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Updated Twitter Chat Transcript Added

As founder of Social Work Helper, I have organized a live twitter chat to discuss the gun control debate with the University of Nebraska, University of Montevallo, Meredith College, and Harper College participating on February 19th, 2013 at 6:30PM EST and 5:30PM CST. We will be discussing proposed legislation and gun policy issues before our current Congress using the #hashtag SWUnited to facilitate the discussion. President Obama’s State of the Union address left a powerful impression on observers as he stated,”They Deserve A Vote” over and over as he called the names of those affected by gun violence in the audience.

Under Speaker John Boehner, proposed legislation has not been allowed onto the House floor for debate without having majority Republican approval, as a result, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has refused to bring legislation to the Senate floor that has no chance of passing in the House. Many believe the proposed gun control legislation and assault weapons ban will never make it to the senate floor for an up or down vote.

However, President Obama made a strong case during the State of the Union on behalf of the victims and their families by stating at minimum they deserve a vote by their elected officials. This live twitter event is a collaborative effort between three undergraduate social work professors in order demonstrate how technology can be utilized to enhance policy analysis, macro understanding, and online advocacy.

Meredith College

The event will be moderated live at Meredith College by Professor Deona Hooper, MSW using @swhelpercom. All majors are welcome to attend the live event with the host class, Social Welfare Policy SWK 330 starting at 6:00PM at Ledford Hall Room 206.  Please feel free to contact me via email at hooperde@meredith.edu with any questions. For more information on how to participate in a live twitter chat, please view chat instructions. Also, I recommend using Twubs.com to participate in the chat. Twubs allows you to login with your twitter account, enter the SWunited hashtag, and you are ready to tweet. Twubs will insert the hashtag into each tweet for you, so you won’t have to. I hope to see you at the event.

Meredith’s commitment to academic excellence is reflected in its strong rankings. Meredith ranks 3rd among colleges in the South and 9th for “Best Value” among colleges in the South by U.S. News & World Report. It has also been named one of the “Best Colleges in the Southeast” according to Princeton Review. Meredith students are mentored by committed professors, with an average undergraduate class size of 17 and graduate class size of 18. Experiential learning is an essential component of a Meredith education—97% of undergraduate students participate in internships, undergraduate research or another kind of hands-on learning. For more information, please visit: http://www.meredith.edu/socwork/

SWK 330-Social Welfare Policy: Course content provides students with knowledge and skills to understand major policies that form the foundation of social welfare; analyze organizational, local, state, national, and international issues in social welfare policy and social service delivery; analyze and apply the results of policy research relevant to social service delivery; understand and demonstrate policy practice skills in regard to economic, political and organizational systems, and use these to influence, formulate and advocate for policy consistent with social work values. Read More

University of Montevallo

Professor Laurel Iverson Hitchcock, PhD, MPH, LCSW, PIP from the University of Montevallo helped to facilitate this multi-university event. She can be reached by email at lhitchcock@montevallo.edu, Facebook: University of Montevallo Social Work Program, or by Twitter: @laurelhitchcock and @MontevalloSWK.

The University of Montevallo is a public liberal arts college located in central Alabama with an enrollment of 3500 undergraduate and graduate students. Montevallo’s Social Work Program is first formal social work education program in the State of Alabama, starting in 1926, and one of the oldest programs in the Southeast.  The mission of our Social Work Program is to provide a professional education for beginning level generalist practice with emphasis on the poor, vulnerable, and underserved.  We have four full-time faculty and approximately 100 BSW students.  For more information, please visit our website at: http://www.montevallo.edu/bss/SWK/default.shtm or follow us on Twitter: @MontevalloSWK.

