I’m taking a year off social media

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When’s the last time you were really uncomfortable? When’s the last time you sacrificed something so BIG you had no choice but to trust God to order your steps? I’m about to find out.

This journey began in September when my pastor, Rev. Watley of Reid Temple AME – North, challenged the congregation to unplug from technology and reconnect with Christ. He stood on the pulpit and announced that we would unplug from social media for a week. During this time we would have to spend daily time with God, use a website such as Time Tracker to track how we spend time online, among other things. I was excited for a challenge. “A week?” I thought to myself. “I can do that” and so I did.

I’m on social media every single day posting commentary, sharing volunteer work and encouraging folks to give back, scrolling and finding the latest news article and catching up with family and friends. It has become such a major part of my life that I had to be deliberate in my attempt to cut it out completely. Later that evening, I deleted the apps from my phone one-by-one. “A week?” I thought to myself again. “I know that I can do that and it’ll be over next Sunday.” Then I proceeded to dust my shoulders off. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was comfortable with my weeklong social media fast. I still had control. My life wasn’t really disrupted and so I continued to exercise safe faith – when a person says they have faith, but is not really stretching him or herself to a point of discomfort where he/she has no choice but to listen and believe in God.

I walked in church with pep in my step the next Sunday morning. You would have thought I had on a brand new pair of Christian Louboutins as I strutted in to the chorus of Kanye West’s “Can’t tell me nothing.” I felt accomplished about making it through the weeklong fast. How many of us give ourselves a pat on the back for doing things that we know we can already do? Clearly, I’m guilty.

Before beginning the sermon, Pastor Watley asked us how we felt about the fast. I turned to my neighbor and shared with such excitement. Then he said, “Well, I want you to know that I’ve decided to extend the fast for another week.” I squealed. Literally. Other people gasped and we all looked around the room. Then Pastor Watley said, “If you had a negative reaction to this, then you have a problem.” I burst with laughter. It was at that moment that I began to see that I had been living a safe faith life in my comfort zone.

In the weeks to come, Pastor Watley added more to the fast. We fasted from social media and tv the second week and social media, tv and the internet (except for work use) the third and fourth weeks. Instead of feeling more difficult, the fast felt easier as time went on. I became more motivated as I noticed a change happening with my state of mind and lifestyle. After fasting for a month, I had experienced a few light bulb moments:

1) We have more time than we realize: We live in an era where busyness is glorified. We fill our schedules with things we think we should be doing and end up getting burned out and exhausted doing what actually could be “good” things while simultaneously neglecting ourselves. Also, normally my weekends felt too short. During my fast, I actually felt relaxed during my weekends and didn’t dread going to bed on Sunday night knowing that I have work in the morning. The fast revealed just how much time idle time I spend on social media and how much more time I had for things that I had put off for months, years even. I got a lot more accomplished during the week because I wasn’t coming home to be a tired zombie on the couch watching hours of television. I thought I had no time, when in reality I had more time than I could’ve imagined — so much time that even my two-day weekend felt enough.

2) We have to choose peace: Given the times (racism and prejudice is no longer being swept under the rug, police brutality, mass incarceration and our criminal injustice system are all being challenged, economic inequality is at the highest its been in nearly a century, folks are losing battles with mental health, the youth – especially those living in poor and under-resourced communities—are living in a state of distress) it can be very easy to allow all of this and more to overcome and overwhelm us. I felt that weight day in and day out. However, during my fast I didn’t feel the obligation that I had put on myself to share my opinion about everything going on locally, nationally and internationally. Most of this was because I didn’t see a constant barrage of news and opinions on my timeline every day. This forced me to find other outlets to stay informed and also read and view things with a different perspective than I might of had when I combined it with everything else that I read on my timeline. In my peaceful state, I was able to view situations with new eyes while also giving myself the time and space to be innovative in coming up with alternative ways to combat old problems.

