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Providing Children Access
May Be Key to Success

Posted Apr 20 2010 12:00am

When I was a teenager, I decided to become a journalist for two key reasons – to better understand the world and to do as much good as possible.

I’m not sure I’ve made much progress on the latter item, but I have learned a lot over the years. While I’m still learning, and will be until my day has come, there is one lesson that rattles around my brain daily:

Our lives are very much determined by ACCESS.

What to I mean by that? Consider swimming.

When we lived in California, I would load up a wagon with Seth and swimming supplies before walking over to our community pool. But shortly after Lael was born, we moved into a Chicago high-rise that lacked a pool. The somewhat nearby community pool was designed more for adult swimmers than children.

Since getting to Arizona, one of my top priorities has been to teach my kids how to swim – for safety reasons, as well as fun. Here, we have access to two community and one city pool, all within walking distance. As soon as we arrived the kids were in swim classes, and though it’s been a rough ride , I know my kids can at least get themselves to safety in most cases .

Still, I am not satisfied with their limited swimming abilities and have had them back in classes since early March. Beginning last week, I put Seth on the swim team. Lael tried out, but she is not quite ready.

It’s been a real struggle for Seth. He lags behind all the children. To help him catch up, we’ve been working through his stroke issues – where I discovered he wasn’t inhaling when he turned his head up for air. Lael remains in Park District classes.

I couldn’t help wonder why some kids were doing so much better than others. Talking to parents, there seems to be a couple reasons:

  1.  Some kids have been given top-notch – and expensive – classes from a very young age.
  2. Many kids have access to back-yard pools or parents take the children to the community pools regularly.

In fact, I’ve noticed that access is a determining factor in so many ways. Here are some positive examples:

  1. Access to supportive parents help enable children to read, learn math or excel in sports at younger ages.
  2. Access to a library – or parents with an unlimited bank account – helps children grow as readers beyond those who don’t.
  3. Access to sports create children with healthier bodies and life outlooks.
  4. Access to foreign languages increase likelihood of multilingualism in later years.

But the road works both ways. Here are some negative examples:

  1. Access to drugs increases likelihood of using them.
  2. Access to gang-ridden neighborhoods increases the odds children will join.
  3. Lack of access to healthy food coupled, with access to junk, often results in poorer physical health.
  4. Access to abusive parents often results in similar social problems continuing on to future generations.

In fact, I think access to good and bad choices may be a better indicator of success – measured generally – than race or ethnicity. Wealth is a bit more complicated because wealth can BUY access.

This is an important distinction. I have to spend quite a lot of money, even with access, for my kids to learn a foreign language, participate in sports or even get additional math education. I pay extra for science and tumbling classes. I had to draw the line at horse riding lessons, which are well beyond my reach.

If you consider the cumulative affect of learning a language or music or art while young, it’s very easy to see why access is king. Sometimes the parent can provide this access at home. But in most cases, both parents are overworked. They depend on schools and community offerings.

This recession is making the importance of local access all the more relevant. Cuts in school education benefit no one. Closing services hurts everyone.

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