Good Digital Parenting
Blog | July 10, 2013

Bring Communities Together to Meet Student Needs

Superintendent, Joplin, Missouri Public Schools

What I have learned over my 17 years in education about children from poverty and the barriers to learning is that there are consistently two significant tangible resources often missing in their lives. These are resources critical to success in school. Over the last few weeks we have discussed the basic needs that Bright Futures fills in a rapid response kind of way. But there is another resource that is missing in their lives that separates the “haves” from the “have-nots”. That resource is access to technology. In Joplin we use technology both to meet kids’ basic needs as well as to support the education of our children through technology integration and availability to all students. 

Meeting kids’ basic needs within 24 hours through our Bright Futures initiative is a primary goal. The first tier of accomplishing this involves tapping into the time, talent, and treasure of our existing community resources in Joplin. This adds value to the work of our not-for-profits and helps them fulfill their mission in the community. However, from time to time needs arise that cannot be filled within our 24-hour goal by our immediate community resources. Fortunately, we have a second tier to our approach that taps into the individual passions of our community members through social media. 

Our Bright Futures Joplin Facebook page has well over 6,000 followers and has been an excellent way to harness their time, talent, and treasure. One of my favorite stories was about a young man who needed a size 13 pair of steel-toed work boots for a welding class. He was living on his own and couldn’t afford to buy what he needed for school. Definitely a unique item that wasn’t on the shelves of our local agencies. So we posted it on Facebook. Minutes later the need was filled by a lady whose husband had a brand new pair in the garage that hadn’t been used in years. Problem solved. Seldom does a need posted on our Bright Futures Facebook page go unfilled for more than 15 minutes…regardless of the need. 

In Joplin, we have been blessed by an outpouring of support from across the nation and around the world as we recover from the most costly tornado in our nation’s history. One of the many unique relationships, which has developed over the last two years, was initiated by the United Arab Emirates (UAE). They saw the news reports and wanted to help make a difference. Not by putting us back to where we were prior to May 22, 2011 disaster, but to help us achieve the vision for the future of our schools and our students. They saw our passion for children, the determination of our people, and our commitment to recovery. The UAE invested $1 million in our vision for our kids to have equal access to information and to grow up as well informed and well educated 21st Century citizens. 

When I think about my own children and the 24/7 access to information at home, the digital information divide that exists between children from poverty and those children of means becomes glaringly obvious. In our house, if my child comes to me with a school question we do a quick Internet search together, talk about good and bad resources, and find an answer from credible sources. The potential of technology is this idea of closing the digital information divide and leveling the playing field for all kids. 

In these times of limited resources, building relationships, whether it is across the street or around the world, is what Bright Futures is all about. Technology provides endless possibilities for tapping new resources to grow our children. 

Cover photo courtesy of Flickr