As the JAX2025 process moves forward, the ideas contributed by a member of our group on that first session in January still remain on my mind. The first step of visioning was done in groups of five to 10 people sitting at more than 100 tables. This means there were 100-plus groups providing 20 to 30 ideas each.
At my table, we had Beverly Hartley-Wilhite, whose primary concern is education. She's a kindergarten teacher with Duval County Public Schools (DCPS). Her husband is a former Naval officer and a retiree from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
She emphasized the importance of providing a mentoring system to our young people. Her idea was to assign retired Navy officers (many retired enlisted personnel can also provide the same benefits to students) to the schools to work with students. These volunteers would be role models to the students. They would also mentor and tutor for only the cost of a background check (about $70 per person).
Hartley-Wilhite also submitted the idea of establishing ROTC at all schools. Among the six Air Force Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (AFJROTC) units in Northeast Florida, almost all of the participants see improvements in grades and their Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) scores.
Many AFJROTC students had experienced problems with schoolwork and had no support at home to be an academic success. The AFJROTC structure teaches these students self-discipline and many other skills needed to succeed in school and later in life. The program costs are shared by the DCPS and the Department of Defense. The retired officer in charge and the command sergeant are paid a salary to cover the difference between their military retirement and a current teacher’s salary. (This is from personal observation; almost certainly Army and Navy ROTC units produce the same results.)
Since many students are in environments that don’t encourage studying, the schools could devote an hour and a half after school to a study hall. This is where retired military personnel can volunteer and make a difference, tutoring those kids who need help. Of course, there's no reason that those of us who are civilians couldn't also volunteer.
Hartley-Wilhite said that morals should be taught in the schools. This was a part of the curriculum in the 1960s, and she provided a 1962 teacher’s guide to the morals course material. Lessons in morals are important to students, and these lessons often are not taught at home. The majority of crime in our community is committed by those in the 15- to 24-year-old group. The time to teach morality is while the students are in their elementary school years.
In addition, morals need to be taught to help prevent teenage pregnancy. According to ABC News, almost 72 percent of African-American children are born to unwed mothers. Among Hispanics, it's almost 55 percent. Among whites, it's 29 percent. The importance of this statistic lies in the fact that children, especially males, raised by single parents are more likely to commit crimes.
If teaching morality as part of the curriculum can prevent some of these unwed births and encourage two-parent households, then perhaps the issue of having children predestined for failure will decrease. By drastically decreasing unwed motherhood, which creates the highest risk of future criminal activity and poverty, then winning our community back becomes possible.
In education, we need to look at other programs that succeed and duplicate them throughout our community. The first to look at is the StarBase Program. Funded by the DOD, it helps educationally at-risk students learn math skills. When compared to many government-sponsored programs, StarBase is a winner.
The two-week program buses students from Title I schools to the 125th Florida Air National Guard Base at Jacksonville International Airport. In a portable classroom, students are taught about aviation, which is used as a hook to involve the kids in learning math. This program increases the average FCAT math score among the students by 49 percent. This is the type of program needed to improve student skills. StarBase works and should be expanded to all students.
The next two afterschool programs that help students are run by private nonprofit foundations. The first is the MaliVai Washington Kids Foundation, which has several programs that touch more than 3,000 at-risk young people throughout Jacksonville. The specific program we'll examine here is Tennis and Tutoring.
In this particular case, K-5 students receive academic assistance. Tennis is used as the hook; students must complete the tutoring part of program before they're allowed to participate in the tennis. Before they can have fun, these young people must maintain certain grades and must have an A or B in citizenship. It teaches the kids life skills, and it has an amazing success rate.
The Boselli Foundation’s afterschool program provides a safe afterschool environment and helps students improve academically. Both of these programs show how private nonprofit programs can benefit at-risk youth. The city needs to reach out to the philanthropic community to fund and expand these types of programs.
One thing to remember when deciding how to best improve the quality of education in Duval County is that throwing money at the problem is not necessarily the best way to help our youth. The programs I've discussed all have excellent outcomes among the students who participate. They also are cost-effective; all of them receive non-School Board funding. A program does not have to be expensive to be effective.
We need to use volunteers to mentor and tutor our young people. This is the most cost-effective method of investing in Jacksonville’s future. The School Board should leverage our community’s asset of having a high participation rate in volunteerism. All of the other goals of JAX2025 depend on properly educating our youth.
In conclusion, the Duval County School Board should look closely at the programs mentioned here to make Jacksonville a leader in education. This issue cannot be solved by just teachers or by spending the most per student. This is an issue that requires the help of all our citizens. o
Fouraker previously worked at a law firm, specializing in municipal finance, and has been in the banking field for the past 20 years. He also belongs to several civic organizations.