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Band-aids or Systemic Change: Education at the Inception of Anti-Poverty Efforts

Band-aids do not prevent harm from happening, they only aid in the aftereffects of a greater problem. Everywhere one looks in society, on various administrative levels they can observe institutions placing band-aids on problems that exist. Within the education system, instead of fixing and making the education system stronger and equally resourced, people would rather ignore the problem or aid the problem with easier temporary sub-solutions. The problem with a band-aids is that they do not bring any type of systemic or substantial change; they do what they were made to do, aid a problem that already exists. I fear that these band-aids only cover up the problems that are very much realities and make people feel comfortable with the lack of progress and shortage of solutions that seem to only surface in our communities.

As we look towards the future of education in the United States— and learn from our past mistakes—there is in fact one thing that remains consistent. One cannot transform education systems without transforming communities. If substantive impact is to occur, it will happen through a multi-incorporating strategy that takes into account numerous issues with a consolidated goal. The Harlem Children’s Zone has in various ways  given the country a model and intersectional approach to tackling poverty, solving an education crisis and reforming communities. Barack Obama in his 2007 address states:

“The Harlem Children’s Zone is an all encompassing, all hands on deck anti-poverty effort. This is literally saving a generation of children in a neighborhood where they were never supposed to have a chance. If poverty is a disease that infects an entire community –in the form of unemployment, violence, failing schools and broken homes— then we cannot just treat those symptoms in isolation. We have to heal the entire community, and focus on what works.”

 President Obama’s words are grounded in researched based evaluation. To truly have an impact one must take into consideration multiple elements of poverty and fund programs/institutions who are not only aiding problems, but also tackling these systemic barriers at their roots. Wraparound services can be implemented through in school and afterschool programs with academic support. These programs incorporate evidenced based study on administrative and programmatic levels, then education systems can be effectively be used to transform communities.

When looking at Harlem children’s Zone model, you will find afterschool and community programming at every developmental level. There is a recognition here that identifies that the time spent outside of school just as important than the time spent inside the classroom. The time spent outside of school is not only critical for academic outcomes, but it is also important for social, behavioral, emotional and cognitive development. One can also find a correlation between educational levels and poverty levels. Lenore Behar is an author that discusses wraparound services. She describes them as tactics to “surround multi-problem youngsters and families with customized services rather than with institutional walls.” Behar also adds that these tactics are “individualized, strengths based and holistic.”

These themes are not new, but unfortunately our country still has not found a successful way to implement what we already know to be evidenced based. We need to call our senators.