Jorge Cabrera, a product of Bridgeport schools who’s been involved in a variety of education issues, offers several suggestions to “bring opportunity back to our schools.” Cabrera can be reached at JlrCabrera@aol.com.
I received a good education in the Bridgeport public schools. As a student my days were filled with many extracurricular activities, teachers who loved and challenged me and many opportunities to learn inside and outside the classroom. I have many fond memories of discovering my love for reading in English class, my interest in History in Social Studies and my interest in the beyond in Physics.
In high school, I participated in an after school program called ASPIRA (Spanish for Aspire) which was a partnership with the school district and Upward Bound (a partnership with Fairfield University). Both programs put me on the college track, provided resources (both monetarily and informational) and support. In short, my education in the Bridgeport public school system provided me with a grounding that would serve me well in the future. While not perfect (what is?) I never recall not having ample resources or opportunities to learn and grow both inside and outside the classroom.
Today, there is much discussion over the so-called “achievement gap” in the Bridgeport public schools. I would contend that what we really have in our communities is an opportunity gap that can only be closed if we first close the courage gap.
Here’s how we do it.
There are six main areas that need to be addressed if we are going to bring opportunity back to our schools.
First, we need real reform in the way we fund our public schools. The Bridgeport public schools are horribly underfunded. The state of Connecticut and the City of Bridgeport have failed to adequately fund the schools for years and that is unacceptable. There are many reports that have been published that show that the Bridgeport school system is underfunded. This is not new news. Adequately funding Bridgeport’s schools will allow the school district to provide the proper social (i.e. social workers, guidance counselors, psychologists) and academic (i.e. tutors, literacy and math coaches) interventions they so desperately need. Let’s muster the political courage to fund the schools adequately.
Second, expand inter-district and in district magnet school options. Bridgeport has magnet schools that have consistently performed (as measured by standardized test scores) at high levels. We should be building on models we know, consistently, work; not reinvent the “wheel.”
Third, the research is crystal clear on the need for high quality universal pre-school. We should have pre-school in every single Bridgeport school. Too many children lack access to pre-school and as a result start school already behind academically. Providing pre-school would give children the foundation they need to succeed. It’s a no-brainer. Let’s do it.
Fourth, many families in Bridgeport lack access to good health care, especially prenatal services. Many health issues that impact academic achievement go undetected in the womb because too many women do not get adequate care. We must increase access to quality prenatal care and help families get the support they need during pregnancy.
Fifth, create more partnerships with regional universities and corporations to expand after school, in school and summer enrichment programs. Bridgeport is located in one of the wealthiest counties in the country. The degree of available resources (both monetarily and intellectual) is ample. We should be partnering with our neighbors more to create more opportunities for the 30,000 students in the Bridgeport school system.
Sixth, we must support our teachers. That means we need to listen to them and partner with them. They are in the trenches every day and are in the best position to know how learning takes place. We need to provide them with good training and support them by offering them more opportunities during the day to plan and to develop peer to peer collaboration. And, we must stop overburdening them with unrealistic demands on their time via too much testing and bureaucratic red tape. Get out of their way and let them teach!
Finally, the only way we will ever close the opportunity gap in our schools is by working together and mustering the courage to face deep realities. The truth is the conditions in the schools in Bridgeport are a result of bad public policy and a direct reflection of the ever-deepening inequality in our country. Together, we can improve things in our schools and create opportunity again. But it will require us to close our courage gap. Do we have the courage to talk candidly? Do we have the courage to seek and speak the truth to power with love? Do we have the courage to be respectful and dignified in our disagreements while simultaneously extending a hand to those we may consider enemies? Do we have the courage to serve others before ourselves? I think we do.
The answers will not come from “silver bullets” or some “new” idea. There is no superman. Superman is dead. We are the ones we have been waiting for.