Brenda Tyler (second from left) and her fellow SCAN volunteers at a meeting with a staff member for Sen. John Boozman (R-AR) in Little Rock.
As an elementary school principal and federal coordinator for a rural school district in Arkansas, it became my duty in the mid-1990s to solicit parental input for programs for which the school district received funding. One meeting stands out in my memory. A mother of 5 elementary students made the comment: “You mean our children are harder to educate just because they are poor?” The answer, sadly, was yes. Yes, because public schools are largely a middle-class mindset.
Working as a teacher aide in two tiny rural schools in grades 1 through 8 in the 1960s served as my induction into President Johnson’s War on Poverty. One of those schools had 88 students, of whom two families had income above the poverty level. Deeply anchored in public school and teacher preparation programs aimed at effective, culturally responsive programs for young children, a career of 41 years quickly passed. During these years I grew firm in my belief that in a democracy we strive to lift each other up.
Changes in the political, social, cultural and economic climate led to my conviction that modeling acceptance, modeling good works, modeling cultural responsiveness and modeling democracy had not been effective in influencing dynamic change for children living in poverty. They were not enough. One overriding concern began to pulse within me: what if my granddaughters never knew what I believed about these social issues? What if they never knew that I spent a lifetime working for options for children in poverty? What if I had to say it, aloud, or in writing to a politician, or to a group, or to the media? What if I had to speak it, for my grandchildren to know what I thought was important regarding these social issues and particularly children in poverty?
With retirement approaching, the answer to my quest for a venue to express my convictions literally walked down the hall wearing a Save the Children Action Network (SCAN) T-shirt. Matti, a SCAN volunteer whom I adored and respected, asked for early childhood educators to express thanks to state politicians who had supported funding for Arkansas’ children in poverty. Through Matti, I was introduced to the training opportunities and to various advocacy platforms available through SCAN. What a surprise to find that asking respectfully and saying thank you are valid aspects of advocacy and activism!
So, I will speak for the children. I will ask for funding. I will write letters and emails. I will post on social media. I will volunteer. I will seek opportunities through Save the Children Action Network. I will take advantage of this opportunity to go on record so that my granddaughters and my grandsons know without a doubt that I believe helping children in poverty is important and necessary work.
Thank you, Matti, and thank you to all SCAN volunteers. You have come to me at just the right time in my life!