hyleckThis summer I traveled with my mother and a group from her church on a service trip to Haiti. We had been told we were going to work on a reservoir project at St. Gabriel’s Secondary School in Fontaine, a small community in the rural northern region. The availability of clean water is a huge need for the community, so we were eager to contribute to their effort.

When we arrived, our group was informed the project wasn’t ready for volunteer labor. Instead, we were going to teach. Teach?! We weren’t teachers! We weren’t prepared! We didn’t have materials or books or curricula – none of the things we expect our children to have in school. Regardless, we dove in and I spent the next five days teaching a dozen 9th graders English.

My students, though they didn’t have much, were dedicated to their learning, inspired me to be the best teacher I could be to them, and demonstrated love for their school and one another. I made do in my simple classroom, one of just six concrete rooms with a couple of chalkboards and rude desks. Chalk and creativity were our only tools. Yet learning happened! And I witnessed the important space the school was for the community, with much of the magic happening in the shade of a large tree in the courtyard, a tree that reminded me of the tree that graces the City Neighbors logo.

Visiting a third-world country put our privilege and relative wealth into perspective. I couldn’t help but compare that school community with our school. My top observations include:

  • We have beautiful classrooms, though we have real needs for improving our facilities.
  • We have air conditioning and heating, though many City Schools do not and have to close during inclement weather.
  • We have clean drinking water, though it must be trucked in and dispensed from water coolers because the tap water is unsafe, like it is in Haiti.
  • We have free breakfast and lunch for all students, because of the poverty rate in our city and it is hard for children to learn on empty stomachs.

Most of all, we have a government that invests in education and a process for parent and community involvement in advocating for additional funding for schools. We have legislators who believe in the importance of this and took the first step by passing a bill, the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, to adopt and start to fund the recommendations of the Maryland Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education (aka the Kirwan Commission).

Now Maryland legislators need to pass a new school funding formula, phasing in billions of dollars of new funding over the next decade to fully support the Blueprint. Even in one of the wealthiest states in the US, we need to get involved to make sure that every school in the Maryland is adequately and equitably funded.

Learn more and get involved at www.marylandblueprint.org.

Elisabeth Hyleck, Parent & Board Member, City Neighbors Hamilton