I would like to share an experience that influenced my thoughts and beliefs concerning the desperate situation among many children in our community.
I was a participant (listener) in some of the recent interviews conducted by The Oregon Community Foundation’s South Coast Leadership Council to learn about the needs in our region regarding education and healthcare for children. The questions asked were open-ended. The answers, given below, are not my answers; they are the answers of the professionals responsible for our children’s education and well-being. In Curry County, the interviewees included representatives from the Brookings-Harbor School District, Central Curry School District, Port Orford-Langlois School District, Curry County Commission on Children and Families, a judge, and the South Coast Education Services District.
The interviewer asked, “From your perspective, what are the top three concerns facing education for children in your community?” The answers included: food insecurity; access to healthcare, including transportation; support for children with unstable families; limited academic and enrichment opportunities; access to mental health treatment; children living with families who struggle with substance abuse, child abuse, poverty, homelessness and unemployment; and coordination of early childhood services. All of the parties listed school funding as a problem.
The answers to the additional interview questions pointed to the desperate, and increasing, needs of our children and the inadequate, and dwindling, resources available to address those needs.
Personally, I was stunned by the responses. The answers given by the education professionals focused on basic human needs and not educational or school-based needs. I had always thought that meeting basic needs was the responsibility of the family, but I learned that in too many cases the families in our community are not able to fulfill their responsibility.
I had always thought that schools should stay out of the social services business. I was wrong. I learned that the schools have no other choice; they cannot teach children who are struggling with their basic needs including food, clothing, shelter, and emotional and physical support. I believe it is essential that the basic human needs of our children must be met before we can engage in meeting their higher level needs. I also believe that meeting basic educational needs must be given funding priority over providing for extra-curricular activities.
We are faced with a financial crisis of a lifetime. We are being forced to make difficult, often unpopular choices. I agree that extra-curricular activities are valuable; but for me it’s simply a matter of putting first things first. Hunger trumps basic education. Basic education trumps extra-curricular activities.
I encourage the people of our community to help our schools deliver basic services, volunteer, donate and take up these issues with our school boards.