Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Little Boats and Hatch Chiles--Letter #87

Dear Governor Ducey,

            On Sunday, Erik and the kids and I stopped by the grocery store to buy ingredients for chili verde. Hatch chiles are at the Farmer’s Market Store, as they are every August. I could write a whole letter about the Farmer’s Market Store—how it’s the place where you can ask the owners when the Utah Peaches are coming in and she’ll give you an hour by hour play and even invite you to call her to see if they’ve made it. It’s the kind of place that sells pinto beans in bulk and cantaloupe for a dollar. The Farmer’s Market store provides an excellent slice of Flagstaffian demographics. Navajo, Hispanic, Hopi, Korean, and white customers all line up to buy cases of roasted Hatch Green Chiles.
            When we were at the not-Farmer’s Market Store (Whole Foods. Farmer’s Market does not sell fish or pork, cage free or otherwise), I saw the Arizona Daily Sun headline: “Flagstaff Charters Lacking in Diversity.” I read the article. I choked a little. My daughter is going to go to a charter school this year. I’m already struggling a bit with this idea. My dearest friends and one of my sisters are public school teachers. I am conflicted about the way charter schools have more flexibility in the students they admit. They don’t have to teach everyone. They don’t have to provide buses or lunches. And, they aren’t subject to charges to desegregate. Flagstaff Unified School District is working to desegregate their schools in an attempt to bring equal opportunity to every student.
            My daughter is moving from one of the most diverse schools, Puente de Hozho, to one of the least. 80% of the students at her new school will be white. On the one hand, this goes against the grain of what public education should provide. An equal opportunity to learn. On the other hand, when the FUSD schools developed programs to retain students who they had been losing to the charters, those programs filled with also white people.
            Unequal access to education is entrenched. I work at NAU. I have colleagues who reminded me of when I needed to get on the charter school list. I have time to make my kids’ lunches. My husband has time to drive them to school. I can pick them up. My privilege makes it possible for my daughter (and later son), to go on to greater privilege. This privilege hands its misery onto the next generation.

According to key findings of a new study of the racial wealth gap released this week by the sponsor of Economic Hardship Reporting Project, Institute for Policy Studies, and the Corporation for Economic Development- If current economic trends continue, the average black household will need 228 years to accumulate as much wealth as their white counterparts hold today. For the average Latino family, it will take 84 years.

There’s no necessary correlation between being minority and poverty—except that the United States is built upon the backs of that inequality. My daughter, at Puente, worked with students who did not have all the advantages she does. In so doing, she learned that not everyone learns the same way or thinks the same learning system is the only learning system. She wants to go to a charter not because she doesn’t want to learn alongside these students. She wants to go to a charter because this particular charter sets the bar very high.

What I want is that very high bar be made available to everyone. I don’t think Charters make it impossible but I don’t think Charters make that the primary priority. They can’t, I guess, to do what every school should be able to do: maintain small classes, focus on academics rather than sports, prepare students for a wildly changing global economy. The small academies within FUSD, like the one my daughter would have entered if she had stayed at FUSD, have those opportunities as well.
I think all schools should be as small as the charters. I think everyone should have access to them. So my daughter and I agreed that we would work at the charter to find ways to make it more accessible to people who don’t already have her economic privilege.

The first plan? Maybe I’ll make an additional lunch and send it with her every day. Maybe I’ll offer to pick someone up from school. But obviously, the change needs to be a fundamental one. An acknoleggement that a rising tide raises all the boats. To make it possible for her Latino counterparts to accumulate as much wealth as she in fewer than 84 years, we’ll have to be the flood.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Letter #86: Picture Canyon Redux

Dear Governor Ducey,

            The city called. After my last letter about getting lost in Picture Canyon, my editor at Flag Live said someone from the city was trying to reach me. I knew I was in trouble. I imagined they were going to say, “Nicole. Please stop saying bad things about city property. We need good support for our city, not your complaining ways.” But that isn’t what they said! They were worried! “We are getting new signs in just a couple weeks. We know it can be confusing.”
            What’s this? They didn’t blame me for not checking my compass better? They didn’t tease me for my lack of bad-sign reading ways? Thank you, City of Flagstaff, for worrying about me.
            I was so grateful that I took my kids out to the canyon. I was going to try this again. We parked in the shade, got out of the car. I told them to look around. It was 9:00 a.m.
            “Which was is east?” They each pointed to the sun.
            “Which way is west?”
            Zoe, ten, sang her “Never Eat Soggy Waffles song. I sang my Never Eat Slimy Worms song.             Max, six, said, “What waffles? Are we having waffles? I don’t like worms.”
            Zoe and I looked at each other. We’d keep an eye on Max and his directional ways.
            I showed them my iPhone compass and said, “This is a good tool but batteries run out. It’s probably better to have a real phone but today, we aren’t going to leave the river, so it will be hard to get lost.”
            We walked to the sign that said, “You are here” which pointed out the water treatment plant was to the right and the outdoor classroom was just a few feet ahead. This is the exact same sign on the other side of the trail that reads “you are here” in the same spot. This news, combined with the kind call from the city, made me think really that maybe I wasn’t an idiot. All the more confidence to march on! The kids complained a little about the smell from the water treatment plant but I told them how hard the city worked to make the water as clean as possible, raking the solids, aerating the fluids, mixing good microbes in with the bad to do what rocks and silt and clouds do. By the time we made it to the first bridge, the smell had abated and the water looked as clear as a bell.
            We looked at another sign that read, 1.0 mile to Arizona Trail. “Oh, that’s where I went wrong too. I thought the whole loop was one mile.”
            “We were just on the Arizona Trail,” Zoe reminded me. Her museum of Northern Arizona camp this year was called Climate Games. They measured bugs and carbon output and miles of AZ trail.
            “It goes all the way from Mexico to Utah,” I told Max who may not know.
            “We just got back from Mexico. And we’re going to Utah. But I don’t want to walk there,” he said.
            “No. I don’t so much either.”
            “How long would that take?” Zoe asked.
            “I don’t know. Maybe fifteen days? If you walked ten miles a day. Almost as long as I got lost last time.”
            “Well, and last time it rained.”
            It was too early for monsoon and the storms seemed to have abandon us this week. We hiked along the trail, looked at the waterfall, and then, instead of following the Arizona Trail/Loop signs, we turned down a small path the followed along the river. I told the kids to note how Mount Elden was now to our right, the river to our left. They got it. We saw a huge hawk washing himself in the river. The hide of a deer that might have gotten caught on a fence. We hiked up toward the rocks where we found the thing I had been looking for the week before: spiral petroglyphs. Max and Zoe climbed through yucca and sticky thorns to see them. Scratched but satisfied, we climbed up the rest of the hill and followed a path above the river back to the car.

            The happy news is that you can re-do most everything. If you make a mistake, like taking 100 million dollars from the Higher Ed budget, you can undo that. Flagstaff has continaully worked to improve Picture Canyon that they recently won the Governor's 2016 Archaeology Commission Award. The award recognizes the work done to protect, preserve and interpret resources within the Picture Canyon National and Cultural Preserve. Even you reward revision and revamping. There is nothing stopping anyone from rethinking past thoughts and revising past ideas. Thanks to the city, and my intrepid kids, I now think Picture Canyon is pretty awesome.