When we talk about what our students need to thrive, equity is not far enough. We often think of the image of children peering over the top of a fence to catch a glimpse of a baseball game as the perfect model to describe equity. This picture is ideal for helping us define and understand the differences between equity and equality, but it does not reflect what our children need. Equity is just the preface to the larger conversation around youth development. As they grow ever closer to the verge of adulthood, we know our children deserve more than equity; our children deserve readiness.
Of course, we want to make sure our young people can see the game –so many kids who have had more than their fair share of barriers and fences blocking their views, being provided with a box or two to help them see over a fence may seem like justice. Additionally, we know that the playing field is not leveled for all students and some the fences are a bit higher from where they stand. However, in addressing the disparities in how we apply equity to unequal circumstances, is allowing them to see the game enough? Shouldn’t we be making sure out students have an opportunity to be on the field?
The perfect picture of equity and readiness is not seeing kids watching from the stands. Instead, it is seeing them on the pitcher’s mound or in the batting box. As we ensure the readiness of our children to transition from childhood to adulthood as well as college and career, we should be making sure we remove as many barriers for our students as possible. Equity does not only give students tools to be able to see over walls, but it also removes barriers altogether, especially connected to readiness. If we do not connect readiness to equity, we run the risk of our youth being complacent with being spectators. Our children should be intent seeing themselves in the roles they now aspire to as spectators.
From Spectator to Participant
To transform a spectator into a participant, we have to foster the skills in our youth to do so. We might be missing the boat by not spending enough time focusing on developing young people’s competencies in critical areas they will lean upon, skills that they will need readiness backpack to take with them into any and all settings.
Students thrive as adults when, as children, they have opportunities to develop a sense of agency, integrated identities and critical skills needed in adulthood brought on by school climates and communities that support their physical, intellectual, emotional, and social development. We have to be more intentional with how we help children matriculating from childhood to adulthood by helping them build the capacities they will need to thrive in adulthood. We do this by guaranteeing our goals and action plans focus on strengthening the capacity of young people by equipping them with the mindsets, values, knowledge, skills, and self-regulation needed to be successful adults. With these competencies, we afford them with the ability not just to beat the odds, but to change the odds and remove barriers for themselves and others. These ideals lie in school, family and voluntary organized activity and community.
The enemy of motivated young people is found in the harmful systems for youth in which they feel unwelcome and incompetent; where age is used as a proxy for stage, completion as the proxy for competence, time as a proxy for progress- moreover, access as proxy for development. Harmful experiences in schools are inevitable when official practice does not leave room for the opportunity for developmental growth.
From as young an age as possible, school systems should be environments that create opportunities to be able to contribute, practice, choice, tinker, encounter, integrate, envision, connect, evaluate, and describe. These are the types of environments where students learn best as mistakes are a part of discovery and the foundation for resiliency. These environments should feature development experiences where students can affirm that they can think and create, feel and express emotion, get and stay healthy, apply learning and use insights to show and develop reason. These competencies will be the vehicles by which students take advantage of every opportunity given to them motivated by their sense of agency to succeed.
Motivation and opportunity for students are the product of community. If students are given the opportunity and motivation needed to succeed, they will – this is where readiness meets equity most effectively. The efforts of the community should complement school efforts, improve the quality of experiences, understand and address the quality, advocate for change, ensure that young people are motivated and capable of seeking and taking advantage of opportunities, and inspire young people and their families to change those conditions that serve as barriers to success.
Promoting readiness in students requires that we remove as many barriers to their success as possible. Often, we know that where students live and go to school present obstacles. The distance between Watts and Beverly Hills is more pronounced that the miles that separate the cities. The stark differences make the two cities seem even farther. In affluent homes, families talk readiness; with poor households, families are working towards equity. More plainly, the distance between the two cities is one is ripe with thriving individuals who are thriving, the other with people with purpose built around survival – we have to want more for our students; we have to make sure our students want more for themselves. Although we might not be able to change where our students live, we can modify the conversation taking place and increasing their awareness to the options and pathways they have; this cannot be done one young person at a time.
We cannot pick out our favorite young person and help them over the fence. We have to take fences down for all students. Doing so requires a combination of the community supporting youth and youth supporting community making sure young people are ready for college, ready for work, and ready for life. Also, our support for young people does not automatically stop once they have graduated high school. Some youth need sustained support beyond high school. We support the sustainability of readiness with the continuous process of action and reflection, and the focus on collective impact partnerships communities and efficient school systems provide young people and their families. Schools systems have to make sure their students are ready for what they are working to provide them through equity with the appropriate readiness.
To ensure that our students successfully capture the essence of their potential and align them with college and career, it is vital that educators and communities build villages to make sure young people are ready to take on those challenges successfully. In other words, we need to make sure our students not only benefit from equity but ensure they also benefit from readiness. Equity will get our students to college; readiness will get them through college- the villages we must build around our students will make sure they not only have opportunities to thrive on the field, but one day they will have seats in the owner’s box. With this, we move from equity to readiness to liberation; where are students and communities thrive.