SWK 420 Social Work Practice with Small Groups, Communities and Organizations is a senior-level macro course for social work majors. The course emphasizes ecosystems theory and strengths perspectives to examine groups, communities, and organizations and gives students the opportunity to discuss and practice necessary skills for practice.  Dr. Laurel Hitchcock is the instructor and there are 12 students in the course this semester.  One of the practice skills emphasized in this course is the ability to be informed, resourceful, and proactive in responding to evolving organizational, community, and societal contexts at all levels of practice.  We are using Twitter as part of a class assignment to help students develop skills via social media tools. Read More

University of Nebraska 

Professor Jimmy Young, PhD, MSW, MPA is the other professor who also helped to facilitate this event, and he can be contacted via email at youngja2@unk.edu and on Twitter: jimmysw

The public, residential University of Nebraska at Kearney is an affordable, student-centered regional hub of intellectual, cultural and artistic excellence that has been a prominent part of Nebraska’s higher education landscape for more than a century. As one of the four campuses of the University of Nebraska, UNK is committed to providing an outstanding education in a small and personal setting for over 7,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The Department of Social Work at UNK is focused on preparing competent social work practitioners who are equipped with evidence-based generalist social work knowledge, skills, ethics and values to promote the dignity and well-being of all people within a diverse society.  The department currently has 4 full time faculty, 2 lecturers, and approximately 140 BSW students. More information about the UNK Department of Social Work can be found on the web http://www.unk.edu/socialwork/.

SOWK 410 Social Welfare Policy and Programs is a course that provides an overview of the history of social welfare policy in the United States. Social welfare policy refers to all organized efforts by governmental and voluntary institutions aimed at the preventing, reducing, and problem-solving social problems, as well as promoting the well-being of all citizens.  Students also explore ways to conduct effective social welfare policy analysis and engage in policy advocacy.  Dr. Jimmy Young is the instructor for this course, which has been enhanced by each student receiving an iPad Mini to augment their learning. Students are using the iPads and social media like Twitter to help develop critical thinking and research skills related to policy analysis as well as how to use digital technology for policy advocacy. Read More

Additional Schools Participating

Professor Ellen Belluomini and her class at Harper College in Palatine, IL will also be participating. She can be contacted at ebelluom@harpercollege.edu and her twitter account is @ebelluomini.

Harper College is a comprehensive community college dedicated to providing excellent education at an affordable cost, promoting personal growth, enriching the local community and meeting the challenges of a global society. Harper College is one of the largest community colleges in the country. The Career and Technical Programs Division of Harper College offers an associate in applied science degree in Human Services. The program provides both the academic and experience credentials necessary to qualify students for work in the human services field. The coursework is taught by dynamic instructors with demonstrated expertise in the fields of human services, social work, clinical practice, and management. The human services experience inside and outside the classroom includes opportunities for education, practice, service learning, interactions with community resources and ongoing application of the roles and responsibilities of a successful human service professional.  http://goforward.harpercollege.edu/

HMS 211 Human Services Crisis Intervention class.Introduces techniques for beginning crisis counseling, including recognition of crisis, assessment of crises, and referral to the appropriate crisis agency.  Special attention will be given to the process of intervention and to the recording of information regarding problems with alcohol and other drugs.  Participants will implement a variety of crisis skills through an experiential format.

View Archived Twitter Chat:

http://storify.com/SWUnited/multi-university-live-twitter-chat-on-gun-preventi

Deona Hooper, MSW is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Social Work Helper, and she has experience in nonprofit communications, tech development and social media consulting. Deona has a Masters in Social Work with a concentration in Management and Community Practice as well as a Certificate in Nonprofit Management both from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

          
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Education

Teaching Self-Advocacy at Home Pt. II

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In part I, we discussed how parents can introduce the concept of self-advocacy with the use of sentence frames, conversation pointers, and self-reflection. Once children begin to understand their needs at home and school, self-advocating becomes much easier.

Self-advocacy is all about speaking up. 

Listening is also a primary part of getting the information that you need. Therefore, when instructing children on how to voice their needs, parents should be sure to stress the fact that listening is a key component of self-advocacy. Whenever children ask a question, voice a concern, or seek a response, they must be prepared to listen and absorb the information that they receive. Parents can discuss how eye contact allows other people to recognize that they have your attention.

Additionally, body position and nodding are obvious cues that you are engaged and listening. All of these practices demonstrate active listening skills and help children fully absorb or comprehend the response or information that they are getting. When children ask a question, they should be able to paraphrase the response and formulate a follow-up or clarifying question if necessary. This demonstrates whether or not they were actively listening.

