I walk into a classroom and see a nineteen first grade students. They are, even at this young age, all shapes and sizes and colors. Tall. Short. Stout. Slim. Brown. Black. White.
It often takes my breath away.
What these first grade students don't know but I do is that some are rich, some are poor. Some have parents with advanced college degrees, some have parents who have only a high school diploma. Some students live in a half-million dollar house, some live in a trailer park.
And yet here these nineteen students sit, listening to their teacher and to each other. Each with a unique set of experiences, each adding to the rich tapestry of this first grade classroom.
These nineteen students sit in this classroom because their parents trust us. Parents trust us to see the uniqueness in their child. Parents trust us to look beyond the color of their child's skin, the accent of their language, the clothes that their child is wearing to see who and what their child is and who and what their child can become.
Atul Gawande recently gave the commencement address at U.C.L.A. Medical School and he said,
. . . trust is earned because of your values, your commitment to serving all as equals, and your openness to people’s humanity.
A continuing, abiding, deeply-held value of those who work in public schools is that our schools should provide a place - a meaningful place - for everyone. We sometimes fail and stumble, but our core value is that public schools should provide a high quality experience for every student.
We begin to lose the trust of our parents when our parents begin to believe that we are sorting and separating our students. When parents see and believe that we, public school educators, are seeing some students as worthy of including and some students as less than that.
I believe in public education. But public education means that I have a moral obligation to provide a high quality, engaging experience for any student who walks through the door. I must believe that.
Even though my students do not come to me with the same experiences, the same resources, the same foundation, I must see in every student possibility, promise, potential.
Public schools are for all students.
That is the core principle of public education. Anyone who comes to the door of a public school is welcomed.
And not just welcomed, but invited in with the promise that those inside will care for, challenge, comfort, protect, encourage, motivate, love, honor, and educate them.
We have not always lived up to that core principle. There are far too many instances where some students are valued less than others. Students with disabilities. Students of color. Students who look, sound, dress differently have historically been denied some of the benefits of a free and appropriate public education.
But the goal remains the same. Our public schools do not turn anyone away. If you show up at our door, the promise is that we will educate you.
Rich students and poor students.
Students from two parent families. Students with only a mother. Students with only a father. Students living with grandparents. Students living with aunts and uncles.
White students. Black students. Brown students. Students who speak English and students who don't.
Straight students. Gay students. Students who struggle with their identity.
In my district we have over 55 different languages from around the world spoken in the homes of my students. We don't have an ethnic majority - no race/ethnicity is over 50% of the student population.
We have students living in one of the wealthiest zip codes in the country and students who qualify for free and reduced lunches.
My district reflects the changing demographics of the United States. My district reflects the promise of public education, of public schools.
We earn the trust of our students, our parents, and our community when we live our values - that education is for everyone who walks through the door.