Compass: Let's help our kids be ready for school - and help the kids who are not

By WALT BETZAugust 29, 2013 

It is a valid question whether Alaskans in poverty -- or Alaskans in affluence, for that matter -- can raise up their kids with the skills necessary to succeed in school.

Can parents feed their kids three square meals a day and love on them in between meals? Can parents read to their children at home? Can parents play cars or dolls on the floor with their kids or toss a ball with their kids? Can parents sing a song while they are doing the dishes or play a game of cards with their kids after dinner?

For generations some parents did and some parents didn't, and it has made all the difference.

Some kids come to school ready to learn because decisions their families make predispose them for success. On the other hand, some kids, whether from families of affluence or from poverty, come to school unprepared for the rigors of school.

What do we do with those kids?

While politicians and pundits play the blame game, schools are faced with the untidy task of equalizing the opportunities for all children the moment they walk through our doors. Some teachers in every school are able to bridge the gap with kids in spite of the odds. Other teachers do their share but can't make a dent in the learning deficits with which they are faced.

Before our state spends millions of dollars on the successor to No Child Left Behind, it would make sense to start with a few commonsense decisions. First of all, we must acknowledge as a state we have kids starting school who are already behind. Regardless of whose fault it is, these kids are here to stay.

Secondly, as Alaskans, we must decide to invest early in intervention. It makes no sense to wait until fourth-graders demonstrate high-risk behaviors and learning deficits. We need to supersede sequestration and to provide intervention in the form of early childhood education programs and quality elementary programs. Children can learn to read in first grade (and before!) if we put the pieces in place to make it happen.

Finally, as families, we must prioritize our children over the time to which we think we are entitled. We must cultivate our children even more diligently than we tend our careers, our pastimes ... or our vices.

The work of our homes, in post-oil boom Alaska, must be to make up for the inequalities in our state and our nation's social and educational programs. We can show the other 49 states that it can be done.

Walt Betz is the principal of Nuniwarmiut School in Mekoryuk, on Nunivak Island.

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