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Improving Education can begin with a Conversation

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Devanie Helman

It was never a question of if I was going to college, only a question of “where” and “for what.”

I was born into a world full of books and opportunity. As much priority was placed on reading as doing the dishes or cleaning my room. I didn’t have to work during school, and our family schedule was rearranged for every game, track meet, and college visit.

The reality for many students in Colorado is far bleaker.  Working two jobs, living in poverty, caring for siblings, dealing with addictions, poor health, and abuse is commonplace in many Colorado homes. School quickly slides down the list of priorities when immense external pressures are present. On top of this, we are expecting students to learn in overcrowded classrooms with outdated textbooks by exhausted teachers who struggle connecting with their students.

Since arriving at El Pomar, I have spent considerable time reflecting on where my passions lie, and it has become increasingly clear that education, in the broadest sense of the word, is where I seek to make an impact.

 At times my internal dialogue can be overwhelming. The struggles are many and finding solutions may be daunting. How can we be culturally considerate of our diverse student population, while unveiling the plethora of possibilities if they commit themselves to their education? We must cultivate a culture that acknowledges different identities and celebrates students as individuals. How do we re-instill an intrinsic motivation to learn when students have become accustomed to material incentives, treats and recognition to even complete the simplest tasks?

But change starts with conversation, like the one that I engage in with myself and the one I recently attended in Denver. It was an education summit held by Teach for America (TFA) that brought together Colorado TFA Corps members and community partners to talk about the realities of education. I was struck by the commitment, compassion, and capability of every person in the room. Each teacher spoke fondly of “their kids” and had incredible success stories to share. Simultaneously, I was struck by their apparent feeling of isolation, frustration and being utterly overwhelmed. One Corps member commented, “I love having these conversations. I am so inspired to implement these ideas but when will I have time? I don’t even have time to eat.” Yet, after just two hours together on a Saturday afternoon, the teachers found a sense of community and a network from which to draw strength and inspiration. It struck me that community made a difference for these teachers and community could be the difference for Colorado’s students.

Maybe it’s idealistic, and it certainly won’t solve the systemic and structural issues that our schools and families face today. But I came away from the TFA summit believing that supporting one another and supporting our children could go a long way.  More than anything, I came away with the belief that community is part of the answer.