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Friday, August 12, 2016

Bridging the Opportunity Gap

How can we bridge the opportunity gap so that every child in our schools has a chance to succeed?

I've been thinking a lot about this lately. I'm also aware that we will be required, by law, to provide data about the success of our students who have opportunity challenges due to being a part of a cultural/racial group that is historically underserved, special education student, English Language Learner, or economically disadvantaged.

How can we serve these students better, and how can we serve all students better?

Hungry students don't learn as well. We need to make time up front in the year to make sure that students are signed up for free and reduced lunch programs if they qualify. We also have to encourage all families and students to pack healthy snacks that include protein, fruits and vegetables, and water.

Healthy, Safe Routines
We need to remind families and students about the healthy, safe routines that truly make a positive difference in children's lives. Some families may not need these reminders, but in our busy, tech age, sometimes families lose track of these old fashion rules and routines.

Age Considerations
In many wealthy communities, parents hold their children out from school for a year (and sometimes more) so that the child has the advantage of maturity. For example when the cut-off date for a grade-level is September 1, most families will hold their summer birthday children out until the next year. Sometimes when families send their children to school when they are very young, the child's developmental age affects their progress and comfort level. Plus in communities where many parents hold their summer and even spring birthday children back, that puts a late-birthday child in a class where students might be more than a year older. I think it's important for school communities to make parents aware of this issue and perhaps give them a choice about what grade level to begin with if a child is entering the school past kindergarten.

Often clothes present an opportunity gap. During winter, a child may not have snowpants, mittens, a hat, or boots to wear so they can play with others in the snow. Students may not have good shoes for running or comfortable clothes for play. It's fairly easy to collect and sensitively give out good clothing to bridge this gap.

Parent Meetings
At times, parents may work hours or jobs that prevent attendance at typical parent conference times. To bridge the opportunity gap, we have to look for ways to make those meetings accessible to parents at a time when they are not working or in a location that they can meet.

It's good to survey for language barriers, literacy issues, and other communication barriers early in the year. Counselors can probably help out in this regard. Today there are many translation and text to speech tools that can help in this regard.

Technology Access
We know that most students today have access to technology. That fact often puts peers without tech access at a disadvantage when it comes to learning. It's important to find ways to provide students without technology or WIFI ready access to those wonderful tools.

The play differential plays a role when it comes to the opportunity gap. For many reasons, some students just haven't had the chance to play a lot. This hinders their ability to collaborate, investigate, and explore which are all important parts of getting along and learning. In cases like this, the play opportunities may need greater support, time, and scaffolding so these children get the opportunity to freely explore new materials, games, outdoor activities, and teamwork.

Lack of information can lead to an opportunity gap. I once read an article that stated that a lot of important information is shared on the sidelines of extracurricular activities. So one way to help bridge the opportunity gap is to encourage families to get involved in extracurricular activities with their children, the kind that lead to being part of the greater school community team. It's also important to explicitly let families know where and how they can find important information, and to check in to make sure that families have the access they need to important information about the community, extracurricular activities, academic support, and school events.

Sometimes geography stands in the way of opportunity. Where you live might limit your access to school events and opportunities. School communities have to think about geographical distance when planning events and trying to bridge opportunity gaps.

Cultural Proficiency
Students learn well when they can connect to the learning program in meaningful ways. Sometimes students don't see themselves in the curriculum. This can happen if a child represents a culture, race, religion, or family style not readily included in the curriculum program. It's important to know your students' profiles well and look for ways to give every child a chance to connect to the curriculum in meaningful ways.

It's important to regularly stop and access your pedagogy with students. Let them tell you how you can help them by teaching in a way that makes learning accessible to them.

Learning Environment
Assess your learning environment to make sure that it is welcoming and comfortable. If a desk is too high or too low, a child may be uncomfortable. If a child doesn't have a comfortable seat, he/she may not be able to learn. Again, enlist students in this effort and promote their self advocacy with regard to creating a room that's welcoming and comfortable.

Make sure that every child has the supplies he/she needs to learn. School supplies are not that expensive, and usually we can access the supplies needed to bridge that opportunity gap.

Social Competency Skills
Providing social competency skill training helps us to bridge the opportunity gap by empowering students' social skills and positive relationships.

To bridge the opportunity gap, we have to ask ourselves, "What distances this child from success in school?" We need to sensitively enlist students, families, and colleagues in this discussion, and then look for ways that we can individually, collectively, and systematically bridge these gaps.

What gaps have I missed? Please let me know.