The Land of Opportunity Sets Students up for Failure

“Be careful. This isn’t a good place for you.”

That is what my Uber driver said to me as he dropped me off at a public middle school in Miami Gardens, FL. I am a twenty-something blonde and blue-eyed White woman, and clearly in the minority. I was there to do a site visit and check-in with administrators and educators who were using a nutrition education program I manage. Obviously, his statement left me a little unsettled, but concern about my own safety quickly dissipated and concern for the wellbeing of America’s public school children heightened.

I patiently waited for the Principal to meet with me, silently observing the inner workings of this school community. Posters featuring Black leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. lined the display case, carefully preserved, offering words of wisdom and inspiration for all those who pass by. As I waited in the main office I was greeted with more “good mornings” from staff and students than I have ever received anywhere else. This school is not a scary place.

The community that surrounds the school may have high rates of violence (6.3 in Miami Gardens compared to 4.6 in Florida and 3.8 nationwide), but it is a safe-haven for the neighborhood’s children. The new Principal has seen to that.

The new Principal was assigned to this school, on the brink of receivership, with the task of boosting test scores to keep the school run by the district. If the school maintains its “F” rating for the third year in a row, then the state will take it over. The Principal keeps a list of last year’s standardized test averages on display in front of her desk as a daily reminder to persevere. Her predictions for this year’s test scores will bring the school to a “C” rating, a significant feat when faced with so many obstacles.

Standardized tests do not set students up for success. Test outcomes drive focus within classrooms, discouraging skill or knowledge development that does not fit neatly into reading, writing, or math boxes. A school district that is truly focused on the whole-child knows that these strict foci are not the keys to student success, especially when test results drive school funding and teacher salaries. Students from neighborhoods with high rates of violence and poverty mean that they are faced with numerous personal obstacles even before they set foot in a classroom.

The Miami Gardens middle school Principal knows this. In her first year she is working to raise rates of school breakfast participation, raise literacy levels in creative ways, and build a sense of community through events and programs like a social media campaign that encourages healthy eating and a field day.

Students are distracted, hungry, and experience high rates of administrator and teacher turnover due to burnout and low pay. How can we expect students or teachers to succeed without proper support? We need more services and opportunities for them, not less.

Tying school funding and curricula to test results is doing everyone a disservice. We need stronger leadership for public school education from the top down. Betsy DeVos is not a wise choice for our nation’s education secretary, but in the interim, leaders like the Principal at this Miami Gardens middle school give me hope that even when facing every possible obstacle, hard work and compassion can lift disadvantaged students up and create opportunities for success, no matter where you come from.


Trump Trolls & Other Feminist Tales

Hi, my name is Jamie and I have been trolled. It started November 9, 2016, the very day Donald J. Trump and his tiny Twitter fingers were elected the 45th President of the United States of America, when a Facebook group I had joined in unity with Hillary Clinton changed its name to “I Support Trump”. Then, on January 21, 2017, the very day millions of people across the world came together to peacefully protest Trump’s ascent and everything he represents, I was trolled again.

The morning of January 21, 2017, I pulled on my Rosie the Riveter socks and I marched in solidarity with 175,000 women and allies in Boston, MA. We were a sea of signs and pink hats, lifting each other up, emanating hope, and organizing for change. I proudly shared each step of my journey from bedtime reading to poster making to marching on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, using hashtags and geotags to connect with a global support network.

Social media can feel like a close confidant, encouraging you to share your thoughts and opinions, making you feel comfortable and secure. You are liked and loved by friends, acquaintances, and strangers. Then one day you wake up and realize you are sinking into a slowly rising swamp surrounded by trolls who have escaped from under uninviting bridges to hide behind thoughts of building walls and revoking reproductive health care rights.

16143409_10154742696300199_2589150310302248528_oThe Rosie the Riveter sock and ode to Beyonce’s lemonade-soaked feminism photo did me in. I shared the post on Facebook, garnering many positive reactions and this comment: “Are you fighting for equality of outcome or opportunity?”. I read it over a few times, and in my head, I thought: Jamie, not worth responding. You know this person and you know that he says things like this to rile you up. I let it go.

Less than 24 hours later he writes again: “Jamie, are you supporting equality or the redistribution of money from workers to pay for your reproductive parts?”. He did not just say that, did he? Is he really that narrow-minded? Is he actually dating a WOMAN I consider a friend and can say something so snidely disrespectful about a gender someone he loves identifies with while at the same time pitting this same gender against the working class? I politely responded: “How about you don’t try to start shit on my photo celebrating womanhood and a day of lifting marginalized groups up.” Boom.

He was not done. He told me that I could not possibly be for both and that I must choose. Guess what, I am for everything you are not and so much more. Better yet, so are my loving male friends and mom (hi, mom) who stepped in and showed up. Who said that “health care isn’t limited to where men’s needs begin and end”, who stated that equality is a no-brainer, and thoughtfully pointed out that if this person was so firmly against the government redistributing revenue in a way that benefited some or many, but not all, then he could pay back everything he has likely already taken from the system in the way of public libraries, transit, the post office, etc.

Our government certainly does not work for all, but it works for many thanks to the thoughtful leadership of the Obamas and many others. Eight years of progress are on the line, threatening to be unraveled. Now is not the time to sit idly by. This is why I march.

I dedicate this post to men and women who rise up, show up, and do not hide behind their computer screens and tiny Twitter fingers. May the resistance be with you. God Bless America.