I recently completed my first semester at Smith College. You might think that I would no longer marvel at the fact that I am a student at Smith, but you’re wrong. Every time I walk into a lecture hall and see a Smith College banner I am amazed and wonder how I got here.
I was educated in the New York City public schools. Every school I attended provided me with a different experience. In elementary school I received a solid education, supplemented with hand games and double-dutch at recess. Junior high, however, was a big change. Suddenly I was a student in a school filled with metal detectors, locked restrooms, an excessive police presence and constant yelling by administrators. The teachers did their best to teach with the resources they had, but it was difficult – our large class sizes often left students without textbooks or chairs. I knew I needed a change for high school so I applied and was accepted to Bard High School Early College (BHSEC) in New York City.
My high school experience was starkly different from junior high school. As a student, I was respected not only by my peers, but also by the administration. No longer was I subjected to extensive questioning about my presence in the hallway or threatened with suspension for the slightest incident. The fact that harsh disciplinary practices were non-existent at BHSEC made all the difference in my education. I believe the elimination of these practices from more schools can change the futures of many other public school students, and will help eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline — a disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of classrooms and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.
I know I would not be at Smith if BHSEC’s founders did not dream of providing students with a challenging, yet caring learning environment. But I can also say that I wouldn’t be at Smith if another man did not dream as well.
Today, on Martin Luther King Day, we remember that Dr. King dreamed that the “vaults of opportunity of this nation” would be accessible to all regardless of their race. Dr. King’s dream may be fulfilled through me, but we must make sure his dream is also fulfilled for other students. Far too many schools are channeling students out of the education system and into the criminal justice system – these students are being robbed of the opportunity to live out Dr. King’s dream.
This reality should challenge us, on this day of service and beyond, to provide our students with the support they need to truly succeed. We must implement programs in our schools and communities for students who are most vulnerable, giving them the opportunity to fulfill not only Dr. King’s dreams but theirs as well.