In defense of Chatham’s public schools

By Edward Walgate, Guest Columnist
Posted 9/1/21

As nearly 9,000 Chatham children once again adjust to rising early, catching buses and re-entering classrooms, it is worth reminding ourselves of the value of Chatham County’s public schools. …

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In defense of Chatham’s public schools

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Posted

As nearly 9,000 Chatham children once again adjust to rising early, catching buses and re-entering classrooms, it is worth reminding ourselves of the value of Chatham County’s public schools.

Public schools are a central pillar of our communities and have served Chatham families for generations. They consistently and successfully prepare our young people for their next steps in life. After these challenging 18 months, when the value of schools was so evident, it is important to not take them for granted.

After being forced to learn at home for the past year and a half, we should be even more appreciative of the services our public schools provide for our children and community members. Every year cafeteria staffs prepare millions of meals for our students at no cost to many; this year those meals are free, following another expansion by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture to extend universal free lunch.

Bus drivers rise before dawn in Chatham to travel deep into the county to safely transport children to school and deliver them back home at the end of the day. School counselors, nurses, speech therapists, psychologists, behavior specialists and social workers work hard to ensure the physical and mental wellbeing of students. School technology departments distribute (and repair!) thousands of laptops to keep students connected and enhance learning at home and at school. School sports and extracurricular activities enrich our students and our communities.

Importantly, public schools expose our children to the rich diversity of our county and prepare them to navigate our multicultural society. And teachers consistently provide a rigorous, well-rounded education to our students and prepare them for life beyond school.

Charter schools and private schools in our communities do not provide all of these services to their students. In addition, they are not accessible to all of our children due to some extra costs and fees, along with the lack of transportation, free meals and some forms of specialized support. We must recognize the value of a high quality education system that is available to ALL children.

We are in the midst of budget season in Raleigh and legislators are once again debating the worth of public schools and a quality education. The same legislators who recently decried the negative impact on students’ mental and emotional health due to being at home and not receiving school services are now deliberating on how much to underfund our school nurses, counselors, teacher assistants, building repairs and educator salaries. Please reach out to your state representatives and county commissioners and urge them to give public schools and teachers the resources our students deserve.

My colleagues and I are excited to have students back in our classrooms and looking forward to having a consistent, productive school year. Despite the disagreements of the last year regarding COVID-19 protocol, I am hopeful the Chatham County community can rally around its public schools and ensure they remain strong for our children and future generations.

Edward Walgate is a science teacher at Northwood High School.

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