California Forum

School isn’t the only place where kids get an education. You, too, can change lives

Oakland Raiders NFL football head coach Jon Gruden runs through drills with players from four Oakland-area youth football leagues after overseeing the distribution of funds and equipment through the DICK’S Sporting Goods Sports Matter Program in San Leandro, Calif., Tuesday, July 17, 2018. (Eric Kayne/AP Images for DICK’S Sporting Goods)
Oakland Raiders NFL football head coach Jon Gruden runs through drills with players from four Oakland-area youth football leagues after overseeing the distribution of funds and equipment through the DICK’S Sporting Goods Sports Matter Program in San Leandro, Calif., Tuesday, July 17, 2018. (Eric Kayne/AP Images for DICK’S Sporting Goods) AP

All parents want the best for their children, and that starts with great public schools. Unfortunately California students rank well below the national average. So there is much to do in Sacramento and with local school boards.

But we don’t need to just wait for others to act. For example, parents themselves can make a huge difference.

Unable to make the high school baseball team, I was sitting on the sidelines one day when Nat Reynolds came over to me and said ‘I’ve been keeping my eye on you, Gray Davis, and if you just had a little ambition and get up and go, you might make something of yourself.’

A parent is a child’s first teacher. Parents show kids how to say please and thank you, how to be kind and curious. Apart from love, spending time is the best gift of all. And nobody will appreciate your time more than your kid.

The power of conversation cannot be overstated. Lord knows, kids hear parents talking at them all the time versus talking with them. Having a conversation with your child, about what they’re studying or, better yet, what they ‘know’ gives them a chance to demonstrate their mastery of a subject.

But even caring adults who are not parents can contribute to a child’s success, in ways that no education policy or piece of legislation or school spending strategy can rival.

As a teenager I remember the impact a high school teacher and coach, Nat Reynolds, had on my self-esteem. Unable to make the high school baseball team, I was sitting on the sidelines one day when Nat came over to me and said “I’ve been keeping my eye on you, Gray Davis, and if you just had a little ambition and get up and go, you might make something of yourself.”

He gave me his home number and told me to call him if I needed help. At that time, before the internet or cell phones, sharing your home number was a big deal.

That conversation blew me away. I had no idea Nat even knew I existed, much less that he had faith in me. That conversation changed my whole approach to life.

I studied harder. I eventually made the team, and I went on to become governor of the greatest state in America.

It is hard to know exactly how my life would have turned out were it not for Nat Reynolds, but I sure wouldn’t want to find out. That’s why when I was governor, we were proud to encourage nearly 500,000 adults to become mentors.

Our educational system and its policymakers have a powerful role. But while we wait for Sacramento, nearly every adult can make an immediate positive impact on a child’s self-esteem and achievement.

By getting invested and involved in kids, one-on-one, in our own ways, we can forever change their lives.

Gray Davis is a former governor of California and a participant in The Sacramento Bee/McClatchy Influencer series. Reach him on Twitter at @GovernorDavis and find the Influencers (with more on education Monday) at sacbee.com/influencers.

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