Don’t give up on kids, just give them the boost they need.
There’s a common phrase that one of my early mentors repeated when he assigned someone a particularly difficult task. “Nothing to it, but to do it,” he’d say. It’s a simple idea that’s an essential mindset for reaching solutions for complex problems.
Figure out what’s going wrong, then do something to fix it.
This week I’ve been reminded that people are doing that to solve a host of problems that are bound up in how well we as a society prepare all our children to do well intellectually, economically and socially.
A reader asked whether I remembered the name of a guy who took over a bunch of schools and made them work. I realized I didn’t, but there’ve been a lot of efforts by individuals to improve educational outcomes and the email prompted me to search for some examples.
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And, though there’s lots of work to be done, the stories showed some good things are happening. Maybe more people need to hear about that more often, so that it won’t be so easy to accept the shortcomings we have as a nation. The United States doesn’t compare well with other wealthy countries when it comes to keeping all our children healthy and educating them well.
Our solutions need to be systemic, but maybe we can be inspired by individual efforts that show what’s possible.
The story that I sent to the reader was about a Florida philanthropist, Harris Rosen, and reading it ought to make people feel more hopeful, because it demonstrates that the kids people usually give up on can succeed with the right kind of help.
Rosen grew up poor in New York City and made millions from a hotel chain he built. Because he knew how hard it was to get out of a poor neighborhood, he decided to help other people escape. He choose to work with a small community in Florida, Tangelo Park, where crime rates were high and fewer than half of public school students graduated. That was 1993.
Rosen paid for high-quality day care, free to families and run by locals trained for the work. He made parenting classes and vocational training available. He paid for a kindergarten program in the local elementary school and he promised scholarships to students who graduate. His goal was for children to have preparation early and something to aim for.
The children attend public schools and community volunteers coordinate the programs. And rather than just writing checks, Rosen has always been involved in the community’s transformation.
Crime rates dropped dramatically, most seniors graduate and go on to college.
What he understood is that children need both preparation and hope in the form of a goal they believe they have a good chance of achieving.
His formula for success is not a mystery and it doesn’t require a millionaire’s generosity. It should be built into the structure of community institutions, and there are people trying to make that happen, here and around the nation.
This week Patty Murray, Washington’s senior U.S. senator, introduced a bill that would help more families pay for child care, make preschool more accessible and help improve training and pay for child-care workers.
And in Seattle voters are taxing themselves to fund a trial program to provide more children access to high-quality child care.
Children who get good care early are more prepared for school, and because families are critical to children’s development, supporting parents helps children. King County does that through programs such as the Nurse Family Partnership, which pairs first-time moms with a nurse trained to help families give their babies a healthy, stimulating start.
Rosen is a hero, and so are voters here who’ve been willing to say we don’t want to leave children behind.