A Broken School System: Choosing Between Academics and Social Diversity

In our current neighborhood where we reside, I’ve been wrestling with a situation concerning my daughter’s school she will be attending for kindergarten in 2-3 years (more on wrestling thoughts of starting kinder at different ages coming later). Here is my dilemma. The school we are zoned for and supposed to attend (let’s call this School A) is in a lower-income neighborhood, and statistics show that lower-income neighborhoods are a product of lower college attendance, lower test scores, and lower graduation rates. 

There is a school a half-mile (still walking distance!) from our home (let’s call this School B) that is in a higher-income area. Higher-income school= higher graduation rates, test scores, and college attendance. While each experience differs for each child, these are still the facts when it comes to placing your child in a school in low vs high-income neighborhoods. 

HOWEVER, I feel it is important to point out that low-income schools are still a product of good education when it comes to diversity, inclusion, and tolerance. Given the diversity of these neighborhoods, the children are provided a good education of being a socially aware and contributing member of society, something higher-income schools can lack. 

So that leaves me with a decision of sending my child to our neighborhood elementary school in a low-income area, two blocks from our home. Or driving or walking her a half-mile to the school across the highway in a higher-income area. I feel like I am choosing between: 

Academics and Social Diversity

And looking at the small picture, my worries seem so insignificant. I am anxious about a small decision with my one child going into kindergarten. If it doesn’t seem like a good fit at the end of the year, switch schools. Even mid-year! Switch schools! (all of these decisions are supported by our local school district by the way, which may not be the case everywhere.) So why am I so concerned? 

Because this isn’t just about my daughter going to kindergarten. It’s about the school system as a whole. Why are parents forced to choose between teaching their children academics or teaching them social justice? Why aren’t the academics in a low-income school the same as a high-income school? Why is the diversity in a high-income school non-existent while it’s inevitable in a low-income school? 

The purpose of school is to learn academics, become educated, and use this knowledge in the real world as a professional in your field of choice someday, correct? If that’s the case, School B should be my choice. 

But does getting this far in life have any impact if you don’t have the empathy, tolerance, and inclusion of everyone you come in contact with? In a perfect world, it shouldn’t get you far at all. School A should be my choice. 

If I send my kids to School B, am I just enabling the broken school system that already exists by not giving my time and resources to School A when they need it more? 

If I send my kids to School A, am I compromising their academic career because I want them to know, love, and understand social justice? 

There is absolutely no right answer because our school system is broken. It should be “equal education for all” but it’s not. It has decades and decades of work before it can even get to this point, my children will not even witness the day equal education exists. 

I love this quote from Lincoln Quillian on his academic research on poor neighborhoods and the impact they have on overall life. The whole study is a great read if you want more insight into this subject. 

“Improvements in school quality, including no excuses charter schools, can close achievement gaps for academic outcomes. However, outcomes that are more determined by peer interactions are harder to solve with policy changes. We need to decide what we are trying to accomplish with schools. If the primary job of schools is academics, that it may be acceptable to focus on improving academic outcomes and closing achievement gaps, to the exclusion of improving other outcomes. However, if schools are framed as social institutions that build civic participation, tolerance, diversity, and teach students how to be contributing members of society as adults, then it is necessary to think more broadly about the implications of segregation.”

I just want to finish with these two last YouTube videos: 

Educational Redlining- Sonja Santelises
How America’s Public School System Keeps Kids In Poverty- Kandice Sumner

And when it comes to my children’s education, what choice am I going to make on where they will attend school? We can chat again in 2-3 years when I’m forced to make a decision and I may have an answer for you. But until then, I will forever wrestle with the educational inequality of our nation. 

Past Scholarship Winner: Austin Fitzgerald

Today’s Feature Friday post is a little different. We will be interviewing our past scholarship winner, Austin Fitzgerald. Austin won our scholarship in 2018 when she put together the Mindstrings Violin tutoring program. You can see her original video she submitted here. 

Austin has been at the University of Chicago for two years now. She has kept in contact with MindStrings and has been working on a way to become qualified for the program to accept donations. 

Since then, she has also become involved with a program on her campus called South Side Free Music Program. Her role is a violin teacher offering free lessons to the youth on the south side of Chicago. She is using this resource to hopefully have MindStrings expand to Chicago where she is located, however, COVID-19 threw off her plan. While Zoom and other online video call platforms may be an option, the majority of the students she would teach do not have this accessibility in their homes. This is something she is still working on. 

Another way Austin has found to serve with her music ability while at school is by playing the violin to cancer patients at UChicago’s hospital. This is part of her MindStrings outreach program and she is working on recruiting others to do this with her. 

