Khalil Abdullah

Maryland Abandons Zero Tolerance Approach to School Discipline

Editor’s Note: [Earlier this month], the Maryland State Board of Education approved a set of regulations aimed at reducing school suspension and expulsion rates. The move, say supporters, should help curtail school discipline practices that end up funneling large numbers of African American youth into the school-to-prison pipeline. Advocates for Children and Youth’s Education Policy Director David Beard explains some of the data behind the move, as well as the board’s decision, and what the new guidelines could mean in practical terms for parents, teachers, and, students. He spoke with NAM editor Khalil Abdullah.

Can you give us some sense of the scope of suspensions and expulsions in Maryland and how they affect different segments of the student population?

In the 2011-12 school year, Maryland suspended or expelled 50,000 students across the state. The numbers came down to 42,000 during 2012-13. We attribute that decline to the hard work of the state board and a number of organizations, including the NAACP of Maryland, the Maryland Disability Law Center, ACLU, and the Advancement Project, among others. These regulations are a great first step in creating effective disciplinary practices.

Still, 42,000 students is too high a number and too many of these students are African Americans, or disabled. So while the overall numbers have fallen, the “who” in the data still show that 8.7 percent of suspensions and expulsions are African-American children compared to 3 percent for white students. Yes, the overall numbers have come down, but the gap between African-American students and white students has increased rather than declined.

In some Maryland counties, the rate of suspensions and expulsions is over 10 percent for African-American students, particularly in some of the rural counties. In Wicomico County, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the rate was at 19 percent; one in five African-American students were being suspended or expelled. That’s the extreme, but, let’s be clear; the disproportionate suspension rate is a problem in every county in Maryland.

Do Latino students have similar rates of suspensions and expulsions as African Americans?

No, they do not. The rate of Latino students being suspended is around 3 percent, about the same as white students. Our advocates were talking about this and we noted that, of the data sub-groups, there is a slightly higher rate for bi-racial or multi-racial students, than for whites, but only slightly. There is a higher rate for disabled students, who are suspended or expelled at twice the rate of white students.

What options do advocates recommend instead of suspensions and expulsions?

The guidelines do not eliminate suspensions and expulsions. Unfortunately, there will still be a need to use those tools, particularly where public safety is involved. Further, we agree that when kids misbehave, they need to be held accountable for their actions, but we think other tools are available that will not only hold them accountable, but also keep them in school. Is suspension the right course of action in most of these cases? We think not. For elementary school students, a loss of privileges may be sufficient, like missing recess, or having to eat lunch with the teacher or principal.

Rockville High School in Montgomery County has a program for older students if suspension is warranted. They offer the parents the choice of suspension or having the student coming in to do work at the school, like cleaning, on a Saturday morning for four hours.

Actually talking to the students can be effective as well. We know in one county, a Latina cafeteria worker felt she was being harassed by three African-American girls. She finally complained and, as a result, there was a meeting of the girls, the worker, and the principal, who was African American and familiar enough with history to provide context to the mediation, citing past harassment of African-American cafeteria workers during the Civil Rights era.

Helping to clean the cafeteria had already been set as part of the girls’ punishment, but they decided to do it for the entire year. That was their decision, because of how badly they felt and what they had learned. You don’t get that kind of learning when a kid is simply written up and suspended without talking to them. There’s no sense of what’s going on with the student. They just lose education time and often return angry. The underlying cause of the behavior goes unaddressed. We cite this as but one instance where we’ve seen restorative justice used as an effective alternative, but we’ve seen a highly motivated Anne Arundel County initiative reduce the expulsion rate of African-American students by 37 percent.

Why are suspension rates also high for disabled students?

Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether a student is acting out due to his or her disability, depending on whether it’s physical or developmental. Let’s say a child has autism. One of the approaches in dealing with autistic children is for them to have predictable, regimented schedules – and to make sure they know in advance before a scheduling change is made. An abrupt change may trigger negative behavior from an uninformed child, and, as a result, a teacher’s recommendation for suspension. Yet, had the teacher looked at or been aware of that student’s Individualized Educational Plan (IEP), the need to inform the child before a schedule change would be documented.

