The Outliers

In the wake of the COVID-19 madness, one thing that has come to light (and has shocked people) is that for many of our kids, school is more than “school”. As a teacher, I can tell you that we, as well as administrators, view our students as more than students. This is because, in addition to teaching them, we take on a lot of what they bring to school — outside of academics. Contrary to popular belief, kids do not come to school in one cohesive mindset or set of abilities.

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, 14% of American public school students receive special education services. That’s equal to 7 million children nationwide. To put that in perspective for you: Imagine if the state of Rhode Island was populated 7 times over solely with special needs kids. That’s how many report to school every day.

The National Center for Childhood Poverty reports that 21% of American children live in homes with incomes below the federal poverty threshold — which equals 15 million children. Apply that to the Rhode Island analogy and you see how serious of a number that is.

In 2007/2008, the National Center for Educational Statistics completed a study of alternative education programs in American schools. These are specially designed schools for students who are at-risk of not completing their education and tend to serve students coming from poor communities and/or from dysfunctional homes. The students may also have been incarcerated at a young age, and are behind on their academic requirements. The study was based on a survey sent to over 1,000 public school districts in all 50 states and District of Columbia and they found 64% of districts surveyed reported at least 1 alternative education program or school. That amounts to almost 650,000 students nationwide. These students need the structure and guidance their schools and programs provide. Again, for them school is more than “school”. It’s life skills classes, job training, as well as social services. Without that place to go every day for the last and next few months…what’s going to happen to them?

We have all heard about the significant number of students who qualify for free breakfast and lunch at school, and that’s because COVID-19 ripped the curtain back from childhood poverty. What we have not been hearing about are the 7 million special needs and/or classified students who go to school and receive essential services like speech, occupational, and social skills therapies, as well as job training skills. These services are not only essential to how and what they learn, but also to their growth, development, and sense of community. I know — as someone who teaches special needs children — the longer they’re away from therapies, and the routine of school, the more they tend to digress. As schools across the nation were shut down, and student’s time away increases, I can’t help but worry over how enormous of an impact this is going to have.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to step back and consider that, for a significant number of kids, our schools are more than buildings where they go to learn math and science. In fact, for millions, they’re much more. School is where they eat; receive encouragement; discover things about themselves, and receive guidance. Think about all of the things school provided for you, outside of academics: Your first crush; lifelong friendships; a social life.

Yes, school provides essential academics and knowledge. One thing we ‘re all learning now, is that school is also a place where many students go to receive physical and emotional support. For many, it’s also the one place where they find and receive love.

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Patrick Cerria

Patrick Cerria

Husband-Father-Musician-Educator-Dalcroze Eurhythmics Teacher-Author-Yoga Practitioner-Crohn’s Warrior-Teaches Disabled & At-Risk Children-Believes In Humanity.