Good afternoon. My name is Dr. Jalan Washington Burton and I am a wife, mother, Ward 7 resident, physician consultant for one of the DC Medicaid programs, and a Pediatrician who practices in Ward 8 in Southeast DC. I have a background in pediatrics, public health, health disparities, and quality improvement. I am the Co-secretary of the Tyler PTA and a member of the newly formed Advocacy Subcommittee. I am here to speak briefly about issues that are very important to me – the health and education of DC children. As the mother to a Tyler first grader we lovingly refer to as Zo and a baby due today, you can tell these issues are very important to me.
First I would like to talk about HEALTH AND WELLNESS:
As our PTA President Patrick has shared, there are pressing health and safety issues related to facilities that must be prioritized. Our country, and especially urban areas such as Washington, DC, are experiencing a rise in childhood overweight and obesity. Study after study shows that children need less time sitting on their butts and need more time spent outside playing and having fun and they need easy access to fresh water. One of my son Zo’s favorite places to be is outside at the playground, but when I see caution tape on the playground bridge month after month, it is dangerous and unacceptable. I know work orders have been submitted but why isn’t a safe and fully working playground more of a priority? When will it truly be fixed? I see beautiful updated playgrounds at schools such as Van Ness and I wonder – when will Tyler’s upgrades be a priority? Tyler has a long outdated track, several areas with underutilized concrete space, and I again wonder when will Tyler and the children who attend our school be the priority?
Along with time outside, children need easy access to water. The outdated and often broken water fountains found here at Tyler are something that parents and teachers alike know need to be fixed. While I applaud the school administration for working quickly to report them and have them fixed, the repeated repairs show that it is time to just upgrade them. Upgraded models with spots for water bottles and easy cup filling will help teachers and parents offer water more easily to all children. When our son forgets his water bottle at home he often reports he didn’t drink anything all day because we do not allow him to drink juice and he cannot drink the dairy milk offered in the cafeteria.
Another facilities concern that has very real health implications is exposure to peeling paints and rodents. It is no secret that mice and rats plague many old DC buildings. When children are exposed to these conditions at home and then also at school it is a very dangerous mix. Asthma is one of the leading causes of preventable death in children. I see poorly controlled asthma every day in my practice. I can do pretty well with education and treatment when there are no housing or school issues but when there are I know there are virtually no good solutions and I go home frustrated and saddened. When we were notified of the rat issue at Tyler it was very concerning. I again applaud the administration for working to prioritize this issue and hope to see continued collaboration with DCPS.
Next, I would like to talk about the TRADITIONAL PROGRAM, previously known as the Creative Arts program.
When my son first joined the Tyler family last year my husband and I thought he was enrolling into a Creative Arts Curriculum as it is commonly referred to. We value the arts and see it as an integral part of developing creativity and critical thinking. We loved Zo’s first grade teacher Mrs. Ughiovhe because she daily included music, singing and dancing into our son’s education and he thrived. As I became more and more involved with the PTA I learned that the Creative Arts curriculum has not been funded for at least the last 2 years. My husband and I were saddened to learn that this had occurred and we were also concerned that its funding was not a priority with the city and that the opportunity to fundraise to continue the program had not been offered. We continue to get mixed messages from parents and the administration alike about the program – we are told that teachers no longer have formal creative arts training at Tyler but at other schools they do. We are also told that some parents want a school-wide dual language program, others want school-wide traditional education, and others want creative arts. My fellow parent Elsa discussed these issues in more detail, but as a second year parent here at Tyler it is exceedingly confusing and frustrating that a unified vision for the school does not exist. Either way a decision has to be made and as parents we need transparency. I need to know what programs are truly being offered so that I can make the best decisions for my child and advocate for other children. And I also need to know where my help fundraising is needed.
In closing, I thank you for the opportunity to share my perspectives as a parent and Pediatrician who lives and works in Southeast DC. Our children mean the world to us and the world depends on us providing them with the tools and resources they need. One of my favorite quotes by Frederick Douglas says “it is far easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” I implore us all to prioritize these children and do a better job each day to provide them with the resources they need to be the strongest children they can be.