Over the 7 years of retirement since my dementia diagnosis, I have gradually realized that direct activism has become a thing of the past for me. Every now and then I get so mad, though, that I have to participate, for example, in the rally protesting the LDS church making apostates of the children of gay and lesbian families and, most recently, in the March for our Lives protest for gun safety. I can no longer go to these events on my own, so I recruit my two oldest grandkids, Kanye and Aliya, to make posters and come along to help me cross the street safely. I have a feeling that Dante will be big enough to help look after Ouma by the time the next protest comes along. By doing activism with my grandchildren, I feel I am passing my baton to a new generation. When the day comes when I can no longer shuffle along the protest route, I will at least—for a while—be able to participate vicariously through the pictures they bring home 🙂
Kanye’s poster (left) and Aliya’s (right) illustrates a view of family not supported in LDS church policy.
Aliya’s poster (purple frame) says, “Loving arms, not fiar (fire) arms. Kanye’s says, “No (picture of gun)s and lower down, out of view, “(picture of gun) + (picture of school) = NO, NO, NO.
I am happy to report that our family activism has not skipped a generation. Before moving to the Liberty Wells neighborhood, Cheryl (my daughter-in-law) and Newton (my son) lived in South Jordan, where both she and Newton volunteered their time and expertise: Newton coached a soccer team and Cheryl was a room mother for Kanye’s class and also helped as a reading coach, and in other ways support the classroom. During her first two years in their current neighborhood, Liberty-Wells, she helped establish the Liberty-Wells community garden on 1700 S 700 E, just south of Liberty Park. At the same time, she volunteered in both of her kids’ classrooms at Whittier Elementary. Last year she helped Newton teach an after-school computer club, started by Kanye. Marissa, too, has volunteered as a judge at science fairs.
Left, A sign at the entrance to the Liberty-Wells Community Garden says, “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you are our neighbor” in Spanish, English, and Arabic. Right, Cheryl at the “Little Library” in the Community Gardens, showing a copy of my book that she donated!
This year Newton is continuing the computer club, which is now in their second year—the kids who went through the program last year are building robots in 2018, while the new kids are learning the basics. Cheryl, and a fellow-volunteer, Grace, are coaches for the Whittier Elementary School branch of a national after-school program, “Girls on the Run.” It creates the opportunity for 3rd and 4th grade girls—who might not otherwise have access to participation in a sport—to train for and participate in a 5k marathon.
Cheryl, right front, coaching her and fellow-volunteer Grace’s “Girls on the Run” team at Whittier Elementary.
[CAUTION: The following paragraph is a request for money, a disclosure of personal interest, and further bragging about my kids. I you want to skip it, continue reading below the cartoon.]
(At the end of the post, I explain how to make sure a donation goes straight to “Girls on the Run.”]
While my grandchildren Kanye and Aliya attend Whittier Elementary, they are not participants in this program, Kanye because of our society’s norm of 2 genders and Aliya because she is in the wrong grade. I disclose this, because at the end I am going to ask you for money to support “Girls on the Run” and just want you to know it’s not for my own grandkids. However, our family does have a selfish interest in Cheryl’s coaching of the Whittier team—it is part of my 4.0 daughter-in-law’s Senior Project for her BS in nutrition and health at Weber State University.
In South Jordan, Newton and Cheryl lived in a relatively wealthy neighborhood with a relatively wealthy elementary school, where, of course, volunteers also do their part. The need for volunteers and financial support at Whittier Elementary, though, is on a different scale altogether—Whittier is one of Utah’s 19 Title 1 schools, that is, schools where over 40% of students live in poverty. Newton and Cheryl’s experience in the inequity between schools in their different neighborhoods is a microcosm of the situation in the entire US. The educational inequity is predominantly caused by our school-funding system, which relies heavily on local property taxes: on average, US schools are funded with 45 percent local money, 45 percent from the state and 10 percent federal (Why America’s Schools Have A Money Problem). One does not have to live in a poor neighborhood (like we did in Roberta Street and Newton and Cheryl do in Liberty Wells) to discover a family next door who is on food stamps. “If you look up in the Avenues area, you’ll find people on food stamps,” said Karen Crompton, associate director of human services for Salt Lake County. “It’s not as visible, which I guess is the good news. The bad news is these people become sort of invisible” (The Utah Effect: Segregation among Salt Lake City’s poor).
In an effort to remedy the educational inequity resulting from our school-funding system, the federal government has created a fund to provide financial support to schools with high poverty rates, so that “all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education”—the so-called Title 1 Fund. Kids counted as poor for Title 1 purposes are the same as those who receive free or reduced meals at school. Funding for these meals is provided by The National School Lunch Program, a federally assisted meal program operating in public and nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions. In the 2016–2017 school year, a household of three earning $26,208 or less would qualify for free school meals and a family of three earning up to $37,296 for reduced-price school meals.
Lunch at a Salt Lake City school
At Whittier Elementary, the percentage of children living in poverty is 78.97%. The school uses Title 1 funds for the material needs of these kids beyond food, for example, anything from shoes, clothes, winter coats, to school supplies. Whatever Title 1 money is left, goes to English-as second-language programs, extra help with math and/or reading, and cultural enrichment. In a most wonderful example of cultural enrichment, Whittier has for many years been able to provide piano lessons for everybody in 4th and 5th grade. When the money allows, they also obtain tickets to theater and other art performances for students.
