To solve deep-rooted community issues,
one really has to consider all the facets of a problem or possibility, including the
occasional detail that does not fit into our shcema of how the world works.
Problem solving is rarely pretty and the field of education has certainly
taught the public that. Debates over charter schools, standardized tests, and public school systems’ futures in every state stir up strong emotions with
every side thinking they have finally found the solution. Even in my PPS class
this year the issue of education invigorated class discussions for days. Education
becomes a messy issue because it is one of the main places in society where multiple
dimensions of inequality intersect. These intersections can make education seem
to be a very limited process, which is isolated in a classroom. However, at a young age,
rich and diverse experiences are needed to help children achieve school
readiness. This means more than learning just your “ABCs.”
At my internship site this summer, Early Head Start Mobile!, I’ve had the opportunity to be immersed in an organization whose focus on learning has led them to provide services that teach impoverished families and their young children that education is a limitless process. Early Head Start Mobile! provides impoverished families with young children (6 weeks to 30 months) an enriched childcare program and Family Engagement Coordinators, who help families get connected with community resources. Additionally, Early Head Start Mobile! works with young pregnant women to ensure the birth of a healthy newborn. In my experience at this office, the focus on education is not limited to the families and children being served. The staff is encouraged to combine their experiential learning with best practice. Whether they are reviewing curriculum or instituting new initiatives, the staff at Early Head Start Mobile! demonstrate to me that learning is a constant process. As I have been immersed in this process, I have been struck by the great care it takes to ensure a holistic delivery of services and consideration of the issues surrounding early education for families in poverty. The issues surrounding education are messy, but at Early Head Start Mobile! I have learned experientially the importance of taking a multifaceted approach to problem solving using both qualitative and quantitative information.
When I first began my summer internship, I did not expect to be so immediately welcomed into the organization. I say this because I thought my job was going to essentially focus on all the nit picky details and ignore any faces that came with the numbers. I was going to dig into the numbers and research topics that many consider mundane. I thought despite all the lessons we had learned about problem solving in our class, I was finally going to get away with focusing on my strength for single strategy change. I would do numbers, find some life-changing pattern in the data, and that would be it. After getting set up in my office, I was very excited I had a desk, a computer, and office supplies galore.
It was going to be a great time, so I opened up an excel spreadsheet to finally start my work. Early Head Start Mobile was particularly eager to let me learn experientially the messiness and multifaceted approach of needing to look at the school attendance for very young children, who have a tendency to get sick more often than older children. Attendance would need to be looked at from a variety of angles and have multiple considerations or contingencies. We needed to look at the numbers of kids, the numbers of kinds of absences, and the human factor behind these absences: trouble with transportation and family problems, which are usually hard to quantify in value. I could look at all the numbers behind the absences, but I had to understand that these numbers did not tell the full picture, especially if they were not coded by an excuse. Every question I had about attendance was answered and accompanied by a family and a story Looking at attendance was messy and it required me to escape from my single-track approach. It seemed like almost every absence had some sort of excuse tied to it. The data all of a sudden became messy. Working across the hall from a Family Engagement Coordinator, whose job it is to connect the families to resources, meant unless I shut my door, developed a sense of selective mutism, and lost my sense of general curiosity, I was going to have most of my attendance questions answered in a qualitative manner, not a quantitative one. The real world was inherently going to affect my lenses for looking at the data. Attendance data was not going to be just a number anymore, but a human child 6 weeks to 30 months old with a family and an inability to get him or herself to school. There were uncontrollable issues and being strict on simple numerical facts that the data presented was difficult. Numerical facts only told me that something was or was not coded in the system. The people, who I worked with, were very gracious with me as I learned this fact. The multifaceted approach to the work that the organization was pushing me to do meant I got a clearer and necessarily messier picture of trying to institute change. For most of the first week of my internship, I was allowed to look at data and hide behind this office door to get a partial picture of the issue I was dealing with this summer, the quantitative picture.
However, by the second week my door, whether closed or open, was letting the real world qualitative data flow into my tiny office. Being asked time to time to look up children’s attendance or reviewing the coding of absences after hearing the reasons behind a child missing multiple days of school really made the application of the program’s attendance policy less of a black and white issue. Attending a parents’ meeting recently at one of my internship site’s childcare centers really taught me that.
As I drove off to my first site running late, I knew the attendance data I was looking at was about to get a new facet to it. But, by this time I was prepared for it. I was driving out to the center to discover a new facet of attendance that was simultaneously qualitative and quantitative. During the meeting, I got to put faces with the names of children I had only seen on a spreadsheet. The next day at the office, the hard data on the spreadsheet became a little bit more than numbers on a page. Throughout the rest of the time at my internship, I will no doubt be looking at more attendance data as I work to compile a report for the organization.This data will no doubt be filled with a complex mixture of circumstances, some of which were controllable and some of which were not. I think the process of reporting on this data is where my experiential learning with the complexities of a multifaceted issue will have to be used the most. In reporting on the data and giving suggestions, I will have to be able to coherently present potential solutions to address programmatic and personal facets of attendance that recognize the complex facets of attendance. The quanitative data will be important yes, but it will not tell the whole story. Instead it will represent a segment of attendance, that can be only fully be explained and addressed when its viewed aside its qualitative and immeasurable factors.