Friday, May 28, 2010

The City and Education

No more pencils, no more books, no more teacher's dirty looks....

Summer vacation is fast approaching, when schools close their doors and kids find other things to do. Today, though, nine months of instruction is not sufficient to prepare kids for the future, for good jobs.

During the last year, the council has had repeated discussions about the role of the city in education, whether we should have a role or not. While some argue that we should not get into the education business, the truth is we are already in it. Our community centers and our library system are the city's contribution to education, particularly with our summer programs.

Researchers conclude that two-thirds of the 9th grade reading achievement gap can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities during the elementary school years, with nearly one-third of the gap present when children begin school. - Lasting Consequences of the Summer Learning Gap

Libraries are clearly educational, of course, since they encompass one of the 3 R's. However, their mission is much broader, bringing programming throughout the year to libraries, for both adults and kids. Adult programming includes using computers and book clubs. Kids programming include special presentations, ranging from wildlife to opera, and an American Girl book club. Many of these programs are supported by the Friends of the Library through their regular sales of donated books.

During the summer, the library hosts a summer reading challenge. Kids of all ages roll dice to choose a book genre, working their way toward a prize (a book to keep) while exploring the range of books in the library. In addition, there are weekly programs from magicians to puppetry, dancers to acrobats. All of this is to spur kids to keep reading during the summer, to keep their skills sharp for the next school year.

City recreation programs, too, are a great educational resource in the community. The athletes among you (and even some folks as uncoordinated as I) know the great skills kids acquire playing sports, skills beyond catching and throwing. Things like teamwork, self-confidence, quick thinking, and goal setting. Not to mention the general value of fitness and healthy lifestyles. And the range of sports available in our recreation programs is large--from basketball and baseball to tennis and golf, swimming, karate, even fishing and juggling.

In the era of the FCAT, many programs are cut from our schools to focus on the "essentials". That is one of the reasons our sports programs are so important as PE is more and more limited. The range of programming at our community centers is quite broad, though, filling in many of the gaps. For example, they offer dance, art, and even foreign language classes.

Our community centers also provide afterschool programming for many kids in our community. That programming includes homework help and access to computers. Many kids also attend preschool at the centers, helping prepare them to succeed in kindergarten.

Over the summer, our community centers are a buzz of activity. Each center hosts camps, providing a range of programming. While there is certainly plenty of time spent on the staples of summer camp, such as arts and crafts (lanyarns, anyone?) and talent shows, there is a lot of learning going on, too. Students get to go on field trips to various places (canoeing on the Blackwater, the PJC Planetarium, T.T. Wentworth) at a time when field trips are being cut from the school district budget. Special guest also come to present programs (from beach safety to cake decorating) for the kids.

Could we do more? Absolutely. However, we have to make hard decisions with our taxpayer's dollars. We are not the school district; we do not have education as our primary mandate. But through our existing resources, our libraries and community centers, we can work to improve educational achievement in our city, strengthening our workforce and attracting better jobs for our citizens.

You should be proud of the efforts by the city toward education outside of school. I hope you will spread the word about these great programs in our community so that we can keep learning going year round.