Eighteen years ago, when it had become clear that D.C. Public Schools was well on its way toward failing another generation of children, members of the 2012 class were but a vague gleam in their parents’ eyes.
Today, as city officials ponder such questions as what works and what’s next on the education-reform front, the true answers are sitting right under their noses.
All officials need do is look at the students participating in the D.C. Council’s Youth Internship Program, which allows high school juniors and seniors to get a bird’s-eye view of how their government works, fully engage their government leaders, offer ideas and decide whether city leaders are indeed looking out for their best interests.
These teens share much in common, as most of those I sat down with attend public charter schools or magnet schools, educational institutions that, for the most part, are decidedly at arm’s length from the usual suspects that control DCPS.
Inquisitive, highly motivated and academically focused, they are determined to fulfill their own dreams, and by extension their parents’ dreams, of receiving a post-secondary education as they anxiously await letters of acceptance from Ivy League universities, as well as state schools and historically black colleges.
The engaging Ricardo Dupree, who attends Washington Mathematics Science Technology Public Charter High School, applied to Princeton and several black schools including Morehouse, an all-men’s college in Atlanta. He also applied to Emory in Atlanta, a school with alumni including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Lee Hong-koo, former South Korean prime minister.
Ricardo hopes to major in accounting and business administration and position himself to become a famous entrepreneur or Fortune 500 executive.
“It’s the math and technology that I like best,” he said.
Honor Williams has cast her sights upon ivory towers in the Northeast and cannot wait to hear back from Dartmouth, Harvard and Columbia. She wants to focus on law and political science. She, too, has applications at historically black schools. And like the other interns, she volunteers because she “likes to be involved” and “be connected.”
Imagine, if you will, this petite teen, who attends the School Without Walls and volunteers at Martha’s Table, as a fully grown woman, her unflappable demeanor in a judge’s robe perched on the bench.
As youngsters in grade school, most of the interns attended regular elementary schools until their parents saw something in them and eventually took advantage of the broad options that charter and magnet schooling provides.
Yet even those interns who attend tradition D.C. schools are an exception to popularly held views.
Shanta Wilson, for example, attends H.D. Woodson in far Northeast, where violence, low test scores, joblessness and a welfare state of mind are daily reminders that school reform has yet to cross the Anacostia River.
When I met Shanta a couple of weeks, she was interning in the office of Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown alongside Imani Humphries, who attends Woodrow Wilson, the only traditional high school in Northwest.