Monday, July 16, 2012

We visited a sports school in Belgium

I just returned from a three week trip to Belgium and Lille, France. I am so lucky; I sure won the mom lottery, and can’t begin to tell her how grateful I am to have been her traveling companion, not only because such a trip would be unthinkable on adjunct wages.

Thanks, Mom

Although my mom and I got to spend many days walking our guidebooks around the beautiful cities of Brussels, Antwerp, Brugges and Ghent, for a week we were in a study group with the Buffalo-Lille Association, which included tours and talks on the arts, education, law, commerce or medicine.

That’s on my mind this morning as I read about the planning for the first public boarding school in Ohio, in Cincinnati. This will be for kids who meet some criteria for being ‘at risk,’ which is great, and because it will be a public school, transparency, access, and efficacy rules will apply.

I was in the education study group last week, and one of the several schools we visited was a sports school in southern Belgium, where students play sports for two hours each day after school. This primary and secondary school (K-12) had a residency component for out-of-towners. The director stressed to us that it is first a school: the sports come second. He pointed out that even for top athletes, a career in athletics is over by 35, and it was the school’s work to prepare them for what they chose next. He went on to say that this school isn’t about creating champions, but rather healthy kids who have a chance to do what they love. Participation was another component of the program, regardless of talent, and the only entrance exam is a ‘pretty easy’ academic test. The Belgians are worried, like we are, about children living what they call the ‘zapper lifestyle,’ in front of a screen instead of getting exercise.

Imagine how expensive this school is, with its top-notch coaches and facilities like a stable and equestrian ring, Olympic-sized pool, soccer and track fields. A few of their graduates have taken high honors, but most haven’t. It is funded by national and local taxes, and the local community had to approve a tax hike for the school to move forward. I think the director and his staff did the necessary legwork to prove the school had a sound plan, and the community felt such a resource would be an asset. And that’s what struck me – all over Belgium, there was a sense of investment. In this case, if we build a fantastic school, students will come and that will bring money to the area. If we raise healthy kids, they will become healthy adults, and in their turn, raise healthy children. If we pay the director, coaches and teachers well, we will get a strong staff that does excellent work, and they will in turn benefit our community socially and economically.

And that’s the longterm view I hope the Cincinnati boarding school project is taking. The article I read this morning already had a comment saying we can’t afford this. And we should always look at public money expenditures carefully and constantly, no doubt. But sometimes our myopia costs us dearly, as when kids living in stressed out neighborhoods drop out and struggle all their lives with low literacy, un- and under-employment, poor health and possibly prison. That costs us money on the back end, and the price we pay in the loss of healthy, creative citizens is even greater. I want to live in a country that’s pooling our tremendous resources and building a strong future. And not because of 'winning' the future and all that crap. The Belgians don't run around saying 'we're number one.' Let's do it because because we all have a responsibility for America's kids, because they're ours.