By Gisele C. Shorter
Greetings BELE Community,
As we kick off 2022, I continue to be deeply grateful for everyone who remains devoted to creating an education system that ensures all children thrive and supports the adults who make that possible.
While 2021 may have exposed deep fault lines within our nation, various opinion polls assure us that there are still many shared values that unite Americans. We want all students to feel valued in the classroom. We want them to graduate and be prepared to succeed beyond high school. Beyond the research, conversations with our communities reinforce these shared values. In 2022, the BELE Network will remain committed to an education system that supports the wellbeing, development, academic achievement, and positive experience of every student. A good education system, after all, is the soil in which democracy flourishes.
Last year, the BELE Network contributed to strengthening an education system under significant stress. Deep investment in education is a necessity, and I don’t just mean financial. BELE partners led district networks as communities of practice for shared learning and action in an incredibly challenging time. We collaboratively provided guidance to support schools and districts as they planned for their federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds. Resources included a landing page with spending guidelines and a webinar featuring an overview of the ARP funding requirements. We also provided messaging and tools for advocates facing backlash for providing an honest education. These challenges will continue into 2022, but so will our determination to overcome them.
Pushing for a system that centers student voices and experiences may sound like a lofty goal, but it is attainable. It is not, however, a short-term project. So what does it all mean today, for students sitting in classrooms right now?
It means implementing changes so every student can feel valued and accepted, which is essential to their academic and personal success. It means taking the time to understand how students are actually experiencing school, and how that can inform policy decisions. Research shows that parents across the political spectrum agree that schools should help kids learn empathy and life skills — and I couldn’t agree more. It’s what the science tells us: that a “whole child” approach to education is fundamental to improving student outcomes and experiences. As part of that worthwhile investment, there are key components of BELE that should be elevated to put the Network and our partners in a better position for success. That’s why I’m committing to these four priorities in 2022:
- Using a “whole child” approach to academic and emotional development
- Optimizing the student experience based on the science of learning and development
- Disaggregating school data to design policies and practices that reliably deploy resources wherever they’re needed
- Partner with schools and communities to invest deeply in education
The only way we can successfully pursue these priorities is if we work with parents, community-based organizations, state and federal policymakers, teachers and school and district leaders to move our education system forward.
2022 is going to be a critical year for education, in part because of the midterm elections. Education has become a political wedge issue — from COVID policies to teaching true history. In the year ahead, we will need to remain focused on those values that the research tells us are deeply held by parents and communities, regardless of political alignment. We will continue to advocate for centering student experience and voice, advance policies and practices that are rooted in the science of learning and development, and support school and district leaders who are committed to ensuring all students succeed, and, as a result, face unprecedented attacks for their role in improving education.
There will be many opportunities to do so in our individual and collective work at all levels of the system, from classrooms to the U.S. Department of Education. We were pleased that the Secretary of Education’s priorities for federal grantmaking include promoting equity in resources and opportunities and advancing “systemic change” in schools. Together with other committed partners from across the education space, we will ensure that student experience is at the center of everything we do.
We’re excited for 2022 and the brighter future for all students that lies ahead, if only we choose it together.
With optimism and gratitude, I wish you a wonderful and safe 2022.
Gisele C. Shorter
Program Officer, Education | The Raikes Foundation