By Larry L. Wewel
Reflecting on the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision of 60 years ago — one which sought to dismantle segregation and create both equal and equitable access to public schools — we should ask whether, as a society, we have achieved this need.
Sixty years later, in 2014, we continue to experience unequal access to quality education as attempts are made to privatize schools and school districts often receive inconsistent and unstable funding. Too often we hear of wealthy schools and poor schools. Charter school management companies and some educational foundations actually exacerbate lopsided funding by creating an infusion of money not provided to all publicly funded schools. We know all children are entitled to an ample education. Just as when Brown was heard, a solid education makes a substantial difference in whether children achieve competency and will have the training required to succeed in an increasingly competitive workforce.
Today, economics segregate our schools and our students. Equal access to education today is as crucial as it was in the 1950s, when Brown was adjudicated. While we continue to work on innovative solutions to provide all students with equal access to a strong and equitable basic education, we already know of one solution that can make a significant difference in equity is access to after school academic support.
Academic Link Outreach (ALO), located in Snohomish County, provides just such solutions. Jan Link, President of ALO, will tell you, “Where there is a school building, we can institute a program that begins when the last school bell rings and ends at 6:00 p/m. At the top of my list of beliefs is a core philosophy that all students can learn, develop academic motivation, and mature in critical thinking skills needed for a lifetime of achievement. However, students do not develop in lockstep.
“In schools where after-school programs are available, children can get the help they need to thrive. Only when students have ample, consistent, and structured academic support, can parents and teachers fairly hold them accountable for the mastery of course concepts.”
Expanded learning opportunities that focus on tutoring, mentoring and providing equitable access to resources and technology ensure that youth are better prepared for high school graduation, the workforce, or college. ALO’s system of community-based and volunteer driven after-school programs are portable and can be instituted in almost any setting. By implementing these basic changes, ALO intends to make the education gap so small that not a single student will fall through.
Brown v.Board of Education was an historic first step in achieving our collective goal to provide equal access to education. While there is no substitute for fully and amply funding basic education, we know that strategic solutions, like those created by ALO, support teachers and schools and help them to build equitable solutions for all students. Washington is not in compliance with our state constitution and because of this is also failing to provide equity in access to public education. As citizens, communities, a state (Washington) and a nation we must act with unity of purpose to make equitable and quality education available to every child.
Larry Wewel, of Everett, is a Senior Volunteer with Academic Link Outreach.