Another year is beginning, yet as consumed as I am with starting the annual adventure, I can’t stop thinking about the close of last year, and an enlightening moment that will remain with me for the rest of my career.
As the principal of a school in an affluent community, I am well aware of how fortunate our students are to begin their academic journey on such “greased skids.” The statistics don’t lie: students who come from academically focused and highly educated households will often replicate such success. But why? Experiences? Lifestyle? Money? Parental education?
At the end of my school’s elaborate and gorgeously formatted yearbook, is a section for sixth grade parents to submit a special tribute to their children. I always enjoy thumbing through these heartfelt postcards each year, and marvel at the many opportunities my students have to engage and develop outside of the walls of my school. Childhood pictures submitted by families almost always showcase students perched upon show horses, dismounting parallel bars, or playing a variety of sports, ranging from rugby to baseball. It’s a glimpse into the vibrant and opportunity filled life of many students from an affluent neighborhood, a childhood that is carefully and lovingly constructed by caring parents of means. It’s truly wonderful to see.
Often, however, I’ve caught myself lamenting the lack of such opportunities for my former students in a poverty neighborhood, and quickly categorize these special gateways to the world as “unattainable” for those not as fortunate.
Just another insurmountable contributing factor to the achievement gap, I would often argue. This time, however, I noticed something else.
One of the final tributes simply showcased a school picture of one of our best citizen-students. No hockey team. No vacation pictures to Paris. No frolicking family jaunt to Coronado Island with a seemingly loving and happy family. However, underneath the single stark picture of this wonderful student was a very basic message:
“Congratulations. We are so proud of you, have loved you since you were born, and always will. Never doubt that you are special to us.”
I don’t know if these parents have ever shown him the world, the rigors of sport, or even clarified their expectations for his future. But, I got the overwhelming sense that they have shown him love. And, as I relooked at each of the messages from the other parents, one thing emerged beyond the glitz, events, and sun-drenched vacations: this same clear message of caring and love.
It may take many forms, and even include a host of “shiny accessories”, but at the core, what students everywhere are entitled to is this same sense of importance, security, and expectation.
In other words, that they have value.
The lifestyle is only half of what many of these students get. They may get both, but they only really need one. Every child is entitled to such a foundation. No excuses.
You don’t need a credit card, 401K, or even an illustrious and lucrative career to communicate that you love your child. Because this, your most precious gift, is completely free.