3) We have to be laser focused: Social media and the internet has changed the way we learn and process information. As humans, we must study subjects in depth to become smarter. This is exactly the opposite of how many of us acquire information in the age of social media. The internet is so busy and it causes our minds jump from topic to topic, click story to story, read opinion after opinion and as a result it’s difficult for our minds to naturally acquire knowledge and form theories or new innovative thoughts in a meaningful way. I noticed my productivity increased when I was able to focus on one thing at a time without all the distractions. I had more control over what I was putting in my mind and as a result it grew stronger. Additionally, I didn’t find myself worrying about what the next person was doing. I was able to focus on my own personal growth and development. There’s no room to compare when you’re only looking at yourself.

4) When we eliminate distractions, we free ourselves: Overtime, I noticed that I was beginning to progress in areas that I always said were a priority, but through my actions weren’t. How many of us set the same goals year after year and never accomplish them? These are the goals that are keys to our happiness, but they end up slipping through the cracks because we don’t make large enough sacrifices to make them happen. How good would we feel to begin to move the needle on the neglected areas of our lives? A few of these goals for me are focusing on some financial goals that I’ve thrown to the wayside for too long, growing in my relationship with God, committing to a weekly gym routine and having more face-to-face time with those I care about most. Social media allows us to be able to keep in surface level contact with folks. When people don’t have daily access to what you’re doing, they’re forced to inquire when they see you in person or talk to you on the phone.

After completing the fast, I realized a month off was too short. I went right back to old habits of posting and scrolling. In December, I hit a rough point that forced me to make a drastic change. I was so frustrated with a few toxic decisions I made and couldn’t even look myself in the face. My mind was weak and it caused me to make poor decisions and go through the same internal tests and trials over and over again. Some of us keep experiencing the same hardships because we’re selfish and stubborn. We refuse to change. So in that vein, my yearlong fast was born.

I’ve been living my life for the past thirty years in the safe faith zone – my comfort zone. I’m giving up social media* for a year to focus on me, myself and I:  #DarlasDigitalDetox.  I look forward to this inward journey and experiencing the highs and lows of change. For me, I had to give up social media.  It could be something else that you may have to let go. I ask you to do what I did: Reflect on your life and where you are – if you’re not happy with certain areas of your life that you’re dealing with privately, change them. Finally, be committed to true faith in order to be in a spiritual and emotional state that brings you joy, happiness and a life of purpose.

If you ever wanted to chat with me hit me up: Darla.Bunting@gmail.com and be sure that we get face-to-face time. I’m over keeping in contact with folks just through pictures and status updates. 😀

*Social media fast:  No Instagram, Facebook, SnapChat and Twitter.

My thoughts on the high school student assaulted at Spring Valley

My quick thoughts on the assault at Spring Valley High School.  If you haven’t watched the video, check it out here:

1) Humans are emotional beings. As we become older, we hopefully learn how to regulate our emotions and think critically about the long and short-term effects of our decisions. This process is called emotional intelligence.

2) It may bruise our ego when a child doesn’t comply. We may even think about doing somethings in the moment that we would never do in our right minds. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean we make a split decision in a heated moment that’s rooted in ego and fear of losing “power” that we will regret.

3) Kids are learning and growing. We expect children to behave irrationally at times. They haven’t gained the wisdom and life experience to effectively regulate their emotions and egos. Teenagers especially are testy because of the struggle between childhood and adulthood, the search to find oneself, and juggling this all through wanting to be perceived a certain way in front of one’s peers. It takes time, growth and life experience that allows one to mature to use discernment. On the other hand, there is absolutely no excuse for us, as adults, who know better and can better manage our emotions because of the life experience and wisdom that we’ve hopefully acquired over time to physically or verbally abuse a child.

4) Some kids are left to be innocent children who are growing and learning. Others have their innocence stripped away from them because a number of reasons that are rooted in our complicated history and our natural instinct to be driven by fear and not by hope, faith, compassion and love. For some reason there are those of us who consciously and unconsciously accept the verbal and physical abuse of some kids and not others. Ask yourself, are you looking at this situation through the lens of love or through a lens of fear and an inability to view some children as having innocence?