In this situation, there are ways of keeping that student in school, using methods or consequences other than suspension, given the IEP instructions on how to manage the child’s autism. That’s just one example of what could happen, but what the Maryland Disability Law Center found was that many schools are not following the IEP. That’s a problem.

In some of these cases, is there an underlying dynamic between students of one race confronting teachers of another?

Look, teaching is a tough job and no teacher welcomes a challenge to his or her authority in the classroom. But sometimes the conflict is just between one student and one particular teacher. One strategy is to just pull that student out of that particular teacher’s class for a few days and provide a cooling off period rather than suspending a kid from all classes, and, then, more importantly, to try to get to the root of the problem.

For sure there is a dearth of teachers of color in the state, but it’s too simplistic to say racial differences between students and teachers are the driving factor in the rate of suspensions and expulsions. The data we now have doesn’t support that conclusion and the issue is complex. But what is clear, however, is that suspensions and expulsions are a dilemma for African-American students and the state’s 24 school systems. What is ultimately needed is a courageous statewide conversation about race.

The School Nobody Wanted - Except the Community

The recently announced closure of Sarah T. Reed Senior High School in New Orleans will usher in the first school district in the country with no publicly run schools – and some community advocates see Reed’s demise as a sign that the local community’s voices don’t count.

“People in our community in New Orleans feel like the voices of parents, students, and teachers have been left out. It’s a perception, especially during this education reform process after Hurricane Katrina. That is how folks have been feeling for years,” says Chris Sang, the communications director of the Vietnamese American Young Leadership Association (VAYLA), a community-based organization that has fought to save the school.

Reed is located in the eastern part of the Big Easy. Its students are drawn from the surrounding neighborhoods, which are predominantly composed of African American, Latino, and Vietnamese families.

The school’s closure was announced by the Recovery School District (RSD), an agency established by the state in 2003 to address the problem of failing schools. The state legislature strengthened RSD’s authority to expedite school closures in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when many New Orleans schools were physically devastated and student and teacher populations became dispersed.

While the RSD oversees failing schools, other public schools in New Orleans operate under the Orleans Parish School Board and the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. But the majority of the schools that receive public funding in New Orleans – over 60 of less than 90 schools – are under the RSD, which is now exclusively composed of charter schools. Charter schools receive public funding but are run by independent boards and are subject to different regulatory requirements than traditional public schools.

As of 2013, 85 percent of the city’s nearly 43,000 public school students are enrolled in a charter school – by far the highest percentage in the country, according to the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools.

Sarah T. Reed and George Washington Carver Senior High School were the last public non-charter high schools under the RSD. Along with Reed’s closure, it was simultaneously announced that George Washington Carver would transfer to charter control. Though some publicly run schools continue operating under the Orleans Parish School Board, the RSD will be the country’s first all-charter school district.

Sang says VAYLA will continue to provide academic tutoring and counseling to support former Reed students, as it has for other students who have been reassigned to different schools.

“For students from our community, [it’s meant] going to schools where there’s this implicit sense that if you can’t make it here, someone else will take your place,” says Sang. “We see a lot of charters that have written off the local culture here – particularly the culture of African American students – and promoted more of a corporate message. The parents do not want their children to be looked at as just a number or a test score.”

In addition to tutoring and ESL classes, VAYLA also offers cultural activities. Sang says that the VAYLA campaign at Reed was first centered on efforts to retain art, band, and leadership classes, among other offerings that had once made the school competitive.

“We were successful in getting a part-time nurse assigned to the school,” he adds, in a battle that he thinks should not have needed to be fought, but one illustrative of the way Reed and other public schools have become marginalized as the city embraces a charter school culture.

“The RSD never gave the same amount of time and attention to Reed that it gave to the charters,” he says.

