I have been asked to contribute a weekly column to our local newspaper, The Nebraska City NewsPress, my goal is that people are reminded that they are loved, they are not alone, and that we can do positive things together as a community. Here is this week’s column, it’s called “Learning Together". This past week was parent teacher conferences for those of us with kids in the Nebraska City Public School system. For my child, that means her teacher, Mrs. Letti, came to our house to show us a little of what it looks like to be in class with her and give my wife and me an opportunity to ask questions. I was impressed that she visited the homes of each and every student in her care. As a pastor, I’m still trying to do that and I’ve been here for two years. I appreciate her dedication, it is obvious to me that she loves her job and that she is dedicated to providing the best atmosphere for learning possible.
I try my best, as a parent, to help my kids and their teachers to be in the best position for success. Subsequently that means I have a lot of conversations with different people. I’ve talked with principals, school board members, teachers, and parents. They all seem to be trying to create a positive educational environment for our kids.
Even with that, according to stats found at www.schooldigger.com, provided by the National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, and the Nebraska City Public School system ranks 188th/223 Nebraska School Districts. That is not good. It doesn’t mean that our kids are bad; it doesn’t mean that teachers are bad; it doesn’t mean that our administrators are bad. It means we have some work to do, together.
A wise friend of mine once said to me, “Education is critical to a healthy society.” I think our numbers show that, right now, we aren’t that healthy. In all my conversations there’s always blamed placed somewhere. Blame the teachers, blame the parents, blame the kids, blame the administration, blame the curriculum, and I think there is plenty of work that could be done in all of those areas. What I don’t hear talked about much is poverty. Yes, poverty, and to quote a recent blog from Dawn Meehan,
“I’m not talking about a family whose dad has been laid off from his job or a family going through divorce or sickness. I’m not talking about a sudden, temporary, or even long-term shortage of money. I’m talking about families who have lived in poverty for generations. Families who don’t know anything but poverty. Generational poverty is very different from families experiencing hard times — mainly because they often view education as a stressor, and school a place they do not belong, making it extremely difficult to end the cycle.”
For kids that live that reality, school can be a salvation and it can be ruin. For many of those kids the meals they receive at school may be the only meals they receive at all, it also might be the only contact they have with other people. This isn’t necessarily because the parents are inattentive, many of them are working multiple jobs or jobs with odd hours just so they can keep clothes on their back and a roof over their heads.
Some more statistics, there are 1388 students in the four Nebraska City Public Schools, 636 of them are on free and reduced lunches, that’s a little under half of our students (45.8%) of our students come from families in need of food assistance. Currently, the Nebraska City Food Bank housed at the First United Methodist Church provides bags of food on Fridays for kids at Hayward Elementary (3rd-5th Grade) and starting next fall there will be a program that offers a bag of food to any student from the middle school who asks. That means, every Friday, at First Presbyterian Church we would distribute up to 151 (according to the statistics) bags of food that would provide nourishment for students on the weekend, because studies have shown you can’t study if you’re hungry.
Here’s how you can help. Saturday morning April 18th First Presbyterian Church is hosting the Stompin’ Out Hunger 5K Fun Run & Walk. All proceeds from this event will go toward Feeding our Future. This will launch a food grab bag program for the Nebraska City Middle School children. This program would provide a food grab bag at times when other resources are not available, such as during weekends and school breaks.
There is a non-refundable entry fee is $30. All participants will be registered for prize drawings. I would invite you to go to the First Presbyterian Church website (www.firstpresnc.org) click on the “Stompin’ Out 5K” picture and register online.
We are hoping to make this an annual event to ensure that our community is in the best possible position to provide challenging and effective education for all and our students have an opportunity to succeed.
At dinner every night, my family goes around the table and shares their high points and low points of the day. We call it “Favorite” and “Not Favorite”. Here are my “Favorites” and “Not Favorites” of the week.
Favorite: I love watching the NCAA Tournament and I love that the grass is turning green and the flowers and trees are starting to bud.
Not Favorite: This was a pretty good week, I don’t have a not favorite.