5) Working in schools is a tough job. To all the teachers and administrators who understand that our children are learning and growing, and that we must always work to regulate our emotions to the best of our ability because that’s what we must model for kids, I salute you. Officer Ben Fields, I would hope you own up to your abuse of power and sincerely apologize for allowing your emotions and power trip to get the best of you and sincerely ask for forgiveness. This type of behavior cannot be tolerated and forgiveness is just the start in mending broken trust and frail relationships.

What Inspires you to create?

ImageI was humbled when Melissa Kimble of My Creative Connection–an amazing blog that highlights women of color and their professional and personal stories of success– asked if she could write a piece on me.  The opportunity could not of come at a better time as I was in a period of self-reflection and transition as I spread my wings to leave my classroom nest and into the wild job hunt jungle. I touched upon issues such as work-life balance, priority-setting and getting back to the basics of community building. 

Check out an excerpt from my interview below:

What inspires you to create?

What many people do not realize is that doing good work is dirty.  We need people who are willing to get down and dirty to be the change we all wish to see.  Too many people attend the fundraising events and/or see the picture recap and believe that it is all fun.  Or people see teachers smiling with their students at recess and believe that teaching and working in schools is all fun.  No!  The day-to-day, often mundane work we do is what actually produces those results.  So what inspires me is when I get to see that hard work pay off.  When I see pictures of a teacher and her class, I think of how that teacher has built those relationships through day-to-day classroom interactions because I have been there.  When I am with the First Book-DC board reviewing book grant applications and we get to grant out the thousands of dollars we’ve raised or when I’m leading a Power Session with Capital Cause, those are moments that inspire me to get down and dirty again.  To get in the weeds again and keep working because no matter how tedious the task, no matter how frustrating it can be to send all those emails, planning those lessons, or lead another conference call, at the end of the day it pays off.  And knowing that you’re working towards making a lasting difference is what makes it all worth it. 

Curious to read more?  Hop on over to My Creative Connection for the rest of the story.

The Fab Empire’s Fab List + Lessons in Leadership

ImageThis morning, via Twitter (the ultimate source of news sharing), I found out I made The
Fab Empire’s The Fab List–a list that “honors innovators and leaders from field such as technology, fashion, communications, medicine, ministry, politics and more.”  I was shocked and surprised.  You see I do what I love.  Volunteering and enlisting others in service, advocating for better educational opportunities and ensuring the low-income students who make it to college, make it through college are all my passions.  To be honored doing exactly what I love and what comes extremely natural to me is the ultimate compliment, and a key sign that I’m working in my purpose.

Before I share you the link to check out the list that includes stellar changemakers and movers and shakers in DC, I want to leave you with a quote from The Radical Leap by Steve Farber, a book I’m reading for graduate school.  In the book, Steve meets a man named Edg who reignites his fire for leadership, and challenges him to think about leadership as an extreme sport.  In one of their conversations, Edg shares this with Steve:

The ability to lead doesn’t come from a snappy vocabulary, the books you’ve displayed on your shelves, your place on the organizational chart, or that fashionable title on your business card.  Leadership is always substantive and rarely fashionable.  It is intensely personal and intrinsically scary and it requires us to live the ideas we espouse–in irrefutable ways–every day of our lives, up to and beyond the point of fear.

Edg is right.  Authentic leadership comes from within.  It is a part of how we live our daily lives.  Some people never tap into their authentic leadership source because they are afraid to really go after their dreams.  Today, I encourage you to think about your passions and live them!  You will often surprise yourself–and like in my case, catch the eyes of others, too.

You can check out The Fab List here.

