Alana Banks is a member of the DPS #61 Board of Education. She is an independent paralegal, activist , and a DPS #61 Alumna.
"I believe that every child is entitled to a quality education-- free from discrimination, harassment, violence, and bias." -Alana Giselle Banks
Our district must make it a priority to safely get students back into the classrooms. As of now, there seems to be no clear plan despite having had dates set for a return to learn. In addition to getting students back into the classroom, I believe it is important that we also work to create a permanent e-learning option. This option would decrease classroom sizes, accommodate teachers, staff, and families who are not yet feeling safe to return, provide an alternative to students who feel inclined to drop out, and accommodate students with chronic illnesses and/or disabilities.
It is imperative that we prepare our students for adulthood, and this means providing them with accurate, science-based information. I would like to add an HIV/AIDS campaign that dispels myths, breaks stigmas, and provides accurate information for prevention. Mental health also needs to be a priority. I would like to provide mental health evaluations (HIPAA enforced), district-wide mental health days, and a mental health center for students and faculty. While progress has been made in our society, there is still a stigma surrounding mental health and a lack of resources for those who need help. We owe it to our students to provide those resources where we can and break down those stigmas so they can learn healthy ways to take care of their mental health.
Supporting our teachers, teachers assistants, and support staff needs to be a priority for this district. I believe that having smaller class sizes would benefit teachers, staff, and students and provide a better learning environment. In addition to that, I believe that there should be a constant evaluation of benefits and salaries to ensure that our teachers are being taken care of, as well as incentives and care packages as our teachers frequently go above and beyond for their students. I believe we need to encourage creativity in the classrooms to allow our teachers and support staff the freedom they need to make learning fun and accessible for their students. I would like to create advisory councils for teachers, staff, and administrators so they know their voices are being heard. Finally, I would like to find solutions that ensure our teachers are never expected to break up fights. Asking them to put themselves in danger is unacceptable. We must find other ways to deal with violence that may erupt in schools.
When I am elected to the Decatur Public Schools Board of Education, my first goal is to ensure that an agreement is reached regarding the Macon/Piatt Special Education District conflict. I will also advocate to fill all vacancies within the DPS #61 Special Education Department with passionate and qualified individuals who possess pedagogical, social-emotional, and case management experience that will address our students social, emotional and behavioral needs. Additionally, I believe that we must reinstate the Reading Recovery Program. It provides a valuable service and will go a long way to ensure our students are given every opportunity to thrive.
Ensuring the safety of our students and staff is of the upmost importance. I would like to encourage the fostering of a relationship with the Decatur Police Department. I believe that through such a relationship we can find solutions to make sure our schools are safe for everyone. It is also imperative that our district constantly reevaluate our procedures regarding violence and active shooters. I believe that by partnering with local law enforcement we can find new and creative ways to keep our schools safe.
Studies have shown that just one adult being affirming of an LGBTQ+ youth can have a big impact on that student’s mental health. It is important to me that our schools do everything in their power to be a safe and affirming environment to all of our students, including those in the LGBTQ+ community. I believe that there are numerous ways in which that can be achieved. I have previously released the DPS #61 Pride Project outlining various ways in which the district can make a difference. If you have not yet had a chance to review it, you can find it on my campaign’s Facebook page.
Alternative Education should not just be for students with IEPs. There are a variety of ways a student can learn and we, as a district, should do our best to make sure there are options available to all of our students. Examples of this would include service-based learning, work-based learning, assemblies/outer-classroom experiences, directed and independent studies, mentorship programs, combining academic learning with creative instruction, and contextual learning. It is also important to improve the climate and culture surrounding alternative education to rid our classrooms of the stigma and misunderstanding of what alternative education is.
In previous sections I have mentioned advisory boards and councils and I would like to elaborate on that a bit more. I believe that our district is at its best when we all work together. The only way to address problems and concerns is if we know what they are. Since it’s impossible for each board member to personally speak to each and every member of the community we serve, creating advisory boards and councils is a great way to foster communication. Setting up advisory boards and councils to address specific topics or areas of concerns allows the public to have someone to talk to that can then brainstorm solutions and assist the board in finding ways to address those concerns. Additionally, as the advisory boards and councils would not be part of the Board of Education itself, they can hold the board accountable and ensure transparency. Serving on the Board of Education for DPS #61 is about serving the public. As such, we need to be creative in the ways we make sure we are not only accountable to the public, but also accessible to them.
It is vital that we ensure we are teaching LGBTQ+ history, African American history, and Latinx history. These topics are often glossed over in our history books, but are no less important for our students. I would also like to strengthen our relationships with Richland Community College and Millikin University to provide our students with even more educational opportunities. Additionally, I would like to create incentives for students going into teaching, public service, social work, and public health. These fields are the foundation of our society but are often understaffed and overworked. Providing support to students interested in those fields would benefit not just those students, but the communities they go on to serve.
I would propose that we offer organizations, programs, councils, and sports conditioning in conjunction with summer school. Keeping our kids engaged over the summer/winter break will help foster relationships as well as provide additional opportunities to develop skills needed both in and out of the classroom.
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