The shift from an effort to restore programs to a fight to save the school itself came in 2011, when VAYLA learned that the school was going to be phased out.

“The reasoning was that it is a failing school,” Sang says. Once a school receives a failing score for a consecutive number of years, it can be taken over by the RSD, which is in turn run by the Louisiana Board of Education. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education makes the final assessment of failure.

But Sang contends that the closing became a rigged game. “When the decision was made to end a grade each year, given the subsequent student loss [and the resulting loss of resources], there was no way for Reed to ever recover,” he says. The decrease in experienced teachers and staff was but one consequence of the diminished funding.

“For students and parents, it will be a huge hurdle to have to wake up so much earlier to travel to other schools,” he says, anticipating that Reed’s students will be dispersed as the RSD has not found a charter school operator to take it over. “Some of those schools do not even offer bus service, and taking public transportation early in the morning or late at night is not only time consuming, but can even be dangerous.”

Myron Miller, who graduated from Reed last year, says he would have had to get up at 5 in the morning to go to a school in a different neighborhood.

“Sometimes the buses come, but sometimes they come late. Eleanor McMain Magnet Secondary School is in another district and there are a lot of bus stops on the way and a lot of traffic up there,” he says. “It would have taken about two hours each way. Reed is in my neighborhood. I used to walk to school in 15 minutes.”

Now a college freshman, Miller has been engaged in the fight to save Reed as a traditional public school since he first got involved with VAYLA’s initiative three years ago. “I told my little sisters I want to try to get the school re-opened so they can go there when they’re ready for high school,” he says.

Sang says he’s seen the downward spiral of a school before. He got his start in the education field through AmeriCorps in 2007, serving as an after-school coordinator and teaching assistant at a school in Chicago. While he was there he saw the student population begin to dwindle.

“The community was gentrifying,” Sang says. “The residents moving into the community weren’t interested in sending their kids to the local public school. They were looking at other options.”

The number of teachers began tapering off, though the predominantly African American and Latino parents – many of whom attended the school’s ESL classes – remained enthusiastic. But as the number of students declined, says Sang, there were fewer available resources as well.

“It was a democratically-run school. The involvement of the community was tangible. You could see it,” Sang says. The level of energy on the part of parents and activists in Chicago parallels what he has experienced in New Orleans in the losing battle to keep Sarah T. Reed open. Though gentrification was not the driver in Reed’s closing, Sang attributes the schools’ decline in both cities to similar root causes.

“Sarah T. Reed has never received the resources that it needed to be successful in serving its students,” he says.

Sang is not dismissive of the efforts of local charter schools to be inclusive, but he points out that some of the education reform advocates who come to New Orleans will have a significant impact on the education system before moving on.

“Long-time community residents who dare to question or challenge are sometimes viewed as obstacles,” Sang says. “We at VAYLA want to make sure that the people who are here are part of the process, that they’re at the table and that they get a chance to weigh in on what their future is,” he says.

Fight Rages On for Medicaid Expansion in Texas - State with Highest Rate of Uninsured

Health care advocates and business groups, whose efforts failed to move Gov. Rick Perry and the Texas legislature to expand the state’s Medicaid population under the Affordable Care Act, are digging in for a protracted struggle that might extend until 2015 or beyond.

Had Medicaid expansion been enacted during the legislative session that ended last week, individuals earning between 0 and 138 percent of the federal poverty level (an individual earning up to roughly $15,000, or, for a family of four, up to $31,000) would have been eligible for Medicaid health coverage beginning in 2014. The federal government would have paid the entire cost of Texas’s expansion for the first three years through 2016, and 90 percent in years thereafter.

Texas’s Tea Party-driven political leadership shunned an estimated $100 billion over time, money that would have assisted in providing health insurance to an additional one million Texans, according to the state’s Health and Human Service Commission, at a proportionately small cost to the state.