As young learners, children are just beginning to understand themselves as students, which means that their learning needs are somewhat unknown to them. Parents can ask questions like, “What are you good at?” “What do you often need help doing?” “How do you feel that you learn best?” and “When do you think that learning is the most difficult?” Answers to these questions will vary and change as children develop skills for managing their academic progress, but the ability to self-reflect is an essential component of self-advocacy.

Again, practicing sentence frames and hypothetical scenarios can help put children at ease when it comes time for them to advocate for themselves when their parents are not there to speak for them. Remind children that they can and should ask questions when they are confused about something, especially at school.

Parents can also coach children on how to ask direct and specific questions. As opposed to, “Is this good?” or “Is this right?” Children should practice zoning in on concepts that are true roadblocks. In narrowing in on the specific question or need, children will obtain a more specific and helpful response.

Parents should encourage children to vocalize their confusion, stress, worries, or desire for help readily. The whole purpose of school is to seek and gain knowledge and experiences that propel them forward. In this sense, the more children ask, the more they will know.

Explain to them that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. For exceptionally shy children, encourage them to speak to the teacher or adult off to the side or one-on-one, instead of in front of the whole class. This will ease them into the concept of self-advocacy by removing the peer attention and anxiety that speaking up in a full classroom may bring.

For children with IEP or 504 accommodations, parents should be especially clear with children about requesting their accommodations and supplementary aides. Of course, this comes with practice and familiarity with their own educational plan, however, children with specific learning needs benefit greatly from their ability to take an active role in vocalizing these needs.

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Building Abroad: Local Teen’s Passion Impacts Young Minds in Jamaica

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Rafe Cochran and his parents, Diahann and Jay Cochran, stand in front of the new Runaway Bay All-Age School he built through Food For The Poor in St. Ann, Jamaica. Rafe dedicated the school to his parents and grandparents, Susan P. Cochran and Mr. and Mrs. Romero, during the inauguration ceremony on Aug. 31, 2018. This is the second school the teen has built in Jamaica, thanks to the Annual Rafe Cochran Golf Classic fundraiser.
(Photo/Food For The Poor)

Thirteen-year-old Rafe Cochran of Palm Beach, Fla., returned to school this week as an eighth-grader at Palm Beach Day Academy after opening his second school built in Jamaica through Food For The Poor.

The new Runaway Bay All-Age School in St. Ann has six classrooms, an office for staff, and bathrooms with sanitation to provide more than 400 students a secure building as they returned to school this week. Dozens of parents, teachers, students, and community leaders gathered to meet and thank the young man who made their dream of a new school building a reality during the Aug. 31 ceremony.

“To give the gift of a second school in Jamaica is an honor and truly feels rewarding,” Rafe said. “The gift of education is so important to me because I feel education empowers one’s life. I also feel proud to have the doors of the Runaway Bay All-Age School of Determination open. It is a wonderful feeling knowing I have been a part of enriching other children’s lives.”

Runaway Bay was made possible by the Third Annual Rafe Cochran Golf Classic. Dozens of local golfers teed up for the charity tournament in April at the Mayacoo Lakes Country Club in West Palm Beach. Rafe began golfing at the age of 6, at age 9 he became one of Food For The Poor’s youngest donors, and at age 11 he hosted his first golf tournament using his talents to raise money to build homes in Haiti and schools in Jamaica.

“How many people can say that they have built 10 homes and two schools in two different countries by time they were 13 years old?” Food For The Poor President/CEO Robin Mahfood said. “Rafe’s philanthropic efforts are astounding and Food For The Poor is deeply appreciative of his generosity. Ten Haitian families now have safe and secure homes, and schoolchildren for generations to come will benefit from the two schools in Jamaica. We also want to salute Rafe’s parents for instilling these priceless values in their young son and for their support.”

The school’s principal, Lambert Pearson, and staff also expressed tremendous gratitude to Rafe, his parents and to Food For The Poor for coming to their aid after they had waited more than a decade for a new school, which will accommodate kindergarten to sixth grade. Pearson opened up his speech at the inauguration by singing.

“Thank you, thank you for all you have done… today my wait is over,” Pearson sang.

While in Jamaica, Rafe and his parents, Jay and Diahann Cochran, visited the first school. The family was happy to see Chester Primary and Infant School, also located in St. Ann, is well- maintained, the students are excelling, and that the school population has grown. The Cochrans helped to paint the exterior walls of Runaway Bay a cheery yellow, along with a calming blue and a bold red.

