School daze: Looks like we’re going to be leaving a lot of children behind

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All I can think as I read through the early planning of local school divisions for the fall semester is, there but for the grace of God go I.

Two income, upper middle class, one parent gets to telework families are like, yeah, we got this, when they see two days a week at school, three days a week remote learning.

I came from the other side of the tracks.

Growing up, my parents split when I was 13, and my mom supported her family – including my younger sister, 8 at the divorce – on a minimum wage job, $3.35 an hour, $7.84 an hour in 2020 dollars, $313.60 a week, $16,307.20 a year in today’s dollars, before taxes.

That’s actually a tick better than folks in minimum wage jobs make today – $7.25 an hour, $290 a week, $15,080 a year.

I know it’s popular to say, you’re not supposed to support a family on a minimum wage job, but I know, not academically, not from reading a report, but from real life experience, that it is done.

I also know how hard it is to make it growing up in that kind of environment.

When you have nothing, that applies to everything.

I grew up in a rural part of Augusta County, where remote learning meant accessing the county library via the bookmobile, until budget cuts meant no more bookmobile.

It meant, for me, also, having opportunities for summer enrichment camps that I was never able to attend because of my mom’s shifting weekly work schedules.

Summer for me was hanging around the house, babysitting my sister, watching TV.

No books, no learning, nothing constructive.

I am what I am because, OK, honestly, I don’t know.

No idea how I came out of that environment to graduate second in my high school class and earn a degree from UVA.

It’s obvious that to me education is the great hand up that is available to kids growing up in tough environments.

My fear for the kids of today – specifically, the kids like me of today – is that they’re going to be left behind.

School cut off in mid-March, and now we’re looking at least at a fall semester with limited on-site instruction.

For the kids from privileged backgrounds, this is not all that big a deal.

Having a parent around to guide you, having access to high-speed internet, having expectations, all huge deals.

The kids like me, from single-parent homes, or from homes where both parents work jobs outside the home, it’s a crapshoot.

These kids don’t have the same level of oversight, may or may not have basic internet access, aren’t likely to have expectations to succeed placed on them.

I know, again from personal experience, that there is something to the cycle of poverty that deadens one’s ability to hope, to dream.

That’s an issue when things are whatever normal used to be, and will be again.

Heap a helping of uncertainty on top of it all, and you’re going to lose a wide swath of these kids.

Which may mean nothing to you, but it should.

Story by Chris Graham


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