This week, thousands of East Valley students and teachers will return to their classrooms for another school year.
They’re going back at a time when the debate over education reform in the United States is at a fever pitch, state funding is being slashed, and schools are closing.
Last session, the Arizona Legislature cut $183 million from K-12 education funding. That, combined with enrollment declines in some districts like Mesa Unified and Tempe Elementary, has forced governing boards to close some schools and “repurpose” others. Across the East Valley, schools are doing more with less — just like so many of the families they serve as mom and dad or both may be unemployed or working more hours for less pay.
Such stresses bear down on the classroom and the learning that’s supposed to take place there.
And yet, for all of that, there is something about this time of year — freshly-sharpened pencils, crisp white notebook paper, unopened crayons — that engenders not only a feeling of nostalgia, but also the anticipation of something new.
This could be the year that your child learns to read by himself or discovers a love for science or writing. Maybe he’ll make the honor roll for the first time.
It could be the year when a child loses some of her shyness and gives a speech, when a football player scores his first winning touchdown, when two kids who seemingly have little in common become friends.
Inevitably, there will be political fights this school year over funding, test scores, private versus public, local control — it never seems to end. And, as always, it will take strong, dedicated teachers to keep those distractions from choking their morale and the job they have to do in their classrooms. And many of them will succeed, because despite so much criticism of public school teachers, they probably didn’t go into education thinking they’d make a lot of money or win awards or become famous.
The best teachers went to work in our schools so they could achieve that moment between teacher and student, coach and athlete, mentor and artist, when something new has been taught — and learned.
It’s not just a new school year. It’s a new year of possibilities. So welcome back to school, East Valley — and all the expectations and hopes that brings.