For education reporters, it can be all too easy to limit our coverage to school board meetings, education policy and inside-the-classroom activities. After all, those areas alone can keep a beat reporter busy seven days a week.
But it’s important to remember that much of what affects student performance happens outside the school property. (As a teacher, I was made acutely aware of this whenever one of my students shared a piece of their home life with me. Many were grappling with divorce, death, illness, abuse–as well as regular teenage angst.)
I was reminded of this while reading about a settlement in a decade-old lawsuit involving the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, advocacy groups and parents from Pajaro Valley, Salinas and Ventura County in California. As recounted in this Huffington Post piece and this San Jose Mercury-News story, the suit claimed that state regulators discriminated against Latino children by allowing a harmful pesticide to be used near their schools.
The children whose parents filed the original 1999 complaint have since graduated from high school, but this case serves as an example of some of the issues students can face outside the classroom. Many low-income Latino children live in neighborhoods with environmental hazards or societal dangers. They may be coping with hunger or lack of medical care.
For those Latino students from middle or upper-class homes, pressures outside the classroom may include the difficulty of balancing two cultures, or the demands of honors classes or the college admissions gauntlet. In some communities, there may be tension between different social, ethnic or racial student groups (where you could even stumble across a Romeo-and-Juliet tale).
It’s always a good idea to cultivate sources among parent organizations, community activists, and student groups, where you can mine for story ideas about life outside school. Student newspapers or online publications can also be a trove of story ideas. Many schools are also creating public Facebook pages for students, teachers and parents. Keep an eye on those discussion board for tidbits about the concerns facing students in your districts.