Bunker Hill Wolverines: Out of sight, out of mind?

Bunker Hill Wolverines: Out of sight, out of mind?

The Holiday Wolverine Hunt has become a tradition at my
parents Bunker Hill farm.  Although my
sons and I are the only ones to have actually sighted one of these wily beasts,
we lead a band of intrepid young huntsmen in a search that often turns up scat,
tracks, fur, and other signs.  In keeping
with our Paleolithic ancestors, we protect ourselves with rocks (sticks just
make them mad) as we seek to capture a glimpse, or maybe even a photo.  Except for the 55, 24, and 21-year-old
guides, our group of pursuers ranges in age from 3 to 7 and we often wander
miles of pasture in our search.
Our hunt came to an unfortunate end when the five and six
year old boys showed me (on my own iPad) that the wolverine habitat doesn’t go
as far south as Bunker Hill Kansas and so our efforts were in vain.  Next they will be telling me there is no
Santa Claus.  (I also learned that sharks
don’t have a tooth fairy, but that is a different story). Kids nowadays!
So this Christmas instead of hunting wolverines, the kids
staged an all day football game.  No
exaggeration.  All day.  The five and six year old boys were
intermittently joined by players of all ages but excepting short breaks for
food and present opening, they played all day. 
Some of us older folks were only good for a down or two, saving
ourselves for the playoffs.  The youngest
(at 3) mostly ran in circles yelling, “we are the Chiefs, we are the Chiefs.”
He also insistently told my daughter “you are the Chiefs doctor” after she was
called in to action when a player collided with a root cellar vent.
There were a lot of touchdowns, a few penalties (mostly
called on me), some minor injuries, and one major de-cleating by a guy-wire.  If Roger Goodell thinks Tom Brady can’t take a
little roughing the passer, he should have seen a 6-year-old boy go head over
heals after catching a cable in the chin at full speed.  It was a clothesline that would have made
Fred “The Hammer” Williamson shiver.
Of course, as an educator, it wasn’t just the athletic
prowess of my family members that impressed me. 
It was the vocabulary.  I was
struck by a three-year-old making connections between his team and medical
care.  All of these kids under age six
spoke clearly and had extensive vocabulary. 
They were adept with technology and reason, to the point that they could
discredit their uncle’s claim that wolverines roam the tundra of Russell
County.  Naturally, being my relatives,
these kids are all gifted.  But an
objective observer might say that they are typical middle class kids, just
starting or getting ready to start school.
Because of my time as an educator, I also have another frame
of reference.  I know that because these
kids have been read to, played with, and most of all, talked to by adults, they
have a significant advantage once they hit the K-12 system. 
In a seminal study that has been often replicated,
researchers Betty Hart and Todd Risley looked at language exchanges between
“professional”, “working class”, and “poor” children and their caregivers. http://centerforeducation.rice.edu/slc/LS/30MillionWordGap.html
They found that children learn 86-98% of their words from their
parents/caregivers. (The rest, no doubt the unrepeatable ones, were learned from
their uncles during Holiday football games.) 
Over the four years of the study, the difference in number of words
heard between children in poor and professional homes was 30 million. 
Put another way, poor children heard one third as many words
as children in professional homes.  The
researchers point out that there is no less love or caring in these homes, just
a lot fewer words.  These words translate
to a larger vocabulary, which means more early success in school.  Ask any Kindergarten teacher about what a
difference this means to academic success and early literacy.
We know the effects of childhood poverty on student
achievement.  Virtually every district in
Kansas disaggregates their data by socio-economic status and shows a gap in
achievement.  Michael Rebel and Jessica
Wolff, among others, have studied this problem internationally as well.  Most recently they looked at results of the
PISA and how a country’s scores correlate with childhood poverty rates. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-rebell/us-schools-have-a-poverty_b_1247635.html
Now if you want some really bad news, let’s look at
childhood poverty rates in Kansas.  The
Kansas Health Institute reports that childhood poverty rates in Kansas are at a
5 year high, with 19% of Kansas children living at or below the poverty level
of $22,000 annual income for a family of four. 
Free and reduced price lunch counts are at an all-time high in Kansas as
well.  Even worse, Kansas’s childhood
poverty rates are growing at a faster rate than all but three states in the
nation.  http://www.khi.org/news/2012/feb/23/number-children-high-poverty-areas-triples-2000/
We are faced with a choice as a state.  We have to decide first if this is OK with
us.  Playing football with a bunch of
smart, professional class relatives it is hard to see why I should care.  I don’t see poor children every day,
struggling to learn on empty stomachs. 
Like Bunker Hill wolverines, out of sight, out of mind? 
That is not the Kansas that I grew up in- the one in which
we helped each other in times of need. 
That is not the Kansas of our ancestors, the one in which state
government said no to slavery even in the face of massacres.  The one that raised taxes to build schools for
the good of the whole during times of need- the dirty thirties, the fifties and
sixties, and the early 90’s.  We have a
history.

A baby step has been taken- a plan to fully fund all day
kindergarten over five years- but this is not enough.  We have to provide quality preschool
opportunities, remediation and enrichment for all students in need, and a
quality education for all, the sooner, and the earlier, the better.