“When the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) first got approved as a federal program, Texas didn’t take it, but we kept on working and working, and finally they did take it,” said Rev. Vincent Fana, Community Projects Facilitator for Texans Together Education Fund, Inc., a civic and community advocacy organization based in Houston that serves the city and its metropolitan area, where about a third of the state’s 3 million African Americans reside.

“So we need to use our efforts on CHIP as the model, in terms of how to get Medicaid expansion. We need to educate people about what it was the [federal] government was trying to bring in and who opposed it.”

Given that the Texas legislature meets every other year, Medicaid expansion won’t come up again for consideration until 2015, unless public pressure persuades Perry to moderate his position. He could call legislators back to Austin for a special session to consider the issue, as he has already done this year on redistricting. Such sessions are typically used by governors only to promote legislation they support, and Perry’s opposition to Obamacare has been unwavering.

Texas leads the country in the highest rate of those without health insurance – 26 percent out of a total population of 26 million. And of the 6 million residents who are uninsured, 58 percent – or 3.6 million – are Latino, including 1.3 million children under age 18.

Juan Flores, executive director of the San Antonio-based La Fe Policy Research and Education Center, notes that the Latino community has scored some success in reducing the total percentage of uninsured Latino children from 26 percent to 19 percent. He credits the drop to increased enrollment in the state’s CHIP program. Yet, coverage of Latino children still lags behind Whites and African Americans, where the uninsured rates have fallen to 10 percent.

Flores said that Texas has historically moved very slowly on health and human service issues, with low per capita investment compared to other states, a trend he blames for perpetuating a longstanding pattern of marginalizing the state’s Latino community.

Bruce Lesley, President of First Focus, a Washington DC-based research and advocacy organization promoting children and family issues, fears the Texas decision means that many parents will now assume their kids don’t qualify for any federal health care assistance and therefore may be less inclined to seek out services. “Texas doesn’t do a fabulous job on outreach,” the Texas native explained. “There are a large number of kids in Texas who are eligible for assistance but not enrolled.”

Rev. Fana agrees that people need to be pro-active about determining their eligibility. “One aspect of our campaign is to put together a basic outline of all the things that the ACA brings to people even without Medicaid expansion,” he says, ticking off free mammograms, colonoscopies, blood testing, glucose and diabetes testing. “But nobody knows about that down here.”

Fana said advocacy groups will encourage those who qualify for federally subsidized health insurance to enroll in the state’s health insurance exchange, which is scheduled to begin operating Oct. 1 but has yet to be set up by the federal government. (Texas opted not to establish its own exchange.)

Nonprofit advocacy organizations are not alone in clamoring for Medicaid expansion. Eva DeLuna Castro, Senior Budget Analyst at Texas’s Center for Public Policy Priorities, says Medicaid expansion “had enormous support from chambers of commerce, from local, county, and city governments,” which were anxious to avoid increasing property taxes to cover the uncompensated costs of emergency room care for the uninsured. Including charity care, that cost was $5.4 billion in 2011, according to a Texas Hospital Association survey.

Then, too, the decision not to expand Medicaid means that those between 100 percent and 138 percent of the federal poverty level, who are currently uninsured, will now be funneled into the state insurance exchange but at a higher cost to businesses, according to a new report by tax preparation company Jackson Hewitt.

DeLuna Castro explained that without Medicaid coverage, companies that employ more than 50 individuals but do not provide health insurance could face between $299 million and $448 million each year in penalties paid to the federal government just to cover employees who earn between 100 percent and 138 percent of the FPL. They now qualify for sliding-scale premium help in the exchange, but had the state opted for Medicaid expansion, they would have been covered by that and no penalties would be owed.

For Anne Dunkelberg, Associate Director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, that people above the poverty line will be eligible for sliding-scale taxpayer subsidies while those below the poverty line will now get nothing is one of the gross inequities resulting from the state’s rejection of Medicaid expansion. She and other advocates like Lesley of First Focus believe the issue will resonate with people.