“Rafe has impressed his whole family and shown us all the deep compassion he has for others,” Jay Cochran said. “We believe that Rafe’s ability to look beyond himself and to help the less fortunate will undoubtedly influence the younger generations. Rafe is a remarkable young man –we can’t wait to see what he will accomplish in the future and the people he will touch with his generosity and compassion.”

In addition to donating hundreds of backpacks and school supplies for staff and students, the Cochrans wanted the new school to have a system in place to capture rainwater.

Rafe also did something that he hopes will motivate current and future students of Runaway Bay All-Age School.

“I gave each classroom in the new school a special name that really represents traits that one should aspire to have,” Rafe said. “I chose the Room of Motivation, the Room of Integrity, the Room of Compassion, the Room of Kindness, the Room of Endurance, the Room of Confidence, and the Room of Respect. I feel each word gives a person character and to have good character means you have traits that make you honest and admirable.”

As Rafe embraces the start of the new school year, he’s already entertaining the thought of future projects and the possibility of another school.

“I will continue helping one person, one family, and one school at a time in order to make a difference,” said Rafe. “I always say, you’re never too young to take action and make a difference!”

To learn more about Rafe’s Food For The Poor projects visit: www.FoodForThePoor.org/rafe

In addition to raising the funds to build his second school through Food For The Poor, Rafe Cochran, 13, also distributed backpacks and school supplies to students at the inauguration ceremony of Runaway Bay All-Age School in St. Ann, Jamaica, on Aug. 31, as his father Jay Cochran looked on. (Photo/Food For The Poor)

Dozens of parents, teachers, students and community leaders attended the Aug. 31, inauguration ceremony of the new Runaway Bay All-Age School in St. Ann, Jamaica. The six-classroom school was built by Rafe Cochran, 13, of Palm Beach, Fla., through Food For The Poor in Jamaica. This is the second school the teen has built in Jamaica, thanks to the Annual Rafe Cochran Golf Classic fundraiser. (Photo/Food For The Poor)

In addition to raising funds to build his second school through Food For The Poor, Rafe Cochran,13, also distributed back packs and school supplies to students at the inauguration ceremony of Runaway Bay All-Age School in St. Ann, Jamaica, on Aug. 31.
(Photo/Food For The Poor)

While in Jamaica for the inauguration of Runaway Bay All-Age School, Rafe Cochran and his parents visited Chester Primary and Infant School, which is the first school Rafe built through Food For The Poor in St. Ann. Rafe took time to read to the younger students who are reportedly excelling as the student population continues to grow. (Photo/Food For The Poor)

Before the Aug. 31, inauguration ceremony of the new Runaway Bay All-Age School in St. Ann, Jamaica, which Rafe Cochran built through Food For The Poor, his mother Diahann Cochran helped paint the foundation of the school a bold shade of red. This is the second school the teen has built in Jamaica, thanks to the Annual Rafe Cochran Golf Classic fundraiser. (Photo/Food For The Poor)

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Link Between Divorce and Graduate Education a Concern as More Jobs Require Advanced Degree

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Children of divorce are less likely to earn a four-year or graduate degree, according to new research from Iowa State University.

The study, published in the Journal of Family Issues, is one of the first to look specifically at divorce and graduate education. Susan Stewart, professor of sociology, says it is important to understand this relationship as more jobs require a graduate or professional degree.

Stewart and co-authors Cassandra Dorius, assistant professor of human development and family studies; and Camron Devor, lead author and Iowa State alumna, found 27 percent of children with divorced parents had a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 50 percent of those with married parents. The split was 12 percent versus 20 percent for those who had or were working toward a graduate or professional degree.

The researchers analyzed 15 years of data collected through the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997. The survey followed thousands of youth as they transition from school to work in young adulthood. The last round of data used for this study was collected when youth were 26 to 32 years old.

The data allowed researchers to look at the influence of human (parental education and income) and social (parental social and emotional investment in children) capital. They found married parents were more educated than divorced parents, and there was a significant difference in income. Nearly half of the children with married parents were in the high income category (greater than $246,500/year) compared to 29 percent of children of divorced parents.

