My fellow Guamanians,
There are many things in education within the control of schools and the government. We come up with the curriculum. We mandate that kids go to school at least until they're 16. We set pay scales for teachers. We try to provide adequate facilities for learning. We provide snacks and lunch. We determine the school calendar. Teachers teach. And we hope, that after doing all these things and more that are under our control, that students learn.
But there's another side to this. From the time a student leaves school to the next morning when he comes back, students live their lives at home. And what happens at home doesn't leave students when they enter the courtyard. It helps to shape who these students are, and what kind of diverse challenges they face.
We don't have control over what happens in the private lives of families, nor should we. Last week we presented information that shows that a child is most influenced to succeed by a good teacher. This is despite whether that child was poor, abused, neglected, or living with a disability. That's good news. It means that despite the high rate of poverty on Guam, we can really turn things around for students by doing what we can in their schools.
But we also can't ignore that parental and community support makes a big difference. A major shift in how parents and the community prioritize education can really help teachers to help their students.
This fifth part of our education reform series is about parental and community support. Though this support is not as important as the reforms needed for learning and teaching, it is needed. Teachers and students already face an uphill battle toward success with the deficiencies in the curriculum… and the gaps in teaching and learning practices. There are things that make this even harder for them.
It's impossible to teach a student who isn't there, or who's late to school all the time. Or how about students who need after-school or weekend interventions like tutoring, but they can't make it because they have no transportation? These things happen a lot. Many parents don't have cars, and many students live very far from bus stops. The first community support we must consider is the consolidation of all mass transit so that buses run from morning to evening on a reliable schedule.
Now what about kids whose families couldn't feed them dinner the night before, or breakfast that morning? Or kids who sleep late every night because they're babysitting their younger siblings while their parents are at work? It's not easy for teachers to keep the attention of tired students on an empty stomach. And what about students who struggle with the scars of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse at home? Or children who witness their parents using drugs, or who use drugs themselves? Students who are violent and who risk the safety of other students?
Folks, I've heard all too often that these are reasons why these students can't learn. Yes, these conditions make it harder for students to learn. But we can't forsake these students for the unfortunate life circumstances they struggle through. And these certainly can't be excuses for ignorance or failure.
Teachers and principals should not be made to take the place of abusive or neglectful parents. The solutions when discovering that students are being neglected or abused at home is common sense: report these parents to the proper authorities. Provide the students with the proper interventions. Part of that solution requires other government agencies to take these calls very seriously and to do their part. For instance, when a teacher logs excessive absences of a student in a short time, the principal should be notified. The principal, trained to notice behavioral issues, may find out that there are bad problems at home. The principal should be able to rely on social workers from public health and mental health coming to help the student. And the principal should be able to rely on CPS and the police to intervene as well.
We also strongly recommend reinstituting the Persons In Need of Services, or PINS program. It involves a hearing before a judge to examine the needs of a child who is being neglected. This could result in court orders and penalties for parents who willfully neglect their children. In this process, the court will appoint a guardian ad litem, an attorney focused on the child's best interests.
Now, I've just talked about a host of punitive solutions for the children of abusive and neglectful parents. But that's just a small part of the solution. We have to understand that there are many more good parents… parents who try really hard. They wish they could go to the PTA meetings, but how can they when they're always working? How can they check their children's homework? How can they adequately feed their children when they just don't have the money for full meals?
If we've been trying to get parents and the community to be involved for years, and it's not working, then obviously we need to change our methods. For years the model has been to hold events at school, like parent teacher conferences, or the occasional school play. We've opened up schools for parents to get involved with education. Why don't we bring the education agenda to the parents? Hear me out. I've got some experience with this.
For the past decade, every two years I've walked the streets asking the people to vote for me. Over the last year as Governor, Ray and I have gone out to ask the people about their problems and their ideas for solutions. One of the comments that many have made to us is that they never thought the government cared about them until we knocked on their door. So, why don't we do what Machanaonao Elementary has been doing? We should develop a team of volunteers from every school and start knocking on the doors of residents. We can talk to parents we've never talked to before. We can see their home situation first hand. We can better understand what the students go through and offer help that way. We can take the mayors with us. I'll tell public health and mental health that this is a priority so social workers can go too. We'll canvass the villages and get parents and the community involved. It's not a novel concept.
We can also involve the un-involved students in extra-curricular activities. This will mean more parents will have the incentive to be involved. And rather than always sending home notes about a child's bad behavior, why don't we send home notes about how much children are trying? I'll bet you parents will begin seeing more of those notes than the bad ones that stay at the bottom of the backpack.
We also need to revive the Parent Information Resource Center and open regional centers. This is particularly important for parents who try and want to know how to work with their out-of-control children. On top of this, we can't ignore the major language barriers we have. How can we communicate with people who don't speak English? This requires partnerships with the consulate general offices and with church groups who can help.
I have many more details and solutions to explain on this subject of reform. And we've been receiving many new ideas and many ideas that we've already included. These problems that we have may seem insurmountable, but they're not. These challenges are opportunities for us to achieve and overcome. One thing is certain: change needs to happen. Some of these changes won't be comfortable. They will bring to light the unwelcome truth of our current state and failures. But if education really is the first priority, and the students really are at the heart of it, then why wouldn't we pursue these reforms?
There's one more of these addresses left. I've saved the best for last. It's on learning… the most important subject of reform. More on that next week.
Thank you and God bless you all.
My fellow Guamanians,