We Need a Holistic Approach to Education

Pamela and her son Tristan in the Colorado state Capitol.

On April 21, the House Education Committee passed HB22-1376 Supportive Learning Environments for K-12 Students on a 6-3 vote. This bill makes several updates to Colorado’s policies and practices to improve school climate for students including increasing funding for the successful Expelled and At-Risk Student Services Grant, updating restraint and seclusion policies and ending practices that have been shown to harm students, requiring better data collection on disciplinary incidents and indicators of school climate and promoting best practices and proper training for school security staff. Parent, community leader, and Stand Advocacy Fellow, Pamela, delivered her testimony in support of the bill.

My name is Pamela Kaspar, I am a District 1 resident, a social work scholar, and a parent. I’m speaking in favor of House Bill 1376.   

With me today is my brilliant and talented son, Tristan, who is 11. Tristan had a rough start in his journey in public schools. We had just moved back to Colorado from Virginia, and in order for me to continue my education and save money, we were living with my parents. These types of life transitions can be challenging even for adults, but are especially more so for young children.   

Tristan lagged in his verbal communication skills; as you can imagine, it was incredibly frustrating for him as he tried to communicate with the world around him.  The school he attended showed little interest in offering any support for my son’s communication or behavioral needs, much less his social and emotional wellbeing.  As his mother, I knew that he was acting out because he was feeling scared, but his school saw an angry, problem child. He was repeatedly sent home from school, moved from one class to another and often in the principal’s office. I had to advocate on behalf of my son to have him see a counselor, it was never offered by the school. We qualified for assistance with a child therapist through the University of Denver, and my son began seeing them. This was all research and work that we had to do on our own with really no great idea of where to begin.   

The decision to change schools finally came when Tristan was once again sent home after crying while in class. I was at work that day, so my mother offered to pick him up. She insisted that his suspension and all prior suspensions be documented for her. As it turns out, the school had not been documenting when he was sent home and why. If that documentation had been provided for us, it would have painted a very grim picture of what the school’s discipline policy looked like, and perhaps have helped my son get the support he needed earlier. 

I’m sharing this experience with you all to illustrate the need for legislation like this. There is a need for a holistic approach to education, where the wellbeing and growth of teachers, caregivers, support staff and scholars are just as important as standardized test scores. Caregivers need resources to assist with addressing problematic behaviors, and as numerous studies have shown, the emotional quotient is as imperative as an intelligence quotient.  

Let’s support our kids like Tristian. Please vote yes on House Bill 1376.  

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