 

Bill Gates is Listening to Teachers on Evaluations

ImageYesterday, Bill Gates published a piece in the Washington Post titled, Bill Gates:  A fairer way to evaluate teachers.  Skeptically, I clicked the link.  I wasn’t sure if I would read the typical education reform buzz words with little depth to the issue or if he would actually move the debate forward.  Sure, the title infers that he wants us to fairly evaluate teachers, but in this chapter of education reform, teachers and former teachers like myself, have come to brace ourselves for people who are in the spotlight, but who misguided in their solutions.

However, to my surprise, Bill Gates made it clear that he’s been listening to teachers or at least he now wants to not only listen, but seriously take the suggestions of teachers and put them on table. Below are some of the concerns he brought up:

1.  Data gone wild:  States are rushing to develop standardized tests for any and everything without giving much thought to whether that’s even the best way to assess that particular subject. 

One glaring example is the rush to develop new assessments in grades and subjects not currently covered by state tests. Some states and districts are talking about developing tests for all subjects, including choir and gym, just so they have something to measure. – Bill Gates

2.  Teaching Purposefully:  Just how do the yearly standardized tests help teachers improve their practice?  Currently, teachers are unable to analyze standardized test data to look for student trends.  If teachers were able to receive data on which objectives where students scored poorly, teachers would know how to problem-solve around it and plan purposefully for that unit for the next school year.  Also, if teachers received data on which objectives students performed well, they would know that that unit and lesson plans were an effective way to teach those standards.

Even in subjects where the assessments have been validated, such as literacy and math, test scores don’t show a teacher areas in which they need to improve. – Bill Gates

3.  Myth Busting:  Contrary to what many people outside the profession may think, teachers want to be evaluated.  However, like Gates is emphasizing, teachers want to be evaluated fairly using multiple measures–not student performance at one point of the year on one standardized test.  They deserve to see their professional growth throughout the school year and over many years of teaching.

The fact is, teachers want to be accountable to their students. What the country needs are thoughtfully developed teacher evaluation systems that include multiple measures of performance, such as student surveys, classroom observations by experienced colleagues and student test results.  – Bill Gates

4.  Teachers aren’t in it for the money.  I know plenty of teachers who seek out teaching positions in low-income communities because they know there’s a need for high-quality teachers in those schools.  However, when teachers decide to teach in a high-need school, districts and schools need to ensure that those schools have a strong curriculum, on-going and tailored professional development, and transformative leadership.  Now once at the school, it’s up to the teachers and staff to build and maintain a strong culture.

Teachers also tell me that while compensation is important, so are factors such as high-quality professional development opportunities, a strong school leader, engaged families and the chance to work with like-minded colleagues.

5.  A Path to School Leadership:  We need to rethink the teacher career ladder.  There are many schools that are beginning to shift focus on ways to keep teachers in the classroom while also giving them opportunities to lead in various areas such as school culture, professional development, and student enrichment.

In top-performing education systems in other parts of the world, such as Singapore and Shanghai, accomplished teachers earn more by taking on additional responsibilities such as coaching and mentoring other teachers and helping to capture and spread effective teaching techniques. Such systems are a way to attract, retain and reward the best teachers; make great use of their skills; and honor the collaborative nature of work in schools.  -Bill Gates

It’s refreshing to read Bill Gates thoughts, but these are the same things that teachers have said for years.  Read the education blogs, check out different ed chats on twitter, go sit down with teachers in the school lounge and you’ll see that these views are brought up time and time again.  The real questions is, “Will these concerns make it into policy?” Only time will tell.

Read the rest of Bill Gates piece here.

The Fiscal Cliff Deal’s Impact on K-12, Higher Ed

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If you thought what you saw over the past few days was frustrating, just wait for what the next two months have in store.  The fiscal cliff bill passed last night only delays the impact of the fiscal cliff.  There’s no doubt that many people are concerned about what the incoming Congress will decide on a number of issues–including education.  I’ve compiled a list of pieces on the fiscal cliffs impact on education below:  

  1. Education Services and Special Education Cuts are at Stake

American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten summed the problem up best, noting that, “Kicking the can down the road for two months means that we still face the possibility of staggering and debilitating cuts to public schools, health care and services that our kids and families count on.”

