Standing up for Education

Earlier today I received an email from an aunt, asking for people to consider writing letters in support of her children’s educational program. Apparently, the policy makers of the state from which I am so proud to hail are considering completely cutting the funding for programs that are meant to enhance and accelerate learning for gifted students (i.e. the super smart ones). In her email my aunt included a letter that her kids’ teachers sent home, asking for support.

My cousins are like my little sisters — I practically lived with my aunt and uncle the summer their twins were born (they also had an 18mo. old to look after), and I have always had a special bond with them. It is incredibly painful to know each of their individual struggles thus far in their young scholastic lives and to know that there’s a chance that after all of the hard work they put in every day, they could still end up without the support, encouragement and opportunities for advancement that are so crucial and helpful for success.

I was moved to write a letter, which I sent to members of the Washington State Board of Education and reporters at The Seattle Times and the Renton Reporter:

Dear Members of the WA State Board of Education,

Twenty-three years ago my single mother made a decision that would forever impact my life: She moved us into the suburbs. She loved the city with all of her heart, but she knew that she didn’t want to raise a baby on her own there – not so much for fear of security, but because with her working full-time it seemed the only way to ensure I would receive the best education she could afford (i.e. free).

Five years ago I graduated with honors from Newport High School, one of the state’s highest-ranked public schools, with a promise of a full four-year scholarship to my first-choice university, the University of Pittsburgh. This year I successfully completed – again with a full scholarship for the duration of the program – my master’s degree from American University, one of the country’s prestigious private institutions.

As a young black woman raised by a single mother, I am proud to say that I have overcome a long list of adversities, and I am passionate about the fact that my primary education set the ground work for my path. I don’t doubt for a second that I am where I am because of the resources made available to me through the education system.

But the state is facing a serious risk of losing out on success stories like mine if it cuts funding for programs like Renton School District’s Discovery Program for gifted students.

The long-term ramifications of limiting some of the brightest and most important assets the government can invest in are serious. Pulling kids who are naturally ahead of the learning-curve out of their advanced classes would not only negatively affect their learning, but their classmates’ as well. Personal experience has shown that larger class size means less individual attention for students, which results in decreased motivation to perform or improve.

On the flip-side, catering to gifted students and encouraging scholastic growth at their pace can do wonders for a child’s self-esteem, and therefore success. If programs that specialize in creating optimal environments for learning-disabled students have proven invaluable, why the wavering for children on the other end of the spectrum?

It is a very real fear for many parents, educators and family members that some children – especially those who have already faced struggles to get into programs that will help them – may come up short, through no fault of their own.

Few families can afford to be flexible enough to relocate to a school district that college recruiters view as more scholastically competitive. And the only people with the power to significantly help them are seriously considering turning their backs.

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