Dear Class of 2025
September 11, 2012
by Shawn Bean
Dear Class of 2025,
You’re welcome. That’s right. You heard me. You’re welcome. Because while you were getting dizzy on the tire swing and eating Go-Gurt, the grown-ups have been working to make school great for you, and doing so under the most extraordinary conditions.
Consider Dr. J. Michael McGrath Elementary in Santa Clarita, CA. It’s a Title 1 school, which means the overall poverty level of the student population is at least 40 percent. More than 85 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch. Yet somehow, McGrath was named a National Blue Ribbon School earlier this year by the Department of Education. The K-6 population, sixty percent of which speaks English as a second language, scored higher than 80 percent proficiency in math and language arts. The school is led by principal Larry Heath, a guy who looks like he was built in the principal factory (tie, sweater vest, slick Gordon Gekko hair). This guy eats, sleeps and breathes education. He loves kids. Every year, to reward his students for all the work they did and goals they reached, he takes them to the movies. Yes, the entire school. And yes, that means hundreds of boxes of popcorn, and hundreds of small sodas.
Consider Broad Acres Elementary in Montgomery County, Maryland, on the outskirts of Washington, D.C. Like McGrath, Broad Acres has plenty to overcome. “We have a lot of poverty. Ninety-six percent of our students receive free or reduced meals,” says Kim Burnim, a Broad Acres teacher and the 2006 National Teacher of the Year. “There’s also a very high mobility rate. Many of the children who start here don’t finish.” But Burnim and the school keep fighting. The students’ reading proficiency is 81 percent, up from a dismal 47 percent in 2003. But it’s not just the children’s test scores that matter here. Faced with a high absentee rate and a large population of parents with no health insurance, Broad Acres created an on-site health center with a full-time nurse and regular doctor visits. When one student kept falling asleep in class, the teacher discovered that the child shared one twin mattress with three other siblings. The school got him a bed.
There are 99,000 public elementary and secondary schools in the United States. And these schools are filled with super awesome teachers. Teachers who buy their own classroom supplies (and even toilet paper) when the funding isn’t there. Teachers who give exhausted kids beds and rent out an entire movie theater to show Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. And all this happens while you’re getting dizzy on the tire swing and eating Go-Gurt. It all happens while you’re busy being, well, the Class of 2025.
That’s the way it should be, and you don’t owe us anything for it. Just remember to be grateful and show gratitude. Besides that, I only have a few pieces of advice for you. Wash your hands after going to the bathroom. Don't forget that M is just an upside-down W. And always remember to say “thank you.”