The Rapidian

Community conversation at Congress Elementary could contribute to policies

Attendees of a community conversation asked questions about how we value: are they treated children equally and are we prioritizing their needs?

/Emberly Vick

Underwriting support from:

The Center for Michigan contact information

The Conversation was held by The Center for Michigan and the City of Grand Rapids' 2nd Ward Commissioners.

For more information, call The Center for Michigan at 734-769-4625, or visit their website.

/Emberly Vick

/Emberly VIck

What letter grade would you give the statewide education system?

What letter grade would you give the local education system?

These were two inquiries asked during an open community dialogue on Wednesday June 14. The small community conversation was held in the Congress Elementary School’s gymnasium.

Of the fourteen individuals present at the gathering entitled, “Community Conversation on the Future of Education,” 60 percent of the audience graded the statewide education system with a C average. A score that is valued as poor in some medical schools and one that is a mere 10 percent away from what was given the local system, a D average, a grade recognized as failing among many colleges and universities.

The forum, which was held by The Center For Michigan, a non-profit organization with an aim “to engage thousands of people across Michigan in...discussions through the end of 2012,” also has objective hopes of ensuring that the Michigan residents’ perspective of education is not discounted during policy considerations this year.

The general goal is to ensure that adopted policies will contribute to the relief of the states' economic misfortune through educational investment and/or the re-allocation of funds, what could be a retrospective milestone along Michigan’s road to recovery.

To ensure anonymity and encourage democracy, those present were enabled to contribute their opinions digitally via a remote device. The remote was linked to an expedient system that revealed imminent results within the power point presentation. After polling, the facilitator opened the floor for affirmation of the results or explanation of why participants voted the way they did.

The discussion topics were a reflection of prior research and previously expressed concerns. Matters such as: Teacher and School Leader Quality, Ideas for Improved Learning, and Family and Community Involvement were the broader pretenses for a number of concise questions that solicited an array of responses and possible solutions from those present.

In response to a query regarding equal opportunity for students, Dr. Kellie Christopher, executive director and lead teacher for Mind-boggle, a hybrid math and science summer program, shared tidbits of her research into the Finland education system. Noting the success of their decision to justify educational access, Dr. Christopher shed light on how their decisions mandated equal opportunity in their system and resulted in successful educational strides. Their model, which deemed all students indiscriminant access to educational resources, is worthy of national consideration.

Also discussed and voted upon was the importance of teacher and school leader quality. Seventy percent of the audience mutually agreed that teachers should be more prepared for their profession. This response segued into an in-depth discussion of the relative importance of their need for stronger support, as well as whether or not they should be held accountable for academic success and if so, how much?

One attendee, acquainted with the educational system through professional experience, expressed the domino effect of “passing on” difficult students, explaining it as a compounded cause and effect issue. She expounded that an underachieving or ill-prepared child’s issues are being passed onto post educators who must then compensate for their lacking in grade levels they are not academically suited for. Amid this discussion was also the teaching to test controversy.

In regards to teacher quality, some felt that the degree of an educator’s knowledge would be virtually ineffective without a body of permeable and eager pupils, many of whom are hindered by behavioral issues. The general sentiment seemed to speak that even a passionate and effective educator’s will is subject to atrophy if underappreciated. This depreciative effect is at the expense of the children’s potential. Interestingly, there were many different perspectives expressing the same here, with one community member adding that children’s lifestyles have become so demanding that the societal ills are being weighted on the teacher’s loads. Nan Evans, early childhood educator noted, “living in poverty is an exhausting existence.”

When presented with the question of whether schools could do more to encourage parent involvement the response was a unanimous agreement. With Dr. Christopher emphasizing the importance of school conferences, and another suggesting that schools could partner with trusted organizations to build close-knit relationships with parents.

Once asked if there were any local organizations that are intent to value our children and are prepared to prioritize their needs above all, I Believe I Become (B2B), a community initiative whose neighborhood engagement efforts are propelled by LINC Community Revitalization was undoubtedly accredited for progressive strides. The growing success and expansion of B2B is well deserved, evident by the warranted testimonials of community members.

As the conversation progressed toward increasing resolutions, Johannah Jelks, Community Relations and founder of Generation X & Y for MI, added, “a positive aspect of Grand Rapids is that we are philanthropic…we have a network of volunteers willing and prepared to take initiative.”

John Helmholdt, spokesperson for Grand Rapids Public School added, “playing nice in the sandbox for the common good” is key for nonprofit organizations.

“We are here to serve children not systems,” added Enid Gaddis.

To contribute to this imperative ongoing discussion, the community is encouraged to attend the next community conversation given by The Center for Michigan to let their voice be heard. The next conversation will be on July 25 at the Grand Rapids Public Library from 7-9 p.m. This event is open to the public. Attendees can RSVP on the GRPL website.

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