Invest in our children, invest in our community

This story first appeared in The Spokesman-Review as a Guest Editorial on January 31, 2021.

Imagine with me for a moment what it would look like if our entire community came together around the goal that all students, regardless of their economic circumstances or social standing, had the opportunity and support to graduate from high school and attend the college of their choice. Every child.

Education plays a pivotal role in the success of individuals, families and our community. It prepares young people for life, work and citizenship. Education also ensures a community is economically stronger, healthier and safer, with greater civic engagement.

The current pandemic, however, has laid bare the educational inequities that exist for many in our community. How do students learn online without access to quality internet? How many children are home alone because their parent or guardian is at work or asleep after working all night and can’t afford child care? What if a good day for a family is one when the electricity and the water are both on at the same time?

More affluent students in our region have had greater ease pivoting to digital and remote learning. Underserved students have had a difficult time accessing supported learning environments, thus widening the opportunity gap among our youth. Along with virtual learning deficits, these students are not able to access health care, behavioral health services or critical nutrition in the same way or at the same frequency as they would during an in-person school day. This current reality pushes some students even farther back from the starting line, impacting overall achievement and widening the gap for young people to pursue future dreams and opportunities.

At a time when many families are struggling to weather the pandemic, it has become glaringly apparent that our schools are a key resource in providing vital supports students need: facilitating digital learning, delivering meals and essential supplies to students, and connecting with vulnerable populations on a daily basis. With little time to prepare, our schools and teachers have effectively pivoted to create virtual curriculum and engage students through online platforms. If we have learned anything at all about the past year, it should be that these connections matter and our kids need school now more than ever before. In Spokane County alone, schools have distributed 10,000 more individual meals than at this same time last year.

At Innovia Foundation, we believe that strong, vibrant communities are able to confront challenges, nurture the good and create positive change. Guided by local priorities and engaged residents, we invest in programs and initiatives that strengthen the social fabric of our community. Through supporting education, we aim to expand opportunity and reduce inequity, making it possible for all members of our community to reach their full potential.

Every child deserves the opportunity to achieve educational success. As a community, we can come together to harness the power and passion of our community to ensure that all students graduate high school with the preparation and support they need to pursue their goals and dreams. The investment we make in K-12 education now will support individuals, families and our community far into the future.

Join us in giving of your time, talents and resources to make our community a better place. How can you help?

· Volunteer to read with a student or purchase a book for an emerging reader. Learning does not just help children succeed – it helps everyone around them succeed.

· Mentor a student or provide funding to an extracurricular experience that keeps students connected to their peers and interested in learning. Take time to ask how a student is doing during this unprecedented moment in history.

· Vote. Your voice matters. Support a strong public education system committed to preparing our students for tomorrow.

The path to success for all students starts with a community committed to ensuring that all children have the tools and support they need to fully develop their gifts and talents, to graduate from high school, and to pursue their college and career dreams. The path to success starts with us.

–Shelly O’Quinn