Joplin Schools Open On Time

One night this week the national news included two snippets related to our country’s schoolchildren: one I found very discouraging and the other really heartening. The discouraging news was that one in three American children now lives in a household where no parent is working full-time. The heartening news was that in Joplin, Missouri, school opened on time.

While at first these may sound like distinct and disparate items, there is a connection. Throughout our country this has been a summer of much difficult news—some of it involving dramatic weather calamities and some of it involving continued economic difficulties such as high unemployment and home foreclosures.

All of these things affect our children, directly and indirectly. And yet, across our country, teachers and schools, in the context of frequently grim external backdrops, continue to help children and families face challenges of all types and degrees of magnitude. They do it each and every school day, by creating learning spaces that are safe, caring, and, as often as possible, joyful.

Let’s take the vivid example of Joplin, Missouri, where school opened on time. On time in spite of the fact that the entire community, including eight of their schools, had been destroyed or left in shambles earlier this summer by a tornado of enormous magnitude. On time even though many Joplin families are living in motels and emergency housing. On time in spite of having to build it all from scratch in weeks. In the immediate aftermath of the tornado, Superintendent C. J. Huff pledged that this would happen, and it did.

The hopeful moment from this week’s newscast that is etched most indelibly in my memory is about two minutes and twenty-eight seconds in, when kindergarten teacher Susan Moore states with simplicity and absolute determination to the reporter that her students “are going to be able to come here and forget about everything else they’ve gone through because we’re going to have fun in this room.”

There is no doubt in my mind that she is going to create a place of safety and joy and learning for her students, no matter what they must endure outside her classroom walls. That kind of school experience will plant seeds of resilience that will grow citizens who will respond to calamitous events in their future with fortitude and thoughtfulness. Some will become leaders who can look around, even in the face of disaster, figure out what needs to be done, pledge that it will happen, and keep their promises. They will have learned how, at least in part, from their teachers and other adults in their schools who are doing what Susan Moore and her colleagues across the country are doing. It makes such a difference.

Roxann Kriete has been involved with CRS since 1985, and was executive director from 2001 to 2011. She is the author of The Morning Meeting Book and co-author of The First Six Weeks of School.

Tags: Building Schoolwide Community