Flores is reserved about Medicaid expansion’s short-term prospects. Like DeLuna Castro and other observers, he noted that hospitals and the medical establishments have teamed with businesses and local jurisdictions to make the case, but he said the political dynamics are now worse than ever.

“The governor, the Speaker of the House, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, almost a supermajority of legislators in the House and Senate oppose the ACA altogether and certainly oppose Medicaid expansion,” Flores observed.

Dunkelberg, whose organization supported Medicaid expansion, says no one in the health advocacy community is throwing in the towel. “I think it’s going to take continued pressure from the vast majority of Texans who favor Medicaid expansion – a higher level of engagement.”

In a poll conducted for the American Cancer Society earlier this year, 85 percent of the state’s African Americans and 73 percent of its Latinos supported accepting federal money to bring more Texans into Medicaid coverage, as contrasted with 47 percent of its white residents. Overall, 58 percent of Texans favor taking federal money, but that sentiment hasn’t translated into sufficient political power to force the issue.

Rev. Fana, again referring to the advocacy community’s prolonged courtship of the state before CHIP was embraced, understands the relatively sluggish pace of change and the political battles ahead. “Unfortunately, that’s going to have to be the Texas way.”

In Just Weeks, Affirmative Action As We Know It Could Be Dead

Editor’s Note: On October 10 the U.S. Supreme Court will hear Fisher v. University of Texas, a case that could upend affirmative action policies nationwide. The plaintiff, Abigail Fisher, is suing the state over her rejection for admission into the University of Texas, which considers race in allotting a percentage of available seats after the top 10 percent of high school seniors are admitted. Fisher, who is white, did not place in the top 10 percent. She contends the race-based portion of the institution’s admission policy is a violation of her constitutional rights. Veteran education reporter Scott Jaschik spoke with New America Media’s Khalil Abdullah on the potential ramifications of the hearing and what it could mean for minority college students across the country. Jaschik was the editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education from 1999 to 2003 before co-founding Inside Higher Ed, where he now serves as editor.

New America Media: How will this decision affect college admissions policies throughout the country?

Scott Jaschik: I think this will have a large impact in different ways. There are places like the University of Texas, other flagship universities and also elite private universities that consider race in admissions. These institutions are very hard to get into, places that typically make their admissions decisions based – in large part – on test scores and course grades. On average -- and it’s very important to say on average because there are exceptions to this -- if they eliminated the consideration of race, most of these institutions would admit fewer black, Latino, and Native American students. Many of them might see an increase in Asian-American students. In fact, when affirmative action was eliminated in California, there were initial spikes in Asian-American enrollments more so than white enrolments.

So, first of all, the decision will be important for the highly competitive admission institutions, but it [may have] other impacts. It could well affect the way many colleges, and not just the elite institutions, administer financial aid or how their summer programs operate.

NAM: Could you give an example of how a financial aid formula might be affected?

Jaschik: Scholarships that are based on income level are race-neutral and wouldn’t be affected, but some campuses have scholarships in which race and ethnicity are considered for certain awards, and you also have some summer programs and outreach programs that use race as a criteria.

NAM: How else could a ruling upholding the suit change a school’s demographics?

Jaschik: There were very interesting briefs filed with the Supreme Court by community colleges, for example. At first glance, you would say, community colleges are open admissions, so why would they be concerned? But community colleges want some of their students to transfer into flagship universities. In that process, race and ethnicity are sometimes considered ... If affirmative action is radically scaled back, some [non-flagship] institutions might see an increase in black and Latino students. The impact of the court’s decision could really be quite broad, but we don’t know what the court will do.

NAM: What’s your sense of where court is headed?

Jaschik: Most experts think the current court isn’t generally sympathetic to affirmative action. The court could scale affirmative back partially or fully. You really don’t know until the decision comes out. Even then, if it’s a decision that drives a major change in current policies and the colleges start to adjust accordingly, there will probably be more lawsuits and court decisions. I think the ramifications of this decision could be quite dramatic over a period of time.

