The following account, from veteran Forest View Kindergarten Teacher and DAE Member Jamie Barnhill, demonstrates the embodied leadership values and skills that public school educators possess in spades. On Wednesday it was a power outage at Forest View. But on any given day, at any public school in Durham or across the country, it could be: a hurricane, water with lead in it, ICE raids, a violent intruder, students piled into overcrowded classrooms, an outbreak of illness, and anything else you can imagine. Where big groups of people are, unexpected problems follow.
There are a lot of things that are not under our control. The best we can do is respond in ways that align with our values and humbly assess the outcomes and the impacts of our choices. Public school educators at Forest View on Wednesday focused on the needs of the young people under their care, found each other to make plans to solve problems, had the courage to take undoubtedly imperfect action in trying circumstances, and pushed through it all with grace and love. That’s public schools at their best. That’s people at their best.
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Forest View staff reported to school on Wednesday only to discover for an unknown reason we had lost power overnight. DPS was on scene trying to restore power with Duke Energy but by 9:00 it was obvious it was not going to happen in time to provide a safe operational day. Parents were notified that their children, many of whom had been sitting on buses for over an hour, would be returned home beginning at 10:00 a.m. This would allow parents an opportunity to get home or make arrangements to pick their children up from school.
The staff immediately realized that many of our students would not receive the breakfast that they count on every day to fuel their days. Our administration was instrumental in helping us advocate for our students and the Kids’ Cafe` staff came together with our teachers, instructional assistants, and every adult in the building to help. We unloaded the buses, brought students inside to the warmish building, fed them breakfast, allowed them to use the restroom, explained to them what was happening, then helped them get on their buses again and head home. There was not a negative word spoken about the situation and someone even said that bad situations bring out the best in people. Definitely true in this situation. We might not have had power but we had a building full of love and heart.
This is a crystal clear example of how great public schools are even in this difficult climate today with budget cuts, overcrowding, and pressure to teach to a test to provide desired data. We are a profession full of passionate, compassionate, empathetic, caring, loving, people that don’t look at our students as simply a child in a seat, but rather a human with basic needs that faces challenges and stressors that we may never know. This is the hardest job I’ll ever have, and the one I’ll love more than any other. And I am proud to work with others who feel the same and know that as public school employees we are here to do what is right for children, in whatever form or fashion that might present itself. I am proud to say I’m a public school teacher!