Austin is double majoring in Pre-Medical and Anthropology with a biology minor, she has been busy in her studying! She is the current Co-President of the African and Caribbean Student Association at the University of Chicago. On top of this, she has been exploring her interests in childhood development and social mobility through her job as a research assistant at the Thirty Million Words Center for Early Learning + Public Health. Way to go Austin! 

We are extremely proud of Austin and all of her accomplishments at college, especially during this difficult time where the pandemic has halted some of her plans. 

If you would like to learn more about our scholarship and see how you can apply, check out our scholarship webpage. 

An Enneagram In Education Page Just For You!

Just jumping on really fast to let you know that I’ve made a new feature on the blog- an Enneagram in Education page WITH BUTTONS! I don’t know about you, but for me, it’s so satisfying to click on a link with a button instead of a long URL. Much more aesthetically pleasing as well!

Click on your enneagram type and it’ll bring you straight to the post about your enneagram type and the learning style that comes with it. It may teach you a thing or two about yourself in a classroom setting and how best to get the most out of your education!

As of now, I have not written about every type yet, so not all are up. By the end of the year I will have gotten to all nine types. Enjoy!

Cover photo by infographicnow

Enneagram In Education: Type Four

This is part of a series using enneagram in education. For more information on why enneagram in education, refer to this post.

Enneagram type 4, the romantic, or the individualist. 

A few words to describe this type: 

Creative. 

Intuitive.

Daydreamers.

Withdrawn.

Sensitive.

Artistic. 

Let’s pull this into a classroom setting. If you’re an enneagram type four, you’re the daydreamer in the back of the classroom doodling in a notebook. Your key motivator as a type four is to be unique and different, always having the most artistic work. As a true artist, you’re very focused on what’s missing. Whether that’s within yourself, or in your work. You can also be sensitive to criticism, feelings can be hurt when something negative comes up.

How to get the most out of your education as a type four. 

  • Don’t just focus on the negative of feedback, remember to focus on the positive as well.
  • Embrace the artistic side of you and find a way to make your work creative. 
  • Get involved in deep conversations with peers about topics that are interesting to you. 
  • Create aestically pleasing notes and workspace for school work to motivate you. 

Highly personal, individualistic, “true to self.” Self-revealing, emotionally honest, humane. Ironic view of self and life: can be serious and funny, vulnerable and emotionally strong.

– The Enneagram Institute 

Type 4’s go to type 1 in growth and type 2 in stress. 

Are you a type 4? What is important for you to have a successful learning environment? 

Cover photo: Enneagram Worldwide 

Feature Friday: Emma Mecham

Welcome to Feature Friday! Where we showcase a new teacher each week in an interview. For past Feature Friday interviews, go here. 

Today’s Feature Friday is highlighting Emma Mecham. She is a past professor of mine at Utah State University that I grew to love while taking her course. Her dedication to student relationships and really shining light to pre-service teachers of what they are in for in becoming an educator stood out to me. I could go on and on at how great an influence she was to me, but maybe that should be saved for a different blog post! Here is what Emma has for us today.

What grade/ subjects have you taught and for how long? 

“I’m currently a teacher educator, working with undergraduate and graduate students in the School of Teacher Education and Leadership in the Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services at Utah State University in Logan, Utah. I’ve been at USU for just over a decade now and really cherish my opportunity to work with future and current teachers and administrators. I certainly learn as much from them as they can from me. I’ve previously worked in elementary schools with younger, but no less valuable mentors, from Utah to India to Peru. My favorite grade to teach was third grade – it’s that sweet spot where kids don’t yet know I’m not cool but also have an increasingly complex curriculum. However, I’ve spent a fair amount of time working with preschoolers and kindergartners (and some extraordinary early childhood educators) in the past ten years, and their intellectual and social curiosity delights me. “

If you could recommend one children’s book, what would it be and why? 

“There are so many wonderful children’s books, I couldn’t possibly choose just one – and it is, of course, dependent on age and reading ability. One of the really exciting changes I’ve seen during my career is the creativity in early reader books – Mo Willems comes to mind, but so do Sandra Boynton and Jon Klassen. The wit and artistry of those beginning reading books are wonderful.”

How have you seen education change in the years you’ve taught?

“Education has changed a great deal during my career thus far, with the effects of federal programs like NCLB, RTT, and ESSA and the growth of the school choice movement. There was a time during the most exacting years of NCLB when I wondered if I was doing my students a disservice by encouraging them to be teachers – teacher morale was very low, with good reason. However, there are a lot of really hopeful things happening in schools right now, and the graduate students I work with are leading fantastic innovations and finding ways to stretch the systems they work in to allow for greater excellence.”

Who influenced you most to choose a career education? 

