Hope And Fortitude: We Are In This Together

Originally published on March 31st, 2020 in the Greater Park Hill News

One-Community Mindset Must Extend To Schools

By Park Hill Neighbors  For Equity In Education

As of this writing, in mid-March, Denver and the rest of the country are staring into the unknown as we face the coronavirus pandemic and its resulting illness, COVID-19.

Most have never experienced a situation like this before, thus we can only draw on hope and our own fortitude – not necessarily experience – to get through it.

To avoid overburdening the health care system, Americans have been asked to engage in social-distancing, and to self-quarantine, to break the invisible chain of transmission and infection that has unfortunately already befallen many.

One challenging aspect of this instruction is that it asks us to isolate ourselves from the direct support of friends and family during a time of stress, uncertainty, and for some, illness.

Giving a call to action, Gov. Jared Polis said on March 11, “[w]e need you to be part of working with us to do everything we can . . . to respond to this virus and reduce the trajectory of its spread.” He added, “The most important person who can stop the spread of this virus is you.”

In another press conference, he said, “We will get through this together.”

The governor’s words emphasize that having a community-mindset is critical for society to thrive, and right now, for survival.

That spirit is alive and well in Park Hill. Neighbors have donated food, money, and time and are asking what they can do to help. This generosity is why Greater Park Hill residents cherish the neighborhood.

But what about the schools?

Squaring with reality

Greater Park Hill’s community-mindset does not seem to square with the neighborhood’s apparent acceptance of the inequitable landscape of our four elementary schools.

As PHNEE has described in past columns, all but one of the four schools are under-enrolled, and thus do not receive the maximum amount of student-based budgeting (SBB) they could, leading to difficult decisions for school leaders concerning resources.

A majority of these schools’ populations qualify for free-or-reduced-price lunch. For these children, resources they receive from school, including breakfast and lunch, are often not available at home.

Given that Greater Park Hill’s residents see the need to step forward and help during this COVID-19 crisis, we should recognize that this spirit of goodwill is always within us, and that we therefore truly have the power to improve equity among our schools, if we care.

Choosing to attend, or not

Much of the problem is a result of DPS’ enrollment policies, which, regardless of their intent, can result in increased inequities.

Families can choose to attend their neighborhood school, or use school choice to opt out of the neighborhood school and attend another. While there are benefits to either path for some students, unintended consequences also result.

Neighborhood schools often reflect the socioeconomic status of the surrounding neighborhood. This creates islands of privilege and islands of economic vulnerability – neither of which serve children well. (For more on this, see the PHNEE column on that appeared in the February issue.)

As for school choice, when people choose to leave their neighborhood for a different school, they take with them not only the SBB dollars associated with each child, but also their own financial and social capital.

This means that school choice can drain resources from neighborhood schools. Students in the schools left behind are often the most vulnerable and marginalized, resulting in even greater inequity for them.

Something about this scenario must change if Greater Park Hill wants to be worthy of carrying the badge of being a caring, community-minded neighborhood, outside of a crisis.

This is the vision that drives PHNEE; that the neighborhood is a unified, engaged, and inclusive community empowered to drive positive change in Park Hill’s elementary schools to ensure all of our children have access to an equitable education and opportunities to thrive.

As we each do our part for the health and safety of the greater good during the coronavirus crisis, let’s remember that this attitude should guide us at all times.

PHNEE looks forward to engaging with the community to find solutions to inequity, after we emerge together from these hard times.

In the meantime, please visit PHNEE.org/OneParkHill. Watch our video, think about how DPS policies have influenced your enrollment choices, and take our survey about possible solutions.

May you be safe and well.

Park Hill Neighbors For Equity In Education (PHNEE.org) is an organization of local advocates working toward diversity, equity, and inclusion in all schools in Greater Park Hill.