This week is American Education Week. Throughout my career, I have used this week to highlight the power of education. As far back as I can remember, education has been a priority for me. My earliest memory is of me, five years old, dressed in a gray dress with pink roses and a white peter pan collar waiting impatiently for my mom to take me to my first day of kindergarten. My excitement for school grew into a drive to succeed and become an educator for kids like me. I was fortunate that so many adults in my young life, both in the school and in the community saw potential in me, supported me, pushed me and gave me access to many opportunities that were unavailable to families in our economic situation.
As a former public school educator, it was always clear that education of our students and the responsibility for that extended beyond the four walls of a school building and outside of a school district. That a healthy democratic community embodied a well educated citizenry and schools with the support of community were a critical part of this equation. The partnership between schools and community is considered necessary to address the needs and problems of the schools for the health and well being of the children, the families, the schools and the total community. This was recognized at the national level decades ago and resulted in a designation called American Education Week.
The National Education Association (NEA) provided the following as background on the founding of American Education Week:
Disturbed by the data, 25% of World War I draftees being illiterate and 9% of them being physically unfit, representatives from National Education Association and the American Legion came together in 1919 to address this concern. Fearing for the educational well-being of the nation their focus was to generate public support for education. The resulting resolutions that came out of this collaboration were created to raise public awareness about the importance of education. In 1921, the NEA Representative Assembly in Des Moines, Iowa, called for designation of one week each year to spotlight education. In its resolution, the NEA called for: "An educational week...observed in all communities annually for the purpose of informing the public of the accomplishments and needs of the public schools and to secure the cooperation and support of the public in meeting those needs."
United Way of Central Indiana responded to this undertaking in 2006 with its Ready to Learn, Ready to Earn priority. Our early childhood work and elementary initiatives in the Bridges to Success schools, including ReadUP, Project SEED, mentoring, health clinics and school community coordinators, are in response to the needs of the schools. Our work is a partnership with the schools and is designed to support their students and families with resources that contribute to healthy students, healthy families and improved academic achievement. How fortunate for me that I am able to continue my work by helping to develop those partnerships that are benefiting our children and our community.
There are many children like me in our schools who need you - need your investment in them. ReadUP needs more tutors. Our mentoring program needs more male mentors. Early childhood needs readers. Believe me, you really do have the power to change a child’s future. Go here to find the right opportunity for you. Or call the Volunteer Center at 317.921.1271.
--Dr. Phyllis Martin, director, education strategies and initiatives, United Way of Central Indiana