Most Americans are deeply troubled by the escalating conflict in Iraq and Israel. The growing list of American casualties is deeply disturbing. Young Americans who volunteer for military service know that there is a risk of facing genuine human combat where one's life could be in real jeopardy. Every parent prays that his son or daughter will not be one of these human casualties.
There are other human casualties that are ripping at the heart of America. They do not choose the road they walk. Oftentimes they are victims of a system that is inept and sets certain young people up for failure.
The unnecessary devastation is scandalous and despicable. If we believe our children are our national treasure and our schools are oases for human growth and development, why do some communities make their schools battlefields with weapons of mass destruction? Instead of being a life-giving oasis, they have become wastelands of human potential.
There is not a school district on Long Island that is not facing fiscal strain. When re-evaluating budget concerns, should not all of our students be the center of concern? Students with special needs should not be kicked to the curb because money is tight. Parents should not allow their children to become the living casualties of fiscal hard times.
Schools are supposed to empower all of our children to become all that they can be, even those with special challenges. Many schools have wonderful programs for the gifted and talented as well as very fine tuned programs for very difficult students. What about the basically bright student who learns differently or has somehow gotten lost in the maze of antiquated American education? This student is failing and frustrated and is on the verge of dropping out. What are we doing for him? Well, in one district, they provided him opportunity and then in the final hour, stole it from him.
BJ is a high school sophomore. For a number of years he has struggled with traditional education. His mother has tried everything that has been suggested. But the educational formula suggested for BJ just wasn't right. Each time she met with school officials to set up a learning plan for BJ, it just did not work. He continued to fail and get distracted.
In January, BJ's guidance counselor suggested that he go to an open house at BOCES. During the tour, he visited a welding class. He loved what he saw. He came home raving. His Mom could not believe it. BJ never raved about school, ever. Up until this point, he hated school and everything associated with it.
After that experience, BJ's Mom called his home high school to inquire what the protocol would be for admission into a BOCES program. She made an appointment with BJ's guidance counselor. His guidance counselor and mother felt that he had the academic and social qualities necessary to excel at BOCES. BJ's Mom was petrified that she might be setting her son up for failure.
BJ's application was approved. His class schedule for the fall was prepared. The only thing he had to do to secure his seat in the welding program for next year was pass all of his present classes.
At the time he filed his application, he was failing three subjects. From the time he was told that he was accepted into the program, his academic life changed drastically. His grades immediately improved. This student, who was once without purpose and direction, was now focused and determined. He now had a goal and the energy to reach for it. He made a complete turn around within a few weeks.
In all subjects, not only was he passing, but was doing reasonably well. His teachers have commented that he is more attentive in class and is handing in class work and homework on time.
His transformation has been amazing. Less than a year ago, his guidance counselor was trying to keep BJ from dropping out of school. Now he is committed heart and soul to a program of learning that will actually lengthen his school day and demand more of him as a student.
On Thursday, March 25, 2004, BJ was informed that due to proposed budget cuts, BOCES would not be offered to any students other than seniors who were already enrolled in BOCES. Needless to say, both BJ and his mother were devastated.
Thanks to a cooperative effort between school, family and student, a formula was developed that looked as if it would empower BJ to succeed in high school and graduate with a diploma. However, now that opportunity has been taken away from him. This young man and many other students like him need an alternative opportunity to excel in school. Eliminating this program opportunity buries a growing number of students in a hole of despair that will only feed their despair and possible failure.
What kind of message are we giving our children? What kind of double standard are we supporting? Every student in every school district should have equal opportunities to excel and move forward on a career path.
Is it not the purpose of public education to empower all students to become all that they can be? It would seem to me, as a teacher, that it is my continuous task to see to it that "no child is left behind," and to insure that all children have equal opportunities to grow, develop and become whatever they desire.
BOCES is probably among one of the best kept secrets in Suffolk County. It provides so many career path opportunities with a hands on approach to learning that truly empowers its' students to grow and develop into productive citizens.
These are difficult fiscal times. School budgets and spending need to be re-assessed. However, let's cut out the fat and special interests, whoever and whatever they are. Let's strengthen those programs and people that provide all of our children the opportunity to learn.
As parents, we need to be astute. School budgets are being developed. Don't be duped or fooled. Your schools belong to you. They are the most vital resource in our community.
Let's not take the voice and opportunity away from our children with special needs. Remember, they are our future leaders and peacemakers.