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This past week at my Rotary Club meeting we heard from the Superintendent of Lee County Schools about all of the programs that attempt to deal with the enormous challenges facing our public K-12 education system here in southwest Florida. One thing that struck me, and has been on my mind for so many years, is the idea of how do we motivate kids to want to learn? We are spending so much money in Lee County busing children from distant areas of the county to schools half way or more across the county. Tens of millions of dollars go into the busing program in an apparent attempt to equalize and improve the schools state grade. Our challenging issues in raising our youth however go far beyond busing, and we know that even some kids are going to school hungry. It is doubtful a child can be truly motivated to learn if they are hungry, which is why my Rotary District 6960 is planning to pack one million meals on May 14, 2011 to give to these kids and their families.

I would like to see less busing, saving the fuel costs, saving the emissions of these massive vehicles, and focusing on letting families have their kids go to the schools in their neighborhoods. The schools should all receive equal funding, and this will allow the teachers and support personnel to have more money to work with to benefit the children, increase teacher salaries, and improve the overall safety and security of the school. Local communities take more ownership in their neighborhood school, allowing them to take pride in their unique campus activities. By improving our education system, motivating children, and developing intelligent and productive young adults, we can fight the core problems of why kids are going to school hungry right now. This is because I believe a better educated and motivated person is more likely to enjoy a good career and be able to provide for his or her family, thereby eliminating future generations of children going to school hungry.

Even with an improved approach such as this, we continue to face the ultimate question: how can we better motivate our youth to want to learn. We are living in an age when the Internet is providing such amazing, electric, and exciting avenues of learning. If only a student has the desire to learn. Instilling this desire should be one of the, if not the, number 1 priority of our educational system. This is not to say we already do not have some fantastic educators out there who are already doing this, and thankfully we do, and these critically important people are some of our nation’s most precious human assets. A personal computer or mobile device can not instill this human desire to learn. I followed the story recently of a young man in Naples who was arrested for breaking into his school’s computer, changing his grades, and was charged with having photos of child pornography on his computer. This youth was obviously motivated to learn about computers, a good thing, but got off track and just needs to get his head straightened out. The judge is following him closely and I trust he will be rehabilitated, but he needs strong encouragement, love and support in making his turn around and moving in the right direction. I don’t know this young man, but am behind him and the judge 100% in getting him rehabilitated and motivated to get back on track. Instead of hacking into computers, he can use his love and motivation for computers and the Internet to learn more about HTML 5 or some other aspect of his interest in technology to build a solid career for himself. Books are still a great way to learn and the public library is the best spot to be for a young person interested in learning. This motivation to get and stay on track can not come from a computer, instead, these efforts must come from sincere caring, love, and support of a fellow human being who is genuinely interested in the well being of the child.

While we are all working in our various occupations, professions, and vocations, we can help support our local schools, our teachers, administrators, and our students. The success of our educational system can not merely be gauged by a student’s FCAT, ACT, or SAT scores, or whether a school is an A or an F school. The health of a classroom can be felt when sitting in with the teacher and students, feeling the energy, or lack thereof, and looking into the students eyes, and teacher’s eyes, to see if there is a feeling of strong caring, love, warmth and excitement of about the idea of education and learning, of growing as a human being to a higher state of understanding of our world and how we must work together to serve humanity. I urge you, encourage you, and challenge you to get involved somehow in motivating a youth to get excited about learning, to help care for our children, support our school system, and make our community and world a happier, healthier, and safer place to live. Thank you very much