Indeed, a looming $1.2 billion cut to Title I funding alone will reduce or eliminate education services for over 1.7 million low income children and federal spe­cial education funding could still be slashed by $1 billion, eliminating support for 536,000 students and resulting in 12,000 special education teachers and paraprofessionals losing their jobs. That means school districts still face significant financial uncertainty as they make budgets for the 2013-2014 school year.”  Read  more: GOOD’s Why the Fiscal Cliff Deal Doesn’t Solve our Education Crisis

2.  Early Childhood Education on the Chopping Block

“If the sequestration cuts do end up going through in March, most school districts wouldn’t feel the pinch until the start of the 2013-14 school year, because of the way that key programs, such as Title I grants for districts and special education aid, are funded. That gives districts a planning window to figure out how to implement the cuts without hurting student achievement—and it gives Congress and the Obama administration more time to work out a deal.

But other programs, such as the Head Start preschool program for low-income children, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, would be cut right away. And the impact-aid program would feel the sequestration sting in April, when districts receive their next payments. That program helps districts with a large federal presence, such as a military base.”  Read about this and more on Ed Weekly:  K-12 Aid Faces Uncertain Future, Despite ‘Fiscal Cliff’ Deal

3.  Higher Education Saved 

The final agreement to avoid certain tax increases and spending cuts passed both houses of Congress late Tuesday, staving off several measures that would have raised the tax bill for college students and potentially deprived universities of critical research funding.

The deal to avert the so-called “fiscal cliff”spared the American Opportunity Tax Credit and extended the measure for five years, EdWeek reports. Born of the 2009 stimulus bill, the American Opportunity Tax Credit allows middle- and low-income families a tax deduction of up to $2,500 a year in education expenses for four years. It can trim the overall cost of a college degree by $10,000. Read more on The Huffington Post:  Fiscal Cliff Deal Spares Higher Education Research Funding, Tuition Tax Credit 

I’m glad higher education was spared.  I hope that K-12 comes out victorious when the final legislation is passed in two months.  Call your representatives and let them know to save education! Our nation’s future depends on our ability to educate our children today. 

Not Every Low-Income Student Who Makes it to College makes it through College

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Today, The New York Times shared the stories of Angelica, Bianca and Melissa, who despite being academically prepared for college, faced other obstacles that have hindered them from obtaining their degrees. These stories are not atypical. I’m afraid they continue to disproportionately affect students from low-income households because of what Maslow describes as “safety needs” aren’t met. I know that there is more we can do to support our students in selecting the right colleges to fit their circumstances and ensure they graduate once they get there.

Check their stories below:

GALVESTON, Tex. — Angelica Gonzales marched through high school in Goth armor — black boots, chains and cargo pants — but undermined her pose of alienation with a place on the honor roll. She nicknamed herself after a metal band and vowed to become the first in her family to earn a college degree.
“I don’t want to work at Walmart” like her mother, she wrote to a school counselor.

Weekends and summers were devoted to a college-readiness program, where her best friends, Melissa O’Neal and Bianca Gonzalez, shared her drive to “get off the island” — escape the prospect of dead-end lives in luckless Galveston. Melissa, an eighth-grade valedictorian, seethed over her mother’s boyfriends and drinking, and Bianca’s bubbly innocence hid the trauma of her father’s death. They stuck together so much that a tutor called them the “triplets.”

Low-income strivers face uphill climbs, especially at Ball High School, where a third of the girls’ class failed to graduate on schedule. But by the time the triplets donned mortarboards in the class of 2008, their story seemed to validate the promise of education as the great equalizer.
Angelica, a daughter of a struggling Mexican immigrant, was headed to Emory University. Bianca enrolled in community college, and Melissa left for Texas State University, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s alma mater.

