Thursday, August 25, 2016

College Access: Setting The Course

College Access
Setting The Course

On Saturday August 13th I had the pleasure of attending the College Simulation Experience to speak on a panel for high school youth about the importance of Self Advocacy and role of Social Justice. The College Simulation Experience is an initiative dedicated to improving college retention rates for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. This stylized enactment of college life used dramatic role playing to help pre-college students develop time management and financial management skills, as well as better understand the responsibilities associated with collegiate success. For the last two decades I've worked with youth, from preschoolers to college age students. Of my many experiences one of the most alarming has been the lack of career preparedness on the part of our young boys of color. It's been quite common for me to talk to a young man who is finishing his junior year or in the middle of his senior year of high school with a desire to go to college with no knowledge of the SAT; an entrance exam created by the College Board that's used by most colleges and universities to make admissions decisions. When I say no knowledge I'm talking about they never even heard of it before. On a couple of occasions I've had this conversation with young men with their parents and the parents didn't know what the SAT was either. My response? I began to educate them, and youth as early as elementary school, about college access and provide them with the resources so they're successful in their undertakings. One project I did was the A.S.I.A. College Tour Project which enabled me to sponsor two high school students on a black college tour. In recent years I learned about another subject we need to be educated about in regards to college access and that is the trending concept of Previewing and Forward Credit summer school classes.

Previewing and Forward Credit Summer Classes are classes offered by high schools for students who are striving to get a head start on a class they'll be taking next year or to earn credit for a class they won't need to take next year. One of the sixth graders in my STYA Program actually earned Forward Credit this year taking a math and science class this summer before he starts middle school in the autumn. Students also take summer classes to accumulate AP [Advanced Placement] class credit because College Admission Boards look at AP exams. In many cities college access has become so competitive that high schools often hold summer school lotteries for students to be admitted to their programs. Many of these programs such as Northfield Mount Hermon in Massachusetts have tuition costs of $2,900 per day and $3,700 when English is a second language. Horace Mann School in Pelon [Bronx] offered a summer physics class to students for $4,175 and the Hun School of Princeton in New Jerusalem [New Jersey] offered boarding tuition for $5,675 this year. Therein lies a problem that widens a disparity that already exists between students who can afford this and low income students; low income students simply don't have access to these summer school programs and an opportunity to preview or earn forward credit for classes next year. low income students already find it difficult to compete and this puts them even further behind unless we can help supplement their access to creative ways. This is also important in terms of encouraging our youth to explore the trades and entrepreneurship as viable alternatives. Not because they can't compete but because data supports the fact that many of these students competing for college access usually don't settle into a career path that's in alignment with the degree and debt they spent their life paying for.

My young Queens don't come from a place of financial access where their mother and I had/have the kind of disposable income to pay for the college access other parents could. We've had to canvass the landscape to find any and every program available to give them an advantage to academically compete with those parents who could send two to three of their children to a Hun School of Princeton for summer without robbing Peter to pay Paul. This has also been challenging because we co-parent our Queens and reside in different states. Canvassing that landscape resulted in finding free SAT classes being offered on Saturdays, taking them on college tours, doing community service, networking to gain access to resources and enrolling them in programs such as project Forward Leap. We also encouraged them to explore high school sports or extracurricular activities they'd like which would could result in a partial or full scholarship to college. My eldest Queen Asiyah played lacrosse in high school and successfully earned an athletic scholarship to Howard University to play lacrosse; ranked #2 among all Black College and Universities by U.S. News and World Report. She's a senior this year and has been awarded Defense of Player of the Year twice. My youngest Queen Aziza also attends Howard and is in her sophomore year. She's 19 now and I have a picture of her wearing a Howard U shirt when she was 8 years old; which says a lot about her vision and ability to execute her plan to reach her goal. Although we as parents helped provide them with resources, encouragement and access to experiences to expand their mind and its possibilities, it was/is ultimately up to them to be self-determined and discipline enough to set forth a plan to reach their goals. It's their life, not ours and we're proud to see them evolve into young women.

As parents, we are like many parents who simply didn't or don't have the money to do certain things for our children that others could. What we didn't or don't have financially we learned to find or create. For example, every year since our Queens have been in college they've attended summer school to earn Forward Credit for college. They didn't have to pay for these classes because their ole Earth works Administration at a college where they could take these classes tuition free. We learned creative ways to help our children gain access to those resources and I've likewise shared these creative ways with parents and youth I've worked with over the years. While this is a start this definitely isn't enough and cannot replace actual credit hours many privileged students are literally buying during the summer to bolster their high school transcripts and earn free transportation to college. Even though The No Child Left Behind Act signed into law by George W. Bush over a decade ago [2002] under its Title One was established to distribute funding to schools and school districts with a high percentage of students from low-income families, funding needs to be directed to assist these students seeking to Preview and earn Forward Credit during School Classes. This funding is initially distributed to state educational agencies who then allocate those funds to local education agencies that invest those funds to public schools in need. This means that it will require active Parent/Teacher Associations and other Lobby Groups to work with local city and county elected officials who can leverage state officials to address this disparity. If you're already living in a school district where schools are already in need there is already funding being directed to those schools under the guise of No Child Left Behind. Therefore the goal is simply a redirection of funding already there to help improve college access and retention rates for disadvantaged students by offering SAT/ACT classes and practice exams, scholarships for students seeking Forward Credit in Summer Classes and even transportation to other schools in the district that programs that will help close the college access gap. 

In closing, whether you have children or not, you may have nieces, nephews, cousins or friends with children who need to understand this changing academic landscape in America where youth are no longer being sentenced to summer school for failing but choosing to go, and paying money, just to get ahead. This is setting the tone for the level of competitiveness within our future global market and the power dynamics between the Haves and Havenots. If we're not in a financial position for our children to formally Preview a class next year then we need to find out what they will be learning and have them enrolled in some program, find a tutor, tutor them ourselves or explore other creative ways to keep them academically competitive so they don't fall behind their peers. If we don't personally have the financial ability to help them enroll in summer classes to earn Forward Credit then we must consider creative ways to finance it such as crowdfunding, gofundme and etc. There are also organizations and agencies that provide scholarships to support youth like this. We gotta canvass the landscape! Many of our children aren't college bound and they also need to know that it's O.K., everybody isn't. However, they also must understand that they must have a career alternative such as learning a trades and being an entrepreneur. If they're not striving to legitimately eat to bring something to the table or build their own table they will be on someone's menu.

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