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Future RIC educators can change Providence schools

Grace Kimmell, Anchor Contributor

Photo by Thomas Crudale

We all have had moments at some point where we dreaded going to school. But for a moment, imagine trying to learn and succeed in an environment plagued by the usual pitfalls plus dodging falling ceiling tiles, coping with violence/poverty in the community and working with teachers who simply lack the resources within themselves and their classrooms to teach you what you need. Sounds pretty horrible, right? But this isn’t some abstract hypothetical scenario being thrown at you. This is the reality for too many children in the city of Providence.
The issues with the Providence Public School District have become more and more glaring over time. Now they are underscored with the recent release of the John Hopkins report. This report reviews the Providence Public Schools in all aspects from curriculum to the school infrastructure. Since the release of this report, Rhode Island has decided to bring the state in to try and reform the schools.
With that in mind, what can Rhode Island College, renowned in forging future educators, do to grapple with these problems when so many are decidedly outside of the scope of any teacher prep program? A teacher of mine once said that, more than anything else, a school refers to the people inside of the building, not the building itself.  Ultimately, the largest issue suggested in the report is the environment as a whole in these schools, and there needs to be a safer and more comforting environment for these kids and teachers in order to promote truly fruitful, enjoyable learning. As a school dedicated to the art and science of teaching, RIC is uniquely positioned to transform the landscape of Providence schools one teacher at a time. 
Students and teachers, according to the report, are fearful of being in school, and there is persistent bullying, fighting and physical confrontations. This leads to chronic absenteeism among staff and students, which only hinders that environment even more. While the buildings are not in good shape, the morale is in worse condition. While the curriculum could be improved, there will be no growth in learning while the students and teachers are fearful and consequently absent. Coaching prospective teachers with ways to facilitate a positive classroom atmosphere is paramount to their success in our Providence schools. Teambuilding, student-centered curriculum, and differentiated instructional strategies are all potent weapons in the arsenal of any teacher, though especially in struggling schools. 
RIC also has a wealth of educational research and expertise in methodology that could be of use to schools in Providence. Building on a synergistic partnership between Providence schools and RIC would further enable the schools to have access to resources and professional development that they would benefit from while giving RIC students field experience in schools that badly need fresh ideas. 
There’s an army of problems that await outside of the walls of Providence schools. Heck, the crumbling walls themselves are literally part of the problem.  Those things require systemic social reforms. Those things will take time. But caring, skillful, culturally literate, comforting educators, are not just our goal at RIC, it’s our ethical obligation as teachers and youth developers. Our children deserve no less. A school is many things.  But first and foremost, a school will always be the people. People like you and people like me. Change begins with us.