Yesterday morning I spent time with 11- and 12-year-old boys and girls in summer school. Operated by Rainier Scholars, the summer sessions are part of a 14-week immersion program designed to strengthen academic proficiency, teach organizing skills, and set the kids on a path to college.
I visited three classrooms: American history (Frederick Douglass, slavery), English literature (Shakespeare and Homer's Odyssey), and mathematics (algebra). I saw seasoned teachers in control of each classroom, peppering their students with questions, engaging in dialog, walking around. The students were engaged, attentive and excited to be there.
Watching these students, hearing them discuss the tough choices Frederick Douglass faced when confronting his master or the smile spreading across the face of a young girl when her math teacher let out a cheer when she solved the algebra equation or the young man practice his oratory by reading from the Odyssey was inspiring. It renewed my passion for true education reform in Seattle.
Many of these kids have the deck stacked against them in so many ways. They come from low-income families in Seattle. They are all students of color. They would likely never attend college; no one in their family has. Frankly, their chance of even graduating from high school would normally be much, much lower than their peers. Yet here they were soaring. They exhibited strong self-confidence and a keen interest in learning. They understood the opportunity they now had in front of them.
The Rainier Scholar program is an add-on to each student's regular schooling. Joining the program in the fifth grade, each student pledges to attend after school classes every Wednesday and all day every Saturday throughout the school year, plus two years of summer school. The program believes that each student can learn at a high academic level and will successfully graduate from college. From what I saw yesterday, I believe it, too.
Too bad every student in Seattle who faces similar circumstances doesn't have the same opportunity.
I wrote an opinion piece in The Seattle Times yesterday with Council President Richard Conlin about the need for serious education reform. President Obama has been a courageous leader on this topic. The president spoke last week to the National Urban League and reiterated his case for reform.
Here are other posts about my experiences with students and schools in Seattle. This one is about the new teacher contract in the District of Columbia and two of my high schools teachers. Here's another on what education reform might mean in Seattle. And this one details my experience at Mercer Middle School.
Planning for renewal of the city's Family and Education Levy is underway. You can discover the details here.