By Donald Hammond, Ph.D., and Jennifer Hammond, Ph.D.
There are two schools located a mere 20 miles from one another. One is a middle class high school that offers Advanced Placement courses, college credit opportunities, a college-readiness curriculum, many elective courses, over forty after school clubs, highly qualified and certified staff, new technology, successful athletic programming, parent and community partnerships, support systems to combat dropouts, alternative education programming, job shadowing, and employment internships. The other is a poor, desolate high school that is on the verge of closing its doors due to lack of funding, low achievement, and state takeover. At this second school, there exists a culture filled with pressure to change and work harder, a high turnover rate for staff, teacher burnout, continuously changing leadership, low parent support, poverty, drugs, gangs, violence, student transience, low motivation, poor school connectedness, and a general belief that things cannot change for the better.
These two places prepare young adults for their futures but in strikingly contrasting ways and with different results. The “opportunity gap” is the gap that stems from a disproportionate allocation of human resources, capacity of staff, and funding. All students must be challenged to become the best prepared for life after high school graduation; however, the opportunity to challenge oneself to prepare for the future lies in the intentionally planned out experiences that educators are able to offer. In these two schools, students are not being prepared for the same future. To combat the opportunity gap that exists in many places, educators must ensure that they nurture the ingredients of life skills and student growth. The following are some tips to avoid the tale of two schools:
- Develop partnerships with local mentoring programs such as Big Brothers, Big Sisters.
- Write grants to support technology, college and career planning, and community projects.
- Create place-based project opportunities for students to experience the benefits of applying their knowledge and skills and giving back to the community.
- Partner with local colleges and universities to offer classes onsite so that students can experience college work and learn that they do have the knowledge, skill, and ability to go to college.
- Survey students to discover what is important to them; valuing students’ voices, experiences, and feedback will give students ownership in their school.
- Hire the best teachers, grow and engage them so they will stay, and support their efforts every day.
- Market and promote your school with parents, students, and the community, and celebrate every success publicly.
- Engage parents by communicating expectations, inviting them to volunteer during the day and genuinely asking their opinions about the school.
- Partner with other schools to provide Advanced Placement courses, encourage shared professional development, and consolidate services.
- Require students to explore their career interests by interviewing local businessmen and business women, providing job skills training and job shadowing experiences, and ensuring that students in each grade level research and reflect on career opportunities and college requirements.
The opportunity gap will exist until educators, parents, communities, and state and federal government officials decide that all of our children deserve equal access to resources. Until that time comes, it is crucial for school leaders to do their very best to provide students with a variety of opportunities to prepare for their futures after graduation. Whether students are preparing for the world of work or a post-secondary education, they deserve equal opportunity to determine their future.
See more at NorthStar for Principals.