Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Stepping Stones

"Every day she was in the program, coming back [home] she would say, 'Oh, Mama, I'm learning this and I'm learning that,' and she was very excited..."
-Mother of a young participant in Stepping Stones, a program of the East Durham Children's Initiative

This article from the Durham News brings another bright spot from Y.E. Smith Elementary, this about the impact of a summer learning program on one little girl. The article discusses the work of the East Durham Children's Initiative and is well worth a read. A few things that jump out at me:

  • The 120 block area of East Durham has some of the city's highest rates of crime, teen pregnancy, drug abuse and child neglect, and some of the lowest levels of school achievement
  • EDCI Executive Director David Reese commented that these community challenges leave kids without the same supports that higher wealth students might enter school with. So EDCI's goal is to "Create the same opportunity for low-wealth kids that high-wealth kids have."
  • And it goes far beyond preparing for standardized tests. Reese says they're preparing kids to thrive in a global economy.
  • EDCI draws on several existing nonprofits, public agencies and programs and works within schools that already have their doors open.
  • And they work on building relationships between teachers, social workers and parents.
  • So a lot of EDCI's work is about creating synergy among resources that already exist. Improving communication, working together.
That's exactly the kind of thing I want BIKE NC to support. MORE investment in education for sure. We can't keep cutting dollars. Teachers need to be paid and school buildings maintained. But we also need to make a BETTER investment. Look at what we have and how to make it work better, by making a COMMUNITY investment in education.

Please click the "Donate!" button if you think EDCI's work is worthy and promising. Programs like this need your support. And I need your support to put a strong message behind BIKE NC: We believe every kid deserves an equal chance to succeed in school. Thank you!

Scruffy school library healed with community hands

This morning I found an article in the News and Observer by Barry Saunders describing how a young woman and her church helped revamp the library at Y.E. Smith Elementary in Durham. It's one of those uplifting stories about good people doing good things where they saw a need. I love Ms. Newkirk's comments about the work not being about proselytizing. They're just there to help.

This story also makes me sad. Libraries where you can't check out the books? Chairs that you can't sit on? I know that everyone is facing budget cuts and tough economic realities right now. But we're not talking about a state-of-the-art auditorium or iPads for every child. The library seems like one of the most basic, age-old staples of every school. But this one was actually age-old and in dire straits until a church stepped in. This young woman and others like her are heroes. They see that there's something to be done and they just do it. But, in the bigger picture, are we at the point where basic facilities in schools rely on charity to be serviceable, even safe (all those broken chairs) for students?

You're right if you think such things should be taken care of by the government and basic education funding. But it's not happening. And you're wrong if you think it's not your problem, and everyone's problem. Wonderful people like Ashley Newkirk are stepping in to fix things that need fixing because they realize that every child deserves a quality education, and our communities and the future are better off for it. Large scale, we've got a system to fix.

Please take a look at Mr. Saunders' article and then start helping in a small way by clicking "Donate" to the right of this blog post. My goal is to raise $8,500 to directly aid nonprofits that are in the trenches working to make public education better and give kids a chance at the best of learning. And I need your help.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A sound, basic education starts early

Here's a News and Observer about a few of the changes we're already seeing in Triangle public schools as a result of budget cuts.
  • Teacher assistants not working on days students aren't there and taking a pay cut
  • Fewer janitors and other support staff
  • Fewer assistant principals
Here's the article

I'd also like to share a few stories about budget cuts to the Smart Start program that came out earlier this month. Local Smart Start operations are faced with trying to provide high quality early education to low income and other families in need of the services while absorbing an 18% loss in available funds.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Smart Start & the North Carolina Partnership for Children

Today I bring you the announcement of the third and final nonprofit that BIKE NC will support. The North Carolina Partnership for Children is the organization behind Smart Start, a program that focuses on early childhood education in all 100 of North Carolina's counties. The truth is that, without support, children arrive on the first day of kindergarten already having vastly different chances at success in school. The development from birth through the early years is crucial. Everything from nutrition to how much verbal interaction kids have and whether someone has read to them impacts their readiness to learn. And devoting resources to Pre-K pays dividends in elementary school and beyond. Here's the scoop on the North Carolina Partnership for Children:

Smart Start is North Carolina’s nationally-recognized initiative to ensure that every child reaches his or her potential and is prepared to succeed in a global community. Smart Start helps working parents pay for child care, improves the quality of child care and provides health and family support services in every North Carolina county.

