Access to Opportunity

ClintonThere are opportunities that may change a life forever. As I scrolled through Facebook posts from our member schools last week, I was in awe of the individuals with whom our students had exclusive meeting time: John Lewis, civil rights activist and Georgian Congressman since 1986; Elizabeth Warren, first-term Massachusetts Senator who is being touted as a possible Presidential candidate; and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Meeting such incredible figures, in the very least, will be a memory etched into student minds that will forever enter into discussions in high school, college and personal and professional lives. In its most profound, such a meeting can set a particular student on a history-altering course. The pictures reminded me of the picture of Bill Clinton shaking hands with President Kennedy when he was sixteen. Hearing the personal stories, purpose, and perspective of such influential figures can open eyes and minds to ambitious possibilities. These individuals become real people who have struggled and thrived in pursuit of their goals, and in doing so, our students’ goals become more realized as well.

LewisSimilarly, it is amazing where member schools of the NativityMiguel Coalition conduct class some days – hiking along the Appalachian Trail, on a ferry with the Woods Hole Oceanography Research Labs on Cape Cod, at the Montezuma Castle National Park in Arizona, etc.  As the school year comes to a close and summer ramps up, our students are exposed to incredible experiences that apply previous learning and explore new places and ideas.

When we envision the quality education that every student deserves, regardless of race or economics, we must include access to the educational opportunities that take place outside of the classroom. All students need to know that the places and people that they read about in books actually exist and that you can travel and see them, and talk to people who live there and know it well. You can read about the ocean habitat, and then you can board a boat, talk with an oceanographer and get wet in the ocean. You can read about MLK’s March on Washington and then you can visit the steps in front of the Lincoln memorial from which he stood and spoke. Student learning and Warrendevelopment is enhanced through the discovery and confirmation of information and ideas that come from experiencing new places, meeting new people and facing new situations. More than a field trip, these opportunities are directly and seamlessly integrated into the learning, and the expectations of the classroom carryover to these places.

For many students who grow up in poverty, there is often a fear and/or loss that these opportunities are only afforded to others. These students, our students, often perceive that there are places and people, such as the halls of Congress and politicians or the halls of college and professors, that are not accessible, open or available to them, that those places and people are meant for other people. By accessing, experiencing, and most importantly, learning how to process a world that is much greater than the street, neighborhood or city in which they reside, our students see themselves as contributors to that greater world. The ultimate goal is to experience the places and face the situations often enough that they become familiar, instinctual territory for the student.

This month is the time for graduation, where students venture forth from our care and make their way in new environments.  While we need to ensure that our students are academically ready, that they can read and comprehend literature, write compelling and informative essays, and compute and explain Thomasmathematical concepts, we also need to ensure that they have the social, emotional, and spiritual capital to maneuver the worlds ahead. When they graduate from our schools, what opportunities are they taking with them and who have they met to accompany them on that journey? As much as classroom instruction, these are the lessons that will serve them well, and I imagine if you asked them in 10 or 20 years, these are the lessons that they will recall.

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