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Previously published by The News-Press

"My parents offered no help with academics...

They were exhausted, struggling to survive in a strange land."

"To be successful, (kids) still need devoted instructors and demanding parents."

Our children need the village

Published in The News-Press on 10/30/11


My American education started in second grade at Goudy Elementary in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood.


The switch from Cantonese to English was just as chilling as the plunge from tropical Hong Kong to the blizzardy Midwest. I knew the ABCs, yet failed spelling test after spelling test. At age 7, I went from precocious to remedial, from grasping concepts first to being befuddled every day.


Eventually I became a voracious reader, losing myself in library books. In fourth grade, I recall winning a contest to turn in the most book reports. It was memorable not only for my reading transformation, but also for my introduction to pizza, which looked like a gooey mess and not much of a reward at that time.


Now that I’m involved in Southwest Florida efforts to boost achievement and enhance our talent pipeline, I’m often asked, how was it that I thrived, against so many odds?


There were two key factors: devoted instructors, and demanding parents.


Goudy was packed with immigrants and multi-hued children who were embraced by amazing teachers led by a fiery red-headed vice principal named Mrs. Mikros. Gentle Mrs. Rose, no-nonsense Mrs. Simon, friendly Mr. Goldstein—I can still picture them leaning over me, pouring out kindness and knowledge, offering individual attention, after-school lessons, extracurricular activities (I learned Greek dances and Spanish songs).  


Outside of Goudy, our family had been directed to nearby Margate Park, which provided recreational and survival assistance. Volunteer Mel Meyer was a jack-of-all trades who would scrounge food, furniture and jobs for the needy. He introduced my parents to garage sales, taught me to play the piano, and became a dear friend to us and many others.


So it was a village that reared me while my parents worked.


At home, my parents offered no help with academics, but an overabundance of motivation.  They had no English. They were exhausted, struggling to survive in a foreign land that held the promise of a better life. Into me, their only child, they poured their hopes and dreams and expectations. Success was drilled into me daily.


That high bar was ever in front of me, dangling with unlimited opportunities.  And mom and dad were ever behind me—scolding, lamenting, badgering, demanding.


And so, my life-long drive was fueled by those parental expectations and nurtured by school and community resources.


Today’s world is far more complex. Families are more fractured; community resources are strained. Our educational foundation is battered by mandates, changing roles and conflicting agendas. On the journey to achievement, teachers and students face large classes, shrinking resources and a system with red lights rather than catalytic converters. 


But kids are still kids. To be successful, they still need devoted instructors and demanding parents.


We mustn’t lose sight of that foundational principle. More than ever, we as a community must support those instructors and parents. Many such noble organizations provide critical supplemental services, including The Quality Life Center, the Boys and Girls Clubs, PACE Center for Girls, Junior Achievement, the STEM Team of SWFL, and the foundations for Lee County and Collier schools.


The wheels are in motion at high levels to revamp the framework of education in Florida to ensure we are competitive in a global economy. Regionally, The News-Press Media Group sparked new conversations and a new sense of urgency through a special series and a landmark Education Summit Oct. 5.


Change “will require federal and state legislative leadership, candid institutional input and a committed community,” said Terry P. McMahan, President of Hodges University and current chair of the Alliance of Educational Leaders. Made up of the five Southwest Florida county school districts and five accredited colleges and universities, the Alliance has committed to building on key themes from the Summit, including:

  • Aligning needs, objectives and skill sets from pre-K to the workforce

  • Rallying legislators to support those aligned objectives

  • Engaging the business community as full partners

  • Bold commitments to improving the achievement levels 


Those steps are essential.


But even more essential is that we put the village to work for every individual. We must all take accountability to encourage and demand the best from our youth. We must instill a hopeful confidence that will fuel their drive to succeed.


The time is now. 

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