“I suppose my interest in becoming a teacher was influenced by a whole group of wonderful educators, but probably foremost my mother. My mother taught (and continues to teach as a volunteer, well into her retirement) English Language Learners of all ages. Her love of her students and her passion for solving problems of equity in her community were daily lessons of the joys and value of teaching to me. I was also influenced by wonderful teachers in my own education – men and women who treated their students with respect and admiration, who got us outside into wild spaces and cultural spaces we hadn’t previously explored, who were curious and optimistic, and singularly individual. A few of those folks to come to mind straight away – Kaye Rheese, Dorthy Dobson, John Bedingfield, Nan Wharton, and Blake Pickett – remarkable teachers, all of them.” 

What are the benefits you’ve seen in collaborating with other teachers? 

“I learn so much from my colleagues. Collaboration keeps me humble, excited, learning new methods and ways of seeing and practicing. And I find that is true not just among my University faculty colleagues, but with my elementary and secondary colleagues, parents, and community partners. There are a lot of people who know things I don’t and who are generous in their willingness to share.”

How do you use student voice in your classroom and what outcomes have you seen from it? 

“One of my objectives as a teacher is to be sure that I am doing less talking than my students are. I try to provide as many opportunities for students to discuss ideas and demonstrate their understanding in groups as much as possible. Additionally, I give students choice in assessments and learning opportunities.”

What advice do you have for pre-service teachers? 

“Choosing to be a teacher is choosing a complex, difficult job. It is immensely rewarding, but you should prepare yourself for some exhausting days and a steep learning curve. It is also one of the most profound ways to make the world better. It’s not that I’m trying to scare pre-service teachers away, but I do want them to have clarity about the choice they are making before they commit to it. The high rate of teachers who leave the profession within the first five years is very costly and I believe we could improve that if pre-service teachers understood the profession better before they invested four years of college.” 

How do you create valuable student relationships and why is it important to do as an educator? 

“Many years ago when he was in graduate school, my older brother was given some wise advice by a mentor, that he passed on to me: “You can become a lawyer, but you’ll spend the rest of your life with tired middle-aged people. Or you can become a college professor and send the rest of your life with excited young adults.” And not only do I get to spend my days being taught and energized by young people, but the students I have are also passionate, nurturing, and committed to good. They are really easy to like and I think they can tell how much I do.”


I hope Emma was able to have at least the tiniest of influence on your life through this interview because she truly is a person I wish everyone had the opportunity to meet and build a relationship with. Thank you for taking the time to read a little slice of her knowledge! 

An Open Letter To The Students Of 2020

Dear Students of 2020, 

Here you are! You are stepping into a world where no one has gone before. You are attempting to continue your education during a global pandemic. Someday your kids and grandkids are going to read about you in history books. 

They are going to read about your Chromebooks and iPads sent home to you from your schools for virtual learning. 

The face mask mandates in the districts and the creative face shields to replace masks.

They are going to see pictures of desks 6 feet apart and hanging sheets of clear plastic hung strategically throughout the school. 

Books and articles will talk about hybrid learning at home part-time, and at school for the rest of the time. 

It will highlight the stress of teachers, parents, and the stress of you as the student. 

You are being asked to learn on platforms that are still developing instead of classrooms that have been established for centuries. 

We are asking you to rise up and take a step into the darkness. The darkness of the unknown for our future. The unknown of when “normal” school full of chatting friends sitting nearby, tag at recess, and less than 6 feet apart for group work, will resume. 

It’s hard, and it’s scary, and you are the pioneers for this. Your feedback on Zoom meetings, Google Classroom assignments, and in-person lectures with adapted seating will drive our school system to success as teachers, administration, and parents navigate and troubleshoot this new layout of education. 

To the students of the 2020-2021 school year, our future is in your hands more than it has ever been in student’s hands before. And we trust you. Together, we can make it through and create a better world for those to come. 

You’ve got this. 

I Can Do It If I Try!

Positive affirmations are such a great tool for kids and adults alike. I’ve been doing them with my daughter recently. At three years old she commonly found situations where she was stuck and not able to complete what she was hoping to do. Such as climb a ladder or go down a scary slide. 

I taught her to say “I can do it!” in hard situations and it seemed to help give her the confidence, but it also felt like something was missing. The affirmation was there, but the work behind it was absent.

I needed her to learn that yes, she can do it, but she needs to put in the work to get there. So I adapted her affirmation. 

“I can do it if I try.” 

We can get so caught up constantly telling our students, “You can do it! You know you can do it! I know you can do it!” But maybe what we are missing is reminding them of the work they must put into it in order to accomplish the goal. 

“You can do it if you try.” 

“You can do it if you practice.” because not everything comes right away. 

Try it out and tell me if you think it makes a difference. 

What positive affirmations do you practice with your students and children? How have they helped you as well?

Photos by Kayla Wright