“It felt like we were taking off, from one life to another,” Melissa said. “It felt like, ‘Here we go!’ ”

Four years later, their story seems less like a tribute to upward mobility than a study of obstacles in an age of soaring economic inequality. Not one of them has a four-year degree. Only one is still studying full time, and two have crushing debts. Angelica, who left Emory owing more than $60,000, is a clerk in a Galveston furniture store.

Each showed the ability to do college work, even excel at it. But the need to earn money brought one set of strains, campus alienation brought others, and ties to boyfriends not in school added complications. With little guidance from family or school officials, college became a leap that they braved without a safety net.

The story of their lost footing is also the story of something larger — the growing role that education plays in preserving class divisions. Poor students have long trailed affluent peers in school performance, but from grade-school tests to college completion, the gaps are growing. With school success and earning prospects ever more entwined, the consequences carry far: education, a force meant to erode class barriers, appears to be fortifying them.

“Everyone wants to think of education as an equalizer — the place where upward mobility gets started,” said Greg J. Duncan, an economist at the University of California, Irvine. “But on virtually every measure we have, the gaps between high- and low-income kids are widening. It’s very disheartening.”

The growing role of class in academic success has taken experts by surprise since it follows decades of equal opportunity efforts and counters racial trends, where differences have narrowed. It adds to fears over recent evidence suggesting that low-income Americans have lower chances of upward mobility than counterparts in Canada and Western Europe.

Read more of For Many Poor Students, Leap to College Ends in a Hard Fall

How can we ensure that students who make it to college, make it through college?

The Impact of Low Expectations in K-12 Education

Reading Leonard Pitts Jr.’s recent post in the Miami Herald, Don’t lower the bar on education standards, reminded me of Darryl’s Robinson’s piece, I went to some of D.C.’s better schools. I was still unprepared for college, published in the Washington Post earlier this year.  Leonard and Darryl are both two different people.  They are from two different generations; their age difference is a couple decades.  But they both share a common narrative that many students who attend low-performing schools experience once in college:  The realization that you did not receive an adequate k-12 education.  It has nothing to do with how intelligent you are or what your mind is capable of learning, but it has all to do with where you were born and the school you attended.

Leonard began his piece by describing the time in college when he realized his SAT score was not as great as as he thought:

As I recall, I scored 960 on my SAT. This was good enough for second best in my class and many congratulations and backslaps from teachers and administrators. Based on that, I thought I’d done pretty well.

So I’m in college, right? Freshman year, and I get to talking with my roommate, this white guy named Reed, about our SAT scores. Reed’s kind of sheepish, finally confessing that he scored “only” about 1200.

That’s when I realized I had not done pretty well. I had done pretty well for a student of John C. Fremont High, in the poverty, crime and grime of South Los Angeles. I had done pretty well for a black kid.

At Leonard’s high school, his SAT score was good.  Maybe Leonard could have scored higher, but one thing Leonard knows for sure is that it stung when he listened to his roommate that day and became aware that his great score was not so great after all.

Then there’s Darryl.  Darryl wrote a piece about how he struggled at Georgetown University because he was not prepared for college rigor.  Here’s what he had to say:

But after arriving on campus before the school year, with a full scholarship, I quickly felt unprepared and outmatched — and it’s taken an entire year of playing catch-up in the classroom to feel like I belong. I know that ultimately I’m responsible for my education, but I can’t help blaming the schools and teachers I had in my early years for my struggles today.

Even though I attended some of the District’s better schools — including my high school, the Cesar Chavez Public Charter School for Public Policy, at the Parkside campus near Kenilworth — the gap between what I can do and what my college classmates are capable of is enormous. This goes beyond knowing calculus or world history, subjects that I didn’t learn in high school but that my peers here mastered long ago. My former teachers simply did not push me to think past a basic level, to apply concepts, to move beyond memorizing facts and figures.

