As we come to the end of 2022, there are a tremendous number of ways School Connect has had the opportunity to bring communities together to help kids flourish. But in February, I had the chance to share my “why” for starting School Connect, and the experience of filming my story made me realize once again how important it is to share these stories with one another!
Sometimes our personal experience of pain motivates us to find a solution that can be shared with others, and in my case, it was gratitude for the investment of numerous people who helped me walk through a dark childhood and believed that my future could be different than my circumstances.
For much of my life I grew up in southern California in communities that looked good on the outside. But behind the closed doors of our home there was fear, abuse, and violence. Both of my parents struggled with mental illness and alcoholism, and I experienced physical and emotional trauma on a regular basis. As a child I did not know how to share what was happening with anyone outside of my family. I cannot remember a trusted adult asking me what was happening at home. But what did truly save me were teachers from school, coaches in sports and dance, and mentors from faith communities who gave me a whole different view of what life could be like. My 4th grade home room teacher, Mrs. Voss, wrote “To thine own self be true” on our classroom wall. This simple but profound mantra has been an anchor in my life that started all of the way back when I was 9 years old. Mrs. Voss became a trusted adult in my life who believed in my potential. She and numerous other teachers and coaches spent more time with me than their contract required. I learned about hard work and being part of a team and I began to discover that I could try new things which gave me a whole new sense of “self”. These adults had only good intentions toward me, and their behavior was consistent. They believed that I was capable of much more than I knew, and this helped me begin to believe in myself.
Today there are multitudes of children from all kinds of backgrounds who need the same investment that I received as a child. I see their faces and I realize how much value they have – how much potential they hold. These kids need consistent, trustworthy adults who will pay attention to their unique strengths and struggles. Student centered learning is more than a tailored academic approach to the individual needs of children. It is also walking alongside their families to help them grow in resilience, providing the resources needed to overcome learning disabilities, or the support of mental health professionals when they struggle with anxiety or depression. Our schools are places where the whole community can come together to provide resources for our kids and families. This is not a platitude. It is often the very thing that makes the difference. I was the recipient of the powerful community support connected through my local school. As an adult, I have watched it change the trajectory of so many lives. It is the thing that gets me up in the morning and it is what gives me vision for the future.
The stories we share are real lives impacted by the investment of real people. One fourth-grade student, for example, walked into his fourth-grade mathematics class two years ago and announced that he hated math. But his teacher saw how much potential he had that was not being realized in the classroom. She connected his love for basketball to mentors in the community and the varsity basketball team of the local high school. He is now thriving in both math and basketball. A high school student who was supported to explore architecture, construction, and engineering careers by industry experts she met at her school, chose extra education in one those fields, and was connected to an internship through their support. She graduated with a technical career in construction! None of us take steps forward without the power of people investing in us, and that is what the work of School Connect is all about! The people who make the difference.
This year we all face the aftermath of a global pandemic that kept children home from school and made community connection extremely challenging. Child ER visits for anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation for K-12 students have increased by 40%. The learning gap is significant – especially for underserved students and families who have been disproportionally affected. Even school attendance for many communities has become a critical challenge. And yet, I am inspired as I watch educators pour their effort into helping kids and their families get their students to school consistently. Attendance numbers improve where teachers, parents, and community leaders target this goal and celebrate student attendance! Teachers cannot do this alone, but the efforts of everyone working together mean students are receiving the extra academic support they need to help with interrupted learning.
Our teachers have worn multiple hats this year as districts play Tetris to cover all the positions that are needed. School Connect was privileged to be a part of Scott Libby Elementary’s Teacher Wellness Room project. The work of teachers has never been more important, but educators are exhausted and stressed at record levels themselves. A teacher wellness room means educators have a place to decompress during their day – even for a moment – so that they can bring their best selves to their students.
In several school districts we have been excited to bring businesses, STEM supplies, and science experts together to help kids flourish in science and math fields. Mathematic scores on standardized tests across the country show that this core skill has suffered the most. And yet, as we see leaders in STEM fields come alongside students and teachers, student success begins to change!
In the midst of all the challenges over the past two years we have seen incredible leadership. The collaborative work of principals, teachers, parents, business, faith, and government leaders has truly made the difference. We were so privileged to highlight this leadership across the state of Arizona during our School Connect Champions of Education Awards. Rural students and tribal communities especially showed just how innovative and resilient they have been, and we were beyond grateful to honor them!
As you think about what you are grateful for this holiday season, remember that it all comes down to communities who care, individuals who go the extra mile, and the leadership that brings them all together to make a difference! Thank you for believing in kids and for supporting School Connect as we bring resources to help our communities flourish! We can only accomplish these great things together!
Founder & CEO, School Connect