This time of year is full of excitement and anxiety for many young learners as they return to school; it is also a good time to reflect on why, as a community, we have such a strong commitment to the education of our children.

Perhaps more than any other individual factor, access to quality education during the formative years of a child’s life vastly improves that child’s chances for future success.

It is essential, now more than ever, that we commit to equity in education and assure that all of our students, regardless of background, learning style, native language, or cognitive abilities, receive the best our schools have to offer. Providing for the most vulnerable among us doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game: the effort, and the equity, access, and outcomes that result, makes us all better.

The city of Santa Monica is unique in that it is one of the few cities that commits to significant funding of our schools, giving tens of millions of dollars annually directly to the district. The Santa Monica City Council recently made strengthening the city’s partnership with the school district and Santa Monica College a priority. With that commitment should come concrete goals, such as increasing kindergarten readiness and providing family support services.

The promise of social mobility in this country is in crisis as the gap between people living in wealthy communities and those living in poor communities is fast becoming an insurmountable chasm and increasingly, where you are born determines your future.

Last April, Robert Putnam, a highly-acclaimed social scientist, spoke at RAND here in Santa Monica about his new book “Our Kids:¬†¬†The American Dream in Crisis.” Putnam’s book details, anecdotally and with sobering statistical analysis, the growing gap between the lives of rich and poor children and the diminishing prospects for children who are born without wealth or advantage.

Since, as Dr. Putnam noted, education begins at birth, those children born without resources begin falling behind from day one. Bluntly put, if you are born poor today in America, you are more likely to remain poor than you would have been if you had been born poor just a few decades earlier.¬†¬†As a community that truly values the importance of diversity, we must come together and build the structural academic and social support necessary for all kids, for “our kids.”

One of the most pernicious consequences of exclusionary zoning has been the widening divide — geographically and socially — between those children whose parents can afford to live near quality educational institutions and those who can’t.

As a result, our region is deeply segregated and the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District is located on the resource-rich Westside of Los Angeles County. As a result, we have been able to invest in, and pioneer, educational opportunities for our students that other communities can only dream of.

We have students from a wide range of backgrounds in our district who benefit from this community’s commitment to equity in education, but, if we care about social justice, we must remain diligent to ensure access to these opportunities for those who are less likely, because of their family’s socioeconomic status, to do so.

“We know, those of us with an education, that education should be the strategy, the institution we rely on to create a more equitable and just society,” Doctor Pedro Noguera told 1,500 of our school district’s faculty and staff last month during his keynote speech marking the start of the new school year.

But, he added, “We also know that education can’t just do that by itself. It takes a deliberate and concerted focus to make it happen, to create schools where a child’s background doesn’t predict how well they can do.”

Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District should be congratulated for bringing Dr. Noguera on to help us renew our our commitment to social justice through equity in education.

There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution for education, but Noguera called on Santa Monica and Malibu to increase collaborative efforts among faculty, to strengthen ties to parents in the community, and to pay ongoing attention to the professional capacity of staff, among other things.

As our school district moves forward, our work can provide an example for other schools in our region and in our country who are struggling to assure that poor and wealthy children alike will have access to the same opportunities in life.

“We don’t have to be caught in the battle between the haves and have nots,” Noguera told the crowd in August.

But, he asked, are we willing to do the work?

Judy Abdo, Cynthia Rose, Jason Islas, Irene Zivi, Barry Snell, Laurie Lieberman, and Debbie Mulvaney for Santa Monica Forward. Read previous columns at www.santamonicaforward.org/news.

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