Lily Holland teaches second grade in the Boston Public Schools. She wrote the following post as part of a coordinated event last week sponsored by the Massachusetts Teachers Association in which educators, parents and others took actions to show support for traditional public schools and opposition to expanding charter schools in the state. Dozens of communities, for example, passed resolutions opposing lifting the cap that now exists on charters as part of the dedicated week. Holland wrote the following piece to give voice to a group rarely heard from: second graders. A version of this appeared on the blog of Defending the Early Years, which seeks to rally educators to take action on policies that affect the education of young children. I have permission to republish.
By Lily Holland
I teach second grade. Yes, second graders are adorable but they are also keenly aware of the world around them. Their endless curiosity leads to a unique perspective on everything from the best Taylor Swift song to the worst food in the cafeteria.
For the last few weeks, I’ve been studying activism with my students. We’ve studied famous activists from history, learned about the variety of ways people take action and have had community activists and student leaders come speak in our classroom. After watching their families and teachers advocate for the budget and feeling inspired by the bravery of local high schoolers who led a walk out, my students decided they wanted to take action too.
We started by making a mural that showed what their dream school would be like if money was no object. Let me start by saying that when I was seven or eight and attending a fully funded public school in Winchester, MA, I would have dreamed of having over-the-top things like a swimming pool or something outrageous like a movie theater.
My students, attending a chronically underfunded school, instead requested things like pencils, markers, and glue sticks. One student asked me if he was allowed to simply say that his dream school would be “shiny and new.” Another student asked if it was too big to dream of a school where kids who felt sad could have a room with soft things and people to talk to.
Many students dreamed of a better playground and some asked for a class pet and field trips to far-away places. As they were working, a student came over to ask me if some schools have a whole library in them rather than just one in their classroom. When I said yes, he changed his mind from a swing set to a library.
So, please, stop telling me that our schools are fully funded or that our budget is as big as it can get because my second graders can show you that it’s not. I feel lucky to work in a school with a principal who fights like crazy to get my students what they deserve and knows that they deserve more than what we’re able to give them. But, at the end of the day, without a bigger budget, it’s out of her hands. At this point, it’s hard to not see this budget as a value judgment about the lives and futures of my students.
I think I’ve changed my mind. When I introduced this activity, I originally said I dreamed of a school with an outdoor garden that my students and I could use to grow healthy food. Now I think I dream of a school where 7-year-olds don’t have to just dream about the schools they deserve.