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We are DIBS for Kids

The Hopefuls of Public Education in Omaha

We aren’t defiant, we just aren’t convinced.

We don’t have charter schools and we don’t have Teach for America, but that doesn’t mean Omaha, Nebraska doesn’t care about education. We’d argue that it means our city’s leaders are most passionate about¬†tackling the underlying issue that has proven, time and again, to be the largest¬†impetus for why¬†kids fall through the cracks. It isn’t always because of bad teachers, and it isn’t always because of low-funded schools without enough resources.

It’s almost always poverty.

And when¬†over 70¬†percent of elementary students within Omaha Public Schools (our largest, most urban district) are coming from poverty ‚Äď which could mean homes without books for young students to read, without parents who are literate or who understand the importance of education, without money or transportation to travel or¬†learn outside of school or their neighborhoods ‚Äď what kind of expectations can we set, realistically, for teachers to meet during an 9am to 4pm school day?

When we say “It takes a village to raise a child,” we often look at schools and teachers and ask, “Why aren’t things changing? You’re the village, you need to figure this out.” And we forget about the other half of student’s lives. We forget about what happens after the school bell rings. We forget that students only spend about 15 percent of their time in school, versus 53 percent of their time at home or in their communities.

We remember this at DIBS because we live in that world, that vital part of students’ lives that occurs once they’ve walked out the schoolhouse front doors.

Why we forget: How much more can we really do? It’s out of our hands.

Now, we know what some of you might be thinking: We’ve already spent tons of money on our public schools and there hasn’t been a whole lot of change because of it. Let’s just start with holding teachers accountable and breaking through school system bureaucracies that have seemingly failed these kids, that stuff’s hard enough. Eliminating poverty, though? There‚Äôs no way.

Folks. We get it. And believe us, we dwell on and sweat over these thoughts each and every day.

Our Founder came into this work as a Teach For America Corps¬†Member teaching first graders in some of the highest poverty schools in New Orleans. Like some of you, he¬†was deeply frustrated with our public school system¬†and thought: “Come on, can’t we expect more for how much we’re spending?”

But his teaching experience humbled him, and he saw many of his Teach for America peers humbled as well. So, he started DIBS under a different mindset:

The DIBS mindset: We must address the underlying, core issues

Until¬†we figure out better ways to fix the foundation of kids’ lives, any other structural changes we make will end up cracking and crumbling no matter the good and wholesome intentions behind them. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to implement these sorts of changes, it just means we absolutely cannot forget about where some of our kids are coming from, and we need to recognize how unprepared and unsupported some of them are outside of the school day.

We¬†must also recognize how gigantic and abominable a task it is for schools and teachers to not only guarantee¬†students are proficient and excelling, but¬†to also make sure every single one’s basic needs, like food, health and hygiene, are being met. To help them¬†feel loved and supported, especially when there’s no one at home to do that. And when they get older, to give them enough hope and courage and knowledge¬†to believe in themselves and stay out of¬†trouble.

We need to work together on this.

One big, serious divide

At DIBS, we offer one insanely simple way to empower kids when they are just starting, so they feel on-track with their classmates and begin to realize their potential: making sure each one has the opportunity to take a book home to read every night.

It’s¬†hard to believe that isn’t already happening, isn’t it? All of us are familiar with school libraries, maybe classroom libraries as well, and so when we think about book availability being an issue, well, it doesn’t seem to be an issue at all.

But when a student’s only interaction with a book happens when they go to the library once a week or when their teacher reads to their class, you can start to see how many holes there are when you compare their relationship with books to other students who have abundant opportunities to read outside the classroom.

That’s where¬†this statistic from the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement comes in:

Over 60 percent of students in poverty do not have access to a single age-appropriate book at home.

This is staggering. This hugely affects those who struggle the most, who have a day-to-day mentality because that’s their reality. This is one major reason why there is¬†an almost endless cycle of poverty in North and South Omaha. Because when kids grow up without the simple supports they need outside of school, they miss early but major milestones, and then age and circumstance and the complications of life continue to build up against them until there is almost no hope of catching up to their counterparts.

This isn’t necessarily the product of poor parenting or a teacher that just should have done more, it’s the product of a lack of opportunity¬†and a lack of open doors for kids to wander through and explore.

You might be skeptical, we might be hopeful, but Omaha can be better

Omaha is their home, and Omaha is our home. And, Omaha happens to¬†host a surprisingly well-equipped philanthropic community that is dedicated to bettering early childhood education and students’¬†lives.

And despite a tsunami of other states adopting the idea of charter schools and inviting in new teachers and methods to “shake up” a system that has seemed so stagnant, our philanthropic¬†organizations and education leaders haven’t bought in to it.

We are not quite convinced that these are the answers we’ve been looking for. One reason here is ¬†because no one can yet see how to integrate the better parts of new educational reform movements into traditional districts so that no child falls through the cracks.

At DIBS, we resonate with a dwindling tribe we like to call Public Education Hopefuls who believe in the power of our system and community and support a holistic, every-single-school-in-the-city solution.

We want to help light the fire for fruitful conversations around this, no matter which side you stand on. This is the only way we can move forward.

We’re excited, and we hope you join us.

The DIBS Team, August 2016

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