Back to School
Excited About Education!
‘Karen and Jay share thoughts on this exciting time of year when ‘back to school’ is in the air!’
As we finish out the summer, it’s time to start thinking about going back to school. An exciting time of year when the focus is on education. About who is going into which grade this year, who is your teacher going to be, back to school clothes and so much more. Especially, this year as we emerge from the pandemic, there is a certain comfort in going back to school. A return to normalcy.
Last year, many families experienced a radical shift from the traditional educational approach with children at home, being taught via zoom, supervised by parents and a sort of upside-down feeling. So, as we go back to school now, it’s helpful to take a look even further back and put our educational system of today into a larger perspective.
In the mid 1800’s, a gentleman by the name of Horace Mann, one of this country’s most well-known educators and early advocates of public education, declared that, “Education, beyond all other devices of human origin is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery.” It’s one of Mann’s most famous quotes and set off a rigorous debate which ultimately led to the establishment of public-school systems in the United States. Since that time, education has become one of the most, if not the most important tools in living up to our Constitutional commitment to provide equal opportunity for all.
As we begin to send our kids back to school this fall, especially in the wake of their time off due to the pandemic, it’s important we remain steadfast in guaranteeing access to quality education. Not only because it’s one of the cornerstones of a free society like ours,
but also because education has the incredible ability to positively transform lives and entire communities. As we saw during the 19th and 20th century, access to education was a key driver of the economic growth that lifted millions out of poverty, raised living standards, and allowed the United States to become the world’s leading economy. It’s safe to say that if we wish to fulfill our aspiration to provide every man, woman, and child with equal access to opportunity and current and future generations with a worthwhile future in this century, it’s imperative that we invest in and advocate for an education system that operates with this as its number one priority.
I sometimes find myself in conversations about the American Dream, whether it is a myth or a reality. I like to believe that it is a reality, but in the sense that there is no one singular definition, but many. Given the rich complexity of our society, the American Dream can take many different shapes or sizes. For some it could mean owning your own business, for others it could mean having the ability to travel. But, at its foundation, the American Dream is all about the ability for each and every one of us to fulfill our full potential. And, the basis for each individual manifestation of the American Dream is education. Without a strong commitment to education, the American Dream often remains just that, a dream. So, as we do our back to school shopping and prepare for this new school year in these uncertain times, I applaud the teachers, the parents, and the students who continue to champion their education, as you and each of us are true stewards of the American Dream.
When it comes to a child’s education, we have learned over time that there can be no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution. Every child is different, has different interests, and different home environments. For many children, a traditional public-school setting in a classroom works great, and New Hampshire is known for its strong education system. Despite what you might hear, New Hampshire funds its school’s quite well. No matter what metric you use, we are always one of the top ten states in per pupil spending, and the USA is always a top 10 country in terms of funding. But we know that this system does not always work for every child which is why New Hampshire has put such an emphasis on educational opportunity and educational attainment outside of the classroom.
So, I am terrifically excited to note that his past session, our New Hampshire Legislature passed a law that allows the state portion of funding for each child to follow that child wherever that child chooses to go. This program establishes what are known as ‘Education Freedom Accounts.’ So, if parents want to home school or choose a charter school, those options are now easier to attain. Furthermore, the state has championed the ‘Learn Everywhere’ program which allows students to get school credit outside of a classroom in places such as an office or other learning environment where students can learn useful trade and work skills.
This sort of open mindedness and creative thinking about learning allows parents to do what is best for their children and has distinguished New Hampshire as a state that cares deeply about education and is committed to putting children and parents first!
‘School to Work’ - Tomorrow’s Journey Begins Today!
The need for a skilled workforce is changing every day and the way kids are learning is different. I remember being in Newport High School and studying math and English – but also learning typing. I recall my kids learning how to categorize and store documents on their Apple computers in their classroom. And today, kids are learning practical ‘day to day’ skills, submitting homework, and participating in gym class – sometimes from their home. Education is evolving and it's important that we accelerate programs so that work demands are met and our kids are ready to face the real world on ‘day one.’
Right here in New Hampshire there are so many amazing programs available in our local schools. In my hometown of Newport, workforce development is a high priory. A collaboration between local business owners, the chamber of commerce and the local school has resulted in several workforce programs being made available for students including job ready training and certification programs. Our town’s Economic Development Coordinator Christine Benner leads this effort.
Meanwhile, we are blessed to have programs organized by the Sugar River Valley Region Technical Center under the supervision of its terrific director, Jennifer Opalinski. These training programs range from accounting to industrial trades such as welding and plumbing. In 2019, Forbes Magazine released a startling fact that there are over 7.6 million unfilled jobs in the United States for skills such as these, and today in our post-pandemic economy, that number has certainly grown. However, with programs like those of the Sugar River Technical Center, we are on our way to closing that gap!
Now, over in the Queen City, the schools in Manchester have gotten a head start as well and continue to be been ahead of the curve when it comes to ‘school to work.’ Back in 1982, the Manchester School of Technology opened its doors. It was one of only twenty-two regional career and technical centers in the region. Knowing that every student wouldn’t go to college and that many would value a change in the how they learned, MST changed its process. In 2012, MST moved to a competency based educational model and prepared students with a trade skill. Today, MST has a 95 percent daily attendance rate and is one of 20 schools in the United States to be selected for a ‘Bill Gates’ grant.
Great ideas and opportunities for kids are available in local schools, thanks to innovative, ‘out of the box’ thinking. We are on the path to great things in the Granite State. We see success on the horizon and a sense of excitement as we go back to school this year.
Positive Profile of the Week: Paul LeBlanc
We are delighted this week to highlight a truly inspirational leader in education, Dr. Paul LeBlanc, President of Southern New Hampshire University - SNHU.
What was once a small 2800 student school tucked away on the Manchester - Hooksett line, has grown into an institution of over 150,000 learners. Today, SNHU is the largest university in the United States and one of the fastest-growing universities in the country, as well as a nationally recognized leader in online education
That kind of growth and success takes innovation, entrepreneurial thinking, energy and vigor. No doubt about it. Paul LeBlanc has all of that and more. In fact, Forbes has listed him as one of its fifteen "Classroom Revolutionaries" and most influential people in higher education.
Paul’s accomplishments have even included a role as a Policy Advisor in the US Department of Education with a focus on new accreditation pathways via innovation. Interesting fact, this President of one of America’s premier online and in person institutions was the first member of his extended family to attend college.
We in New Hampshire are indeed fortunate to have Paul’s leadership and vision. Thank you, Dr. LeBlanc for your continuing contributions!
Quotes of the Week: Back to School
"What we want is to see the child in pursuit of knowledge, and not knowledge in pursuit of the child." - George Bernard Shaw
"Education's purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one." - Malcolm S. Forbes
"The difference between school and life? In school, you're taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you're given a test that teaches you a lesson." - Tom Bodett
"I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught." - Winston Churchill
"You send your child to the schoolmaster, but 'tis the schoolboys who educate him." - Ralph Waldo Emerson