The calendar says there are more than six weeks of summer remaining. Young children, teenagers, their parents, caregivers and teachers know better.
Beach excursions, water parks, fishing holes and carefree days chilled by whirring air conditioners will be left behind this week and replaced by school buses, backpacks and the cheery din of chatter in school hallways.
Of course that romanticized notion of the end of summer is also behind us – if it ever were completely true.
School in 2019 is a refuge for some students, an opportunity to find a caring atmosphere and a balanced meal and escape from an environment of poverty or worse – the lack of a responsible adult who can provide adequate care.
Consider these statistics:
• Almost 28 percent of Mississippi’s children lived in poverty in 2017, according to County Health Rankings and Roadmaps.
• Almost 74 percent of Mississippi’s children qualified for free or reduced price lunch in 2014-2015, according to the National Association for Education Statistics.
• 44 percent of Mississippi’s children lived in a single-parent household from 2013-2017, according to County Health Rankings and Roadmaps. Raising a child in a complicated time is difficult for a couple, but especially challenging when you're on your own.
• Almost 36 percent of the homes in the state lack access to broadband internet, according to 2017 U.S. Census data; 21 percent of households don’t have a computer. Both are critical learning tools in a modern world.
Which can lead to these statistics:
89,972 students, or 16.86 percent of Mississippi’s students, being chronically absent in 2017-2018, according to the Mississippi Department of Education. Meaning they missed at least 10 percent or 18 school days. 34 percent of 12th graders fell into that category.
• More than 25 percent of Mississippi third graders failed the 3rd Grade English Language Arts Assessment test in 2019.
• 17 percent of Mississippi high school students dropped out in 2018, according to American Community Survey data.
We’ve all been through schools so we think we have all the answers, but educators find themselves as much social workers as teachers these days.
The beauty of academic calendars, though, is they come around every year, and there is always opportunity for hope, a change, something that might click, which gives us enthusiasm on that first day.
We have some wishes as this new school year begins. Some of them may be as elusive as a 5-year-old’s dream of a pony for Christmas, but if you have the power to grant any of them than maybe we can make some progress.
We wish for:
• Economic opportunities for parents and caregivers so they can purchase healthy food, needed supplies and most importantly allow them time to give attention to the children in their care.
• Increased and affordable broadband to provide students access to the knowledge and tools they need to learn and compete.
• Access to literature and books for younger students.
• A defined work space at home for older students.
• Structure for time when students will do their homework, when they get home or right after dinner, for example.
• Age appropriate bed times.
• A silencing of violent games and media.
• Discipline at home that students will carry to their classrooms, eliminating the distractions that derail their teachers and fellow students.
• Caregivers who support teachers rather than undermine them.
• Teachers and caregivers who exchange contact information so they can work in partnership.
• Caregivers who attend and support school activities. Sports events are exciting, but concerts, art displays, science fairs and other school events are just as important.
• Teachers who understand the challenges students face at home, yet don’t lose their spirit.
• Community members who continue their interest and involvement in schools long after their children have moved on – or before they ever arrive.
• Absence of bullies.
• Peace of mind that our schools are safe and secure.
And finally, families, schools and communities that continue to approach life like that first day of school.