Open Your Eyes
I was asked to share my thoughts on how I’m making history. Specifically, I was asked to share a story/perspective I spoke about with a group of educators and community leaders from across the state during an Ed Trust dinner in Grand Rapids last fall. The topic was education in our state and how we would get to a Top 10 ranking. As the group talked, people shared ideas and some great insights around what’s been done and what could be done to effect change. The conversation naturally gravitated to audiences: legislature, teachers, parents and even students. As I sat in the room listening to these well-educated, champions for Michigan’s students, it struck me that as we talked about students, there was no voice in the room for students who fall between the “rock stars” and the “troubled” — those who are relatively invisible, like me. In that moment, I realized it was my responsibility to be their voice in that room. Here’s an abbreviated and slightly edited version of what I shared:
Let me introduce you to Deidre Lambert, she is a quiet, sorta shy kid from Detroit. She comes from a loving, low income, single parent household, is the youngest of seven children and the only child still living at home. For various reasons, she has attended many different schools throughout the Detroit Public School system, and therefore, has no consistency nor history with her teachers or peers. She is a C average student, but has the potential to be a straight A student. Unfortunately, her teachers and school administrators don’t “see” her because she isn’t a class superstar, nor is she a candidate for special education programs. They don’t see her because she is swallowed up in large class sizes, a system designed to divert attention to students who naturally do well or those who naturally require more attention and she has no adult focused on or fighting for her educational success.
Although Deidre has had personal tragedy and loss, she graduates high school on time and enrolls in community college. Upon taking the SAT, her scores come back well below college level requiring her to register for 101 course level classes, basically starting her education nearly from scratch. The realization that she is ill prepared for college puts her at a crossroads. Should she forget college and find a job to earn a living to barely scrape by, or does she push through entry level college course and play catch up to eventually land a career?
Although I’m writing this during Black History Month, this message is not just about African American children in impoverished neighborhoods in Detroit, Grand Rapids, Battle Creek or any other Michigan city with high concentrations of black people. There are Deidres all across our state. Kids who fall through the educational cracks everyday. According to data recently released by the Michigan Center for Education Performance and Information, Michigan’s graduation rate is on the rise, 80% of the Class of 2016/2017 graduated, a slight increase over the previous year, yet below the national average of 84%. Not bad, but we must ask ourselves, is it enough that our kids are graduating high school? In my opinion, the answer is NO! We must successfully prepare them for higher education, to be entrepreneurs or to work skilled trade jobs. I have no doubt that these young people want to be gainfully employed, tax paying citizens, and leaders in our community. As a state we fail if we don’t set higher expectations for our students beyond getting them through high school graduation.
I challenge each one of you reading this post to open your eyes, seek out and help, not just the rock stars and those who need additional educational attention, but those quiet kids in the classroom who may not always speak up or always get the answer right. With just a bit of encouragement they can become successful businesswomen, community leaders, mentors in the making.