Money buys enrichment

7:47 pm

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.

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

filed under: Demographics, Equity, Features

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27 Responses

  1. Comment from S. Wilcox:

    Amen Bonnie! I’m still trying to figure out how to buy $200 worth of books. Forget field trips, yet I know there are schools that raise tens of thousands of dollars a year so that students can have field trips, art classes, etc. It is as if they are private schools. Indeed, those schools are catering to a clientele that could send their kids to private school. It’s aggravating!

  2. Comment from l.miller:

    Thank you for sharing. My daughter goes to Roosevelt. Where I work I hear about the families that desert our local schools to go the “better” west side schools. I get to hear them complain that their children have to pick between spanish and frencs, there are no other choices. Oh what a problem, I wish my daughter had such a problem. Shes in a new elective “Cooking” they cant cook. There is no $$ to pay for food. The teachers are trying to figure this out. Are there any Lincoln or Wilson parents able to make a donation to the underprivlidged north side?

  3. Comment from Stephanie:

    Bonnie thank you for sharing this. It is so important that these stories are told.

  4. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Bonnie, try calling Pam Knowles on the school board. She talked during her campaign about creating equity in the school district. I am sure she will call on the many people who supported her to find a solution to this and the many other equity problems facing those children in Portland public schools who end up disadvantaged due to their parents’ economic position or where they live. Or you might try calling Stand for Children and asking them to take action on the discrepancies in the eqiuity in the school system. After all, Johah Edelman talks about Stand’s concern over the equity problem so I am sure he would be willing to help.

    Or maybe your school could have a fund raiser where wealthy people and school administrators cross over the Willamette and get to rub shoulders with lower economic people and recent immigrants in your school’s attendance area. After all, people in the West Hills seem to want some sort of experience where their children come in contact with the less fortunate. Maybe they would pay for the privilege of learning about life on the other side of the river for themselves. You could run some classes like explaining where main east side streets run. “Division is just up the street from Powell” etc.
    You could call the whole thing — “Poorabalooza”. Charge $100 a ticket.

  5. Comment from Rose:

    I’m with Steve Buel.

    After you are done, you can call the Oregonian. Get Steve Duin on the line. He will send the slummers to cheer on your next sporting event, satisfying both their urge to polish their own halos as well as their comfort level that minorities are best cheered on in athletics, not academics. Problem solved!

    And when he is done with that he can advocate about getting millions to renovate drinkin’ Lincoln while the halls rot at Jefferson. Will there be an irony? No way!

    And don’t forget to cc all the Oregonian education team. You know, the staff that never misses these stories. They’ve been so top of the way inequity has developed in PPS, they are sure to catch your story. Just make sure you have some cute black kids for the photo op. Like the ones at Roosevelt that Steve Duin saved. Bless his heart!

  6. Comment from lauralye:

    This sort of behavior will solve nothing. It is offensive and juvenile. Even worse, it fosters attitudes that obscure some of the real issues.

    Yes, there is a horrible inequity problem, and the disparity in wealth within clusters must be addressed, but speak with eloquence and power, not sideswipes and generalities.

  7. Comment from Marian:

    Sometimes it takes a little humor to call attention to the absurdities about which Steve and Rose are talking. The conversation about equity on this blog has been very eloquent, specific, and thoughtful. It is the only source of decent dialogue on the subject that I have found. The anger is real and should be heard as part of the discussion.

  8. Comment from howard:

    There is gross inequity in PPS. The disparity in wealth within and between clusters has needed a full airing for decades. Meanwhile the monsters in the foundations of PPS remain the unmentionables.

  9. Comment from Steve Buel:

    If I can put aside my cynicism hat for a minute — difficult for me, of course — let’s consider what could be done.

    First of all, I have never been overly upset about more well-to-do schools raising more money for their school than lower economic schools. My upset has been the inequities perpetuated by the school system itself. Howard, you are correct, this blog has outlined and objected to these more than anyplace else in the city. And these inequities are clearly a product of the people controlling the political aspects of PPS. There is not room in a blog entry to outline what needs to be done.

    But, in regards to the inequity of more well-to-do schools being able to fill-in what should be educational necessities because they can raise more money there are a couple of things that could be done. (Note, we are not talking about having speakers in to discuss Kenyan art, but general music, art, libraries, and the like.)

    1. The Foundation could return the $10,000 exemption to $5,000.

    2. For fund raising purposes the most wealthy schools could be paired with the least wealthy etc. and have them raise money together and split the proceeds. We might want to make some minimal adjustments based on geography, but overall this would create a system where schools are less isolated because of their economic situation.

    3) The school system and the School Foundation could more aggresively pursue grants for lower economic schools which included staff and actual materials instead of the lesser impact grants of teacher training.

