Standing Up to Poverty in Our Schools: Because Every Child Is Ours

The rallying cry at a reception last month at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro was simple and to the point: "Poverty is not going to win here!"

On this day, the faculty and students of Tuckerman schools were honored for its high student performance and for the work of a local community (volunteer) non-profit organization, Every Child is Ours. It was founded in 1997 by Jan Paschal, an Arkansas native who returned to the rural community of Tuckerman after her tenure with the Clinton Administration. A former educator, Ms. Paschal recognized the impact that poverty was having on her hometown and the surrounding communities.

Since its inception, Every Child is Ours has established itself as a global educational exchange program, partnering with under-developed elementary schools in Mexico, South Africa, and South Dakota on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Outside national speakers were invited to Tuckerman to present Tuckerman-like TED Talks to share personal life experiences, intended to teach and model what a "beating the odds" attitude looks like.

Through a combination of literacy programs, Skype student exchange sessions, and on-site visits, the students and faculty of Tuckerman were able to contribute to others in need. These sessions were exciting and gratifying, and provided not only the sense that students were not alone, and that they can help others through their life and educational experiences.

When the 2008 financial crash threw the fragile community deeper into despair, Every Child is Ours and its community volunteers expanded their efforts and established a community food pantry. They also partnered with major corporations to donate winter coats, clothing, book bags, school supplies and books to schools throughout the Arkansas Delta to fill gaps in basic needs and to mitigate suffering.

One may think these community efforts were a valid reason for the reception hosted by The University of Arkansas and that would be true. However, the University and Arkansas Department of Educational officials realized that Tuckerman students were doing more than surviving. They were outperforming all other schools in the Delta in test schools, including an award winning school. It seems that the combined educational and community based social service model implemented by Every Child is Ours was more than a benevolent program. It was a structural resiliency educational innovation which provided evidence based, measurable results. An innovation that transformed both a community and a school into a vibrant and high achieving institution.

According to a recent report from the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, a caring adult and or a caring community can lead a child into a positive and thriving trajectory. Schools that implement a therapeutic and/or trauma-informed environment can mitigate adverse child experiences. An alternative, school based model at Lincoln High School in Washington likewise resulted in improved test results and increased graduation rates, further supporting this approach. As noted in the National Scientific Council report, resiliency transforms potentially toxic stress into tolerable stress. It is a positive, adaptive response in the face of significant adversity that results in healthy developments and protects students from the vulnerabilities of chronic stress. As a judge, I note that the principles of resiliency are recognized and applied in problem solving courts. The recognition that a judge cares about an individual's recovery and rehabilitation builds resiliency, wellness and accountability.

It is a critical time in America. This week, The Washington Post published a groundbreaking article reporting that the number of homeless students in the U.S. has doubled since before the recession. It reminds me of Margaret Mead's famous quote, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." Resiliency strategies in schools must be expanded -- because every child is ours.