By Larry Stiner Jr.
Through the grapevine, I heard the question: How many different schools are they going to put her in? This was being asked in response to my wife and I enrolling our daughter, Khyra, into yet another new school. It would be the fourth school she would attend in her nearly 12 years of life. On the surface, we understood why our actions might have been questioned. We knew the importance of stability and consistency in a child’s academic world and we were keenly aware of the negative impact frequently changing schools could have on a kid. Conversely, we also knew our child very well and recognized that settling would have absolutely been the wrong approach. In our case, it was safe to say that our young daughter’s strong appetite for learning worked perfectly with our desire to provide her with the type of educational experience that would benefi t her for a lifetime.
“If the school work we are providing is not challenging enough for your daughter, then perhaps this is not the right school for her,” the principal told us. “I have instructed the teachers to stick to the standards set by state of California for each grade level and they will not be going beyond that.”
His words infuriated me. I could not believe this educated man of color would dare look us in the eyes and basically imply he was striving for educational mediocrity for the minority children he was hired to lead. Standing on the grounds of a school located in the heart of the inner-city, I was disappointed and confused. Our daughter and a handful of her classmates were consistently performing at levels much higher than their grade. Their teacher, recognizing this, was more than willing to provide those students with more challenging work. For some reason, however, this principal had no interest in allowing those gifted learners to really spread their academic wings and see how high they could fl y. So rather than standing by and being content with Khyra’s mastery of a standard curriculum while her true potential remained untapped, my wife and I decided to move her.
Over the next few years, despite administrative promises to the contrary, we would continue to encounter similar issues within the area schools. The classrooms were typically overcrowded and there was a constant turnover in the teaching ranks. School resources were scarce and the young scholars showing a higher learning capacity were too often overlooked as the focus remained primarily on teaching students to score well on standardized tests which do not correctly refl ect what a child has actually learned. Moreover, that teaching method in no way prepares students for college but rather stands as a primary reason inner-city students with college potential are so often at a disadvantage when competing with others for admission into institutions of higher learning. To us, it was beginning to look like a certain group of kids was purposely being set up to fail.
My wife, while continuing to supplement Khyra’s public education with a creative form of home-schooling, began applying to the top schools in Southern California. These schools, all private, very expensive and diffi cult to get into, were outside of our residential area and defi nitely outside of our budget. Nonetheless, they offered all of what we wanted for our daughter: amazing academics, strong arts and enrichment programs, limitless resources, diversity and a family atmosphere that could lead to a lifetime of networking and opportunities neither of us ever had. Impressed by Khyra’s grades and personal package of achievements and extracurricular activity, the schools started calling to set up entrance testing and interviews. In the end, she received acceptance and a near full scholarship to the school of her choice. Attending one of the top schools in the nation, she has already adapted well, made a host of new friends and is absolutely loving the challenging new learning environment.
I am the proud father, indeed. Still, it saddens me to think that most children from neighborhoods like my own will never have the academic opportunities they deserve. For that reason, I urge parents and guardians alike not to settle for classroom mediocrity. Our children are worthy of so much more. Let’s fi ght to give them that great gift of a good education