    Lauralye — can we count on your support for the three solutions listed??

  10. Comment from Anon. Mom:

    re: Rose’s comment (and Lauralye’s concern)… I always call them “the folks who are here to save our little brown and black brothers and sisters.” They have done a lot of damage in my neighborhood — they never stick around for long, so that is something?

    Did anyone happen to see the cover of the O’s Portland section last week? White chef who has swooped in to “save” the Woodlawn neighborhood. “Black people, the white guys have arrived to save the day! And we’re wearing… APRONS!”

    I am being a smartass, I know, and I am sorry for that. But it is offensive to me when people who don’t know the neighborhood, don’t know the families, staff and teachers, swoop in and decide that no one has done anything to “help” and ta-da…

  11. Comment from lauralye:

    I have no objections to any of the things you suggest above. The inequity is horrendous; it is ruining lives. I teach, have kids, and already work with a non-profit on grants. My field is writing, and if you need help editing and planning grants, I would think that would be where you could gain the most benefit from what I have to offer.

  12. Comment from S. Wilcox:

    Thank you. I have written a small grant for books. Not fancy field trips or speakers. Books for my reading groups. I am told that it will probably get funded. One can only hope.

  13. Comment from Rose:

    I think it is fair and reasonable to call the local media to task on this issue, even sardonically.

    The local media, especially the Oregonian, has a longstanding history of perpetuating and fostering inequity in our schools. They have done this three ways:

    1) Covertly. Witness the labeling of any school with minorities as “at risk” or “inner city” regardless of how healthy they might be. Meanwhile the press ignores the struggles of low income white students in areas like outer SE. Largely black schools in Portland have for decades been undermined and marginalized by a press which seems determine to cast them in a ghetto role.

    2) Covertly. Problems near black schools have gotten an amazing amount of negative media attention. If there is a shooting near Jefferson, it is linked to the school. Do you know how many crimes occur near Lincoln, in downtown Portland? Tons. Are they written up as “A rape that happened a block from Lincoln”? Never. Black schools in Portland are often cast as needing rescue and intervention (cue Steve Duin) but never as deserving respect and fair and equal treatment. Or, heaven forbid, a serious discussion of how we got here.

    3) Ignorance and lack of balls. The Oregonian has an education team. A real team of reporters who are supposed to be covering educational issues. Where are these people? Where have they been while inequity has been developing? If you follow their coverage, they seem more like a cheering squad for “choice” and not like real hard-nosed reporters who can examine statistics, issues and politics. They have been completely nambly-pambly on the controversy over charters. They are totally not in the room when it comes to examining the gross inequity minority students face.

    The overall sense from the local media is it is fine and dandy the way things are. Is there an Oregonian reporter who actually sends their kids to a school like Jefferson or Roosevelt?

  14. Comment from Kiki Trujillo:

    ¡Qué risa! I am new to the area and rent on the west side. I find it ironic that individuals who would not support or accept the stereotyping of their communities/schools can feel completely justified in doing the very same thing. How do you see that improving things for anyone?

  15. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Nobody is sterotyping. They are pointing out real problems which exist. Big difference. In my case I have carefully followed PPS for 34 years and and believe me these problems are real.

  16. Comment from Miss Merry Sunshine:

    Kiki: To paraphrase Dr. Phil, YOU CAN’T FIX WHAT YOU DON’T ACKNOWLEDGE.

    Denial ain’t a river in Egypt, but denial that inequality exists in the PPS has been going on for so long, it may seem like “stereotyping” when you read posts. But it’s reality for thousands of kids who suffer in this district with poor programs, lack of supplies, resources. And demographically? Well…. look at where those schools are in our city, that SAYS MORE THAN I CAN.

    Call it what you may—but the facts remain that poorer neighborhoods/schools are regularly treated as second-class citizens by the school district. Compare facts, programs. Do some research. THANK GOODNESS for this website where truth comes out and people can openly express what they see and feel.

    I’d rather be accused of being “stereotypical” than being in DENIAL that a problem actuallly exists.

  17. Comment from Stephanie:

    Steve R. posted this awhile ago and it is always a nice refresher on privilege

  18. Comment from Kiki Trujillo:

    Nobody is sterotyping.

    “Indeed, those schools are catering to a clientele that could send their kids to private school.”

    “After all, people in the West Hills seem to want some sort of experience where their children come in contact with the less fortunate. Maybe they would pay for the privilege of learning about life on the other side of the river for themselves. You could run some classes like explaining where main east side streets run. “Division is just up the street from Powell” etc.
    You could call the whole thing — “Poorabalooza”. Charge $100 a ticket.”

    “He will send the slummers to cheer on your next sporting event, satisfying both their urge to polish their own halos as well as their comfort level that minorities are best cheered on in athletics, not academics.”

