Gary teachers’ pathways to student success reflective of “underground railroad”

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By Vernon A. Williams

Last weekend, I attended a luncheon sponsored by the Beta Mu Chapter of Phi Delta Kappa Sorority, Inc. in Gary. That evening, I went to the opening weekend of the movie, “Harriett.” As I drove away from the theater, the parallel was striking.

Poverty constitutes shackles that inhibit upward mobility for millions of Americans – particularly those in urban areas. While children in poor neighborhoods too often believe sports or entertainment will pave their road to eventual riches, they are wrong.

Somber statistics confirm that 82 percent of those who are among the most indigent in our society will remain at that sad stratus – perpetuating the same fate among generation after generation of children doomed to the same trap.

Yes, there are multiple influences that inhibit ascent into the world of career opportunities. Lack of training or skills. Illiteracy. Health disparity. Mental illness. Criminal records. Racism. The list of contributors to indigence seems endless.

But without dispute, the most plausible escape is education. Pure and simple. Okay, let’s deal with the usual contradictions of this theory. Yes, there are people with degrees who never used them or even found related employment. Yes, there are many who finished high school and made millions without stepping foot onto a college campus.

It should be noted that education includes all post-secondary learning options. Many pursue successful careers as craftspeople or service providers after being provided training, apprenticeships, internships and industry learning portals that connect to jobs.

But just because COLLEGE is not for everyone does not mean EDUCATION is not for everyone. There is not a man or woman not likely to earn more during the course of their lifetime with post-secondary learning. Statistics don’t lie.

Men with bachelor’s degrees earn approximately $900,000 more in median lifetime earnings than high school graduates. Women with bachelor’s degrees earn $630,000 more. Men with graduate degrees earn $1.5 million more in median lifetime earnings than high school graduates. Women with graduate degrees earn $1.1 million more.

But no one can argue that the odds are against you if you have little or no education. A person can always hit the lottery but the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) findings, calculating more conventional means of earning a living, reveal that median weekly wages progressively increase with educational attainment:

Professional degree: $1,836

Doctoral degree: $1,743

Master’s degree: $1,401

Bachelor’s degree: $1,173

Associate’s degree: $836

Some college, no degree: $774

High school diploma, no college: $712

Less than a high school diploma: $500

Going full circle, who does society rely on to drive that train of possibilities? Classroom instructors and administrators responsible for the day-to-day learning process in schools across our nation.

The Beta Mu chapter can be particularly proud since at the outset of their six decades plus of operation, Gary schools provided a model for the nation.

But over the years, society has gone through changes that inevitably impact education.

People debate issues that run the gamut from the impact of grading schools, teaching to the test, the proliferation of charter schools, lack of parental support, state takeovers, lack of adequate funding and appropriation, an eroding tax base, salaries falling that lag well behind inflation, training issues, union influence, district politics and student discipline.

Withstanding all these variables and many more, the common denominator is the resolve of classroom instructors still to give all that they’ve got, pouring into the futures of young people for whom prospects are most daunting.

No one works more (unpaid) overtime than teachers. No one spends more non-reimbursable dollars from already inadequate income to maximize effectiveness in the classroom. No profession is more blamed by more sources for shortcomings of our nation and no profession is less appreciated. And yet they rise to bring the best out of the worst.

Harriett Tubman was depicted as a woman refusing to relent in her determination to bring those trapped in hopelessness to the peak of their potential. She looked into the downtrodden faces of those treated less than animals and saw only the beauty of God’s creation in their eyes. She freed them not merely from enslavement, but from the bondage of hopelessness and despair.

I could only imagine how many lives were touched by the women who filled the Beta Mu Chapter, Phi Delta Kappa event. I could only imagine how many were pulled back from the precipice of giving up – inspired by their words or deeds to keep on keeping on.

I could only imagine how many souls these dedicated professionals kept out of the abyss.

Just like Harriet Tubman could not have possibly assured that each of the more than one thousand slaves she brought to freedom would ultimately succeed. But she could say with assuredness that had they remained enslaved, there would be no chance of it.

Likewise, these Gary educators may never know the exact measure of their influence, but they can be certain that without them, that upward spiral would have been unattainable.

CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: vernonawilliams@yahoo.com.

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