Today NPR tells of success at Brimley Elementary School on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, “where everybody is somebody,” and where some extra federal money made a huge difference.
(Photo by Victoria Choi / US Army Garrison Humphreys Public Affairs via Flickr Creative Commons)
The money does help, says Principal Pete Routhier. He told NPR that he’s used the extra pot of about $2,000 per student for a variety of education-related expenses, like additional staff, early intervention programs for struggling students, special-education resources, and a speech and language pathologist.
For example, first graders can get one-on-one help from a specialist in reading and writing. An intervention teacher for kids in fourth, fifth, and sixth grades focuses on math. Aides help out in kindergarten, first and second grades. Class sizes are small, averaging 22 kids.
More than half the students at Brimley Elementary are Native American, and the school has created an Indian Education Parent Advisory Council, which meets once a month. The PAC is made up of parents and family members of Native American students, as well as a teacher representative, the Indian Education Coordinator, and a school administrator.
That large Native American population also explains how the school qualified for an extra $1 million this year from the federal government’s “Impact Aid” program, run by the US Education Department. The mission of the program is to disburse payments to school districts that are financially burdened by federal activities. With several Native American students at the school being federally connected and living on a reservation, the federal funds are needed to provide support services to staff and other interested parties.
Brimley is also a Title I school in a town of about 2,800. Many of Brimley’s 300 students come from low-income families, a challenge indeed, but not one that has an effect on the school’s qualification for Impact Aid.
The world’s full of naysayers who think giving money to schools won’t make a difference. They point to districts like Newark or Baltimore, which spend enormous amounts of money per pupil and have only poor graduation rates and test scores to show for it.
Mark Zuckerburg of Facebook gave $100 million to Newark for the schools, but the money never brought any benefits anywhere near a classroom, the Nonprofit Quarterly said. The Baltimore school system ranked second among the nation’s 100 largest school districts in terms of how much it spends per pupil, based on 2011 data from the US Census Bureau, the Baltimore Sun reported: $15,483 per pupil.
But the difference at Brimley is that the school is spending the money wisely, not throwing it away on expenses that don’t touch kids or actual classrooms. The school is spending it on classroom things, as listed above.
Brimley’s success also shows us that multiple factors are involved in the education process: there’s no “silver bullet.”
NPR quotes a fourth grader as describing one of the secrets to the school’s success: “Well, everyone’s accepted here for who they are, no matter if they’re Irish, Native, African American, or just French.”
The French might be offended at that remark, but she’s 9 and seems to have a good handle on what makes education work at Brimley.
What she tells us is that acceptance matters to kids. Having good teachers, good classroom aides, good specialists—all that matters. That takes money. It doesn’t take the millions Mr Zuckerburg sent to Newark, but it seems schools have at least some good uses for an extra million here and there. It’s just that when that money flows to schools, how they spend it matters a lot.