I couldn’t shake the feelings of sadness and anger I experienced last night while I was watching the PBS documentary, 180 Days: A Year Inside an American High School. This film chronicles a year in the lives of students, teachers and leaders at Washington Metropolitan High School in Washington D.C. D.C. Met is an inner city school that serves low income, at-risk students. This documentary highlights the struggles that the kids and the staff face every day both inside of the school and outside of its walls. Whether the students are dealing with teen pregnancy, homelessness, illiteracy or something worse, the teachers and leadership at the school believe that the students can succeed. They appear passionate and reflective, and seem truly dedicated to these kids. They understand that the needs of the whole student have to be addressed in order for them to succeed. But unfortunately this enthusiasm is not enough in most cases. Even if they had all of the resources and support in the world, these teachers were fighting an uphill battle. They only have the students for 4 years (and that's best case scenario), which is just not enough time to fill in all of the blanks. They are pressured by their district leaders to perform better on standardized tests under threat of losing their jobs. They are told progress is not enough. They have to meet the standards.
To me this film exemplifies why early childhood education is absolutely critical. It is too late to try to correct all of a child's issues in high school. We have to reach them and their families before they get off track. And more than that, we need to give them the leg up that they need to succeed. We have to provide rich and intentional learning experiences that are geared towards meeting their individual needs. We need to intervene and provide access to services if there is a delay or disability. We need to help families find stability.
The children at SouthSide could be just like some of the students in this documentary. They have similar struggles and stories. But what gives me hope is that we are starting early. I know that SouthSide is helping to build the foundation they will need to break out of these patterns. I know that SouthSide kids not only have a better chance of making it to their high school graduation, but also a better chance at succeeding in life. And for me, this helps remove those lingering feelings of sadness and fills me with excitement for their futures.