    “I always call them “the folks who are here to save our little brown and black brothers and sisters.”

    I wasn’t derailing or denying. I came to this blog because I have many questions and serious problems with the system and instead I found bigoted stereotypes. And don’t talk to me about “privilege” since you have zero idea what your talking about in relation to me or my situation.

    I’d rather be accused of being “stereotypical” than being in DENIAL that a problem actuallly exists.

    I direct you to Roses comment #13 to show that stereotyping is destructive and the fact that you support it in any form undermines your credibility. People who perpetuate those ridiculous/hateful stereotypes also claim to be pointing out that “a problem actuallly (sic) exists”.
    There are certainly serious inequalities here, as I know all too well and which led me to this very blog but clearly it’s only for congratulating each other and any other voices (especially if they don’t toe the line) are marginalized…nice circling of the wagons. Oh, and your attempts at silencing and shaming are right out of the privilege handbook…page 1.

    Of course, all of this is a great way to find common ground, build consensus and work for change…not.

  19. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Kiki, as owner of this site, I certainly don’t want to silence or shame you. You have issues with what others have written in the comments section here. Fair enough. People feel comfortable writing with emotion here, and that may occasionally cross the line.

    In terms of comment moderation, I tend to err on the side of letting things go… to a point.

    Please keep in mind, though, that the topic of discussion here is that students in poor neighborhoods get less “enrichment” (e.g. field trips) than students in wealthier neighborhoods, as observed and reported by a highly-regarded, award-winning teacher.

    If others stray from discussing facts and issues, I encourage you to help steer the conversation back, as I am attempting to do here.

    I’m not interested in hosting a pissing match, but I do think criticism of main stream media for not covering important issues is germane to the conversation.


  20. Comment from Steve Buel:

    For years the people who control the political aspects of Portland’s schools have been asked to find common ground, work for real change, and build consensus. Their answer since Matt Prophet left as superintendent has been to make sure middle and upper middle class schools have been favored in process after process and to not include in any meaningful way community members who support schools in lower economic neighborhoods. Kind of makes you write a little cynically after about 20 years of their foot on the neck of those poorer communities.

  21. Comment from Anon. Mom:

    I was the one who sarcastically made the comment about people wanting to help the “little brown and black brothers and sisters.”

    If you read to the end of the quote, it said, “I am being a smartass, I know, and I am sorry for that. But it is offensive to me when people who don’t know the neighborhood, don’t know the families, staff and teachers, swoop in and decide that no one has done anything to ‘help’…” etc.

    Didn’t mean to offend, I am just frustrated with gentrification of my neighborhood. Obviously, not everyone who lives on the west side lives in the west hills. didn’t mean to stereotype.

  22. Comment from Stephanie:

    Kiki – I was referencing privilege as a concept and not a comment on you personally and I apologize. It is clear now from your clarification that you had questions about the district and it was hard to tell that from your first post. After attending the high school redesign meetings, reading local parenting blogs, and listening to the things some west side living or transferring parents think it is OK to say about north and east side schools in a public forum it was hard to read….”I find it ironic that individuals who would not support or accept the stereotyping of their communities/schools can feel completely justified in doing the very same thing.” Many if not all of the people who post here are actively involved in the solution process in a proactive way on the front lines. I have started trying to pay more attention to the positives lately from a district perspective and you will find that those voices are represented here as well. Lately the bad news and jaw hitting the floor issues have just been stacking up week after week.

  23. Comment from Zarwen:

    I’d like to ask a question of Bonnie Robb, the writer of this article. Bonnie, you wrote, “. . . our school no longer has a PTA to raise funds for the school.”

    What happened to your PTA? I used to work at Binnsmead back when Clark was one of its feeders, and I remember a very active parent group at Clark. What happened to them? I realize that no one I knew would still be around any more, because their kids have grown up, but aren’t there any among the current families that want to help out at the school? Has the neighborhood changed that drastically over the past decade?

  24. Comment from Bonnie Robb:

    Thank you all of your comments in this post. Steve B., I actually thought your idea was funny…if I wasn’t so tired from writing all of these grants for field trips, I might have time to organize a poorapalooza..tee-hee. 🙂
    I appreciate those teachers who are still begging for essentials, like books, and I know field trip are not in the same classification as paper and books. However, for our schools where less than 50% of students are living in poverty, field trips ARE considered essential! We have been brainwashed on the east side to think of this kind of learning as enrichment…but really it is not. Just like music, PE, art and visiting a well staffed library are not enrichment…they are part of a well-rounded EDUCATION. But that goes along with the idea broached by Steve R. that this district has never defined for itself (or the community, or parents, or teachers) what a well-rounded education looks like. The only thing they have defined is what a passing test score looks like.

