“Nonprofit agencies represent the public’s conscience.” They are the ones who say to the public, “This is what needs to be done in the name of creating a better society for all of us.” These words from Allan Luks, former Director at Fordham University’s Center for Nonprofit Leadership apply to many of the nonprofit agencies serving school children and their families in the State. Willo Wright and her programming with schools embodies the conscience all public-school officials need to hear as they develop education policy. In this interview Willo Wright describes the desperation facing too many of Maine families as, “the economic disparity grows wider and wider.” Willo notes that as early as kindergarten, children begin to understand and identify with economic disparity and social standing. In a desperate plea, Willo describes how the current education system exacerbates the problems of inequality in our society. She knows first-hand. Her current efforts to provide food and education supports to impoverished families living on the margins of our towns, caps a life-long effort of volunteer service to the State’s neediest families. Among her recommendations for legislators and school leaders are:
- Schools must make more conscious efforts to collaborate with the larger community including police, mental health agencies as well as nonprofits that serve students outside formal school hours.
- Administrators in district schools must do a better job at knowing the depth of impact poverty and inequity plays in determining the success of a child. The notion that their job is only what happens between 7:30a.m. and 2:30 p.m. can no longer stand. “If you don’t love the kids, you don’t belong in the profession” says Willo.
- Teachers and their administrators must understand the impact adverse childhood trauma continues plays in a child’s ability to learn. For families on constant crisis, education becomes irrelevant. School leaders must reimagine how to structure schooling to meet the crisis of inequality in the State.
- For school to be meaningful to these children and families it must be relevant.
This discussion is long, but one cannot help but be moved by listening to Willo Wright, one of Maine’s unsung community leaders whose words challenges complacency and status quo in the way we do school.