“We have a problem.”
Dr. Aaron Smith knew something was wrong from the moment he began his career in public education. He watched—First from his position as a math teacher, then later as a school administrator—As students dealt with poverty, homelessness, bullying, and child abuse. He watched as students walked across their high school graduation stage, terrified and unprepared for the next chapter of their lives. Not all students struggled in the same way, but Dr. Smith knew that every single one of them deserved a shot at carving a good life for themselves post-graduation.
Armed with over twenty-one years in the field, and inspired by a TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson, Dr. Smith offers his vision for how to make our school system more equitable in his new novel, Blank Check. The first step, he explains, is to turn to the community for help.
Education Equality must be a community effort
When it comes to creating meaningful change in the public school system, transparency is key. Dr. Smith asserts that it is up to the administration to identify areas where the school needs help, then broadcast that need to the community (Ask and ye shall receive, if you will). This is especially helpful on a volunteering basis—For example, if a school needs extra hands at a science fair.
When schools need money, on the other hand, Dr. Smith encourages schools to pursue grants. He calls these “hidden treasures” that can be used to bring schools up-to-date with the latest technology. Technological advancements in schools are a major tool for transformation, Dr. Smith says, both because they can help accommodate different learning styles and because they prepare students for today’s expanding digital workplace.
He cites former President Obama’s ConnectED program, which sought to provide all K-12 schools with internet access, as one of the more helpful contemporary public school initiatives. Through ConnectED, the Obama Administration partnered with several major technology companies to connect students to the internet; For example, Sprint pledged to provide students with home internet access for four years (The application process for this program is now closed).
The power of human connection
One of the most surefire ways we can transform the public school system, Smith adds, is to simply be present in the classroom. When he first started out as an administrator, Dr. Smith felt like there were days when he couldn’t connect with the students. This was hard for him because that camaraderie was one of his favorite parts of teaching. It took the absence of connection, he explains, to realize that “You connect with kids by being in the classroom.” Those of us who have worked in public education in any capacity knows that it is no small task to remain a consistent presence in the dynamic, sometimes turbulent landscape of the classroom, but it’s also our best shot at changing students’ lives.
Learn more and connect with Dr. Aaron Smith
Dr. Aaron Smith is a school administrator with over twenty years of experience in the education field. He currently serves as the Program Director for Denbigh High School Aviation Academy in Newport News, Virginia. He is also the author of Awakening Your Stem School and, most recently, Blank Check. You can check out his website here.
Education in the time of COVID
We conducted this interview before the world faced a global pandemic. Now teachers and families, across the nation, are struggling to balance it all in an already imperfect educational system. Because of this drastic change, We've invited Aaron to join us for a LIVE conversation to talk about how the pandemic is affecting children, educators, and families and what we, as a community, can do about it. Join me and Dr. Aaron Smith LIVE on Friday, September 4th at 5 pm CST ***PLEASE NOTE THIS IS A DIFFERENT TIME THAN LISTED IN THE EPISODE *** via either The Brave Files Facebook page or our Facebook collective Brave on Purpose.