Smart Start measurably increases the health and well-being of young children birth to five, building the foundation for all future learning, by:
  •  Improving children’s early care and education programs so that they are safe, healthy and provide opportunities for children to learn skills they need for success in school.
  • Providing parents with tools that support them in raising healthy, happy, successful children.
  • Ensuring that children have access to preventive health care.

Smart Start was created in 1993 as an innovative solution to a problem: Children were coming to school unprepared to learn. Policymakers recognized that progress would require tapping into the same innovative spirit that inspired private sector advances, and therefore, established Smart Start as a public/private partnership. Independent, private organizations work in all 100 North Carolina counties through The North Carolina Partnership for Children, Inc., and 77 Local Partnerships. The power of Smart Start is that it delivers outcomes by giving communities local control to determine the best approach to achieving them.

Smart Start’s nationally award-winning approach has resulted in:
  • More children succeeding in school – third-graders have higher standardized reading and math scores and lower special education placement rates in those counties that had received relatively more funding for Smart Start when these children were younger. This is according to research released in March 2011 by Duke University, which found that investments in Smart Start generate broad education benefits.
  • More children attending high quality care — from 33% to 64% since 2001, when Smart Start began tracking this data.
  • More children receiving Developmental screenings – 98% of children received recommended screenings after Smart Start launched the Assuring Better Child Health and Development (ABCD) program (compared to 81% before ABCD) in participating counties.
I think Smart Start accomplishes extraordinary things and that its model, fusing government programming and resources with a nonprofit organization's local control and insight, is the right kind of innovation. It taps the creativity and flexibility of private organizations without surrendering public responsibility and accountability for educating every child. Supporting BIKE NC helps the North Carolina Partnership for Children reach more kids with even better resources to make their early learning years great, no matter their background. I am proud to support their work.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The East Durham Children's Initiative

I'm excited to announce the second nonprofit that BIKE NC will be supporting. The East Durham Children's Initiative (EDCI) is locally focused, but I think that its success will have ripple effects far beyond the community it supports and is a promising model for many North Carolina communities. Here's what they do:

Monday, August 15, 2011

A century!

Today I had a BIG adventure and took a daunting step toward making my cross-state ride a doable reality. I'm still daunted, but also have a measure of confidence and sense of what's ahead now. I biked 100 miles (well, 103.8 miles!) for the first time. This is called a "century."
My route through Durham, Chatham, Wake, Harnett, Alamance and Orange counties

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Announcement #1: Advocates for Children's Services

I will be announcing the nonprofits that BIKE NC will support one by one over the next several days, to give each of these wonderful organizations their due moment in the spotlight.

Here is number one. It is a pleasure to be able to support Advocates for Children's Services (ACS) in even a small way. I picked this organization because they use a simple, powerful tool, free legal representation, to tackle one of the hardest truths about our country today: kids who drop out of school are far more likely to end up in prison. The organization also provides resources on issues from foster care to special education. Let me allow ACS to tell you about their work in their own words:

Advocates for Children’s Services (ACS) is a statewide project of LANC.  Since its founding in 2001, ACS’ mission has been to advocate for the idea that at-risk children are rights-bearing citizens who are entitled to safe, permanent homes and should receive the medical and educational services promised by law.  Since 2008, ACS’ primary objective has been to end the school-to-prison pipeline in North Carolina.  Toward that end, ACS primarily engages in two types of activities:

    ▪    High-quality, free legal advice and representation for children from low-income families who are facing school push out as a result of suspension, expulsion, academic failure, unmet special education needs, enrollment problems, or discrimination; and
    ▪    Community education in the form of presentations, trainings, media outreach, social media, and publications.

The School-to-Prison Pipeline in North Carolina

ACS focuses on the school-to-prison pipeline because it has reached a state of crisis in North Carolina, the community’s demand for representation and reform is large, and it encompasses many education justice issues.  Academic failure, suspensions and expulsions, over-policing, school-based court referrals, a lack of adequate due process, and inadequate alternatives combine to push tens of thousands of North Carolina students out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems each year.  While these problems are certainly not the only contributing factors—others include systemic racism, the effects of poverty, underfunding, high-stakes testing, lack of positive parental involvement, and unaddressed mental health problems—they are the ones that ACS attorneys, as student advocates, can address most directly and effectively.

What I can add to this is that ACS has a small, overburdened staff of incredibly talented and dedicated attorneys accomplishing outsize feats with the resources they have available. Money raised by BIKE NC will allow ACS to expand its advocacy efforts.