Darryl pushed the education reform dialogue to confront the watered down curriculum offered in a vast majority of low-income public schools.  It makes everyone confront the educational offerings we allow in one community and the ones we give another, and how this ultimately inadequately prepares our college-hopefuls to feel successful in college.

Then there’s me.  My freshman year in college, I had to take remedial math because I was not prepared for college-level mathematics.  Not many people know this, but I failed that course my freshman year.  It was devastating for me.  I never cried so much in my life.  I did not even know how to tell my parents.  I was ashamed.  It was the first time I felt like a failure.  I graduated top 10 in high school, served as vice president of the honor society and was class president all four years of high school, and here I was receiving my first F in a remedial math course.  It made me question my academic abilities, but it also made me realize that the education I received was not good enough.

Leonard’s, Darryl’s or my story is not unique.  There are many students like us who attend public schools every day.  The first time we realize that we did not receive a rigorous, college-ready education is when we enter college.  Leonard’s piece focuses on Virginia and Florida’s decisions to create race-based achievement goals for students.  And Darryl’s focuses on ensuring students can think read, write and think analytically to best prepare them for college.  Like Leonard, I too, wonder just what effect lowering the bar will have on the education students attending schools like we did will receive.  Like Darryl, I advocate for a rich curriculum because I know from experience that my students will need in college.

Leonard, Darryl and students like myself are capable and ultimately end up being successful in life.  In college, we challenge ourselves to persist despite our shortcomings and end up achieving academically.  So ask yourself, if we are able to catch-up while in college, then why isn’t more being done to ensure that we are better prepared?  Some say students in low-income schools cannot achieve at the same levels of their high-income peers or some are too far behind to ever catch-up.  Leonard, Darryl, myself and countless others prove them otherwise in college and in life.  We graduate and make our families and communities proud.

I know that we can give children a rich and engaging k-12 curriculum that ensures that the stories of Leonard, Darryl and myself won’t continue to be the experiences of students who attend schools that primarily serve students from low-income backgrounds who enroll in college.   Let’s not lower standards, but ask ourselves the following question:   How do we create schools that produce critical thinkers and problem-solvers that naturally yield high test scores and our world’s best and brightest leaders?  If these same students can do it in college, surely our schools can do a better job of bringing them up to par in k-12.

Read Leonard’s piece here and Darryl’s here.  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Many of My Friends Didn’t Attend College

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My high school has the lowest college-going rate in rural Cumberland County, N.J. This is the same rank the school had when I graduated in 2004 and it’s the same rank it has now. So when I read a recent post on Education Week by Sarah Sparks titled, “Why Do Academically Promising Students Not Choose College?” I was immediately reminded of my high school. Many of my capable peers did not attend college or some enrolled in less prestigious institutions for a variety of reasons. Nevertheless, the reason I work in the field of education is because I’ve always believed in my peers and in students who attend schools like the ones in my hometown. I know that their life’s outcomes do not need to continue a path of poverty. With community and school supports, they can stop the cycle of poverty and put their family on the path to achieving the America Dream.

Sarah’s piece highlights a recent Harvard Study that reveals sheds light on the reality for students attending high schools like the one on my hometown. Many of them could go to college, but instead choose not to. Here’s what she had to say:

[Researchers from Harvard’s Center on Education Policy] found that, of students who showed academic potential;as judged by their cumulative high school GPAs and math and verbal SAT scores—18 percent enrolled in less-selective four-year colleges, two-year institutions or no higher education at all. Moreover, students who chose less-selective colleges were less likely to continue through to earn a diploma.

“These are people who are clearly poised for success and are not clearly moving into it,” said John Fullerton CEPR’s executive director. “That could be because some high schools are not preparing academically kids who were high performing, and so they slip back during high school, or others might not provide the support for students” such as college selection and financial aid guidance needed to plan which college to attend, he said.

