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Dial down the dollars, try positive reinforcement
by Jessica Garcia
Mar 01, 2010 | 1085 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The good news this week: The Nevada Legislature managed to keep school districts from having to chop 10 – or worse, 22 – percent from already lean budgets. I think most would agree 6.9 percent in reductions is a more favorable number, though it will still present its challenges to Washoe County School District administrators.

The reality: It’s a hard call as to whether more money could really save a school district. Of course, more money means attracting a higher caliber of teacher and better textbooks. Students could enjoy more diverse programs.  Teachers could travel to national conferences to better equip themselves with knowledge and improve their styles in continuous education.

But is more money simply the solution to quashing the number of dropouts and improving graduation rate?

On Monday, President Barack Obama announced a plan to raise the bar for America’s lowest performing schools. The Associated Press reported 70 percent of entering freshman actually end up graduating. That is a pitiful statistic and even more so in Washoe County where 56 percent of students actually receive their diplomas. Considering all the uncultivated ­– or maybe just purely unmotivated – talent stored inside all the nation’s youth, more dollars can’t be the end-all solution to improving the quality of education.

Maybe I’m a cynic because I made my own way as a student and decided I was good enough to create a better future for myself. Maybe I’m skeptical because I believe if you want something enough and work hard enough at it, you can get what you want – or maybe I just realized at a young age that my education was not, in fact, free and that I didn’t want to let down my parents or my community by wasting their tax dollars.

Of course, the fact that I talked my parents into letting me take three Advanced Placement tests at $75 a pop spurred me on even more since my parents dished out the cash for all those tests, only one of which I ended up passing. Let’s just say my Spanish speaking ability no es bueno, even now that I’m married to a Latino.

Either way, one thing that is sorely needed to help students fulfill their potential is the encouragement that they’re worth something and to let them be free to explore their paths. Had it not been for that one English teacher who consistently worked with me to improve my writing, I wouldn’t be here today in front of a laptop opining on the value of education and advocating, in my own small way, for the need to keep a strong staff of knowledgeable, passionate teachers who want their kids to succeed. Adults like April Wilson from Valley View High School, my alma mater in Moreno Valley, Calif. and Jennifer Greer, my former thesis adviser from the University of Nevada, Reno and my parents always made it known that they believed I had talent.

I wonder these days how many youth get receive that same support, that they’re told they’re smart and capable?

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve met some inspiring teens in Sparks who know how to excel and push themselves to greatness both in school and the community. Savannah Meechan of Sparks High School volunteers at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and participates in the school’s honor society. Amy Smart, also of Sparks High, serves on the district’s Student Advisory Council and helps guide administrators and keeps them in touch with students’ needs.  Hayden Casey, the winner of the districtwide spelling bee for the second year in a row, has ambitions to become an author, or do something with the written word some day. I’m willing to bet they all have supportive parents at home who remind them frequently that they have great things ahead of them.

So instead of worrying about funding so much, why not give a student a hug and tell them they have worth? It worked for me and I turned out pretty well, I think.

Jessica Garcia is a reporter for the Sparks Tribune. She can be reached at jgarcia@dailysparkstribune.com.
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