The organization caught my attention because, while early childhood education and other initiatives focused on a child's formative years are crucial, it is somewhat easier to understand, and sympathize with, the cause of getting things right from the start for kids with the world ahead of them and the exponential dividends that could yield for the future. BIKE NC will be supporting early childhood education. What Advocates for Children's Services is doing is perhaps more difficult to understand. Many of the students they represent are already in high school, already in trouble, already hardened and unreachable, draining resources from a school system with scarce resources (so the argument goes). It is too late to reach them, sad that the system has failed them, but inevitable. Put your time and money somewhere else, right?

But that surrender to inevitability is an injustice, a shrug that allows a failure of the education system to become part of the system. ACS understands that. They're giving legal representation to individual students who want to stay in school, making a difference in their lives, and using that representation as a tool for broader advocacy. And for many students, the difference between struggling through school, managing to graduate, or not, and dropping out, is finite. A few steps one direction or the other. The consequences of which way they go are huge.

There are kids who want to be in school, get into trouble - one fight, one bad decision - and face a long-term suspension or expulsion that makes getting back on track and catching up on missed learning an insurmountable obstacle. And too often, these are students living in poverty or difficult home situations who don't have someone to advocate for them. Advocates for Children's Services provides the advocacy to make sure that all the questions have been asked, perhaps appealing to find out if there's a reason to lessen the harshness of a disciplinary action, or finding out whether alternative education can be provided, whether the student is getting make up assignments while suspended. These are the kinds of questions involved parents ask. If there's no parent there, because of family strife or an unforgiving work schedule or just because they don't know they have a right to ask, who will ask?

ACS is doing that difficult work. They're also raising awareness of the basic rights that students do have and can use to advocate for themselves. They ensure special education students are getting their needs met. We can all agree the education system is overburdened. It is because the system is overburdened that students with special needs or in difficult circumstances need a voice speaking up for them. Otherwise, it's too easy to surrender to the inevitability, to leave them behind.

I'm sharing with you just a highly untechnical glimpse of the school to prison pipeline. To learn more, to really understand it, read ACS' newsletters and issue briefs, which have a specific focus on North Carolina.

And please click the "Donate" button to support the brave and important work of Advocates for Children's Services.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Tools for the journey

Last Monday, July 25, I took my first step toward making my BIKE ride a reality, not by mounting my road bike for an epic ride, but by taking its back wheel off. Why would I do such a thing? Because I was attending a clinic in bike maintenance and flat tire repair held by the very awesome Luna Chix, a women's cycling team in Chapel Hill. They organize weekly rides for women of all levels and support local cycling events. And that night, they were at the Clean Machine in Carrboro hosting a workshop, held by the shop staff, on how to clean and oil our bike chains and, should the worst happen, fix a flat tire out on the road.

You flip the bike upside down so its rests on its handle bars and seat to work, release the brake from its grip on the tire, release the wheel where its clamped in, carefully lift the chain away from the gears. And when the tire's free, you have to use a special tool to pry the rubber tire away from the wheel rim, look at the tube, that holds the air, to see if there's a leak, patch it or hope you have a new tube on hand. To reinflate the tube, you can use these containers of supercondensed C02 the size of your finger that look like tiny oxygen tanks and give you a fully inflated tire in one whoosh of air. And the tools for all this fit in a tiny bag under your bike seat. Some of the maneuvers were awkward, coaxing the rubber tire back around the wheel rim. But I think I could change my tire if I got stranded alongside a country road. I won't be "that girl" who knows nothing about how her bike works and needs to call for help the instant something goes wrong. Well, I was that girl until the Luna Chix came along. Hopefully I'm on my way to self sufficiency.

I couldn't help but think about the bike workshop in the context of education. There's not just the riding itself, there's taking care of your bike and knowing how to do repairs in an emergency. For education, there's the going to classes, studying, taking tests, the basic things school asks of you. But there's so much more. Knowing what to do if you fall behind in a class; asking a teacher for extra help; planning a curriculum that puts you on track for college; finding out if a student has special needs and should get extended test taking time. Things break. Kids get in trouble, or miss school because they're sick. When that happens in school we think of the parents stepping in, advocating for the student, making sure the learning continues. But parents aren't there for every child. And there's no little tube of C02 to instantly reinflate the tires. The solutions aren't anywhere close to that easy.

Coming soon: Announcement of the nonprofits that will be supported by BIKE NC. Stay tuned!