Class is Now in Session
What comes to mind when you think of Hillsides? More often than not, most people think of Hillsides as an “orphanage” or better yet a safe place for “troubled” youth. The fact of the matter is that these terms are insufficient to describe all that Hillsides provides. In a particular way Hillsides is about education. An integral part of the services offered to our residents is the availability of a fully credentialed educational institution that provides a very individualized instruction oriented around the specific learning challenges of each student.
Of the 75 students enrolled in grades 2-12, 40 are residents of our treatment program and the others are day students from the community. The Hillsides Education Center offers a very comprehensive approach that couples both the academic with an array of support services that address the very specific needs of our students. Classrooms are limited to anywhere from 10-13 students and each is led by a specially certified teacher and two classroom assistants, allowing for a very individualized approach to instruction. The goal, of course, is help students achieve grade level performance and, as soon as possible, return to a less restrictive educational setting.
With the beginning of school comes a certain amount of excitement masking the apprehension that is typical of the start of the academic year. New school clothes, backpacks filled with schools supplies, stories of summer adventures, and reconnections with classmates and teaching staff generates a palpable energy. With that the school year is off to a great start!
For all the challenges that our students confront, the school districts that refer them are likewise challenged to meet the cost of providing needed services in an extraordinarily fiscally constrained environment. As partners with the school districts, we, too, are also challenged to sustain quality instruction with no hope of being fully compensated for what it costs to educate each student. Instruction at Hillsides Education Center costs approximately $145 a day per student and the reimbursement averages only about $125. As you can see, the difference in cost multiplied by the days of instruction per student quickly adds up to a significant structural deficit that can only be addressed by the generous support we receive from individuals and foundations who value this important component of care we offer.
What is the solution to the underfunding of our public education system? I don’t pretend to know the answer and strive mightily to not grow cynical when listening to the empty rhetoric of public officials who promote a quality public education and yet seem totally ineffective at generating and allocating the needed resources. I can say, however, the reliance on private funds to supplant these essential educational services is not a good or sustainable solution and have a limited impact because of the significant gap.
The solution, I suggest, has to do with the resolve necessary to sustain the sacrifices needed to truly make the education of all our children a valued priority. Here at Hillsides it is priority and we have the resolve to raise approximately $250,000 a year to sustain our educational services. It is a great sacrifice, but we are convinced that it is also worthwhile. What greater contribution can we make to the life of a student than to see them achieve in spite of a learning challenge, become confident in the classroom, and perhaps for the first time enjoy learning!