Op-Ed: Time, Treasure, and Talent by Darius Johnson

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I’ve had a sour taste in my mouth over the state of education in our world. Especially its impact on Kent County Public Schools and the surrounding community. I have read and witnessed accounts from citizens in response to our schools, which has made me question how much of a community we really are.

As an optimist, I try to gravitate towards the positives and opportunities that present themselves. I attended KCPS from 1997-2011, and I have seen and felt the dividends of the school systems’ hard work for the youth. Due to that, I feel the will to express my thoughts, experiences, and encouragement for those who share my concerns about our schools and community.

When our education is jeopardized due to politics, as in recent events with the education budget, I believe that the community is equipped, qualified, and responsible for filling the gaps in resources through philanthropic and grassroots efforts. In these current times, what other option do we have? Citizens naturally have the resources of time, treasure, and talent to contribute to our society, and those are the keys to any act of philanthropy.

With that in mind, we (Kent County) have enough people and local resources to impact each one of the students in our schools, while supporting faculty and staff who teach, discipline, coach, feed, counsel, and love the kids as if they were their own.

Roughly, there are 20,000 citizens in Kent County, 17,000 who are adults and 3,000 under the age of 18.

Now, imagine if each adult spent 10 minutes of their time, each year, in the school or afterschool programs with students; collectively, a group of (5) adults could provide close to (1) hour of enrichment per year. Extrapolating this to the rest of the adult population (17,000 or 3,400 groups of 5 adults), Kent County’s adult residents could collectively contribute over 3,000 hours of enrichment to its young people each year.

Furthermore, a teacher can average between $19 and $25 dollars per hour (not considering summer hours, vacation, etc.) for his or her work. If those 3,000 community hours are valued at the same rate as a teacher’s hourly wage, the community could be investing between $57,000 and $75,000 of pro-bono time to students each year.

Likely, that will not happen at such a scale, but the idealism of it is inspiring. Especially when it results in the youth being exposed to real-life examples of career paths, tutoring, and a sense of greater connectivity to their community.

A real (similar) example of this scenario in motion is Character Counts Kent County, which contributes 3,600 volunteer hours per year with only 103 volunteers AND they represent less than 1% of Kent County’s adult population. Kudos to them! Their devotion to the youth year-after-year should inspire us to visualize and realize the impact that can happen if we all volunteer.

So, what’s stopping us? Yes — it would take a great deal of community effort to offset the funding deficit for our schools, but is there any harm in trying? Just 10 minutes of your time can go a long way…

A Product of Expectations

I couldn’t tell you who the commissioners were when I was in school, but I still remember the people in the schools and community who had a direct impact on me.

So, what I will do, is tell you about some folks who influenced my peers and me, as products of Kent County Public Schools:

Mrs. Valerie Anderson — she taught us how to type accurately and quickly using Appleworks during elementary school. We had those old Mac computers with the bulky, round, colored backs. We had no clue how important those skills were, but we had fun competing for the best times and accuracy scores. Many of us use those skills daily as teachers, nurses, accountants, and more. Mrs. Anderson also coordinated a small, afterschool group for a few African American Students. There were no more than 10 of us, but I remember exercises where she taught us to carry ourselves with confidence when we walked. She also taught us to be respectful when we talked and greeted others. Mrs. Anderson and the other administrators and teachers were building character, technical skills, and soft skills at Worton Elementary School (WES), “Where Everyone Shines.”

Mr. Ed Stack — his Social Studies class is the best class that I have ever taken to this day. I know so because that was the hardest that I have ever I worked in a class. He knew how to engage and excite us. I also remember him teaching us the Cornell Method for note taking. I NEVER had a teacher educate students on methods to take notes, and it taught us how to digest, synthesize, and communicate the information that we gathered. Reflecting now, it’s funny that we learned how to type in elementary school but still had to write notes by hand in Mr. Stack’s middle school class. I’m glad that we did though. Nothing sticks with you like written notes, and the Cornell Method is still stuck with me to this day. Once again, KCPS builds character and the skills that we need, to be successful.

Mr. Stack also created History Corps, later known as Discovery Corps. An afterschool program for students who found enrichment though historical, geological, and environmental learning activities such as hikes at Gettysburg Battlefield and the Appalachian Trail, or landscaping and ecological restoration at Wilmer Park. Those experiences were amazing and touched a lot of us kids. It made us feel like we were a part of our community. Not just some middle school kids. Some of us would have never had experiences close to that on our own, and many of us are still very close thanks to those times!

Michael Harvey – my college advisor and Business professor from Washington College. He taught me chess at Union United Methodist Church on Saturday mornings when I was in middle school, and he even founded Imagination Alley for elementary school students, which stretched my creativity at a young age. He even drove from Kent County to Baltimore to visit me several months ago just to catch up. I don’t think that there are too many communities where (1) person can have such a broad, lasting impact on someone. Thankfully, Kent County is small enough to enable that to happen, and it has potential to do more.

Reflecting over the past several years as a KCPS supporter and alum, I give so much credit to those who have impacted us through education and volunteership. I only gave three personal examples, but there are dozens more that my peers and I can pay homage to.

We need more of those examples of mentorship and support. Today’s youth need to feel connected to a real community. Not one that has to proclaim itself as “social.” Whether we have fully-funded schools or new county leadership, if we don’t recognize the value of our personal interaction with young people, and each other, we will fail as a society.

I encourage everyone to start with just ten minutes, to share your work or perspectives on life in the schools. Then grab a friend and go back again. Maybe recruit a student to intern or shadow you or offer to help with homework. Anything helps! We have the power to make a lasting impact on our community, and we have the responsibility to strengthen our legacy. We are a product of our expectations; not the environment that currently threatens our growth and sustainability.

If we expect the best from Kent County, then we must give our best to where Kent County starts for each of us. Our schools.

Darius Johnson is a graduate of Kent County High School ’11 and Washington College ’15, where he received the Vincent Hynson Scholarship for his humanitarian values which emulates those of the late Vincent Hynson. He currently works in the fields of workforce development and education consulting as director of the ACE Mentor Program of Baltimore and Outreach Manager for the Maryland Center for Construction Education & Innovation.

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