Justice through Education
Resource type: News
Johns Hopkins Center for Summer Learning Conference |
Good Afternoon ladies and gentlemen.My name is Kristian Smith, I am 16 years old and I attend Gonzaga Jesuit High School. My purpose in being here today is to share my perspectives on the importance of high-impact summer learning.I want to say thank you to the Center for Summer Learning for giving me this opportunity to speak before all of you.It shows that they value the voice of youth, and know that summer learning programs are most effective when our voice is heard.Young people are the future and we have the responsibility to make it bright. I have spoken to members of Congress and to hundreds of people at the historic Lincoln Theatre.But, I must say, I was shocked when I learned that I was to be a keynote speaker.I asked How long is that? UP TO 15 MINUTES!WHOA! So, let me tell you how I will spend this time. First, I will explain the importance of high-quality education. Next, I will offer my ideas on how to achieve results. Last, I will give you an example of how one high-impact summer program, Higher Achievement, helped me. First, IMPORTANCE OF HIGH-QUALITY EDUCATION To develop this speech, I reflected on how I’d spent my summers.What were the most meaningful experiences?For me, it was the programs that opened my mind to new ideas, exposed me to new opportunities, that made a difference.This exposure in the summer is essential to a high-quality education. So, What is education? I believe that education is about empowering people. But how do you empower? By making people informed.Then, you use that information, apply it to life, and evaluate new situations and concepts. Education also empowers people by eliminating ignorance.Ignorance makes you a slave and captive to your own limitations.Without education, the world is in chaos.There is a vacuum of reasoning.With education during the school year and in the summer, people can expand the possibilities, grow, try new things, and advance society. Unfortunately, right now in this country and around the world, educational empowerment is not universal.There are tremendous inequities in education.You see this injustice in every city.Some students can choose quality education and others are left behind in buildings that are falling down, where dreams and potential fade away. I can speak best about my own neighborhood in Washington, DC. I want to describe two schools: one is a school of choice and the other is a school that too many students have to settle for, a disadvantaged school. I am one of the lucky ones.I attend a school of choice: GonzagaCollegeHigh School, on scholarship thanks to Higher Achievement. In this school, success is not only possible, it’s expected.There is an atmosphere where people push you to be successful and you WANT to be successful.It is a supportive environment, with the resources to back it up. My classmates and I are prepared, motivated to succeed because we have the tools that are required to achieve success: quality teachers, challenging lessons, modern technology at our fingertips, and rewarding opportunities throughout the school year AND in the summer. Through my experience at Gonzaga, I have taken the PSAT and am preparing for college. By the way, I’ve set my sights on Georgetown or Harvard, in case there are any recruiters in the room. Now, let me describe the school that too many of the kids in my neighborhood must settle for the disadvantaged school.I won’t give it a name because it could be any of the thousands of unacceptable public or private schools across this country. This school is inherently flawed, it’s designed to fail. At this school, modern technology is absent. And students get substandard education. The walls are literally crumbling around them.Sometimes there is no heat in the winter, lead in the water, and glass on the soccer field. Too often, students in substandard schools do not have access to high-quality summer programs.So, instead, their summer is wasted and they forget much of what they learned. It’s the exception, not the rule, that students will succeed. Even if they do get straight As here, they will be unprepared for college, unequipped to deal with challenges they will face. In the end, they will end up in a menial job, making not enough money, wondering what happened to their life.In this scenario, there is an endless cycle of lost talent. WHY DOES THIS MATTER? Substandard education is a detriment to society.It retards the progress of our society as a whole. Disadvantaged schools breed mediocrity, and possibly even crime. Just think a student at this disadvantaged school could have cured cancer!But, because she did not get opportunities in school and in the summer, she didn’t get exposed to science.Wasn’t able to college. Couldn’t go to med school.And, society as a whole suffers. When you can CHOOSE a quality education during the school year and in the summer, students become self-sufficient and can help others. There is also a choice that citizens can make: leave the public schools as they are, or work together to make it better and make it the best their community can offer their children. It’s not just a choice around existing schools. In short, fighting for change in education will allow students to fight for change in the world. !!!! Now, for the second part of my speech – ACHIEVING RESULTS:what DO WE DO? Right now, not all students have education opportunities in school and in the summer. This is unfair.Quality education should be a civil and constitutional right.So, what do we do?How we can end this seemingly endless cycle of lost talent? First, we can work with the individual students in these failing schools.We need to: See their potential Push them to achieve Find them opportunities, like the many wonderful summer program opportunities represented in this room today. At the same time, we need to work to change the system, as a whole.I say: Become involved and informed! Push local governments to act, to change what’s going on! Go to the school board meetings! Talk to students! Go to the PTA meetings! Go to the schools that have gone off track and get them back on track. When we no longer accept these broken schools, they will change.We need to raise our voice until it is heard. For the final part of my speech, I will share an EXAMPLE OF A HIGH-IMPACT SUMMER PROGRAM: HIGHER ACHIEVEMENT To make lasting change in the lives of our children, we need to know what works.One program that I know works is Higher Achievement.Students in this program invest 30 additional school weeks of out-of-school-time learning for the chance to attend a college-preparatory high school program.Last year, 81% of the graduates went on to their top choice school. Let me tell you how Higher Achievement helped me and continues to inspire me. Over the four years I spent with Higher Achievement I have learned a great many things.When I was 12, I debated the Scopes trial on teaching evolution as both Clarence Dare–row and as a jurist.I made DNA models from pasta and nuclear containers from clay. I’ve been on three college trips and I am regular at the National Mall.It is Higher Achievement’s classroom every Friday. I learned how to think critically, and instead of accepting the way things are, I am inspired to ask the thought-provoking questions and push for answers…. I am always thinking harder and pushing further with everyone I meet and everything I do.Whether it’s in the classroom, at home, or at Higher Achievement. This program has improved every facet of my life. It has helped me find a great human resource. Me… I found potential inside of me.And I see this same potential in so many other kids from my neighborhood.It is potential that can either be realized or lost.You see, my neighborhood is rough.I have seen cars on fire, repeated vandalism, trash on the street and people hanging out up to no good.But I also see hope.Hope inbabies being born, hope in neighbors cooperating like when the tenants in my apartment building worked to successfully buy our building, and I see hope in the children.With Higher Achievement and programs like it, my neighborhood becomes a breeding ground for hope and optimism.Where the American dream is real-that with hard work you can achieve a better life.That is what Higher Achievement is doing for me. But those who don’t get this opportunity-opportunity to learn in and outside of school, they get trapped…trapped in the street, having never realized their potential. It becomes THAT unbreakable cycle of lost talent. That is why we need Higher Achievement and programs like it across America.Without programs after school and in the summer, chaos and disorder can consume our neighborhoods, consume the kids that live there, and consume hope. For kids who attend Higher Achievement, they get a chance to choose hope over chaos.It is important for others to have this opportunity, simply because it works. Higher Achievement and programs like it can turn long shot dreams into goals and then reality. WHAT I see at Higher Achievement are future doctors, teachers, lawyers, scientists, and yes, presidents.It is kids who are determined and committed to their future. I see Freedom, Voice, Justice, and Solidarity, not only as pillars of this program, or even this country, but represented in the 10,000 lives like mine, that have come through Higher Achievement. Educational programs work, they change lives like mine, and every child needs them. In conclusion, summer programs are a chance to reduce the inequities in education.As the wise Mahatma Gandhi said, ‘be the change you wish to see in the world. Together, we can make change for the greater good, for the country, for the world. Thank you.