Monday, August 21, 2017

Every Child Can

Forgive the political nature of the name of the post, but I can't exclaim enough how much I've seen "kids be kids" regardless of background. You give them the ball, they play with it. Boys roughhousing with each other, girls whispering to each other, all ravaging for the candy from the pinata, and proud of their accomplishments. This includes kids from the lowest strata, which they call 1 here. One school was even side by side with strata 6, the wealthiest class. I was impressed how many encouraging words there were about reaching your dreams, hard work, and one school even had every student's name on the desk with a reason of why they matter.
Yet, I will never forget the ride to a school in San Miguel, a rural "suburb" if you will of the Buenos Aires neighborhood. This used to be a conflict zone and all of the youth they were working with had either been displaced or suffered from sexual abuse or maltreatment at home. All of the youth were from African descent, which was a VERY different Colombia than I had been exposed to the past two weeks at La Red. The views to get there were by our standards, gorgeous! Mountains, open fields, but of course this meant minimal development, and more importantly, no access to water. The little shops only sold pop and energy drinks, not water. We stopped at the teacher's house to use the bathroom as that was the last bathroom we were going to have-there was no bathroom at the school. With no water and no bathroom, I can't imagine trying to learn how to read, how to do my best, etc. without water or a bathroom, especially as a girl.

This just goes to further my belief that every child can learn, take these music programs as just one example. But they can only do so with the basic Maslow needs. We can't expect them to read or score well on a test if we haven't addressed their physical needs, step one. But step 2, is we need to address their social and emotional needs. What has struck me about the programs in Cauca is that there was always a social worker and/or psychologist present, whether she (in this case) happened to be giving the instruction or in the room helping in whatever way needed. This is a  position I hope to add to CMC in time as I've seen the power that has come from having someone involved in the evaluation, in the teaching, in the program's administration. But in development, we have to stop trying to have our goal be that youth score at X level or can read at X level, and ask ourselves, are children's needs being provided for? Physical needs and classroom supplies (like having desks, and non-broken chairs) is a start, but especially when working with youth from traumatic, vulnerable, backgrounds, we have to stop assuming that youth can learn without addressing these needs first.
I heard a harrowing story about two women fighting with machetes and chopping the other's fingers off. If that is my mom, how can I expect to care about school when my mom's life is endangered, or maybe my own? If we took this approach to MSP's achievement gap, would we see different results? I can't help but say yes, when Colombia's most dangerous neighborhoods have evolved into lively spaces available for every child to learn. If we acknowledged the trauma that came from the Rondo neighborhood's destruction, or the fact that 1/5 Black men are/have been in prison (and thus most likely are black youth's family members), would we teach differently? How would we measure success differently? At the end of the day, should literacy be our end goal? Absolutely, every youth should be able to read, but not before making sure there other needs are provided for. We cannot expect academic results to change without an investment in the physical, social, and emotional needs of these children. Every child can learn, but needs the supports to do so. We can't expect resilience, music, or any other magic silver bullet to change these kids lives or help them or even impact them minimally if we don't give them the foundation. It's like expecting them to build a house, but only giving them supplies for a roof.
Tomorrow begins my final research chapter in Bogota. I'm curious to see the differences and the similarities, but I challenge GenNext to instead of measure reading levels and invest in literacy programs, to invest in more SEL resources, social workers, etc. and then see the changes. Maybe this has to happen through CMC. You can bet your money this is getting added to the list of things I'm telling the new Mayor!

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