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Optimistic Futurist: Why today’s students need our support

For the next two minutes or so reading time, I intend to shock you with information, increase your anxiety about the future of our society, and tell you what you can do about it. The focus is our often criticized K-12 education system, which some describe as a boat run aground, and others say has been torpedoed. Instead, it may help to examine the passengers.

As of fall 2014, about 50 million students attend public elementary and secondary schools – one out of every six Americans. An additional 5 million students attend private schools.

The kids who go to these schools have very different lives than you and I did at that age. The changes make the process of education much more challenging.

There are three main areas of change – rising numbers of single parent homes, rising number of neurological birth defects, and rising number of students who speak English as a second language.

In 1970, one in 10 children born in the United States was born to an unmarried woman. By 2013 that number had risen to four out of 10. Add to that the children living with one parent as a result of divorce. The total of these two groups results in 20 million children being raised in single-parent households out of the total of 55 million students.The students’ need for support increases.

Now add to this picture the fact the number of students whose primary language is not English. The percentage doubled between 1991 and 2001, and has continued to climb. Today, the national average is one in 11 students is speaking English as a second language, with some school districts having far more. In Rowan County there are currently 30 different languages represented, with Spanish the largest language group. The student’s need for support increases.

Now pile on the increase in the number of “special education” students, which now sits at around one in 10 members of the student body. Broadly stated, there are two kinds of special education students – those with visible birth defects and the ones you don’t see, like autism and or learning disabilities.

The invisible ones appear to be rising faster. For example, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) autism has gone up 30 percent between 2012 and 2014. One interesting fact is that by far most of the students requiring special help are boys. Environmentally caused birth defects seem to hit boys harder than girls.

Again, the student’s need for support increases.

To summarize: Today’s classrooms have more children living in single-parent homes, more who are being educated in a language different than their parents, and more who are defined as needing special education assistance. It adds up to a real challenge. Now think about the fact that North Carolina ranks 48th out of the states in per-pupil funding and since 2009 has eliminated 3,470 positions from the school systems statewide.

There is a role for you in this. You can do everything from delivering a guest lecture to being a supervisor of an extracurricular club or working as a classroom volunteer. Volunteers are particularly needed with skills in foreign language, science and math.

You can reach out to the Rowan schools at their website http://www.rss.k12.nc.us/volunteer.

In to volunteer with the Kannapolis city schools, you reach out to the individual principal.

You can sign up for a regular daily or weekly assignment, or just special events, so that your volunteer work can fit into your other schedules. Be advised that due to the rare but well publicized issues which have occurred nationally when adults took advantage of children, there is a process of background checks you have to go through before you are given your assignment.

Every school system I talked to did make an important point — many volunteers make commitments and then do not honor them. Walk your talk.

We can moan about how our society is falling apart, and do nothing. Or as responsible adults have done since the beginning of time, we can step up. The one thing we should not do is blame the kids — they did not make this situation. If they are floundering, it is up to us to throw them a life ring.

Francis Koster lives in Kannapolis. To see the sources of facts used in this article, and learn of other successful money and life saving programs that can be implemented locally to create a better future for our country, go to www.TheOptimisticFuturist.org

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