Money buys enrichment

I am a teacher at Harrison Park Elementary (formally Clark K-8 @ Binnsmead). Our demographics include a wonderfully diverse population with students from over 20 countries. I have seven languages represented in my room alone. We also have 80% of our families receiving free or reduced lunch benefits, which places us in the top 15% highest poverty schools in the district. At least 50% of our parents speak a language other than English. I am beginning my ninth year working with our wonderful families.

We have always had to limit our extra activities, such as field trips, with our students. We received some money ($75-$100) for each class for field trips each year, and our school budget helped cover some overages. Of course, buses are $200 each in addition to admission to events, so we still had to ask parents for contributions for field trips, although no child was denied a field trip due to lack of funds. We usually had to ask for less than five dollars per child, and most could contribute that much. These field trips were memorable, and for some of my first graders, the first time they had crossed a bridge over the Willamette River.

We recently were reminded by the district that we cannot require students to contribute to field trip costs, and we have to make sure the parents know this. Also, our school no longer has a PTA to raise funds for the school. Basically, there is no money for field trips from the school or PTA. Our district has not helped with field trip costs for years.

I have written/applied for many grants to help enrich my classroom, last year supplying the funds for a $900 field trip through a Donors Choose grant. Many of our teachers go the extra mile (and take personal time, thank you) to write/apply for grants so our disadvantaged students can experience a world outside of their neighborhood.

It is a fact that more affluent schools have PTAs and fund raising mechanisms in place to provide money to their teachers for class field trips, visitors and supplies. It is great that the parents at these schools have the money and time to supplement their child’s educational experience. As far as I am aware, our district perceives no problem with this status quo.

However, this district is charged to provide an equal education to all. Our leadership tries to do this with a canned curriculum, but when students who already come to school with a wealth of experience and opportunities continue to receive more of these rich experiences at school (due to luck of birth or the location of their home) the gap of equity widens. Children in poverty enter school at least two years behind in skills and language development. Rich curriculum and real experiences can help with that gap, but when there is no money for extra-curricular activities unless they can be raised by the families they benefit, our poor children stagnate, our rich children grow. Once again, families that can afford more, and already do more, get more for their children in our “free and public” educational system.

Is there a solution to this problem? Perhaps if all students do not have an opportunity for field trips, no students should. If our students cannot raise money for field trips, perhaps none should be able to raise money. Maybe the district could pay one administrator 10k less and pay for one field trip a year for each class in a poverty school. Well, I am sure that will not happen, so I will go ahead and try to write more grants so my students can attempt to have an educational experience equal to their more affluent peers. They deserve nothing less.

Bonnie Robb teaches at Harrison Park Elementary. She is a recent recipient of the Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award.

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PPS Parent Union on the air

PPS Parent Union founder Sheila Warren is joining forces with Elijah Muhammed to present “Focus on the Black Families” this Friday, September 18 on Portland Community Media.

The first hour of the show will be broadcast on cable channel 23, and the second hour on cable channel 11.

Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.

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