by Lily Holland
This week in Boston is a Week of Action to Save Our Public Schools. For many of my fellow Boston Public Schools teachers, I know it’s felt more like a year of action with everything that’s gone on.
As part of the other actions I will take this week, I want to give voice to a group we rarely hear from: elementary school students.
I teach second grade. Yes, second graders are adorable but they are also keenly aware of the world around them. Their endless curiosity leads to a unique perspective on everything from the best Taylor Swift song to the worst food in the cafeteria.
For the last few weeks, I’ve been studying activism with my students. We’ve studied famous activists from history, learned about the variety of ways people take action and have had community activists and student leaders come speak in our classroom. After watching their families and teachers advocate for the budget and feeling inspired by the bravery of local high schoolers who led a walk out, my students decided they wanted to take action too.
Yesterday, we started by making a mural that showed what their dream school would be like if money was no object. Let me start by saying that when I was seven or eight and attending a fully-funded public school in Winchester, MA, I would have dreamed of having over-the-top things like a swimming pool or something outrageous like a movie theater. My students, attending a chronically underfunded school, instead requested things like pencils, markers, and glue sticks. One student asked me if he was allowed to simply say that his dream school would be “shiny and new.” Another student asked if it was too big to dream of a school where kids who felt sad could have a room with soft things and people to talk to. Many students dreamed of a better playground and some asked for a class pet and field trips to far-away places. As they were working, a student came over to ask me if some schools have a whole library in them rather than just one in their classroom. When I said yes, he changed his mind from a swing set to a library.
So, please, stop telling me that our schools are fully-funded or that our budget is as big as it can get because my second graders can show you that it’s not. I feel lucky to work in a school with a principal who fights like crazy to get my students what they deserve and knows that they deserve more than what we’re able to give them. But, at the end of the day, without a bigger budget, it’s out of her hands. At this point, it’s hard to not see this budget as a value judgment about the lives and futures of my students.
I think I’ve changed my mind. When I introduced this activity, I originally said I dreamed of a school with an outdoor garden that my students and I could use to grow healthy food. Now I think I dream of a school where seven-year-olds don’t have to just dream about the schools they deserve.
Lily Holland teaches second grade in the Boston Public Schools.