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Mankato Area Public Schools organized the “coffee and conversations” event at Lincoln Community Center to facilitate discussions between board members, school leaders and residents. It’ll be a monthly occurrence through the rest of the school year.” Mankato Freepress

I am making notes for this meeting as a call to action for our community to step in and help. There are 8,500 students and over 800 staff at Mankato Area Public schools.

I sat with the a group of about 20 parents whom were mostly immigrants. I thought all their concerns were reasonable and should be easily manageable. I did have a little trouble hearing because the other groups were talking next to ours, but these are the main concerns that I heard:

  1. The levels of services for interpreters and language tutors has not returned to pre covid levels.
  2. There is a need above what was offered prior to covid for interpreters and language services. We are really short on interpreter services!
  3. People who work second shift struggle to communicate with staff or attend school board meetings.
  4. People who do not own a car or families who own only one car have trouble accessing events. Uber does not always arrive on time.
  5. They want to know their children are being held accountable. Most know how to access the schools online profiles for students, but want to hear directly from staff.
  6. There are immigrants who do not read well in their native language, so there is a greater need for spoken or video messages in multiple languages.

I was not with the group that was mostly teachers, so the list I make is of concerns that I heard second hand:

  1. Respect and safety in classrooms.
  2. Lack of subs and having to cover other classrooms in prep time
  3. Sizes of classes. One teacher had a class of 37.
  4. Not enough counselors or support staff.
  5. Because there is not enough support staff, teachers feel as if they have to be counselors, parents, therapist and more, which effects their ability to teach. The expectation for them is too high and unmanageable.
  6. Teachers are spending prep time convincing students that their lives (students lives) are valuable. Trying to talk them away from committing suicide.
  7. Some expressed, that if the situation did not improve by the end of the year, they will not be returning.
  8. I did message Darwin Silva, who spoke at the last school board meeting, about leaving the district (he spoke first during open forum). He said that he turned in his resignation because he had mental health issues, but because he was under contract he was fired for not fulfilling that contract. When messaging Mr. Silva he did not seem upset, just disheartened, that no-one at the district called to ask why he wanted to resign. He had worked for the district for many years and the time and effort he gave did not seem appreciated. It is my guess that most of the teachers at the meeting have similar feelings to Mr. Silva.
  9. In my personal conversations with other staff, mostly paras, safety has been a large issue. Many expressed a love towards most of the students and other staff, but they cannot continue to risk their own physical and emotional well being. There is a really serious conflict happening in most staffs head, where they want to support their community but are struggling to support themselves due to burn out and emotional stress.

I am not a community organizer but if you do not know who to reach out to offer your help, you can email me at [email protected] I can try to point you in the right direction. How do you think our community can help with the above issues?

Here are some of my thoughts in beginning to tackle some of these concerns:

  1. If interpreters exist (it sounds like there are interpreters) and this is a funding issues, are their employers that can help cover costs?
  2. Can we make a ride share website or app to help families and children attend events?
  3. I have loved being part of MNSU friendship families, can we develop a similar program with immigrant families?
  4. As covid becomes less sever, could we develop an adopt a grandparent service. Something similar to YMCA Mentor Program but targeted at grandparents.
  5. Can we find ways to get interpreters and language service into some of our larger employers for immigrants? Can we extend a 15 minute break by 10 minutes and have a language class?
  6. Can we find high school or college age tutors to accompany interpreters to locations near underserved communities whose residents may not have cars?

Teachers:

  1. Become a Mentor for a student.
  2. Volunteer for Junior Achievement.
  3. Call your Child’s school. Not all teachers understand the volunteer policies.
  4. Advocate for policies that hold children accountable and keep staff safe, both at the state and local level.
  5. We need people to collect data and stories to figure out the risk of being severely short staffed next year.
    1. Are there ways, as a community, that we can mitigate this issue?
    2. If we are short staffed and we end up with more virtual learning. Can we work with the movie theaters? Students can access internet and then maybe run education films. Can we work with the university or Junior Achievement for curriculum that is fun and engaging that can be run with large groups?
  6. Do councilors exist and can we hire more? Are there other service that we can offer to help address this need?
  7. Ask teachers and staff how they are feeling!
  8. Attend school board events, attend roundtable discussions.
  9. Sitting on boards and directing other peoples action is not enough. You need to be in front of students, helping on an individual level!
  10. We can say, “I pay taxes, I am paying you to take care of this.” But then nothing will get resolved. We cannot wait for other people to take action, you have to be the action.