“After divorce, for both men and women, incomes take a hit. It takes much longer for that income to recover and for women especially, it never does,” Stewart said. “You are essentially starting over and much of the income that would have gone to a child’s education is sucked up with all the transitions that are part of divorce.”

Time for change?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs requiring a master’s degree are expected to grow by nearly 17 percent between 2016 and 2026. This includes careers ranging from mental health counselors to librarians to elementary and secondary school administrators. Devor, who earned a master’s degree in sociology in 2014, says she wouldn’t have her job as a finance coordinator had she not gone to graduate school.

However, the findings were somewhat surprising to Devor based on her experience at Iowa State. She says several of her classmates in graduate school were children of divorce. Recognizing that this is not always the norm, Devor would like to see the research signal a change.

“This could affect divorce proceedings for child support and the amount that is factored in for college,” Devor said. “In most divorce proceedings, child support cuts off at 18. Just because a child turns 18, that does not mean they still do not need help financially from their family.”

Child’s age matters, to a degree

Children who were still at home or under age 18 when their parents divorced did not fare as well as children who were 18 and older. The research found the odds of those younger children earning a bachelor’s degree were 35 percent lower. However, there was no relationship between the child’s age at the time of divorce and the likelihood of getting a graduate or professional degree.

The researchers also found parents had similar educational expectations for their children, regardless of whether they were divorced or married. Parental expectations were positively associated with children earning a master’s degree. Dorius says children of divorce may feel less entitled to a college degree, so it should help them to know their parents have high educational aspirations for them. However, that encouragement is not enough to offset the relationship between divorce and graduate education.

“This suggests that parental divorce continues to have an effect on children’s graduate school success even after accounting for the encouragement parents give to their children,” Dorius said. “It’s important for future research to look at other inadequacies in social capital that may affect long-term educational success for these children.”

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Helping Your Kid Transition Back to School

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As we help our sons and daughters get ready to return to school, let’s reflect on our own readiness to promote our kids’ best emotional development during the school year. Consider these dimensions:

Responsibility:

Resist the urge to become the homework police. Let them take responsibility for homework; let them approach it in their own way. Assignments might not get done as well as we’d like, but limiting ourselves to only a simple reminder allows children to build a sense of personal agency. Beyond that rests between them and their teachers (see June 2014).

Brain development:

Neuroscience has revealed the centrality of adequate sleep in consolidating the day’s learning — athletic and academic — especially the night before a performance or important test (see Sept/Oct 2014). And be alert to the risks of bright screens before bedtime (see June 2018).

Resilience:

It builds each time kids encounter and survive moments of ordinary childhood adversity. Rarely rescue by delivering their lunch or the schoolwork they left behind that morning; they’ll survive. And rarely fight their battles for them with classmates or teachers — just offer empathy and a strong vote of confidence that they will find ways to work things out (see November 2011).

Self-esteem I:

It develops in part when they do for themselves all that they’re capable of doing, rather than depending on us to find their sweater, solve their math problems or tidy up after their snack. Insist they get themselves out of bed on school mornings, dress and gather their belongings, and leave the house on time (or face the school’s consequences if they show up late).

Self-esteem II:

Feeling authentically worthy develops through being loved and validated for qualities of good character and simply for being a valued part of our lives, not for earning certain grades or demonstrating athletic prowess. Show delight just to greet the kids at the end of the school day, without racing to ask, How was the test? (See The New Self-Esteem).

Humility:

Help them understand that they aren’t the center of the universe, that their individual wants and needs (like homework, practice or a friend’s slumber party) cannot always trump the needs of others (like family dinner time, a sibling’s piano recital or grandma’s birthday party). Our kids do well to learn that they’re no better or no less than any of their classmates…and that respectful behavior toward their teachers must be unwavering.

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What Schools Can Do To Reduce Risky Behaviors and Suicides Among Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Youth

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A high school English teacher in New Mexico told me about one of his students who had difficulty focusing in class. When the teacher showed concern, the student confided in him that her parents had kicked her sister out of the house after they found out she was dating a girl. The teacher tried his best to console the student and referred her to the school counselors for help.

