, pencils, glue sticks, calculators, etc. – much less new clothes. It’s great that the Rescue Mission and several other organizations work hard to meet the demand.
The Back to School Smiles offers a glimpse into the health challenges low-income families face. Dental, in particular, is an area many families skimp on because it’s expensive. Those with insurance often find the gap between what insurance covers and what the family will have to pay too great. Taking care of students’ health helps them be better equipped for learning in the classroom.
These efforts are laudable and, unfortunately, very needed. But they also are Band-Aids to the very complicated, multi-layered issues surrounding poverty. Many groups around Durham are concentrating efforts on peeling back the layers to make life better for all of our city’s residents.
In the interim, the more we can do to help our students and teachers, the better. If you don’t have resources to donate supplies to local schools, donate your time. The DPS website (where you also can learn how to receive clearance to volunteer) says the system needs people to help with tutoring, assist with activities, and share their time and talents with students.
We all want the school year to get off on the right foot, and it stands a much better chance with strong community support.