Education and Equity – Moving Forward Together

By Melissa Vansickle

Sally comes to school most days. She usually only eats at school.  At home, there is not a lot of food; though her mom will take her to a drive-through occasionally, if she has extra money. Sally’s backpack is worn and only one strap works, but all the homework inside is complete and ready to turn in. When she gets home from a long day at school, she sits her younger siblings in front of the TV and works on her homework. It is unlikely she will have dinner tonight.

beverage can in refrigeratoMary also comes to school most days, right after breakfast, with a lunch she packed for herself last night, making sure to include fresh fruit like her mom prefers. Her new backpack slings easily across her shoulders with the homework her mom checked for her last night securely inside. When Mary comes home, she makes herself a healthy snack and watches TV with her younger siblings. Later, she sits at the counter while her mom makes dinner, working on her homework and chatting with her family about her day.

man in white dress shirt sitting beside woman in orange long sleeve shirt eating

Sally and Mary come from two different homes, but both children are working toward their future.

woman wearing academic cap and dress selective focus photography

Merriam Webster defines equity as, “justice according to natural law or right, specifically: freedom from bias or favoritism.  It’s a term that is commonly confused with equality or fairness.  But equity is not about everyone having the same; it’s about everyone having the support they need to have a chance at success.  To be clear, equity is not a handout.  A chance at success is not a guarantee and still requires work.

brown concrete road during daytime

Without equity in our schools, too many children would be left without hope for a way forward.

boy in green sweater writing on white paperGreat Falls Public Schools works toward equity by providing essential needs for students to learn. Some of these essential needs include food, technology, training for teachers, and high-quality preschool. First and foremost, students who are hungry cannot learn. Food is a basic need that should be afforded to all students.

woman in black long-sleeved top facing sidewaysAs GFPS has continued to adapt to the changing needs of the community, healthy meals are available to students in need free of charge for both breakfast and lunch. Food pantries as well as summer meal sites allow students to access food while away from school as well.white ipad on white tableIn addition to the necessity of food, technology is encompassing more and more of our everyday life. Without access to technology, students fall behind not only their local peers, but their global peers as well. GFPS is working diligently to provide access to all students, but there is more work to be done.

Next, training for teachers is paramount for all students, but children in poverty are most in need of teachers who are able to create and maintain a learning environment that supports the needs of all students. Professional development has always been an important part of GFPS’s mission and goals. Designing and offering professional development opportunities on equity and poverty will always be a need for our district.

people sitting on chair inside roomAnd lastly, high-quality free preschool programs are a necessity for our modern time. What seems like just fun and games is arguably the most pivotal time in a young child’s development. Vocabulary, social skills, and basic number sense are just a few of the uncountable experiences students acquire at this early age. Preschool sets the academic stage for students. The goal of school districts is to provide all students with a chance for a bright future, and that needs to start as soon as possible. 

While GFPS is fortunate to have preschool, there is not enough funding to offer it to all students who need it. 

group of people wearing white and orange backpacks walking on gray concrete pavement during daytimeGFPS recognizes the diverse needs of students as well as the impact education has on individual students as well as the community of Great Falls.

woman reading bookEquity in the classroom is complex. Teachers create learning environments where every child can find success, understanding that it is not good practice to treat every student the same. Every child is so different and has different needs and learning styles. While rules, procedures, and expectations must remain consistent, the way a teacher interacts with individual students is as unique as the students themselves. In addition, teachers need to allow students to learn from each other. 

Encouraging open, respectful conversation about diverse backgrounds and beliefs where students can recognize and accept differences in each other leads to better classroom harmony and learning.

boy's writing on bookThese important discussions are even more crucial during these polarizing times when it is even more necessary to value each other as fellow humans. Overall, students excel when they feel respected and valued within a classroom setting.

love to learn pencil signage on wall near walking manEquity is synonymous with justice. The ideals our country was founded on with Thomas Jefferson’s self-evident truths must extend into the classroom. Our children, who are the future of our country, depend on it.