I think sometimes students and school staff take for granted the many support systems in place that do make educational environments conducive for learning. From the school janitors and maintenance staff, cafeteria staff, to the bus drivers who bus in students every day, school systems are a functioning organism. And all of these entities do play an important role in supporting online or blended learning environments in modern schools.
When most Americans imagine public education, the yellow school bus is often an accompanying image. Long Beach Unified School District, a very large, urban district, has taken major cuts in its bus transportation system since the recession of 2008. I know this firsthand, as I coach sports and talk with many of the drivers regularly. Fewer LBUSD buses are being utilized, as more “First Student” contracted buses are replacing them. Mr. Miller, a lead driver who retired a decade ago but is still contracted for field trips and sporting events, keeps me updated on the impacts of such cuts. Even our own Catalina Island bus driver—a veteran LBUSD employee—informs me of the reduction in staff in his department. Nonetheless, each district’s LCFF “retained a separate funding for school transportation” (Townley & Schmieder-Ramirez, 2015, p. 133). This plays a major role in our small Avalon K-12, located on Catalina Island, in that several students rely on bus transportation for their commute across the island each morning and afternoon. It’s a long, windy, bumpy ride, but vital for their access to education.
When students arrive to school, many by bus, they usually enter school facilities or playgrounds. In general, school maintenance staff ensure the upkeep of school facilities, grounds and equipment, as well as facilitate necessary repairs in a timely fashion (p. 144). Again, students and school staff can easily dismiss the magnitude of this work done in the background within school sites. In addition, school sites are taking some wear and tear with the ever-increasing population of students in California schools. California “needs to build 12 new classrooms and modernize 20 more each day for the next five years to keep up with the increase in student population and address substandard classrooms,” which will cost $12 billion or more (p. 170). Proposition 13 prompted the organization called the Coalition for Adequate School Housing (CASH), which helps fund new school and facilities construction (p. 169). This means maintenance staff will always have job security, but their job should never be dismissed as insignificant if teachers and students are to appreciate the ability to have classrooms where education, blended or not, can take place.
Education is constantly experiencing change; change in policies, demographics, and implementation of technology. But one thing that hasn’t changed is the need for nutritional services so students are able to concentrate in class and remain healthy. In fact, “health educators, nutritionists, and physical education experts point to study after study showing that good nutrition programs result in better classroom achievement and higher academic performance” (p. 151). But what does this have to do with supporting blended or online learning, or any other pedagogical method? Everything! It’s no secret that when students don’t fuel their bodies adequately, they aren’t able to focus very well. Alarmingly, a “recent survey of more than 500 fourth-graders in Maryland found that 20% of these children skipped breakfast or lunch at least four days a week,” and this isn’t an isolated statistic (p. 150). Hunger is a serious issue in our country. Thankfully, studies in California have shown that “higher achievement was associated with higher levels of fitness at the fifth, seventh, and ninth grades,” and fitness is directly correlated with healthy nutrition habits (p. 152). In addition, President Truman’s National School Lunch Program (NCLP) in 1946, as well as the School Breakfast Program (SBP) of 1966, have advocated for students to have proper nutritional habits. And free and reduced-price meal plans have enabled our most “food insecure” families—about 15% of all American families—to have fed, happy children who can focus on academics and athletics (p. 154).
All of these support systems, including the many others not mentioned, are in place so that schools are able to function as an organism. As educational policymakers are focusing on curriculum, standards and the implementation of blended/online learning practices, we educators must acknowledge and appreciate our ability to focus on the fight for educational reform and the modernization of pedagogical practices. It is already a daunting task to focus on the authentic learning and well-being of our students.
As my school completed its closing staff meeting this morning, we took time to acknowledge the hard work of all of these services. We thanked our nutritional services staff, our custodial and maintenance staff, as well as our amazing bus driver (who, by the way, has only missed one week of service in 15 years, and that was to attend his daughter’s college graduation last year). Because of them, as well as our amazing district CBO, I am able to focus on my students and appreciate the fact that I have a beautiful classroom, healthy students, and the enthusiasm to implement new blended learning practices throughout our school.
Townley, A & Schmieder-Ramirez, J. (2015). School Finance: A California Perspective (10th ed.). Kendall Hunt Publishing Company.