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Cate Burgan

Portrait of Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan – Nashville, Tennessee

At the beginning of 2022, it came to my attention that a lot of teachers in the D.C. Public School system were upset with how they, their kids and their buildings were being treated by those with authority. In fact, this had been going on for a while.

However, this disparity and underfunding was most noticeable in Ward 8.

Towards the end of January, Anacostia High School teachers were brave enough to unionize, walk out of their classrooms and have their voices heard. They wanted change in their school with physical and emotional safety in relation to violence and COVID-19. Being the only public high school in Anacostia, they felt that they and their kids deserved that.

I come from generations of teachers on my mothers side of the family, so it’s well known to me that educators are grossly underpaid. However, some of the other statistics I found out while doing research and speaking with people in the school system shocked me.

According to a study, school districts with large numbers of Black and Hispanic students need more funding. The study also shows this to be true for places with large numbers of children in poverty, with disabilities and who are learning English.

Ward 8 has the most crowded school system, the highest amount of poverty and the highest concentration of Black people compared to other wards in Washington, D.C.

Despite this, Anacostia saw more than a 30% decrease in funds per student. Anacostia High School is made up of 98% Black students and 100% of economically disadvantaged students. Currently, they sit at the number one school with the highest risk level –– meaning their students have the most need for mental health services.

According to a survey, 83% of DCPS teachers said their optimism was worse than in previous years, with 14% saying they plan to leave before the end of the year, and 18% at the end.

The educators and staff that I spoke to are passionate and loving towards their kids and their jobs. They deserve better.

My biggest question this reporting left me with: will anything ever change? The problems within Ward 8 schools are systemically rooted in a mirage of other things: access to food, gun violence, health care, poverty and so much more.