School and sports offer needy kids a sanctuary from home

Recently, I interviewed the founder and chair of Together Let’s Rise, Dr. Shadeiyah Edwards.
Together Let’s Rise is a nonprofit organization based in South Los Angeles, dedicated to serving families impacted by incarceration. Dr. Edwards works with the highest at-risk-families in South L.A.
In the course of our interview, which you can hear at mentoredpodcast.org, Dr. Edwards said that families are aching to be back outside, back to school, and back to sports.
On the heels of our interview, the Los Angeles Unified School District, which is the second largest in the nation, announced that they will be going strictly 100 percent online when school opens up in the fall.
When I heard this news my heart sank. My heart sank because I know that, for many students, school and sports are their sanctuary away from home — their safe place.
When I was growing up, school and sports were my sanctuary. My father, who is now a recovering addict, opened the door for many traumatic and adverse childhood experiences for me and my siblings. At one point he left my mother, who had to work two or three part-time jobs to keep utilities like water, electricity, and garbage running.
Oftentimes, my childhood home was a hostile home environment, with frequent fighting, shouting matches and abuses taking place.
I looked forward to school. I looked forward to the football field, the basketball court, the baseball diamond, and the weight room. These were places where I was safe.
School and sports were places where I could count on healthy and vibrant adults working with me, not wanting to extract anything from me. I found rest in my classrooms and my sports facilities because I felt safe. I would even venture to say it was of spiritual significance because these were the locations I felt welcome, cared for, nurtured, and loved.
My heart goes out to children living in poverty, neglect, hostile homes, and households breeding unrest in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Where are they to find rest? Where are they to find safety? Where are they to find a sanctuary?
Some neighborhoods in Los Angeles, such as Watts, Skid Row and Compton, are riddled with homelessness, poverty, gang violence and low-income public housing complexes. I think about the students in these neighborhoods.
I wonder how many of them are like me and look forward to school and sports as a sanctuary away from their houses.
Kendrick Lamar, in his debut album “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City,” describes the difficulties of keeping out of trouble, staying away from drugs, and run-ins with the law living in South Los Angeles as a kid. I wonder about the young Kendrick Lamars living in Los Angeles now and I wonder where they will find rest, recovery, safety, and sanctuary without school and sports in the fall.
I’d like to propose a challenge to the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, Austin Beutner. I’d like to challenge him to grab his laptop and head towards a nearby housing project in Los Angeles county, such as the Jordan Downs Projects in Watts.
With sirens blaring outside, drug trafficking coming in and out of the complex, domestic abuse taking place, not to mention the small quarters and thin walls, I’d like to challenge him to sit down in one of the apartment units and do eight hours of work.
Do you think you could learn language arts or mathematics in this environment? Do you think a second-grader can? This is the predicament that thousands of students will face this fall when the Los Angeles School District goes 100 percent online for education.
Here locally, we are fortunate to have superintendent Bo Yates in Lebanon and Tom Yahraes in Sweet Home, and their respective leadership teams, who advocate for keeping students safe from COVID-19 while still keeping the in-person option for those who need face-to-face education.
Lebanon is rolling out a hybrid-model where students can access education via distance learning and in-person.
Sweet Home’s superintendent said, “our goal is to open onsite learning to the maximum extent possible while following COVID-19 county and state guidelines.” I applaud both school districts.
I am sure there are little Skylers in the Lebanon and Sweet Home School Districts who see school as a sanctuary. Keeping students safe means opening up our lens to view safety from an infectious-disease perspective, but also viewing safety from a poverty and trauma lens.
Although Los Angeles Unified School District is making its educational decisions based on an infectious-disease lens, I am thankful for the educational leaders in Lebanon and Sweet Home who are making education decisions for next fall with a poverty- and trauma-informed lens.
Their decision making-matrix is a breath of fresh air for a person like myself, a poor kid from Sweet Home who viewed school and sports as his sanctuary growing up – his safe place.

Skyler Bascom serves as the Dean of Students at Ralston Academy in Lebanon and as a Life Family Pastor in Sweet Home Oregon. He has a monthly podcast dedicated to serving at-risk-youth. You can listen to it at mentoredpodcast.org