I'm going to try not to get soap-boxy or preachy in this post, but if I dip a toe in those waters, I hope you will forgive me.
I am a product of a public school education, from kindergarten all the way through grade twelve. I had the questionable privilege of having attended school at eight different schools in seven different school districts during that time. (We moved a lot. It's why I still get confused if you ask me where I'm from.) All of those schools, save one, were in good school districts - the kind with funding and involved parents. One of the elementary schools was in inner-city Pittsburgh, and I attended second and third grade in one school year, in large part because I came from such a great first-grade program in the suburbs around Philadelphia that I was ridiculously far ahead of the kids who started in that not-so-hot city district. Turns out that when kids come to school hungry and tired, and the school just doesn't have tons of funding, sometimes their reading levels and ability to do math just aren't that good. Sometimes, they fall behind.
(I should note that both of my daughters spent thirteen years in public education as well. Maggie is about to graduate from the local public high school, and Sara is a sophomore in college. A public college, by the way, since she's at College of Charleston in South Carolina. They were fortunate to attend schools in one of the best districts in the area. They were able to do so because I was able to afford for us to live here, and I made living in a good school district a priority when I bought my house. But I digress.)
When I read Colleen Mondor's post about this spring's book drive for Ballou High School in Washington, DC, I got to thinking about my experience with public education, and about the importance of public education in general. Seriously - how lucky are we that we live in a nation where all kids can go to school for free? Sure, there may be problems in individual schools or districts or with specific students or teachers, but the concept is pretty mind-blowing, when you think about all the places in the world where this is not the case.
Even if you didn't attend public schools yourself, or if you opted to homeschool or put your kids in private schools, my guess is that you are similarly happy to live in a society where education is - at least in theory - valued and important.
The thing about Ballou High School is that while education is valued there, the kids are struggling. Probably they're a lot like the kids in that inner-city Pittsburgh school I talked about. Their reading scores are low, folks. Like, only 18% of the 10th-grade kids there are proficient in reading, and only 22% are proficient in math. They undoubtedly have committed teachers, and they are getting better physical facilities, but here's the thing: despite Guys Lit Wire running quite a few book drives for them, they still don't have the kind of library that they need, the kind that every school kid deserves. The American Library Association recommends that a school library have a ration of 11 to 1; that's 11 books for every student. Ballou is now up to a 5 to 1 ratio, largely thanks to Guys Lit Wire drives and the many, many people who have donated books to the library using the GLW wish lists. That's still not quite half as many books as they need. Books that are needed so kids there can learn to read, and read well. So they can make a better life for themselves, and eventually for families of their own.
I say "largely thanks to Guys Lit Wire drives", but really, it's pretty much all that. Because Ballou High School gets ZERO DOLLARS from the DC Public School System to purchase books for its shelves. Yes, really.
And yeah, I know this is getting to be long. But there's a bit more.
I have been thinking a lot about the kids at Ballou, who started school every bit as eager to learn as my own kids were, and as those kids at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown were. And I got to thinking how unfair it feels that there are kids who aren't alive to succeed in their local school system, and how there are these kids who are alive and want to succeed who aren't being given the tools.
And I decided that I'm going to donate 21 books to Ballou this year, in memory of those kids from Sandy Hook. I would love it if anyone wants to join me in that, but even if you don't have the resources or inclination to go quite that big, I hope you will read Colleen Mondor's post at Guys Lit Wire and then follow the links to Powell's, where you can find this year's list, and do what you can to help those kids at Ballou to get this reading thing down and succeed.
If you've read this all the way to the end, I thank you with my whole heart.