NAM: What is some of the possible fallout given the court’s timing in hearing this case?

Jaschik: Because this case is going to be argued in October, in the middle of a presidential election … you’ll see a lot of campus debates. Generally when affirmative action becomes a hot issue, it can create difficulties for minority students on campuses who feel that people are raising questions about whether they are welcomed there or not, or whether they deserve to be there or not. If the court rules against Texas, anyone who has been admitted [under the current policy] wouldn’t be kicked out, and remember that not all of the minority students on that campus were admitted under affirmative action criteria. But it could be a very difficult time for people who are already on campuses.

NAM: With Justice Kagan recused from this case, what’s your read on the eight justices who will be voting?

Jaschik: A tie vote would mean that the University of Texas wins, but a tie doesn’t have the same precedential value as a majority five-three decision. Likely to back Texas would be Justices Ginsberg, Breyer, and Sotomayor. I think these three are fairly safe predictions. As the court’s health care decision shows, you can never be sure what’s going to happen. Nobody expected Justice Roberts to be the savior of Obama’s health care. So you don’t want to say you can be sure, but if you look at what the justices have written in the past, the remaining justices are skeptical of affirmative action. Sometimes people vote for what they’re skeptical of, but one of those five would have to change for Texas to win [by getting a four-four vote].

NAM: California and Florida are among the states with policies guaranteeing admission to high school students in the top-percentage of their class. Can you share some thoughts about Texas’ Top 10 Percent (TTP) admissions policy?

Jaschik: Texas has a fairly highly segregated system of high schools. [The state] knows, with a TTP, there are a number of high schools that are overwhelmingly black, so it will get some African-American students. It knows it has high schools that are almost all Latino, so some Latino students will get in. Now, obviously Texas [is] not de jure segregated like before Brown v. Board of Education, [it’s] de facto segregated. The question a lot of people have is whether this is the best way forward for American society.

A key criticism of the top TTP plan is that it doesn’t encourage high school districts to improve. They know the top 10 percent is getting in, whether they offer AP courses or not; whether they offer advanced calculus or not. Historically, one way in which flagship universities can promote quality education in a state is by having certain admissions standards. A TTP policy sort of takes them away from that.

NAM: If Texas loses the suit, what might be some short-term outcomes?

Jaschik: State universities would have to look to other approaches if they wanted to get a decent number of minority students. Some advocates of race neutral policies urge using economic status as an alternative. You could give a preference to a low-income student. This would still be legal if the Supreme Court said you couldn’t do affirmative action admissions. You’d get some black and Latino students and the benefit would also go to low-income white and Asian students. But I think most colleges would say that this approach and others would not add up to the level of diversity they have now.

Coalition Vows to Press Congress and Obama for Immigration Reform

A new coalition launched a campaign yesterday in the nation's capital to press Congress for comprehensive immigration reform legislation this year.

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How Do We Ensure Clean Drinking Water for All?

Washington, D.C. -- The rapture of fresh water dances across the faces of the world's children, whether they appeared in the photographs Gil Garcetti shot along the sand-dusted roads of a morning in Burkino Faso or in the let-it-rock-the-house video from Charity Water.

Among the viewers of the full house that packed the auditorium at the National Geographic headquarters on March 12, was a cohort of representatives from organizations that implement clean water projects in varying regions of the world. They indeed comprised the choir that over 15 speakers were singing to as the WASH-in-Schools Initiative celebrated its U.S. launch. They already understood what Earth Echo International co-founder Alexandra Cousteau meant when she said the issues around access to clean water will be "the defining crisis of this century." And, regrettably, they also were the choir that bore witness to the undiluted truth of Carol Bellamy's succinct summation of the day's topic: "We're talking about death."

