Our View: Back to school, with community support
As western Nevada County says goodbye to summer and hello to the 2016-17 school year, it might take a few days — if not weeks — for students, their parents and teachers to get back into the swing of a routine.
That adjustment might take more time for some, particularly as families of our largest high schools adjust to a later start time, a move by the Nevada Joint Union High School District trustees that has been both praised and panned. But whether or not one agrees with that decision, or others, it’s important that our schools feel supported by our community.
That’s because our community’s educators face many more challenges in performing roles that today go far beyond teaching our children.
It’s no secret that student enrollment in western Nevada County has consistently declined over the nearly past two decades. Nevada Union High School has seen enrollment drop from 2,785 students in 1999-2000 to 1,653 in 2015-16. Bear River’s decline from 1,181 to 696 students over the same time period reflects a similar 40 percent decline.
Sure, private and public charter schools have put pressure on traditional programs, but the declining enrollment is more likely due to a local economy lacking good-paying jobs and affordable housing for families, more so than competition from new educational options.
Countywide, there were 20 percent fewer students in 2015-16 than a high of 15,119 in 2003-04, according to California Department of Education data. Those declining numbers also mean declining dollars in state funding, which often means declining number of teachers and programs that can be offered.
And while student population has dropped, the percentage of socioeconomically disadvantaged students has increased.
In 2004-05, Nevada Union reported 5.9 percent students among those eligible for free or reduced lunch. In 2015-16, that percentage had grown to 35.3 percent. Whether single-parent homes or homes where both parents work to make ends meet — some at multiple jobs — the struggle to find time to support a child’s education can be daunting. Throw in the prevalence of substance abuse — about 30 percent of students said they’d used alcohol in the past 30 days and about 20 percent used marijuana — or increasing instances of bullying, and the real challenge of succeeding in the classroom for many of our children only becomes more significant.
We can remember a time when the responsibilities of schools was much less than it is now. Nowadays, in addition to providing each and every student a modern education that adequately prepares them for life, our schools also feed them (in some cases three meals per day), care for them before school, at lunch hour and after school, in addition to introducing them to, and providing them with, access to technology. The business of running a school and providing for students is much greater than ever before.
Our community has consistently shown support for our schools, particularly when it comes to fundraising for extracurricular programs that enrich the lives of our students. Such support is apparent in that our high school athletic programs depend on the fundraising efforts of the athletes and participating families— whether for transportation or uniforms — since budget cuts have largely left only enough to fund meager coaching stipends.
We are heartened to see our schools reaching out to the community in the form of collaboration and partnerships, such as the recent round table discussion hosted by Nevada Union with members of the business community. We are encouraged to see internship opportunities being extended to our young people to gain real-life work experiences. We believe strong students graduate from strong schools built and supported through strong relationships with businesses and community members.
Of course, parental engagement is key to a child’s education, especially the young.
Reading to them, reading with them, results in the child responding to the parent and to the world of books by loving and respecting the parent, by using the child’s imagination, by learning a larger vocabulary — and ultimately, providing a foundation for growth that can flow into a real love for learning, and going to school for that purpose.
As parents, it is our responsibility to our children to get them ready for schooling and to stick with it as partners in their education.
But as a community — even one with nearly a quarter of the population age 65 or older and without children enrolled — we have a real responsibility to support our schools. The long-term value to society in producing well-educated students is real, helping with everything from crime to the ability to make change to the critical-thinking skills necessary to making community life and collective decisions that much better.
Whether donating dollars, volunteering to judge senior projects, offering internships to students or perhaps even running for a seat on the school board, the success of our schools — and our students — hinges on the support shown by a community that considers education to be among its absolute highest priorities.
The weekly Our View column represents the opinions of The Union Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from The Union, as well as informed community members. Contact the board at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.
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