Educators who connect with students from troubled backgrounds can make dramatic, life-changing differences in their future, the founder of a Virginia firm that advises school districts said Friday.
“The price of academic failure for impoverished children is death,” said John Hodge, who is president of the Urban Learning and Leadership Center in Hampton, Va.
“It can be a fast one or a slow one,” he added.
Hodge was the keynote speaker during the “2012 Poverty Summit” hosted by the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana, a statewide teacher association with about 7,000 members that calls itself A+PEL.
The chief topic was the education of children from troubled financial and social backgrounds, which is a frequent topic in state education circles.
Suzanne Harris, executive director of A+PEL, said the idea for the gathering stemmed in part from the knowledge that teachers will start undergoing new job evaluations during the 2012-13 school year.
Half of the reviews will be linked to student achievement, and one in four children in Louisiana grew up in poverty.
Hodge said teachers make a major mistake when they lower the bar for some students and see them as “at risk.”
“If the term is coupled with lower expectations then that term is damaging,” Hodge said. “If you don’t think a kid can do it regardless of circumstances then they won’t.”
State Superintendent of Education John White told the group that poverty does not have to be eradicated in Louisiana or nationwide to improve public schools.
“The two are linked,” White said. “It is our job as educators to disrupt that linkage.”
Hodge’s group advises schools and school districts, including ways to narrow the achievement gap.
Hodge, 45, grew up in North Carolina.
He said that, in his close-knit circle of eight friends who grew up together, two became businessmen, one a doctor and one an educator.
Hodge said one died, one is serving 25 years to life in prison, one is serving a life sentence and one was paroled from prison.
All four that succeeded, he said, had the same fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Dawson, while the other four did not.
“Isn’t that something?” he asked.
Hodge recalled the time that Mrs. Dawson shocked him and his friends by visiting his modest neighborhood on Pear Street.
“We need people like Mrs. Dawson who did not care that you lived on Pear Street,” he said. “In our neighborhood we were all at risk.”