Finally my semester exams are over and now I am sitting here at home just enjoying the company of some good friends and family. I’m sure all of you are putting in all the long hours into college applications, scholarship forms, and academic work. From my perspective, the end of the semester brings a chance to relax, yet now that I have much down time, I’m starting to reflect on my experience so far. Miami has opened many new doors for me: I traveled to Washington D.C. for the first time in my life, and I even got a meeting with the president of the University. All the opportunities are the reasons why this semester has been successful, but the one that stands out the most didn’t happen on campus but in an inner city project probably an hour away from the posh georgian architecture that Miami is known for.
When I first arrived on campus I heard of an organization called America Reads. The program at its core takes students from Miami’s campus and places them into various primary education facilities. The goal is to give students more opportunities to improve their reading capabilities and also be mentored by students who are distinguished in their own right.
At the start of this year all tutors are allowed to choose a school where they wish to work at. I decide that my skills would be best utilized and felt at Ethel Academy. From the statistics and description given the school caters to students from grades 1 to 8. The demographic student body is overwhelmingly African American and over 90 percent of the students are economically disadvantaged. Those two indicators gave away the academic situation in the school. From first hand experience I know poor and black usually equates to less than desired results but I automatically sympathized with those students so I made this a personal mission.
The first day of tutoring myself and six other students load up in the university minivan for a an hour long drive to Ethel Academy. Our first encounter was with the 7th graders. Oh boy were they stubborn! The first student I was assigned to seemed very distracted from the book he was reading. He would repeatedly stand up from his stool and failed to cooperate for an extended amount of time. After all the posturing and delay I finally got him to crack open his book. He began to read. After several attempts to pronounce the word “ internet” I became aware of the situation. The student I had was in the 7th grade yet he had a book written for a third grader. I put the pieces together and realized the previous actions were attempts not to expose the the true reality. Right then I had to stop him and once that happened, I could see him lower his eyes towards the ground. His slouching posture and lack of confidence spoke of the stigma that is associated illiteracy. The inevitable had happened.
Once the tutoring shift came to an end, I couldn’t help but take a quick glance around the surrounding area around the school. Most of the buildings were abandoned warehouses and living projects. I asked the principal “How are the conditions in this neighborhood?”. His answer was sort of a surprise to me. He said “ There is not a grocery store or gas station in this area at all… Most of the jobs have dried up and the situation is a struggle for these kids”. His words give insight into the lifestyle that eight year old children grow up in. It’s a lifestyle that is often ignored and I wonder what will become of students who lack resources and mentorship? How do we say that each citizen has equality of opportunity when some are denied the basics?
I want to note that my experience at Ethel was not all negative. I came into contact with my intelligent students who will one day flee the grasp of the inner city but there are many who will not. This story doesn’t have an ending because it is still in progression and if you are on this site reading these words then you must have a gift that needs to be cherished and shared. This holiday season I wish that you will give a gift worth more than any present: yourself. It is only when individuals decide to make little changes, little impacts on the lives of students will we truly be able to move forward in correcting this social ill.