Avibra was created with the specific mission of helping people live happier, healthier and more secure lives. We take our commitment to our community and the world seriously, and we’re always working to find new ways to make a real difference. Last month, Social Impact featured pollution and air quality. This month, the topic is education opportunities. We will also be donating to The Education Trust, an organization dedicated to closing education-related opportunity gaps in the US, particularly those that affect students from low-income families and students of color.

Education is one of the most important aspects of growing up in the US. It’s what allows us all to enter the world as adults with a solid background behind us and a number of opportunities before us. However, that isn’t to say that every student (or prospective student) will have the same experiences in attaining that education. From the earliest years to post-graduate degrees, there are problems that many people will face. And these problems may very well hold them back from reaching their potential.

Early Childhood Education

Did you know that every state gets to choose at which age mandatory free public school becomes available? Florida, Illinois and Wisconsin all guarantee it for children 4 years old, while Massachusetts guarantees it at 3. The highest on the list are Arizona and Pennsylvania at 6. While these differences might not seem like a whole lot to the casual observer, those years are often some of the most critical for both parents and children alike. Parents in higher income families will often either willingly pay the steep prices for private preschools or dedicate the time of at least one parent primarily to educating small children. On the other hand, parents in low income families are often counting down the days until they can enroll their children in a public school and finally get a break on basic daycare costs.

These issues are often concentrated in communities of color due to the correlation between low income and ethnicity. We won’t get into that correlation here, but this definitely means that young students of color are often starting public school at a disadvantage compared to their peers who went to a preschool or had a parent at home that focused on preparing them for school. In households where both parents work or there’s a single parent who works, the focus is often described as survival mode for those years before free public school becomes available. It’s expensive just to make sure that your child isn’t swallowing choking hazards all day. Paying someone extra to teach them the alphabet at 3 isn’t always in the cards.

K-12 Education

There have been many issues highlighted over the decades with K-12 education, but we want to take a moment to really show some respect for the amazing work that’s gone into building a universal system that provides a serious education to, on average, 50 million children a year. That’s no small feat. We’re not here to downplay the amazing work of the public school system, merely to find ways to improve it.

While we’ve been talking about the public school system, there are other options that are available to parents, including private school, charter school and homeschooling. These may be the right choice for students struggling with specific developmental issues, but their availability is highly dependent on parents having the extra income to scrape together often tens of thousands of dollars a year or to be able to survive on one income. They come with benefits such as smaller class sizes, individualized care and more flexible behavioral expectations in some cases. For children who require extra accommodations, public schools can be hit or miss depending on the district you’re in. Some are excellent while others don’t have the resources set aside. These differences can make the difference between a child who scrapes by or drops out before graduation and one who thrives through to the end and beyond.

College & University

The problems with disparities in college and university acceptance and enrollment rates for a diverse student body are well-known in the US. While women are now going to college at their highest rates, students of color are still struggling to get past the high price tags and to get in without a prestigious K-12 private school resume. These problems have been well-researched and can be attributed to a combination of factors, many of which started before these students were ever even in official school. It’s going to be a major responsibility of these institutions in the coming years and decades to make real strides in diversifying their student body. Part of that will be in recruitment and screening applicants in more equitable ways, but another part will be in figuring out how to make college more affordable to students without the means to attend.

What We Can Do

The good thing here is that education is a very local thing! Your area certainly has schools that you or your neighbors send their kids to. These are the places that are shaping the mind of your own child or the kid down the block. There’s a good chance that you yourself benefited from a public school education once upon a time, too! This is all to say that the role public education plays in our communities is a big one. Get involved in local decisions about your school district and make sure that you know what the funding needs are for your area. Education is on many a ballot in cities each year, so make sure you’re well-informed about what each education-related proposal means. If you’re interested in volunteering, schools may also be a great opportunity for you as well. Reading programs, tutoring and mentorship are all great options.