The beginning of the school year is nearly upon us and I thought it a proper time to pause and reflect upon how we as a community are doing in preparing for this year and beyond. As the son of two educators – my Father was a principal and my mother a teacher – I realize how much preparation by teachers, administrators and others goes into getting ready for that first day of class. In addition to the immediate preparations associated with getting buildings and classrooms ready, ordering text books, etc., there are several longer-term community based ways we prepare. Just last week the City Council and the Roanoke City Public School Board held one of their regular joint meetings – this one at Fallon Elementary. The topics were all associated with how we, as a community, are preparing for the upcoming year including the traditional – building project updates, annual calendars, etc., but also the more contemporary concerns including school safety updates and how trauma-informed learning is entering into the daily conduct of teachers and administrators.
In addition to the joint meeting of the City Council and the School Board, the community works outside of the classroom to prepare students to succeed in school. These efforts include a deep recognition of the significance of early childhood learning – especially as it relates to reading ability. With more than two dozen partners, the award-winning Star City Reads program strives to ensure that every child in Roanoke reads proficiently by the 3rd Grade. This program begins literally at birth with the inclusion of a Roanoke-based book that is provided to every baby born at Roanoke Memorial Hospital. Star City Reads has provided more than 8,000 Roanoke baby books to local parents and more than 100,000 books to the community since 2012. Numerous studies have demonstrated that nearly 80% of children who are not reading proficiently by the 3rd Grade will not graduate from high school. It is this statistic that drives the Star City Reads effort, which now includes books on buses, books in barbershops and beauty salons, reading volunteers, book giveaways, and much more.
Hungry children cannot learn
Throughout the school year the schools meet this need with breakfast and lunch offerings. During the summer this need is met through a partnership between the City and the YMCA where more than 6,000 meals are served throughout the City to youth. Between 2014 and 2017, 17,000 summer Feed and Read meals were served.
Beyond High School
Youth are preparing themselves by learning skills that will make them more employable in the future. These skills, which include soft skills, such as proper work conduct, good work habits, and technical skills are provided in a myriad of ways through many partners. One notable example includes the Summer Youth Employment Initiative, which is a partnership between the City and Goodwill that provides training and summer employment for dozens of area high school youth. Two other examples focus on more extensive training.One is the City’s EMT Training program, which leads area high school students through an intensive program that prepares them for a career in emergency response and health care. The other is the Western Virginia Water Authority’s apprenticeship program, which prepares high school students for a high-demand career in the water and wastewater industry.
It Can’t All Be About Work
All work and no play is a recipe for a disappointing summer. The summer is, of course, also a time for our area youth to prepare themselves physically and to have fun. A wide variety of camps, classes, and recreation programs are provided by the City’s Parks and Recreation Department and a number of other recreation providers throughout the area.
So, all in all I would say we, as a community, do a pretty good job of preparing our youth for success in the upcoming school year and beyond. Our teachers, principals, coaches and bus drivers are ready to make this year another great year for each of our children. Our City and many partners are ready to make every effort possible to ensure each of the children in our community have the best shot at success they can provide in this school year and beyond.
So, say goodbye once more to summer, say hello to a new school year, be safe, and enjoy the learning!
- Bob Cowell