An address working toward bridging the opportunity gaps children in our communities face was held on April 15, at the Alumni Center.
This event, marked the Day of Action, was part of the 2015-2016 Keene State College Symposium “Sustaining the American Dream: Public Education and the Common Good.” Roughly 20 people including faculty, students and community members met to identify the inequalities within these opportunity gaps; however, the goal of the event was to make sure the conversations discussed during the symposium would not come to a halt now that the Symposium has ended.
Symposium Co-Chair and Assistant Professor of Education John Sturtz said that symposium events have been running since the end of September. “We’ve had a number of events. Some of them were presentations by faculty members from Keene State College and then we’ve brought in speakers,” Sturtz said.
He continued, “Our goal was to look at the intersection of education reform and economic inequalities. It was an effort to try to look at that and then to direct the conversation to the fact that our schools really aren’t bad. What’s really the issue is that we’re fighting systems of inequality. We’re righting social injustices, economic inequality, political inequality, social inequality and that those things are pervasive in our communities so why wouldn’t they show up in our schools?”
Sturtz said that, because schools are just a cross section of a society, these injustices will inevitably be present. Sturtz also said that public schools are incubators for the type of democracy we live in.
“Then if we don’t have public schools that are free and open and accessible to all students…We just run the risk of continuing to isolate our society. What we need to be looking at is how do we close the opportunity gap? Schools are a part of that but it’s not the whole thing. Schools didn’t start the inequality and the opportunity gap. They’ll be part of the solution but not going to be the entire solution,” Sturtz said.
Sturtz said that he considers economic inequalities and access to opportunities to be the main injustices in our current system.
“There’s this widening gap between those who come from families where opportunities are available and those that don’t have opportunity,” Sturtz said.
Like Sturtz, Co-President of the American Association of University Women Debbie Bowie said she sees economic inequalities affecting children in our communities as well. Bowie, who was also present at the Symposium, said it is upsetting that economics provides opportunities.
Bowie said that the ages that are impacted by this the most are probably young children.
Bowie said, “We know that from zero to five years [old] are really critical years for the brain changing…One of the things that I think we all need to be careful with is that we should focus on that group, but we should not neglect the other groups that need extra encouragement or an extra push.” Bowie continued, “So the reason that the zero to five age range is so important is that the child needs to be ready when they hit kindergarten.”
Bowie said that there are only five states that don’t have plans for kindergarten programs, and that New Hampshire is one of them. “These are things people don’t realize.” Bowie said. “We really need to focus on getting these kids started right. I think we need to look at how we can sell it in the community and what’s the easiest and most cost effective way to bring a program in.”
Bowie continued, “I think we have to keep in mind that we as a community have a responsibility to provide for that community.”
City Council Member Jay Kahn was also present for the event. Kahn said that,if we are going to be a strong and growing community, we need to assure ourselves that children have the opportunities to develop. “It has such a social impact when we fail to address the opportunity gaps for kids,” Kahn said. “I want to be supportive of those things that try to make Keene a stronger, more vibrant community.”
Debbie Bowie said she thinks everyone has something to contribute to their community. Bowie said she goes to Winchester once a week for an hour with the second grade class for America Reads.
Bowie said, “We can make a change for these kids, but it’s going to take that village to come together to do it together.”
Adam Urquhart can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org