By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, Ph.D.
The Truth Contributor
A mind is a terrible thing to waste.
– United Negro College Fund Motto
The recent shooting death of young 10-year-old Damia Ezell and the slaying of five other Toledo Public Schools students in the past year is an unfathomable tragedy. The children’s deaths are the source of profound grief in the community and reveal how trauma defines the lives and education of urban students.
Too many Black students regularly hear gunshots, have witnessed a shooting, or know someone who was shot or killed by gun violence, and the consequences are alarming. The trauma of exposure to gun violence negatively impacts students’ emotional or mental health and affects their school performance.
According to Everytown Research and Policy, these students often resort to aggressive and violent behavior, engage in criminal activity and find it more challenging to succeed in school.
So, on the heels of the COVID-19 epidemic, which left an entire generation of Black kids isolated, alienated, and depressed, you can add the continuing trauma of fear and anxiety due to gun violence.
Yet, the sad consequences of gun violence and student trauma go far beyond the students themselves and affect the entire school district.
Teachers are leaving TPS and other urban districts throughout the United States in record numbers. No one, it seems, wants to teach anymore. Even fewer people want to teach in public schools despite the Toledo Public Schools board raising teacher salaries significantly a couple of years ago.
At the same time, education departments in universities across the country are experiencing declining enrollments as aspiring educators are choosing other professions. This situation hits urban schools hard as fewer than 10 percent of public-school teachers today are Black when cultural competence is an indispensable teaching requirement.
In addition to the soaring rates of mental health challenges among students, conservative politicians’ policing of educational content, choosing what teachers can or cannot teach, is also driving away teachers.
COVID, poor working conditions, excessive workload (paperwork, class size), and burnout have also led to the current teacher shortage.
So, in addition to addressing the impact of student trauma on student achievement, school districts must develop effective teacher retention strategies.
Several solutions are being discussed.
Some have recommended allowing parents to become substitute teachers of their own and others’ children. This policy was the core strategy begun under Head Start and made the program extremely successful.
Others suggest that private sector firms loan employees to the school district for a period of time while returning to their private-sector jobs after their teaching stint has ended.
However, a more popular strategy is that of a partnership between local government and TPS. Under this scenario, the City of Toledo, Lucas County or both would provide employees paid leave for a few days per month to become substitute teachers to close the teacher deficit.
Nevertheless, the post-traumatic experience of urban students will forever change the current public education model.
Parents and students must now look outside their schools to ensure the best possible education given the realities of urban life and our nation’s abiding racial inequities. Therefore, TPS must provide ways to promote the mental health of their students. In addition, Toledo and Lucas County must heavily invest in effective youth-centered community programs such as mentoring and other interventions that improve academic and social-emotional learning.
Finally, parents and churches must, themselves, fill the learning void being created by the so-called CRT controversy. Children cannot be stopped from learning about “the strength, strategy, and organization of the Civil Rights, Black Power, Black Panther, or Black Lives Matter Movements,” even if not part of the school curriculum. Neither can parental lectures or pastoral sermons be prohibited from teaching about the contributions of Black Americans or the trauma of our nation’s long and conflicted history of race, class and space.
Failure to address the impact of student trauma on student achievement and develop effective teacher retention strategies will rob our children of promising opportunities and brilliant possibilities. Because a mind is a terrible thing to waste.
Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, PhD, at firstname.lastname@example.org