This fall, students will be returning to Providence schools that have been branded insufficient. Hand-wringing and blame throwing won’t make a difference to the young people. Regardless of the state of the buildings, on the first day of school, every child must be greeted where they are — emotionally and academically. And then their teachers and parents must lead and challenge them to learn and grow.
Impossible? Let me tell you a parable:
Two people from Providence were enjoying a late summer walk on the beach, when a large wave swept in, soaking them to their knees.
The older one laughed, but the younger cursed the ruin of a pair of expensive sneakers.
The oldster laughed again, saying, “I told you to take off your shoes.”
But the youngster wasn’t listening.
Scattered across the sand were thousands upon thousands of starfish.
“That’s beautiful,” the younger said.
“And sad,” said the older. “Starfish need water to breath, and the tide is going out.
The youngster looked thoughtful, bent down, and picked one up. It was hard and bumpy, and wriggled a little. A few steps brought them closer to the water’s edge, and with a flick of the wrist, the starfish flew, like a five-pointed Frisbee, back into the ocean.
The youngster went back, found another, and flung it too out to sea.
“What are you doing?” said the oldster. “You can’t save them all.”
Everywhere they looked, across the beach were starfish, exposed and gasping in the fresh air.
“Perhaps not. But I can save this one. And this one.”
Two more starfish soared and splashed.
The oldster, moved by the youngster’s actions and words, took out a phone and began calling friends who lived nearby. The youngster paused long enough to post an alert on social media.
Soon, the beach was full of citizens, collecting starfish and returning them to the ocean.
Working together, it didn’t take long, and except for the people (and the seagulls), the beach was clear.
When the last starfish was rescued, a cheer erupted. Some people left to return to their jobs. Others lingered, walking on the sand or swimming in the water.
The youngster was staring into the waves.
“What are you thinking?” asked the older.
“It wasn’t their fault. What would have happened if we hadn’t noticed? If we hadn’t seen them?”
“But we did. And you decided to save one, and then another. You inspired me, and everyone else. With a little effort by all of us, the world has changed.”
They walked together along the beach, while not far off, below the waves, the starfish thrived.