The next year, the same girl sought his support when her parents took similar punitive measures against her because she, too, came out as a lesbian. This time he spoke openly with her, explaining that she had to keep her spirits up; that no matter what happened, she had to be true to herself. In concluding the story for me, the teacher explained that he knows the school needs to be a safe place in a community that may not accept his student. But even though he strives to create a safe environment, he does not think all staff people or students at the school are equally accepting.

At another high school, I heard something quite different. When asked about the experience of lesbian, gay, and bisexual students, an administrator responded – simply and implausibly – “We don’t have any of those kids at this school.”

Such accounts from teachers, administrators, nurses, and counselors illustrate the importance of schools and school staff for students struggling with their sexual orientation in a world that does not always support or even acknowledge their existence. Paradoxically, schools are often the only places lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth may find marginally more accepting than the surrounding community – and of course schools may not be more accepting. The everyday traumas experienced by these youth, especially when they find themselves in schools that ignore their needs, can put lesbian, gay, and bisexual students at increased risk for depression, substance misuse, and suicide.

Research Links Suicide to Sexuality

According to the Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than two-fifths of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth have seriously contemplated suicide. These young people are three times more likely to think about taking their own lives than their straight peers and four times more likely to actually plan and attempt suicide.

In addition to risk of suicide, lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are twice as likely to be bullied or threatened with a weapon on campus and three times more likely to miss school because they feel unsafe. Risk behaviors that could result in negative health outcomes are also prevalent at a higher rate among lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth. For example, such young people have higher rates of smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, misusing prescription medicines, and using dangerous drugs including cocaine and heroin.

These statistics underline serious threats to many American young people. What can be done? The Center for Disease Control has identified several evidence-based ways to reduce the risk of suicide and risk behaviors among lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth – by creating safer and more supportive school environments. So far, however, these strategies have not been fully or consistently implemented, and they are only rarely combined to create an optimum response.

How Schools Can Help

Schools are a critical point of intervention because they are the places where students spend most of their waking hours. When it comes to reducing risky or suicidal behaviors, schools are second in importance only to families. School nurses and counselors also often provide the first line of response to student medical or behavioral health issues. In rural settings where resources can be scarce, the school or school-based health center may be the main place students can find support or help. Based on available evidence, the Center for Disease Control has defined several strategies that can be adopted and combined to ensure that all American young people are supported and protected, regardless of their sexual orientation. According to these recommendations, schools can take the following steps – and, to date, only eight percent of schools do all.

  • Create “safe spaces” like a designated classroom, office, or student organization where students can receive support from school staff or other students. Only about 60% of schools currently have such spaces available.
  • Prohibit bullying and harassment based on sexual orientation or gender expression. Most schools report having such policies in place, but a fraction of them do not.
  • Facilitate access to medical health and behavioral health providers with experience serving lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth. Fewer than half of US. high schools facilitate such access.
  • Promote professional lessons on how staff can create safe and supportive school environments. Less than 60% of high schools provide this type of support to their faculty.
  • Deliver health education that includes information relevant to lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth. Only one-fourth of U.S. schools do this.

These strategies are an important way to address the needs of not only lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth, but may also help transgender and gender non-conforming students as well. Unfortunately, research on these subgroups and programs to help them remains to be done. An important recent development is the inclusion a gender identity question in the 2017 Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey.

Recognizing the existence of sexual and gender minorities in America’s schools and gathering large-scale data about their experiences can provide a clearer picture of the challenges various groups of students face – and, in turn, allow improved responses to their needs. By creating safer and more supportive school environments, we can reduce dangerous behaviors, eliminate many suicides, and improve academic and health outcomes, not only for sexual and gender minority youth, but also for all other students in our schools. Problems and tragedies that affect some students reverberate among many – and undermine America’s future.

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Education

Teachers Aren’t Receiving the Support They Need, but You Can Help

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Better school funding, better pay, and better benefits, these are a few of the demands fueling teachers’ recent strikes and walkouts across the U.S., including those in Arizona, Kentucky, Colorado, West Virginia, and Oklahoma. In the wake of the action, these states have taken the first steps to improve school funding.

