Since the start of the 2011-12 school year, donning my different hats, I have had the opportunity to visit some of the highest performing and some of the most challenged educational environments in Los Angeles County. As a consultant to charter schools, I witness children from low-income, gang-ridden communities getting an outstanding education and the opportunity to move beyond the low expectations and doomed futures of their less fortunate peers. As a member of the LA County Board of Education, I see youngsters from the very same communities who have not had the same benefits. These children are in the juvenile court system schools. In some cases- in well-administered probation camps- they are getting the support that should have been there in the first place, and some are even completing high school graduation requirements. Many, however, are not progressing and have an excellent chance of returning to the camps and ending up in the adult prison system. Recently, David A., a student at Bright Star Secondary Charter Academy near South LA, shared his poignant personal experience with members of his school community. Better than anything I can report, his story illustrates this stark dichotomy in educational and social outcomes.
My name is David A., and I am a senior at Bright Star Secondary Charter Academy.
When I first entered Bright Star as a seventh grader, I was on the verge of being expelled from my middle school because of the people I hung around with. My family thought about moving to Texas to get me away from it all, but they were pretty sure I would take the trouble with me. About the same time, I had a neighbor who attended Bright Star. I would see him come home every day from school, in his clean little uniform, all tucked in, and think, “Wow, I’m glad I don’t go to that school. He comes home pretty late!”
A week later, I find myself in the same uniform, khaki pants and a polo shirt tucked in.
I had a rough start, and it was hard for me to understand that everything that the school was asking me to do was for my benefit. The lists of required reading, the online exercises, the personal time planners: it was all helpful.
From the start, college was not a definite plan. The idea was there, but it seemed like something you saw on TV. It seemed like it would be something too difficult, something too high to aim for. But Bright Star showed me otherwise, by providing so many different opportunities to learn about college. Thanks to Bright Star, I have travelled to a number of different states and visited dozens of colleges on end-of-year field trips. On these trips I realized college will be in my life.
Many times people ask me, “What do you see yourself doing, if you hadn’t attended Bright Star?” For a while, I had no idea. Until a few months ago, that is, when I met up with an old friend. I asked about the friends that I used to hang around with, the same ones who were going to be expelled with me. His answer shocked me. Two of my old friends are being held in detention centers. One of them had been sent to prison for murdering two people. And the last, the one I was closest to, had just been killed.
Now, when people ask me where I see myself if I hadn’t entered Bright Star, I still don’t know the exact answer. But I think I have an idea.