There is a phase commonly used in the education field that describes one way we can individualize each student’s educational experience: “Meet students where they are.”
I’m sure you can guess what this means. We recognize that every student is unique. That they each bring different experiences, challenges, and strengths to school every day. That they each have different interests and goals. That they each have different learning styles. In order to meet each student where they are, we must have an uncompromising vision for excellence, but also respond to students’ individual needs in a way that fosters optimal growth. Importantly, this means that education should not take a one-size-fits-all approach.
This is also one way we can achieve equity and close opportunity gaps, because by meeting students where they are, we are making sure that all students have equitable access to opportunities that prepare them for a successful future in college, career, and civic life.
For example, years ago SFUSD knew that some of our students come to school hungry and that students can’t learn when they’re hungry. So, they identified funds to make it possible to provide breakfast for students who needed it. Another example: We know that many of our students will be the first in their family to go to college and are from groups traditionally underrepresented in higher education, so some of our secondary schools offer AVID classes to provide these students with academic, social and emotional support to succeed on a path to college and career success.
As a member of the school board I will prioritize policies and budgets that enable SFUSD to look at students as individuals and “meet them where they are.” I will make sure that we put students at the center of everything we do and the choices we make. Here are a few examples on the top of my mind, though this approach should extend far beyond these:
- Let’s make sure that students have equitable access to opportunities in advanced math. If a student wants to reach Calculus in high school either just because they love math or because they want to pursue competitive STEM programs in college, they should have that opportunity. We should offer acceleration opportunities in middle school, including Algebra, based on teacher recommendation and student motivation. Offering these opportunities through our schools also levels the playing field, so that it is not only well-resourced families’ students who receive additional access. I believe there is ample opportunity meet this need through the upcoming SFUSD Middle Grades Redesign process.
- Let’s work to close the opportunity gap for our African American, Latino and Pacific Islander students by targeting financial and human resources where they are needed most, building relationships with families and students, providing comprehensive wrap-around services, and delivering culturally responsive and rigorous instruction. Some of these practices are already showing promise in some of our schools. Let take what is working and positively impact more students.
- Let’s make sure that students who are passionate about the arts and want to attend high school at Ruth Asawa School of the Arts have opportunities and guidance throughout K-8 and through SFUSD partnerships to prepare for a successful audition towards admission. Many families don’t have the resources to pay for outside arts instruction, and we can ensure we are facilitating participation for any student who is interested. Now ten years into the Arts Education Master Plan, SFUSD is fortunate to be providing a sequential arts education for its students, but we can do more. We have an opportunity to address this through the upcoming refresh of the Master Plan as well as the Middle Grades Redesign process.
- Let’s expand Career Technical Education in every SFUSD high school to prepare students for careers and to help them know how to apply their academic and technical skills to real life. According to The California Center for College and Career, "Pathways that link learning with student interests and career preparation lead to higher graduation rates, increased college enrollments, and higher earning potential." That’s reason enough for me!
- Let’s make sure that students who are experiencing homelessness receive wrap-around services in partnership with the City to help mitigate the challenges happening outside of school, to improve their success in school, and increase their chances to escape poverty. These services include health, transportation, tutoring, school supplies, and connecting to housing and nutrition programs.
We all know our children are unique. We don’t parent each child in the same way; why would we educate each one in the same way?