Today Amy Averett (Austin Voices) and I conducted our first workshop for the Achievement Gap forums at the Round Rock High School. We had fifteen people – about half students. Yeah! I can’t believe how much material we covered in five hours, AND they got a chance to practice. In fact, the role playing received the highest marks on the evaluation. I think the reason we managed to cover so much territory is that we modeled parts of the dialog, stopped for a debrief and then broke them into small groups of five where they continued the dialogs themselves taking turns practicing moderating and recording. Of course we worked them through lunch, too!
Some of the insights that the participants shared:
- It’s hard to stay neutral especially on a topic that you care about so much.
- A school administrator acknowledged that it will be easy for him to get sucked into being the expert when questions come up, but he was committed to staying out of the expert role.
- Participating in the forum highlighted just how complex the issue is.
- When one recent high school graduate talked about how hard school had been for him and how he almost dropped out, the group realized that it is important not to make assumptions about who is in the room based on what they look like.
- It’s all well and good to be part of the 10%, but what about the other 90%? Who’s looking out for them?
But three stories that I will take from today’s training that impacted me.
A mother described how difficult it was for her daughter get into college because she wasn’t in the top 10% of her class. She had to go out of state to a private (expensive, I’m sure) college.
A young woman who described how she had a deeper appreciation for how complicated the issue is. When I pressed her for a specific example of when she felt her thinking shift, she said that it was when she realized that she was guilty labeling other students and that it was wrong. As an Advanced Placement student, she had looked down on the students in regular classes and made assumptions about why they were not AP material. I was touched by her honest admission.
On a similar note, another young woman said that she wants to use the discussion guide on her campus and invite students from outside of the 10% to participate in an on-campus session. As an AP student, herself, she realized that she didn’t really know anything about the experiences of other students. She plans to reach out beyond her clique.
As I reflect on these stories, I realize that they are all about how divided our schools are. I remember cliques and clubs. I even scorned one club populated by the popular girls until I realized I was being unfair. (I attended their membership drive, was invited to join and had a blast!) Even with the cliques, there was always cross-over. You might only socialize with people in your group, but we were still thrown together with people from other groups on class assignments or school-wide projects. We had to learn to work with people outside of our own tribe. And we did.
I just don’t remember our class being so deeply divided based on academic achievement. Listening to these students talk, it sounds like there are two parallel worlds operating on their campus and the two never cross. When they talked about the students who were not part of their track, it was like the “others” were so far removed that there was no interaction between them.
Perhaps I don’t remember such an academic division because my school didn’t have AP-material students. But I doubt that! I do remember being aware that my high school boyfriend who went to a private school was getting a much better education with advanced classes. I also know that everyone in his school was college-bound, after all the phrase “college preparatory” was in the name of the school. I also knew that the kids in the rich school district – the line literally was my back fence – were getting a better education.
That was frustrating, but it wasn’t “in your face” every day right on our own campus. We were all pretty much in the same boat. Our education wasn’t bad. But we didn’t have the perks, the materials, the equipment that other students had. That lot was shared across the campus.
Working on this project has exposed me to so many stories of students on our campuses living in a divided world and I wonder about the impact on these young people. I wonder what messages they are receiving and how that will affect their future.
But I am also thrilled by the students who made a pledge today to stop labeling and to reach out to other students and try to understand their high school experience. Ah, it’s a good start and I wish them well.