Detroit's Academy of the Americas is finally getting what they need. When the school sent home letters to parents requesting toilet paper and other supplies, they probably didn’t realize that its shortages would soon be the focus of national attention. After The Detroit News ran an article about the school’s inability to purchase items like toilet paper and light bulbs, national news outlets picked it up, causing donors as far away as New Mexico and D.C. to call and offer support. Now, the school won’t need to send those letters home for quite some time.
While it’s appalling that schools can’t provide for the basic health of their students, this story is indicative of the larger budget shortfalls in Detroit. If the schools can’t even afford toilet paper, it goes without saying that they can’t afford afterschool programming, field trips, or science lab equipment. This morning I spoke with a dedicated Detroit principal who chronicled for me the deterioration of elective offerings at his school over the last ten years. The ten engaging, formative programs he was once able to offer have been reduced to a single “elective”: gym. Over the last ten years, enrollment at his school has dropped by about 60% and he simply can’t afford to offer his current students the breadth of educational experiences that former students enjoyed.
The fact that this toilet paper story went viral is fascinating. There are schools across the country in which students’ basic needs aren’t being met, but something about this story caught national attention. Maybe this is the ‘in’ that we (the educational establishment, low-income schools, The Generation Project, like-minded charities) need. Maybe we, as a nation, will begin to realize that the plight of our lowest-achieving schools isn’t necessarily their fault. If schools can’t even afford to meet the basic hygienic needs of their students, it is unlikely they are meeting their educational needs either. Maybe there’s a way to translate this outcry into a larger movement that focuses on what we can realistically do to aid struggling schools. Ideas?