However, many would argue that we still have a long way to go before we can honestly say that teachers are compensated fairly or that schools have the right supplies to provide a proper education and a healthy learning environment.

We have a lot of work to do, and speaking up is just the beginning. Education is one of the rare issues in which we can make a profound difference on a local level. Along with choosing to participate in strikes or attend walkouts, consider these five ways you can support teachers, both locally and nationwide:

1. Support teachers and schools financially.

There is a significant disparity in the amount of funding that each school receives, which creates a huge quality gap. According to our “Classroom Trends” report, teachers spend an average of $381 of their own money on classroom supplies each year. The problem is worse in regions with lower educational funding, where teachers are forced to spend a yearly average of nearly $500 on classroom supplies. That expense is deducted from a salary that’s already low compared to other professions with similar levels of education and experience.

By donating books, school supplies, or money, you can help offset that high out-of-pocket cost. Check out DonorsChoose, an organization that makes it easy to fund projects at specific schools. To take a more hands-on approach, you can visit schools near you, learn about their needs, and then hold a fundraiser to address those needs.

If you’re unable to make in-kind donations, consider offering gift cards from your business or place of work. You can also offer exclusive teacher appreciation discounts to show your support. Because teachers are spending a lot out of pocket, anything you can do to lessen that burden helps. For example, at Staples, teachers can earn rewards for classroom purchases and up to 10 percent cash back.

If you simply cannot afford to make a financial donation, consider shopping from businesses that support teachers. There are several companies with a dedication to education, even if their industry does not directly correlate. For example, WeAreTeachers recently partnered with Kinsa, a smart thermometer company, to give away 15,000 thermometers. While thermometers aren’t traditionally considered school supplies and are, therefore, excluded from lists, they are essential for stopping the flu and other viruses from spreading throughout schools.

2. Take the time to fully understand education issues.

Regardless of your political preference, it’s important to understand both local and national education issues. Doing research on the issues facing your community is your civic duty, regardless of whether you are a parent or whether you work directly for a school district, because a poorly educated generation will eventually result in a poorly educated population.

Visit sites like Chalkbeat and Education Week to learn about region-specific concerns and local events. There are also local Facebook groups you can participate in to discuss education issues and learn about the schools in your area. If you want to educate yourself on national issues, try consulting larger organizations like the PTA.

It’s fitting that the key to a better education system is learning. Simply being knowledgeable about the issues can inspire progress and keep the education system at the top of our minds, both in local communities and on a larger scale.

3. Create free curriculum resources.

Teachers are often looking for resources to bring into their classrooms. Some companies and organizations dedicate an entire section of their websites to providing educational materials to teachers, like this one by NASA. If you’re in a position to do so, consider developing, sharing, or distributing free materials that could fill a gap at a local or national level.

For example, we know that teachers are often looking for financial literacy resources to help their students understand money skills. At MDR, we’ve worked with the charitable arms at financial corporations to develop free lessons that meet that need for teachers. Through partnerships like this, we can all come together to educate the next generation.

4. Lead by example.

The media’s coverage of education issues tends to be negative, sometimes even blaming teachers for issues they have little or no control over. But sharing your support of educators via social media, on your website, or in everyday conversations can counteract that negativity.

Of course, pairing action with verbal support is the best way to advocate for teachers, but don’t underestimate the powerful effect of words on their own. For example, you might post on social media about local teachers’ classroom projects or even mention your favorite classroom project to your friends at trivia night.

5. Volunteer at a school.

Perhaps the most valuable investment you can make is your time. Volunteering can not only provide much-needed help in our nation’s schools, but it can also help you understand some of the issues teachers face firsthand. Consider bringing your friends along, too, and empower people in your community to advocate for changes in our education system.

If you still need more convincing, take a look at this study from United Healthcare that reports the ways volunteering positively affects mental and physical health. Simply put, helping others also helps you. Confused about where to start? Check out organizations like Reading Partners that have a plethora of volunteer opportunities for anyone looking to get involved.

Most importantly, even though it’s highly politicized in today’s headlines, remember that education is essential to our nation at the most basic level. We are educating the people who will eventually run our country, our businesses, and our communities. We have to care. We have to help where we can. Otherwise, we’re setting ourselves up for even bigger problems in the future.

 

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