There is an excellent article in the Washington Post today written by Emma Brown (Traversing two D.C.s, from Dunbar High to Georgetown University). It highlights the experiences of two former Dunbar (D.C.) High School graduates and former class valedictorians. The article is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand the challenges that African American students face when they venture into the world of higher education.
Johnathan Carrington and Sharnita James want a chance to excel in life. They grew up in neighborhoods and went to schools that provided the best education possible. It wasn’t enough. College was a wake-up call for Johnathan and Sharnita who shared the challenges they faced in transitioning to Georgetown University and the University of Delaware, respectively.
The inspiring aspect of their stories is that, despite the odds, they are succeeding in college (Sharnita graduated) and have bright futures ahead of them. Their stories remind us that minority students can write their own personal life narrative. They can define who they are despite how society might see them.
What can educators learn from their stories? Urban students shouldn’t have to make the higher education journey alone. As strong-willed as they both seem, Sharnita and Johnathan shouldn’t have to maneuver the complex environment of college unaided. Georgetown University recognizes that and seems to have supports in place.
There were two important quotes in Brown’s story that stuck with me:
“My mind-set was, no matter what, I’m going to graduate.” (Sharnita James)
“I realized I have to take initiative in some things. I have to make Georgetown cater to me. I have to find my path.” (Johnathan Carrington)
Such wisdom from growing young minds! How can we NOT support students when they demonstrate an unfailing desire to succeed? Dunbar High School must be incredibly proud of their former valedictorians. Maybe one day Johnathan and Sharnita’s success stories will be the norm, rather than the exception. One can hope.
“A kid today can likely tell you about the Amazon rain forest- but not about the last time he or she explored the woods in solitude, or lay in a field listening to the wind and watching the clouds move.”
Last Child in the Woods
I had the pleasure of spending three days last week on a principals’ retreat sponsored by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. We gathered at Somers Cove Marina in Crisfield, Maryland for introductions and orientation prior to boarding a CBF vessel for Tangier Island, Virginia. Our three days were filled with exploration, discovery, and hands-on learning; the kind of teaching and learning that all children and adults should be exposed to.
The CBF principals’ program promotes using environmental education to boost academic achievement and get students involved in improving their community. It offers participants a chance to network with other principals, to share ideas, and to learn from each other in a truly unique setting.
We canoed, scraped for soft crabs, set out and pulled in crab pots, visited the Tangier Combined School, fished, progged (beach combed) and ate local fare. Maryland elementary, middle, and high school principals from Harford, Anne Arundel and Montgomery County participated. It was obvious that each shared a passion for being outdoors and, most importantly, for involving their students and teachers in learning that promotes the value of environmental education.
One of the outcomes of the experience is that the participants develop an environmental education action plan. Each principal creates a plan to pay their learning forward. This aspect of the principals’ retreat has led to many schools in Maryland expanding environmental education opportunities for students. Several of the principals are spreading the word to their districts on the benefits of getting their students outside.
Why does any of this matter? It matters because we are raising a generation of students who spend little to no time in the outdoors. While research supports the benefits of environmental education on learning, our motivation should be simpler. We need to get our children outside because it’s good for them. It makes them well-rounded individuals. It makes all of us better people. Don’t let this generation miss out on the value of knowing the woods or lying in a field listening to the wind and looking at the clouds.