Photo, Salt Lake Trib (2013)
If you are now feeling pretty good about Title 1, read on about how it unfortunately does not work as intended in real life. My example is Salt Lake City, but inequities are just as bad in other states due to a non-functioning “formula” applied by states (Title I: Rich School Districts Get Millions Meant for Poor Kids). Here is how it works in two Utah school districts: i) In the Salt Lake City School District: just because 78.87% of Whittier students live with food scarcity and the educational deprivations that come with it, it doesn’t mean that the school receives Title 1 money for each of those students. Instead, individual school districts determine a poverty level for all the schools in their district. In 2012, for example, Salt Lake School District (in which Whittier falls) had set its poverty rate at 66.5% even though several of its Title 1 schools, including Whittier, had a 10%+ higher poverty rate. Given the relatively low property taxes in the Liberty-Wells area, Whittier received between $300 and $830 per student in poverty. ii) At the same time, Jordan District—where the property taxes brought in more money—had set their poverty rate at 50%, and their Title 1 schools received up to $2,535 per student. The year after, 2013, Whittier’s poverty rate dropped a few percentage points, say from 78% to 76%. This “good news” caused them to qualify for less Title1 money. To put this in plain English, because now “only” 76% of families lived in poverty, Whittier lost $145K!
A sad truth is that cultural programs are the first to go when a school loses money. The money loss of 2013 meant that Whittier would lose its piano program. Fortunately, parents ran a fundraising campaign and was able to save the program. (With loss of Title I funds, Whittier Elementary’s treasured piano program at risk.)
Left, Thanks to a fundraising campaign, the music plays on at Whittier (Salt Lake Trib). Right, my grandson Kanye introducing himself at the piano recital in which each of the approximately ninety 5th graders participated.
Whittier’s use of Title 1 and parent-raised funds to create enrichment programs has changed many children’s lives. While many of the results are profound—for example, leading to first-in-the family university degrees—they are usually not spectacular enough to make the news. However, the story of Brandon Montes—an eleven-year old at Whittier—certainly deserves notice: “In three years, a Salt Lake City student has gone from not being able to write his name to becoming a science geek and potential theater buff.” The Salt Lake Tribune (2018)
(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) Whittier Elementary School fifth-grader Brandon Montes, who recently learned how to read, was nominated by resource teacher Erica Hammon to receive tickets for him and his family to see “The Sound of Music.”
While Title 1 funds, with all its glitches, makes a huge difference for the better at Whittier, they do not cover all its needs. That is why Whittier still needs volunteers like Cheryl and Grace to offer programs like “Girls on the Run”—and funds to supplement what the school cannot pay. Though the ostensible goal of “Girls on the Run” is to train the girls to complete a 5k race, it is much more than an athletic program: it provides a safe afterschool environment where girls learn about healthy eating, (including the preparation of healthy snacks), as well as other curriculum topics to help prevent at-risk behavior such as eating disorders, substance abuse, depression, obesity, and adolescent programs. As one of the girls who participated in a Utah group said, “I learned that I am the boss of my brain.” In my view, another important success of the program is that it “makes family”: One of Aliya’s friends at Whittier, who is in the program, cornered me to say, “this is the most fun program at school because Aliya’s mom is my coach.”
Team practice at Whittier for Cheryl and Grace’s “Girls on the Run” team.
There are two ways you might be able to contribute to “Girls on the Run”: 1), a financial contribution, or 2), becoming a “Running Buddy” for one of the girls.
- Here is a note from Cheryl and her partner coach, Grace, with information on the program’s financial needs:
“Girls on the Run” is not free—it normally charges $185 for each girl who participates. Because Whittier has been a team site for many years, the GOTR office has provided our team with scholarships to absorb part of the costs. Unfortunately, we are still left with a large debt even with the scholarships. If you are able to contribute any funds to keep our teams running (pun intended), it would be so appreciated.
Here is what your donation would provide:
Program curriculum $15
Running shoes for one girl $35
Coach’s box $75
Sponsor a girl $185
How to donate to “Girls on the Run”: If you are able to make a financial gift to one of Cheryl and Grace’s girls, go to the Whittier Donation Form. After entering the amount of your gift, you will be asked what your “Designation” is for the money:
To make sure your donation goes to “Girls on the Run,” choose “Other” from the options in the “Designation” box. Below, in the box where you choose “Specific Program/Purpose/Grade,” type “Girls on the Run.”
- You may also be up for supporting “Girls on the Run” by volunteering to be the Running Buddy of one of the girls who does not have a family member or -friend to support her. Running Buddies encourage and keep pace with their girl, ensuring her safety and sharing in her exhilaration as she crosses the finish line. The Running Buddy role is a one-time commitment: running with a girl at the end-of-season 5k, but will cost you your own registration fees for the race.
If you do not live in Utah, I hope you will find a school in your neighborhood that offers “Girls on the Run” or different enrichment programs. For those of you who are unable to contribute, thanks for reading and for your support of me as I shuffle along in that other “race”—the downhill path of my dementia.