It Takes a Community to Educate a Child

An old African proverb says “It takes a village to raise a child.” The same can be said for education in low-income communities in America.  Many people believe that it only takes a family to raise a child, but for kids who come from low-income homes this is far from the truth. There many struggles that are youth in low-income communities face today that family alone cannot help them to be successful. Studies have that children do well in school when they have some type of support system behind. America’s Promise Five Promises—Caring Adults, Safe Places, A Healthy Start, Effective Education, and Opportunities to Help Others—is fundamental in the success of the nation’s youth.

APA’s little red wagon carries the dreams and struggles children. When they are young we help kids pull this weight along and as they grow they begin to pull the wagon for themselves. But there comes a time when the weight becomes a burden; they can no longer pull it and a helping hand is needed to move forward. General Powell once said   “The most important part is the black handle that comes up.  It is that black handle that allows an adult to reach down, pull the wagon along and make the way of life a little easier for a child who needs some help." That handle for many children is their communities.

Part of the Grad Nation campaign, 100 Best Communities for Young People celebrates 100 deserving communities who effectively provide their youth with the Five Promises and work to increase graduation rates. Reading through nominee applications, I was amazed by how far some communities go to ensure that their youth have these promises.  Communities provided kids we free healthcare, nutritious meals, alternative effective education, a voice on the town council and much more.  Youth testimonies showed just how important community is and how it can change a child’s life for the better.  Numerous kids testified that they wouldn’t have graduated from high school or shown interest in school had it not been for the wonderful programs offered by their community. From the outside looking in, one raised with a support family just might not understand why it is necessary to support communities who want to ensure that their youth are successful. But the reality is there many kids who grow-up without any support system and attend schools where educators don’t even believe in them. Kids who benefit from supportive communities are testament to what can happen when a “village” comes together to take care of its children.

Our summer reading book, The Other Wes Moore, again showed the importance of community when it comes to the education of a child. The book tells the tale of two men—Westley Moore and Wesley Moore—who both grew up in though Baltimore neighborhoods but whose lives took different paths because of the support of a community. Through a community of family, friends, and teachers who refused to give up on him Westley Moore became a Rhodes Scholar, a decorated veteran, and a White House Fellow amongst other things.  Wesley Moore, on other hand eventually ended up in jail because he didn’t have a positive community behind him.

My time at America's Promise has made me think of things that I didn’t even think of before. Growing up, I always had some activity to attend afterschool, a caring adult, a healthy start, an opportunity to help others and a safe place to go to. In many respects, I was quite naïve.  I was jealous of the kids that ate breakfast in school, kids that went straight home after school and played, and those that didn’t have overbearing parents. I would sit there and think “poor me I have to learn and have ‘educational fun’ while all the other kids played outside.”  It never really occurred to me that having all these resources would help ensure that I was successful down the road. It is time we stopped blaming parents alone for our children’s failures and we come together as a community to ensure that youth have all the resources they need to succeed.