Sunday, July 26, 2015

Exploring Hidden America And The Impact On Students/ Educational Initiatives

        I've been focused on diving deeper/exploring student's lives behinds the scenes. I remember being in college watching ABC's " Hidden America" , a show that highlights the tragedies, stereotypes, secrets of different communities in America that don't fit the " perfect suburban middle class neighborhood image". It really made me grateful and fortunate for the life I had growing up and how it impacted my education and self-identification. The episodes that altered the way I perceive kids today are about Native American children in reservations, generational poverty in the Appalachian Mountains, children in the crossfires of gang violence, and homelessness in Florida. All of these episodes shed light on different parts of America. However, one theme they all had in common and was easy to see as a viewer, was children being negatively impacted by poverty/drug use or gangs/violence.

      The first episode was concerning children growing up in a Native American reservation in Montana. Diane Sawyer said alcoholism impacts almost 80% of adults living in the community as well as extreme poverty. The documentary also showed a teenage Native American boy about 12 excelling in school, on the football team, and taking pride in his heritage. Sadly, he had a very difficult home life as many Native American children do on reservations like Pine Ridge. He lives with extended family members ( 15) of them in a small house with leaks, mold, and rot in almost every section of the house. I just remember wondering how he kept it together in school and if his teacher were aware of his living conditions/home life.  The boy also shared with viewers that his mother was a drunk and when she visited him on camera he ended up crying on a sacred hill of his ancestors saying, " She's drunk again, calling me names, and telling me I am not her son." I felt so much empathy for him and realized thousands of children must be going through the same thing. Also, in the week ABC news was filming on Pine Ridge reservation, a father who was helping his daughters get ready for their first day of school crashed his car one evening and died. The cause of death was determined to be related to being drunk/intoxicated while driving. If this random unfortunate death doesn't show how dire the situation is on reservations for suicide and alcoholism then I don't know what would. I began reflecting and thought how can these kids even aim to be proficient or distinguished in their own state assessments, when more people are dying on their land in a year due to drunk driving/suicide then the war in the Middle East. It made me think about the school's role in the community. Obviously the school's job is to teach the kids based on standards, have cultural relevant instruction, and have well-trained teachers in classrooms. However, it made me think can BIE ( Bureau of Indian Education) do more involved in the community/in schools to  negate the impact of poverty and the epidemic of addicted drug/alcohol use? This particular part of Hidden America made me wonder if schools can rally for systemic social/ community change based on the fact that kids will not perform optimally in self-development/cognitive functioning if these extremely damaging social conditions continue to exist and seep into every fabric of the community. 

          Next, ABC's Hidden America's episode about generational poverty in the Appalachian Mountains was uniquely emotional to me since I lived close to them in Virginia. This episode focuses on life in the Appalachian mountains which are the oldest mountain ranges in America. The mountain ranges from North Carolina to New York. This particular episode showed communities in Kentucky and West Virginia. The common features of poverty in this region is people missing teeth due to excessive use of soda/drugs, lack of proper food, substandard educational facilities/instruction, and abuse of pills/alcohol. The episode showed a girl going on walks to get away from her mother who is always high and a young man in high school who is on the football team and strives to get out of town and attend college. The documentary shows a community with little job/product diversification, little community value for education, and a desert of community resources which could offer life saving aid/counsel. The young man ended up attending college for 6 months before succumbing to negative ideas like he couldn't keep up with college-level classes, couldn't afford food/tuition, and thought going home was the only option. The episode ended with him driving to the side of a mountain near a highway and digging for coal illegally just to keep his house warm. I was dumbfounded and upset to see him have such high goals and aspirations, and then return to dig for coal with no future in sight. As a teacher, I reflected on the need for schools to prepare disadvantaged youth for college level instruction, college life independence, and navigating the complex financial areas of affording college. Students need to be equipped with a wealth of knowledge concerning college life/education before entering the university. It is the school's job to train and teach kids directly/ on field trips so that they can sustain themselves through college and break the statistic of not graduating with a 4 year degree on-time. I strive each and every day to bring some element of college preparation into my middle school 5-8th grade classes so that kids know the expectation is for them to attend college and do well.