    Zarwen, your question has a two part answer.
    I began at Clark in fall 2001. At that time, it was a k-5 with approximately 60% poverty and 30% non-white students. During the last 8 years, the school make up has changed drastically. We are now 82% poverty and 70% non-white students. Why? While the inner city neighborhoods have been gentrifying, the people who lived there need a place to live now. With its small starter homes and many apartments (including an incredible amount of infill over the past 5 years) we are a very affordable neighborhood.

    The other factor is the k-8 configuration. When they kicked us out of our building (yes, that sounds bitter, but we were a very successful k-5 program, and our voices were ignored in the “process”) and moved us to the old Binnsmead building, the district decided to put a focus option in the Clark building.

    There have been many posts about focus options, and how by virtue of the even the application process, they tend to “weed out” certain families.

    After giving our new situation one year, most of our more involved families left and enrolled their students in the CSS program. Why? Well, with 740 students, the pure size of our school is difficult. Sure, it means our 7 & 8th graders get more electives, but the rest of us are feeling very overwhelmed. We have some very big kids who are loud and often unsupervised, which can be intimidating for a parent with a small child (and teachers of small children, like me)
    Also, with 740 students, one could estimate that represents at least 500 households/families. That would represent at least 500 parents. If even 10% of our parents participated in the PTA, that would be, conservatively, 50 adults. If I remember correctly, I think we had less than 10 parents on the PTA. Most of them went over to the focus option school, with a mostly white population and a very large parent involvement group. Who can blame them? So few people trying to get so much done…it is tiring.

    We still have a small group of committed parents who help with SUN school and volunteer individually in classrooms, but no official organization.

    That is reality. I do not begrudge schools who have more involved parent groups. I am amazed, however, when I read in the Oregonian that Duniway parents have the time and energy to research how to get rid or the foam lunch trays and plastic utensils at their school. Then raise money to buy washable items and the machine to was them. THEN give enough volunteer hours to WASH the trays to make this happen.

    We can’t get enough people to shelve books in the library. Or run a PTA. I have co-workers who have had to cancel field trips due to lack of parental involvement.

    So the gap between rich and poor widens. The gap between the education the children in this city receive depending on where they live widens…and our district leadership has no problem with the status quo.

  25. Comment from Carrie Adams:

    Bonnie, My first experience as a public school parent was at Clark Elementary. Even though Clark was a high poverty school, it had a large base of involved parents. This was due to having an exceptional principal (Greg Jones) and teachers who were incredibly supportive of parent involvement.

    Reality smacked us in the face when our kids reached middle school. We clearly weren’t welcome there.

    This may belong with a different post but I think parent involvement changes at the middle school level. I’m curious about what steps, if any, the district has taken to address those differences when they closed schools and created K-8s.

    I’ve become pretty cynical over the years but I believe that the small schools fiasco, transfer policy, and K-8 mess were created intentionally to divide communities. No unity, no backlash.

  26. Comment from Zarwen:

    Ironically enough, Carrie, I seem to recall that one of the arguments PPS made in support of going K-8 was to KEEP THE PARENTS INVOLVED!

    Bonnie, thanks for explaining. Guess I shouldn’t have been surprised at your anwer, but I was anyway, given the very determined unity with which the Clark community had rejected the possibility of being divided back in 2006.

    Regarding the idea Steve B. suggested above, about pairing up poor schools with wealthy ones: I remember Michele Schultz suggesting something along those lines back when she ran for school board. I think she was calling it Foundation Sister Schools, or something like that. I had heard from a Bridlemile parent a few years ago that Bridlemile was sending their surplus volunteers over to Rigler to help out. So it is possible.

    It could also be a big help with regard to books. Teachers in schools whose families order Scholastic Books every month get a few free books with every order—maybe more than they need. Wouldn’t it be nice if PPS set up a “mechanism” (to borrow a word from Matt Shelby) to send the extra books to teachers who don’t have any?

  27. Comment from jahman:

    It was interesting seeing comments regarding Clark. We had 2 kids at Winterhaven, a program located in the Brooklyn school. There had been talk of moving Winterhaven into the Clark Building. Winterhaven has a lot of students from inner and central NE & SE as well as North Portland, but very few from Outer SE or Outer NE. Though it was a very nice facility, virtually nobody favorded the move due to the location.

    I went to a meeting at Binnsmead to discuss the fate of Clark, Binnsmead, Winterhaven, and SUN. As concerned as I was about my own cause, I found the concerns of the Clark and Binsmead families extremely compelling. What was being proposed for those programs seemed even more ill-conceived that what was being proposed for ours.

    After sitting through that meeting, tt was quite clear to me that moving the Clark kids was a very bad idea. I have been curious how it all turned out ever since. Unfortunately it sounds like the answer is as bad as could have been predicted.