Leaving some kids behind

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The fundamental question is this: why should I be given the opportunity for a fantastic education and not these low-income black and Hispanic students? How can we level the playing field so that we all have a greater opportunity to become productive members of society, not just those who live in more affluent communities?

What is the problem? The problem is not teachers. I have had good teachers and bad teachers. Nor is the problem the administration. There are good administrators and non-responsive ones. The age or quality of the school building is not the problem. Some are old and decrepit and some are new. An urban setting makes no difference – tony Bethesda has excellent schools. It is also not because of a higher incidence of broken families. I, like many of my fellow students, am the product of a broken family. The problem is a combination of all of the above factors. Therefore, any solution has to be holistic and must provide choices for those with higher aspirations. Without exception my kids wanted to leave their schools for better ones. They were not given any choice, however, and never would have were it not for “Upward Bound.”

Participating in “Upward Bound” often had a huge impact on the student’s lives and sometimes required sacrifices in exchange for their education.  From talking to countless kids I learned that many of them had to leave their nuclear family and move in with relatives they had barely known just for this opportunity. It was gut-wrenching when I realized how many of these student had parents who did not want them to learn or have any opportunity given to them. These students knew, however, that education and learning were more important than their parents’ opinions. They knew that a good education could, and most certainly would, give them the opportunity needed to flourish and grow into the amazing human beings they all are. Not to give these kids who want to learn the opportunity to succeed is the worst crime. This tragedy is happening within the shadows of the U.S. Congress.

How can we turn abysmal inner city school systems around? Here are some ideas. First, I think a national apprenticeship program that allows for a dual education system should be established. This will serve to teach skills other than rote learning to those who simply cannot finish high school as well as address the issue of jobless youth. Second, successful non-profit organizations like “Upward Bound” and the Urban Alliance should be established nationwide. The Urban Alliance has changed the lives of hundreds of low-income minority students in DC by providing them with a one-year internship during their senior year at institutions like the World Bank. Third, urban planners must incorporate education into their designs for successful cities. For example, when you compare Bangalore (the Silicon Valley of India) to Detroit, it becomes clear that the establishment of an engineering school or teaching institution produces a knowledge-based local economy.

Closely related to creating Bangalores in our inner cities, it is also important to incentivize the middle classes who have fled the inner cities to return and in the process create role models for kids who currently have no one to look up to. It makes a difference when one sees a lawyer or doctor in their neighborhood as opposed to hopelessness or worst yet, criminal elements. Finally, Congress must do its homework just as we students do ours. The No Child Left Behind program should be reauthorized or lawmakers need to develop a new law that will speed up reform so that no American child is left behind to struggle for an opportunity to succeed that comes with a good education.

Some years ago a Princeton University senior’s thesis ended up becoming a national program called “Teach for America.”  Today teachers from “Teach for America” are at the forefront of educating the next generation of Americans. Hopefully some aspiring senior at a university in the U.S. can write his or her thesis on how my friends at “Upward Bound” can get the same quality education I was privileged to obtain and contribute to the well-being of our country.

 Ashley Sobhani is a senior at Walt Whitman H.S. in Bethesda, Maryland.