Thursday, April 15, 2010

Encouraging Dreams of Higher Education in D.C. Public Schools


By: Hannah Klusendorf

Below is an opinion I wrote for The Hoya for the April 13th edition. The link is
http://www.thehoya.com/opinion/encouraging-dreams-higher-education-dc-public-schools, but I posted the article just in case. In the article, I presented how severe the education gap is in D.C. and how Georgetown students specifically can/should rally around D.C. issues like education reform. As I wrote, a Georgetown degree will mean nothing if we do not use the knowledge it represents to serve the community as a whole. Hope you like it!

Our high school senior selves probably wished at one point or another that they had never heard of the college admissions process and SATs. For many students in the District, however, ignorance is not bliss. Rather, it equates to low wages and limited career options.

According to a 2006 report, 68 percent of students across the country graduate from high school in five years; 48 percent enroll in college within 18 months of graduating from high school; and 23 percent receive degrees within five years of entering college. In the District, only 43 percent graduate from high school in five years; 29 percent enroll in college within 18 months of graduating from high school; and 9 percent receive a college degree within five years of enrolling. In Wards 7 and 8, just 33 percent of students graduate from high school, and 5 percent receive a college degree.

A high school diploma alone cannot support a family. Eighty percent of the fastest-growing job sectors in the United Sates require some postsecondary education. Seventy percent of college-educated males earn more than their high school-educated counterparts. Likewise, female college graduates earn about 80 percent more than female high school graduates. D.C. children will face a future of diminished life opportunities if no one takes up their cause.

As a coordinator for D.C. Reads, I see firsthand the students, schools and struggles these statistics represent. Part of our program includes a curriculum specifically geared toward cultivating a college-going culture in the fourth grade at Houston Elementary in Ward 7.

Every Friday, a group of tutors and coordinators meets with these dozen or so students to discuss what it means to go to college and be a college student. The fourth-graders knew that one needs to study hard in order to attend college, but they lacked the vocabulary to understand what that entailed. SATs, applications, scholarships and high school extra-curricular activities are now topics Houston’s fourth grade can grasp. But more importantly than knowing what an SAT is, the students can comprehend why one goes to college and what one does when one arrives on campus.

We stress to the students that the college experience consists of much more than simply going to class. One need only walk through Red Square to see a diverse body of interests represented by T-shirts, flyers and bake sales. Painters, singers, basketball stars and political activists all walk these halls. The interests we cultivate here influence and factor into our career and life choices after graduation.

Many D.C. public school students, however, do not realize the value of learning outside the classroom in college. Scott, a fourth-grader at Houston and an avid television watcher, once dreamed of taking the online college classes he saw advertised on TV. Because a Georgetown student took the time to have a meaningful conversation with Scott, he now wants to go to a university where perhaps he will find a club dedicated to TV fandom. If he and the other fourth-graders of Houston Elementary continue on this college-conscious path, no goal of theirs is impossible.

As Georgetown students, we are in a pivotal position to help foster a college-going culture within the District of Columbia Public Schools system. We are all veterans of the admissions process and soon-to-be beneficiaries of a university degree. DCPS need more Joe and Jane Hoyas to become a part of its mission to create a postsecondary culture. As D.C. residents, we, along with educators and community leaders, share in the responsibility of bolstering college graduation rates. We need to see past Georgetown’s front gates and realize the grass is not greener on the other side of Healy Lawn.

Social justice issues like educational reform require more time and effort than four years here can afford, but Georgetown and its student body of women and men for others can have an impact in the DCPS system. Programs such as D.C. Reads are committed to alleviating the educational gaps in Wards 7 and 8. A Georgetown degree will mean nothing if we do not use the knowledge it represents to serve the community as a whole. Scott and his classmates deserve the right to one day complain about the college admissions process, too.