Posts Tagged 'Head Start'

Playground Planes

Last month I subbed for a couple weeks at a Head Start site in Middletown, which is about ten miles southeast of Harrisburg. Middletown is where the “Harrisburg” airport is located, so plane-spotting was common on the playground. The children would shout “airplane! airplane!” and most of them would look mesmerized or run in the same direction as the plane.

As I watched this my mind tracked back to another playground–a concrete play area outside Tomorrow’s Youth Organization in Nablus. This playground didn’t have a jungle gym or swingset but the space to run around was in itself a blessing for the kids I worked with. (For more on that, see my post about Balata refugee camp.) At that playground we occasionally saw aircraft in the skies, but it wasn’t a sunny day treat. It was the sight of an Israeli jet, and the noise of it ripping through the sound barrier in a space where Palestinians are not allowed to fly anything but kites. The kids in my class did not jump or point; they just an observed another element of military occupation.

The connection between these two playground experiences is not a simple contrast of how bad things are in an Other place and how fortunate we are not to be born there. Like the children of Nablus, the kids I work with at Head Start face more struggles than any 4-year-old (or 40-year-old) should. The point  is that after living in Palestine, the signifiers of every daily life are different.

This always happens when returning from another culture: you connect half or more of the things you think about to the place you just were. It’s easy to become the annoying person who talks about Germany or India or Russia too much. But when the connections are not just to another culture but to a level of human experience (living in a conflict zone) that most people around you can’t relate to, it’s hard to say anything.

Take-off 2

Nabulsi boys launching a homemade kite into the sky. April 2010.

Friday 5: Legislative Scissors

“Cut” may be the most common verb in newspapers in the past year. Pennsylvania’s legislators have especially loved their scissors and knives when it comes to education funding.  Governor Corbett announced his proposed budget for 2012-13 last month. “With this budget, every gain in school funding enacted by the General Assembly over the past decade will be wiped out over the course of two years,” says the PA Budget and Policy Center. This week’s Friday 5 is about education funding at various levels in Pennsylvania.
  1. K-12 education. Overall public school funding would be cut by $78 million. That’s on top of the $1 billion cut Corbett took from K-12 schools last year. The Department of Corrections, meanwhile was one of few areas to receive increased funding (10% or $1.73 million) last year. Quite a statement of values and priorities.
  2. Higher education. The deepest cuts have been to colleges: 20% reduction in funding for state universities (e.g. Millersville, Bloomsburg, Shippensburg), 28-30% reductions for Temple, Pitt, and Penn State. The governor would also reduce funding for PHEAA, the agency that offers financial aid to students.
  3. Mid-year freezes. Cuts don’t just happen when the budget is planned. Last month I got a message in my Head Start email that there had been a mid-year freeze in state funding. The result here is that the program had to close a classroom and add those students to other classrooms, most of which were already full.
  4. Cyber charters. It’d be easy to demonize Corbett on party lines, but the underfunding of education in PA is not something that would simply go away if a Democrat were in the governor’s office. It’s part of a larger, national push to make education a market commodity instead of a human right. Online charters school, for example, are making million-dollar profits in this time of austerity. Cyber charters bill school districts for each student that comes out of regular schools and into the charter. PA Cyber Charter, the largest online school in the state has made $45 million in profits since 2004.
  5. Students demand better. High school students from across PA are building a network of organizations to fight for equitable school funding for all students. Read and watch their powerful stories in the recent article and video Mitch and I did for PA from Below.
Show some love to public education

High school students from four PA cities converged in the Capitol Rotunda on Valentine's Day, telling Corbett to "show some love for public education." February 2012

Preschools from Palestine to Pennsylvania

Watching pint-sized preschoolers at play, I think about how I’d never have expected to work with kids this young if you asked me a few years ago. When I went to Palestine, most youth work I’d done had been with teenagers. I approached the art class I taught at Tomorrow’s Youth Organization with a healthy dose of fear amidst my excitement. Though my students were ages 8 to 13, the core program at TYO is a preschool. It was there that I first got exposed to the importance of early childhood education and the value of school-readiness programs for children who don’t have other learning opportunities.

In fact, the similarities between Head Start and TYO were among the chief reasons I applied for this job. As a substitute, my training sessions are sporadic, but when I’m in them the kids in Nablus are frequently in my mind. What is the difference between training in human services in Harrisburg and orientation to childhood development in Palestine? Both are holistic—discussing how to consider home life and family circumstances in students’ behavior and development, yet doing so in Palestine is inescapably political. You can’t know why a child regularly wets the bed, for example, without learning that Israeli soldiers have entered their home at night and blasted through the walls to arrest a neighbor.

In human services in Pennsylvania, we may look at the context for what we see at work—like when an infant arrives at daycare with only socks and no shoes, despite the fact that his parents know he will be expected to go outside for an hour each day—but we don’t necessarily talk about how that context is at its root a political problem. Some families can’t provide the basics for their kids not because the parents are any less capable, but because our society is set up so that some people are born into poverty. People who weren’t born into poverty can also end up there through what we blindly call “tough luck.” Either way, the possibility to get out of such circumstances is restricted by unequal access to education, family resources, unavailability of jobs, and so on.

The way we identify problems determines how we strategize for solving them. Programs like Head Start are important to improving individuals’ lives, but we must also understand and address the political dimensions of poverty in order to change it on a larger scale.

Mohammed in Action

Mohammed, an 8-year-old in my TYO class. Spring 2010.

Kid Quips

4-year-old: Miss Kara how you spell your name?

Me: K-A-R-A

4-year-old: How you spell your boyfriend’s name?

Me: My boyfriend? How you know I got a boyfriend?

Another 4-year-old: ‘Cuz we do our research.


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