Dear Families,

How amazing that in the blink of an eye the first month of school is already over! The school’s focus on place-based education, the educational approach that uses local history, culture, environment and circumstances as a curriculum source, is thriving. Already this year students have gone to Laurelhurst Park, Mt. Tabor, Balch Creek, the downtown Farmer’s Market, Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge, Tideman-Johnson Park, and Jean’s Farm, just to name a few.  Our students are lucky to be able to use our local community as a learning medium each and every day.

If you attended back-to-school night, you heard Rebecca and me say that one of our school-wide goals this year is equity of access for all students:  We are committed to looking at all of our practices through an “equity lens.” So while place-based explorations are elemental to bringing the natural world into our daily learning and we value the curricular and instructional practices that make us unique, our challenge is to ask ourselves each day, “Is there equitable access to this activity for each and every one of our students?”

When our equity team (Jeremy, Jan, Dian, Michael, Karen M., Rebecca and I) asked ourselves this very question about our place-based experiences, we realized that we needed to make some subtle changes in how we fundraise for our trips. Historically, we’ve asked individual families to pay for their students’ trips, and the PTSA has provided scholarships that cover half the cost of trips for students who qualify for free or reduced lunch. We’ve also allowed for both individual and grade-based fundraising to offset a student’s personal cost or to “buy down” the cost of the entire trip for a grade. Ask yourself now: Are these practices (individual and grade-specific buy downs) equitable for all students?

This was a relatively easy answer for our equity team, our staff at large, and our PTSA Board. We realized that individual and small-group fundraising–despite how it intrinsically motivates us–is inherently inequitable because personal circumstances either allow or deny students the ability to raise money this way.  Here is what we know: We can only have this amazing school if every student goes on every trip; even if a student qualifies for a scholarship, half of the 8th grade marine biology trip still costs $400 and that is a huge amount of money.

With those two pieces of knowledge in mind, we decided that we needed to shift some of our fundraising practices for day and overnight trips. Rather than families raising money for themselves or their class, we invite everyone to fundraise on behalf of our community at large. This year we have established a GO Fund through a combined PTSA/SES fiscal effort. Based on the premise that no child goes unless everyone goes, none of our fundraisers will be banked toward individual or grade-specific accounts[B1] . Instead, all fundraising targeted toward funding field trips (and we still hope there’s a LOT of it) will contribute to the GO Fund at large and ensure that all students attend all trips. Our equity lens reminds us that not every child has access to fundraising possibilities, but here at SES each child has access to a community that will come together to fundraise for the benefit of the whole.

At this point you might be wondering how this impacts you and your child. My answer is “hopefully not very much.” We still value place-based experiences and will still ask that families that are able, pay for their students’ trips. We will still have frequent fundraisers—some that will specifically target the GO fund, and others that will go into the PTSA budget to pay not only for scholarships, but other school-wide programs. But now, more than ever, I encourage you to participate in them. Our financial needs haven’t changed at all. We need an extraordinary amount of money each year to provide your kids with our current level of place-based experiences. What has changed is our philosophy and our language. Whether your child raises $6 or $600, the incentive is no longer based on individual gain. We ask you to teach your children that their school was founded on a spirit of service and we are now raising money for everyone. I hope that this is as much, or even more, of an incentive for you and your family to participate.

As for paying for trips: We encourage all families to contribute as much as you possibly can. That said, there will still be PTSA scholarships for families who qualify for free or reduced lunch.  In addition, by using the Go Fund, instead of strictly capping scholarships at 50%, Rebecca and I will work with families on a case-by-case basis to ensure that no one will be denied attendance on a trip. Please come see Amy or Rebecca if you would like to discuss this further.

This is a generous community, one that has already contributed over $30,000 this year alone to help supplement our program. While this is a big change for some families, I know that we can help each other to understand why this change is so important in providing equity of access for all students. For those of you who are interested in learning more about our equity work, the PPS parent academy is offering equity training for parents on Monday, November 14. For me, this equity work has been the most important learning of my adult life and has entirely changed the way I operate in the world. I strongly encourage you to attend.

Courageous Conversations About Race
In this workshop, participants discuss race and the impact of race on student success.
Monday, November 14, 6-8 p.m.
George Middle School, 10000 N Burr Ave.
Facilitator: Hanif Fazal, Step Up

Thanks to all of you for your commitment to this community. It takes an effort from all of us to educate each child.