Adopt a Classroom

Massachusetts students still skip school at a much higher rate than they did before the pandemic. And many families, especially Latino ones, do not see higher education as a viable option for their children.

Public education is at yet another inflection point. Schools must make sure they remain relevant. On that, districts would do well to follow the lead of the Westfield public schools, whose administrators last week brainstormed with business leaders about how classes, even early on, can connect with careers.

In what’s billed as a first of its kind move in the Northeast, the fourth grade at the Abner Gibbs Elementary School in Westfield is working with Federal Aviation Administration. The goal? Excite 10-year-olds about the idea of working in the aviation industry. Already, a FAA representative has met with those fourth graders and will be back five more times.

Businesses small and large have joined this Adopt a Classroom program in Westfield, bringing early intel on careers. Baystate Health needs future employees to care for patients. Whip City Fiber, which promotes regionally controlled internet access, needs tech-savvy students able, in time, to help it expand its model in western Massachusetts. Elm Electrical needs future engineers to keep its business growing.

Stefan Czaporowski, Westfield’s superintendent of schools, says the Adopt a Classroom effort brings authentic, practical learning to students.

Czaporowski knows that simply telling students they must attend school, and should want to continue on to college, is not enough. More than ever, students and families need reasons to pay for education beyond high school.

A recent Massachusetts poll conducted for The Education Trust shows that a dwindling number of families expect their children to go on to college. Only 37 percent of Latino families say they expect their children will enroll in a four-year college. That contrasts to 59 percent of white families and 73 percent of Asian ones.

The percentages tumble when families earning under $50,000 a year are asked if they expect to send children to college. Only 26 percent of them said yes.

Cost, of course, is the top reason for the tepid college enthusiasm. But if a college experience were shown to be worth the cost, the percentage of families willing to send their children to school would rise.

School leaders in Westfield understand what Massachusetts families are telling pollsters. Education needs to be both worth the investment and relevant to students. Otherwise, students won’t show up.

Springfield Republican December 4, 2023