My mom and I graduated from the same high school—Northwestern Senior High School in Baltimore City. She graduated in 1980. At the time, the school gym had nice paneling and the fields were immaculate with fresh grass, which bolstered school pride. The school also had new textbooks and classroom materials for students to use to get a strong, competitive education. But 23 years later, at my own graduation in 2003, there were cracks throughout the gym floor, textbooks from the 1960s-80s, and muddy grass for a field.
How did this decay happen? Was it solely due to a lack of funding for upgrades, or was it due to the belief that kids going to school in low-income communities do not need good facilities to learn?
When you go a couple of miles down the road from Northwestern Senior High School, you will arrive at another high school: Baltimore City College. You’ll immediately see a strong, sturdy structure, and inside, new computers and an International Baccalaureate curriculum with current textbooks ensure that students are getting prepared for college. This is another public school that gets state funding. However, Baltimore City College was able to receive these additional resources through a grant from the Gates Foundation.
As an instructional coach I visit schools around Baltimore and the country and see resource disparities between different public schools that are only a couple of miles or blocks away from each other. So I ask myself: why is it that some schools are successful in renovating their schools and providing updated textbooks, while some are not? Part of the answer lies in grants like the one from the Gate Foundation. Additionally, in certain districts, foundations and fundraising play a big part in collecting funds for schools. But in spite of the generosity of many, grants and donations don't reach every school, leaving many kids to work with the outdated textbooks and decaying school environment that I experienced at Northwestern.
For schools like Northwestern, what are the other options? What can educators do to close the “resource gap”?
When I was a teacher in a New York City public school, I realized that I had to find my own way to secure resources and supplies for my students. I used great online and community resources to get sets of chapter books, textbooks, and other classroom materials. For example, I used DonorsChoose.org, which is an online nonprofit that makes it easy for teachers to collect donations for school materials. You just post a project that you need funded on the website and people donate directly to your specific project. I also attended book drives and had my students participate in the Penny Harvest, where they collected pennies and turned those pennies into funds for community organizations. This helped my students build a sense of responsibility to our community, and they were the ones helping others gain valuable resources for schools and community groups.
As educators, it is our job to work with communities and seek out resources to provide necessities for our kids. There is no excuse for our kids to be using moldy books or working in rooms with a constantly leaky roof. We need to find creative ways to close the “resource gap,” whether it’s through public budgets, grants, private donations, or tapping into community and online resources.