“This is particularly true of kids from lower economic backgrounds. Going to a college just because it’s local or cheap may not be the best decision, because if you are more likely to drift away and drop out, that will have long-term economic consequences,” Mr. Fullerton said.

Mr. Fullerton was spot on in describing many of my peers experiences. Sure, I was bright in high school, but so were many of them. There’s no reason why some of them did not go straight from high school and into four year colleges. We sat in the same honors classes or some chose to take a less challenging route and enroll in college prep because they were not pushed to excel to their fullest potential. Their ability to achieve mirrored mine, but our life’s took us down two different paths.

My friends and I would discuss college in high school. Once a month, a few of attended Talent Search–a partnership with the local Community College that exposed us to college. We were excused from class for an hour and our Talent Search Coordinator would teach us about the application process and taking the SAT. During Spring Break, those of us who could afford it, went on a trip to college tours. For many of us, Talent Search was our ticket out of Cumberland County. I will never forget when I had the chance to go to California the first time. It was part of Talent Search’s Spring Break trip to tour University of Southern California in Los Angeles and other schools. Yet, for many, Talent Search was not enough to sway the hold their environment and family circumstances had in shaping their life’s path.

I knew, and I wholeheartedly believe they knew they were more than capable. However, it was difficult to crack their tough exterior and help them believe that attending college was their doorway to success. By the end of our four years, many of my friends and peers did not go on to college or some went to the local county college, dropped out, or re-enrolled and graduated many years later. Like Mr. Fullerton said, some of my peers didn’t have the proper guidance to navigate the application and matriculation process. If no one in your family has gone to college, and it’s not the norm for students to go to college in your hometown or high school, applying to college can be frightening. I am lucky to have a father who is a guidance counselor by profession at a school in the neighboring town who could support me in the process. My peers, although intelligent, did not have that support.

Moreover, some didn’t believe they had the financial means to go to college. Again, I had a father who knew FAFSA like the back of his hand. He could also help me apply for scholarships. I will never forget during my senior year, I would spend hours at the computer writing scholarships essays and preparing these unique scholarship packages with all of my accomplishments. During my senior year, I decided I wanted to attend the University of Maryland, and my dad informed me that since it was out-of-state, I would have to work really hard to pay for it. I ended up receiving 18 scholarships, two of which were four year and the rest were enough to pay for my entire first year of college. I was fortunate to have my dad to make a sometimes overwhelming process for a high schooler be one that was paved with love. For my peers who did not come from that family background, trying to figure out how to apply and then how to pay for college was a daunting task.

Nevertheless, a child’s family’s background or economic status should not determine the life they envision for themselves. That’s why I would take it a step beyond Mr. Fullerton’s reasons of lack of knowledge of the application process and financial aid, and also assert that tracking done in high school and the high school’s college-going culture both play a significant role in a young person’s decision to attend college or the colleges that make it on a student’s college short list.

In my high school, students were put on different tracks. Each year, we selected classes that were either on the honors, college preparatory, or general education track. Although, my high school has a low college-going rate, the number of students who were on the honors track who attended college was quite high. Since our freshman year, we were supported and guided on the track to college. My friends who attended these classes with me are now successful in various sectors. One of my friends is a journalist, another recently graduated law school and working in the legal department of a Fortune 500 company, another is a high school guidance counselor, and another is on her way to graduating with her Masters in Social Work. I wonder just how many high school students are missing out on the chance to go to college because they’re tracked in high school?

There are a lot of out-of-school factors that sway many students’ decision to attend college. Nevertheless, there is much that schools can do to put more students on the right path. I believe that if my high school really invested more students outside of the honors track in going to college from the ninth grade, and put in comprehensive supports to help more students apply and matriculate into college, the college-going rate of my high school would be much higher.

What do you think? Do you think high schools, specifically that serve students from low-income neighborhoods, do enough to push students who walk the tight rope of achievement and mediocrity? What is your high school doing to create a college-going culture?

Let me know your thoughts and be sure to read more of Sarah’s piece in Education Week.