Every Child a Trailblazer

Originally published in the Greater Park Hill News on Oct 1st, 2019

We Must Do What It Takes To Make That Happen

There are brilliant changemakers among us, right here in the Greater Park Hill neighborhood. There are fearless leaders who will impact the world with their clever contributions, who will blaze paths in fields of medicine, science, technology, and the humanities; who will create genius solutions to complex problems.

Maybe you’ve seen them on the playground at school, or maybe you’re lucky enough to be parenting one of them. They are our children.

More than 2,000 children from Early Childhood Education through fifth grade attend our Greater Park Hill schools.  Every one of them carries the potential to change the world in ways we can’t even begin to fathom. But not all of these young students will have the opportunity to pursue their passions or share their intrinsic gifts with the world.

In past PHNEE columns, we have shared with you some of the many inequities that face our young students on a daily basis – such as toxic stress, standardized testing, lack of access to resources, and implicit bias of educators. We’ve also shared some of the benefits that can occur when students have access to equitable learning environments.

But what happens if they don’t? What if these inequities remain the status quo?

Current research shows that learning environments which fail to create safe, equitable, engaging school climates, can lead to a variety of negative impacts for students, such as feeling a lack of connection to school, leaving school prior to graduation, unemployment and even incarceration.

Each year in Colorado, roughly 10,000 students leave school prior to graduating. Only about 3,000 of those students return to school before age 21.

In a recent Denver Post article, Francesca López, the associate dean of education psychology at the University of Arizona, was quoted on this topic.

“Youth are more likely to disengage from school if they feel their classes don’t have a place for them or treat them fairly, which unfortunately is a more common experience for students of color,” she said. “Most of the schools with low graduation rates serve more students from low-income families and students of color than the average school in Colorado.

“It’s not that students who drop out devalue education. They reject an education process that has devalued them.”

Students who leave high school before graduating are far less likely to pursue post-secondary education (including trade school, associate’s degree, or college), which is correlated with higher income levels and less risk of unemployment.

For example, those who graduate with a bachelor’s degree earn, on average, $26,000 more annually than those who only graduate high school. Those with professional degrees earn six times as much annually as those who do not graduate from high school. In addition to higher earnings, graduates of post-secondary school report higher levels of job satisfaction, increased levels of self-esteem, and better long-term health outcomes.

Perhaps of greater concern, students who don’t successfully finish high school have a higher risk of ending up in prison. In Colorado, a shocking 84 percent of prisoners never graduated high school.

While an entire PHNEE column could (and will) be dedicated to the school-to-prison pipeline, these statistics are alarming. They also connect us back to why it is so vitally important for us to provide whatever supports we can to create equitable learning environments for all of our Greater Park Hill students.

Last month, I shared with you a quote from former Secretary of Education John King on inequities in education. This portion of his quote has particularly stuck with me.

“We can’t help but think of the art that is not created, the entrepreneurial ideas that may never reach the drawing board, the classrooms these Americans will never lead, the discoveries they’ll never make,” he said. “Our failure to educate some groups of children as well as others tears at the moral fabric of the nation.”

Our neighborhood is full of vibrant, intelligent, world-changing children. It is our obligation to them, to our neighborhood, and to our collective future to ensure that every student here has the opportunity to thrive.

 Erin Pier is a mother of three, Stedman parent, and school psychologist at the Academy of Urban Learning in Denver. She is an active member of the Park Hill Neighbors For Equity In Education, which works toward diversity, equity, and inclusion in all schools in the neighborhood. For more information, check out the group’s Facebook page at facebook.com/phnee, or send an email to info@phnee.org.