         Additionally, ABC's episode called children in the crossfires of gang violence served as a reminder that different communities have different issues that severely impact kids. I remember crying and feeling so much as Diane Sawyer said the names of children being innocently shot to death by just having a lemonade stand in front of their house, or laying in their mom's arms on a nice summer day, and when a girl was shot/killed sleeping in her bedroom. I honestly can't image anything worse than a community steeped in gang violence. Every child in the episode seemed to have PTSD and was visibly aware of how dangerous their community was. A young full of spirit boy showed Diane how many locks they had on their door and how he puts the trash can behind the door, a chair behind the trashcan, and then a broom on the chair. It was obvious the child wanted to feel safe in his own house and he thought by having all of these security measures he could help his mother and himself stay alive. Looking through educator's lenses I thought to myself how can this child focus on being on grade level math or reading when he could get shot/killed at any time during the day by anyone just because he lives in a community where gangs are at war. How can schools confront such violence with limited resources and scope of power? It reminded me of the power of in school mentorship/anti-gang education since gangs try to prey on young kids to join the ranks. Children are seen easy to prey on because many kids in these communities are lacking a father/mother figure who is working many jobs, is incarcerated, or is not able to take care of their child. Schools must strive to identify kids who are at risk for gang membership and have school-wide anti-gang initiatives. Only then, can schools focus on effective instruction and help kids feel safe enough in a classroom to learn and challenge themselves to complex problems/literature. This episode also brought to my attention on how violence/poverty impacts brain efficiency, development, and functioning in students. Some resources I found discuss how the brain is so focused on survival mode that little energy and brain development in regions associated with education, language, and problem solving end up at the end of the list for the brain. In other words, children who are exposed to violence/ poverty for extended periods of their life have a higher chance at developing brains/brain structures that magnify mental/emotional disorders and dis-regulate the brain for proper learning and information acquisition. This made me think about students who already have special needs and have atypical brain chemistry/structure that impacts learning. I wondered if the poverty/violence would only make it worse and the disability would manifest more frequently and at a stronger rate. So many questions I have and it shows the amount of research that needs to be done on brain science in relation to children in poverty/violence. Schools must then take this research and think of creative ways to help students overcome these disadvantages so that they have a higher change at being successful in school/college.

          Finally, the episode concerning homelessness in Florida was important to me because last year I worked at a school where we actually had homeless students. The interesting point is I didn't find out the student was homeless until she escalated and went off on me for asking her to push her chair in. The student advisor then told me her family has been living under a bridge for a couple months and they are about to find a shelter. It made me think how easy it is to assume everyone lives in an apartment, townhouse, or house by just seeing them in public. However, the importance of knowing your students backgrounds is evident in effectively addressing their educational/social-emotional needs. This particular episode showed a 14 year old girl and 13 year old boy living in a commercial truck with their father. The mother died when they were younger and the only food they had was in tin cans. It made me go back to the days when I lived half the time without a refrigerator and the only thing we drank was soda that sat outside. I recognized myself in the sister and brother because they both demonstrated maturity at an early age, were well-spoken, and had a strong desire/appreciation for education. Not all children in poverty assume this role, however sometimes the kids will see it as an opportunity to push themselves to obtain a high quality education and have a high paying job. I was one of those kids. This made me think about some of my students. Although they may not be homeless, some do not have food all the time, access to Internet at home or a place to study. As a school/teacher what can I do to help these kid succeed? I have tried to have tutoring/homework club after school so they can get most of their work done with my help at school/good environment. Sometimes our school gives our students snack bags they can take home in case they have nothing to eat for dinner. I realized more than anything, these kids need hope. I strive everyday to be that champion and offer my kids a high quality education with social-emotional support. I balance dealing with emotions/talking about home life issues with trying to teach them rigorous tasks/concepts. In the end of the episode, I really came to realize how fortunate anyone is to have a house or a place to sleep in that is safe and has a door. Students who are homeless must worry about many things before attending school. If I ever found out one of my students was homeless, I would guide them to resources that could provide them extra food, clothing, shelter, and hygiene solutions. Schools must address the basic needs of humans before they can endeavor or hope to teach students complex concepts.

                   All in all, the ABC's Hidden America series really stood out to me. I was proud of Diane Sawyer for revealing to America the sides of the country where the struggle is real. People need to realize that yes our country has the largest world economy, we have the best universities, and most innovative companies, but what does all that mean when we have children and people living in communities than reminded me of poor parts of Eastern Europe, India, or Brazil. We can not just stand on our high horse and say how powerful we are. We are only as great as our most disenfranchised citizen. Every person deserves to live in a community where they aren't afraid to die walking home from school or attend a school that actually prepares them for college and graduating. America must keep talking and finding solutions to fix these inequitable/tragic occurrences in our society if we are ever to live up to our promise as a nation. Until then, I will always have these children/episodes in my mind as a human, educator, and future leader. I will do everything in my power to help the students I come across who need additional help/resources. Children deserve nothing less.