Bellamy, President and CEO of World Learning, has been an investment banker, UNICEF"s executive director and a Peace Corps volunteer in the early 1960s. It was in that latter capacity where the stupefying statistic of 1.8 million children dying each year from diarrheal disease related to unclean water washed over her soul. "The first time I encountered death was that little child who died from dehydration," Bellamy recalled, "that child who died in my arms." Bellamy stressed that access to water has to be accompanied by sanitation and hygiene, and starkly described how the lack of sanitation that now affects 2.6 billion people, many of them children, severely curtails education for young girls in developing counties.

Once girls reach the age of menstruation in many cultures, their families will not let them go to school unless there are adequate -- and separate - facilities where they can practice good hygiene, Bellamy explained. So, while water access has improved by degrees worldwide, access to sanitation on the global scale is still wanting.

Another key driver in the marginalization of young girls in education is the almost universal feminization of the task of hauling water. Garcetti's photographs appear in the book "Water is Key: A Better Future for Africa," as part of a fundraising initiative by the Pacific Institute. He spoke of taking pictures as the young girls and women of Burkino Faso went about their daily chores, carrying on their heads containers of water that often weighed between 30 and 40 lbs. They walked two or three miles per trip, often several times a day, in order to have the water necessary for basic human needs. During his assignment, never, Garcetti said, did he see a male involved in this arduous spine-bending but life-giving task, "not one man, not one boy." It was a gender depiction reiterated throughout the morning program by speakers involved in Asia and South and Central America.

The physical task of hauling water is daunting, as some students at Highview Middle School in New Brighton, Minn., discovered as they lugged pails of water around a track. Their efforts were a part of the many fundraising activities for H20 For Life School to School. The non-profit began as an attempt to collect $7,000 for water projects for a school in Kenya. H2O For Life's president and founder, Patty Hall, said, "I had no intentions of doing more than this one project." The students, however, became enthralled with the mission as they began to understand the dire need and that their efforts had direct benefits. They exceeded their monetary goal, raising $13,000. The money paid for well drilling and an earthen dam to retain water closer to the village.

Highview students urged for the project to continue, thus, H2O For Life School to School was founded. The students are highly motivated and have produced a video describing their work. Val Johnson, one of the trustees, said the program is now in 16 schools in the United States. "We think schools can make a huge difference in the water crisis," Johnson said, the precise sentiment that exemplifies the strategy of the WASH-in-Schools Initiative -- harnessing the unbounded energy of America's youth to address a solvable problem of which they may not be aware. Other speakers said working through schools here and abroad yields multiplier effects that ripple through the society, including the knowledge of sanitation and hygiene children bring back to their families. Johnson added that, "as a service learning project," H2O For Life is a teacher's dream that has given Highview's students "opportunities to be great caring citizens."

There is room in WASH-in Schools for participation from corporations, foundations, NGOs, and multilateral finance organizations. Ruben Avendano, Senior Infrastructure Specialist, Water and Sanitation Division, Inter American Development Bank, said the newly elected government of Guatemala is planning to address water needs in over 40 of its poorest municipalities. This will be accomplished through a new IDB Water and Sanitation Initiative that arranges the financial and technical assistance and fosters local partnerships.

Guatemala's intentions dovetail into the critique of Dr. William Hare, Director, Water Resources Research Institute, University of the District of Columbia. He found the actions of the attending individuals and organizations impressive, but as a keen observer of Africa, said that the long term solutions to Africa's water needs have to be generated internally through political will, enlightened governmental policies and regulations, and pressure of the peoples of Africa on their respective leaders. To move the water imperative to the top of a country's agenda and to educate their citizens, "what regulations, what policies will those governments put in place?" Hare asked. A Liberian by birth, Hare said external project initiatives often amount to only a "short-term fix."

Dr. Peter Gleick, President and Co-founder of the Pacific Institute, said the WASH-In-Schools Initiative provides a way for people to become involved in attacking the world's water crisis without being overwhelmed by the problem's magnitude. "There is no single [silver] bullet" Gleick said, but the WASH-In-Schools decision to target schools is an important "piece of the issue;" a practical way to foster improvements in water access that could benefit hundreds of millions children in that sometimes magical place where they spend most of their waking hours.

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