I miss Merlene Davis.
Each year at about this time, the esteemed Herald-Leader columnist would draw our attention to a disturbing problem that had haunted Lexington for decades: the educational achievement-gap. Children from low-income families, she would remind us, fail in our schools at alarming rates.
Davis, who retired earlier this year, would bring out the latest statistics, lament the results and call for a renewed effort from state leaders, school administrators, parents and teachers. She wrote something like this: "I am tired of the merry-go-round" of excuses for the lack of progress. "We all need to pick up a piece of that mess and own it."
And then she'd remind us how ordinary people — people like us — can pick up a piece of that mess, how we average Lexingtonians can help narrow the achievement gap.
Volunteer to tutor a child. Whether we are college students or retirees, lawyers or laborers, Davis would say, we can help by offering one hour a week of safe and caring attention to a child.
Some years, Davis would specifically name Carnegie Center After-School Tutoring Program as a prime place to serve as a volunteer tutor. She'd point out that the Carnegie program creates long-term relationships between children and their mentors. That the program is run by professional educators who train tutors and support them. That the children in the program, on average, gain 1.5 years of reading skill in one year of tutoring.
And she'd note that the need for volunteer tutors is virtually endless. At Carnegie, even after matching 200 children with tutors, the waiting list is 80 children or more.
Mostly, she'd say that children who grow up in poverty (as she did) are no less curious, intelligent and passionate about learning than those from middle-class or wealthy homes. She'd point out that every child gets just one shot at an education — and that it's all of our responsibility to provide it.
And she would write, as she did earlier this year, that "the status quo is not an option."
Davis is gone for now from the pages of the Herald-Leader, but let's be sure her message is not forgotten. Let's stop the merry-go-round of excuses for lack of progress in the achievement gap. Let's pick up a piece of the mess and own it. Let's make our small contribution.
Let's tutor a child.
To volunteer to tutor at the Carnegie Center, contact Carol Jordan at 859-254-4175 ext. 22, or firstname.lastname@example.org.