Monday, January 30, 2017

Attitude Gap or Achievement Gap?

      Many professionals in education will discuss the achievement gap when they talk about students living in poverty, are English language learners or students who have disabilities. Yes, many students in these subgroups do have large disparities in academic achievement outcomes. However, we need to dig deeper than untaught foundational skills, spiraling of the curriculum, and lack of critical thinking. The attitude gap is what should be front and center as well. The attitude gap can be defined as how students might not have a true understanding of what an education can do for their life, how elementary and middle school education is crucial to a successful high school transition, and what it takes to be truly prepared for college or advanced vocational trades. Community members and families play an essential role in how young people form perspectives and values concerning education and how it connects to their future.

      Schools must not let parents do this alone. Educational communities, families, and educators must come together to ensure the entire community is teaching, preaching, holding conversations , showing, and listening to how students must value education and study habits. I know I didn't care about education until I went to a friends house one day for a sleepover. I usually don't share this, but I lived in poverty half of my life as a kid. My parents divorced when I was young and my mom had a house and a stable income thanks her flight attendant job and my dad's child support. However, my dad lived on a broken down 30 year old boat with an ice-box, mold growing inside of it, no functioning shower or bath, no heat or air conditioning, and about 300 square feet of living space. I remember running to the outhouses in the marina ( 5 minute run) to take a shower and use the restroom with my brother in the mornings. I drank soda out of the bottle that sat in front of the boat, and  we never had fresh vegetables or fruits. My dad did the best he could and I don't hate him for being in poverty. ( He died when I was 19 due to lung cancer). I remember falling from the dock trying to get off the boat to go to school one morning and falling into the water below. My backpack and school books/homework were ruined/wet. I never felt so worthless and dumb in my life. I started to question why I even cared about friends or the future. I wasn't from one of those perfect families living in a nice new house, nice cars, and went on cruises in the summer. I wanted to give up on myself and dreams.

      Everything changed when I went to a new friend's house for a sleepover. His dad was a doctor and I remember arriving at his house off the school bus and it was a brick mansion on the river! I was stunned to see a garage with multiple cars, a pool, huge windows that were 2 stories high. I was nervous just to be in a place so nice. I felt like I didn't deserve to be there. My friend's mom was nice and made us dinner and we watched a movie. My friend was in all of the top honor classes and his mom made sure he did his homework and studied for at least 2 hours each night. My parents never helped me with my homework or made sure I did my homework. I remember my friend asking if he could spend the night at my place. Well, that week I was on my dad's boat. We didn't even have a bed and I was so embarrassed that he would see how I lived. I always said my dad doesn't let people stay over. My mom let us have friends over and it felt like another world living in a house, your own room, and your safe place to call home. Living in two worlds, one of poverty and one of the middle class made me realize the attitude gap. I felt like I changed my personality depending on who's place I was staying at. From that moment on, I knew education would ensure I never had to worry about not having a refrigerator, bathroom, or a place to call home. 

      Not every child or student gets to see both worlds and realize the opportunities that exist. I try my best to talk to my students about how big the world is and the amount of adventures that are ahead in the journey of life. Education is the ticket to the galaxy! Nothing is in your way when you are an educated person. Sometimes, my students say, " Mr. oh god, not this story again." However, deep inside I know they understand I'm there for them. I'm not saying that your family is bad for being in poverty, I'm saying that if you want more, the desire to take care of the people you love, to learn all the exciting things the world has to offer, and to be an independent young man or young woman, you must value your education. The attitude gap does exist, and it is our duty as educators to work with the community on improving how kids value education, themselves, and the world. 

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