Reimagining U.S. Education

“All, regardless of race or class or economic status, are entitled to a fair chance and to the tools for developing their individual powers of mind and spirit to the utmost. This promise means that all children by virtue of their own efforts, competently guided, can hope to attain the mature and informed judgement needed to secure gainful employment and to manage their own lives, thereby serving not only their own interests but also the progress of society itself.”

Opening statement A Nation at Risk, 1983

Nearly four decades later, there are mixed thoughts on the Reagan-esque report on education “A Nation at Risk”, however, I would argue we are no longer a Nation at Risk, but a Nation in crisis. All you have to do is take a look at the headlines, Why teachers in America are leaving the profession in droves, or New Jersey sixth-most segregated state, in most places you look in our education system, unequal opportunities abound. However, I am from the school of thought which believes when you focus on a problem, it gets larger but when you look for a solution, circumstances begin to change. Let’s begin with our ability to reimagine.

Reimagining Education

One of my all-time favorite words is “reimagine”, it is the only strategy out of difficult situations. Both of my parents were immigrants, growing up I had limited access to resources. But what I did have, and I will forever be grateful for the Philadelphia School District, is access to the Free Public Library and Recreation Center, both of which were across the street from my middle school (more about this experience in Overcoming Skills Gaps in k-12 Classrooms). During my formative years, these are the spaces I spent a majority of my time which helped shape a life long love of learning. What I experienced on a site visit, a short drive from Toronto, was that this type of scenario (school, library and recreation center) exists and is amplified in a way I have never seen. This was how I have been reimagining education…

Dr. Frank J. Hayden Secondary School

The Hayden Secondary School was a vision. And if the name Dr. Frank J. Hayden rings a bell, it’s because he dedicated his life to fitness and organized the first Special Olympics. You can immediately sense you are on a special campus when you arrive. The high school campus is part of a public library and YMCA, both of which are on site and accessible to students and community.

As with all of our site visits, we were graciously hosted by school administrators and staff with a heartwarming welcome.

Our cohort arrives to Hayden Secondary School

Spatial justice in education has always been at the forefront of my thoughts since my professional and personal experiences have led me to a myriad of academic spaces. Air quality, access to natural lighting, the space of the classroom, the ability to physically move around, all of these vital factors play a role in setting students up, quite frankly, for success or failure.

No shortage of natural light here!

“…of 21,000 U.S. elementary students showed that, over one school year, kids who were exposed to more sunlight during their school day displayed 26 percent higher reading outcomes and 20 percent higher math outcomes than kids in less sunny classrooms.”

Edutopia, 2016

Educational equity is tied to access to facilities that allow a student to feel safe to learn and grow, academically, physically and emotionally. This gymnasium is part of the high school facility. When students are given a baseline which includes a quality facility, they no longer have to face and overcome the challenges of inadequate physical space and can focus on growth.

There are multiple concentrations to choose from at the Hayden Secondary School, a few examples include Arts, French, Spanish, ESL, Canada and World Studies, Business, English, Social Studies, Food & Nutrition. The video on the right was an auto shop class in the works.

The left video captures the open space across the facility, as well as student art work. Providing students with a quality education has the potential to not only improve the long-term gains of the individual but also has intergenerational impacts as well.

One interesting distinction on the overall education system noted while on the trip is school funding. While the formula varies from state to state, a huge chunk of U.S. school funding comes from property taxes. Hence, if you live in an area with higher property taxes, your schools are better funded as opposed to the opposite. In Canada, there is a baseline amount allocated to each student regardless of property value in your area.

Top left to right: theater and shop classes and bottom left to right: public library and student art showcase

End of Visit Debrief

As our tour concluded we had some time to speak with staff from the Hayden Secondary School, and one question on my mind was how as a society, Canadians view teachers. And one of the staff members responded by saying “we are treated like professionals”. Teacher pay in Canada ranks above many countries and from our discussions, it is a pretty competitive profession to enter. It wasn’t controversial, it was just matter of fact, teachers are well-paid and respected by Canadian society. Arguably, there is a direct correlation to that and the status of Canada being ranked among the best in the world by multiple sources.

At the heart of concern for many Americans (7 out of 10) is the state of democracy, which brings us back to A Nation at Risk, “a high level of shared education is essential to a free, democratic society and to fostering of a common culture, especially in a country that prides itself on pluralism and individual freedom.” In order for democracy to thrive, strong, equitable access to education must be at the heart of American society.

Thank you, Halton District School Board, for graciously hosting us!

**This website is not an official US Department of State website. The views and information presented are the participant’s own and do not represent the Fulbright for Global Classrooms Program, the US Department of State, or IREX.**

2 Comments

  1. “I would argue we are no longer a Nation at Risk, but a Nation in crisis.”
    It’s such a powerful statement that absolutely well explained the problem but let me ask you this, do think that Covid-19 was part of the crisis or maybe it has unveiled whatever issues about education?

    1. The discrepancies in education have existed way before COVID, however, the pandemic has exasperated the inequities. For instance, the digital divide, the first months-year into the pandemic you had students, at the bare minimum who did not have access to the internet, leaving them disconnected from their school community. As we locked down and turned to virtual learning, students and school systems that didn’t have the infrastructure to support an online learning environment suffered greatly, whereas, those who were in systems that supported online learning were still able to continue learning at some capacity.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s