Viewpoint

Starting in March, households nationwide will be invited to participate in the 2020 census—providing an opportunity for teachers to instruct both students and their communities in the importance of this tool. School leaders around the country should all recognize the vital significance of this constitutionally mandated count to our nation, our schools, and the children who attend them. Responses to the decennial census will be used to determine the distribution of billions in federal funds, including money for key education programs such as Title I, special education, school lunches, and Head Start.

How It Affects Us

As educators, we’re always advocating for the resources it takes to prepare students for the world. My school, Glasgow Middle School in Alexandria, VA, is one of the largest middle schools in the state. We have more than 1,900 students who speak 57 languages and represent 53 countries. Nearly 80 percent of our students speak a language in addition to English at home; 65 percent of our students are economically disadvantaged. More than 20 percent take part in advanced-level classes, and about 16 percent have an IEP.

Too often, educators feel powerless when it comes to outside forces that affect our communities and students’ lives. But when it comes to the 2020 census, there are important tools available that we can use to help encourage a complete count in our communities and ensure that we receive the support we need. One of those resources is the Statistics in Schools (SIS) program, created by the U.S. Census Bureau for teachers with input from teachers. Through SIS, students will learn about the civic responsibility of completing the census and about finding, understanding, and using statistics. By preparing students for a data-driven world, we can help them in their future schooling and careers.

For the 2020 census, SIS offers new classroom activities and materials that include a take-home message for students to share with their families to encourage them to complete the census. The SIS program is designed to not only educate students about the decennial census, but to also teach them educational concepts and skills, such as data literacy, through the application of real-life data in the classroom. During Statistics in Schools Week: Count Me In! (March 2–6), schools across the nation will be using the materials to spread the message about the importance of counting everyone. Participating in the 2020 census SIS program is a way to help shape the future of your community and contribute to a more complete count of children in your district.

By sharing information about the census, we can further develop a partnership between classrooms and homes that benefits students in both settings. For example, the “Diversity: Census Questions Over Time” activity for grades 7–8 engages students in an inquiry using real-world data. Students analyze historical data from the 2000 and 2010 censuses on race and ethnicity in the United States, noting trends that highlight the broad diversity of people who lived in the nation then and now. Students also learn why it is important that the Census Bureau collect this data. The website contains other educational materials, such as a map titled “Diversity in the United States,” which plots where everyone residing in the nation lives by race. It paints a useful picture of our changing nation.

Using these materials is one way that we can teach our students to be statistically literate. This is more important than ever, since data permeate our lives. We often think of statistics as math, but we use them every day to understand sports scores or the distance we plan to drive and when we will arrive. In fact, jobs related to statistics are growing, with an estimated 30 percent of jobs now requiring some knowledge of statistics.

Bridging the Opportunity Gap

Before I came to Glasgow Middle School, I served as an assistant principal at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST), also in Alexandria, VA. That school is a nationally known regional magnet school. One of my goals at Glasgow is to close the opportunity gap that too often separates students at schools like mine and a school like TJHSST. We’ve reached out to establish partnerships with local businesses such as Accenture and Capital One to give our students a very concrete idea of what the world of work looks like and how they can prepare for it. The SIS materials include activities with a similar focus on the workforce. For instance, “Minority Entrepreneurship and the Economy” allows students in grades 9–12 to examine minority-owned business growth over the past decade and how it has affected our nation. The worksheet can be used for a discussion on diversity of race, ethnicity, gender, and veteran status through the lens of entrepreneurship.

Educators and subject matter experts from across the country worked with Census Bureau staff to create and review each SIS activity to make sure it would be valuable, engaging, relatable, and easy to use. Teachers can easily incorporate SIS activities into their existing lesson plans in many subjects.

School leaders won’t have the opportunity to help shape the future of our schools and community in this way again until 2030—when the students at Glasgow Middle School will be young adults making their way in the world. Failing to respond to the 2020 census means missing out on 10 years of school supplies, teachers, and lunches— an entire childhood’s worth of resources for students, their teachers, and communities—until the next census count in 2030.


Shawn DeRose is the principal of Glasgow Middle School in Alexandria, VA.


Sidebar: About Statistics in Schools

Statistics in Schools is a program of the U.S. Census Bureau that uses census data to create activities, materials, and other resources for the classroom. Schools can use the program to:

  • Bolster existing lesson plans.
  • Enhance student learning across subjects.
  • Boost students’ statistics literacy and data-finding skills.
  • Prepare students for a data-driven world.
  • Impact the amount of federal funding schools receive.

The website has more than 200 free activities and resources—created by teachers, for teachers—that are engaging for students and align with standards. For the 2020 census, the site has 67 new activities, engaging maps, videos, and more that educate students and the people in their homes about the importance of the decennial count, with a special focus on counting all children. Schools across the nation are encouraged to use the materials March 2–6 during Statistics in Schools Week: Count Me In! Visit https://census.gov/schools to learn more.