Brawley: One of those zip codes

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  1. letters to the editorBrawley: One of those Zip Codes

This past spring meant the wrapping up of a terrific first year away at college, reflections on the past months, and the years of schooling in Brawley before that. In a move that would garner national attention, a campus publication provided students instructions to view our admission files, notes, and documentation into our admittance. Along with thousands of students, I was incredibly curious what they included. How had years of work played into acceptance? What extracurriculars, grades, classes, made the final cut? What could I learn from the files to share with students from home tips on how to boost admission chances? We all know we worked hard to get into a great college like we had always been told to do– but what really got us in?

I signed up for an appointment and was allowed to view a partially redacted copy of my admission documents. Among comments like “good grades” and paragraphs of comments was something I was not prepared for. The comments were never meant for eyes other than University admission officers.

“You know how the saying goes, he has one of those zip codes”.

He has one of those zip codes.

I could not get that line out of my head. Reading that line one year following graduation from BUHS was telling, and gave a truly candid perspective of the education before and after June 2014.

In high school, students were always told that being from a low-income/disadvantaged/socioeconomically challenged school would aid in chances for acceptance. The files revealed it was in spite of the zip code and school I came from that allowed my admission, not because of it.

Frankly, nothing quite burns me up like the denial of opportunity to the poorest and least privileged. And next only to that, holding back those who would ordinarily strive for success if only they were allowed to pursue it. I turned out fine, but what happened to the kids who graduated before me, or to the generations following?

A school culture of apathy and low expectations, harms children. How can excellence be encouraged when mediocrity is celebrated? What kind of effect does being steeped in this type of culture have on students after four years? Contentment with the bare minimum is frankly morally wrong, especially in light what that attitude does to our community.

While I recognize that many if not most of these issues are not endemic to Brawley alone, but part of a broader pattern of behavior and attitudes across our Valley in education, my personal experience limits me to comment on BUHS specifically.

At BUHS, our school can spend $50,000+ for attorneys on retainer, yet departments must endeavor to share less than five thousand annually for books.

“One of those zip codes.”

At BUHS, our school can praise and laud a high school graduation as one of the best moments in a student’s life, yet ignore the fact that many will remain skill-less, jobless, and broke just months later, and many for the rest of their lives.

“One of those zip codes.”

At BUHS, a school would gladly raise the salary of a superintendent nearly $10,000 above average salary in the poorest county in the state, yet shrink away from additional Advanced Placement courses to students and teachers who consistently petitioned and requested them, each saving any student about $3,000 per class each in college.

“One of those zip codes.”

Unfortunately, schools across our Valley, Brawley High specifically, have engaged in a practice of disadvantaging already disadvantaged kids, all in the name of “budget constraints”, “lack of staff”, or a whole host of predictable excuses. The failure to provide outstanding, if not just adequate, education to students is no matter of constraint; it’s a matter of priority.

Fortunately, despite the problems that plague our schools currently, there are solutions. In  just a few weeks, citizens across the Valley have a chance to make a real difference in not just the lives of their children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, neighbors and friends for the 4 years that students attend high school, but the impact on the next 80+.

The problems facing the students of our schools are not insurmountable. They are not permanent. They can be overcome. This is simply an issue of passion and priority.

Board elections on November 3rd have the opportunity to mean something real, to influence candidates to focus on issues and solutions that have clear impact and can carry tangible results, elect individuals who place value in the lives of students moving through.

Just because you are born in one of those zip codes, doesn’t mean your future has to be sealed by it. This election provides an incredible opportunity to enact meaningful change, for the benefit of our students.

I can’t tell you how many times I have considered involvement in education in this past year. Not because I have always dreamed of becoming a teacher or particularly admired the salary, but because it genuinely pains me to think of what will happen to kids to come. To be ignored. To be treated as a nuisance. To view a kid as a seat warmer for four years only to be rewarded with a fireworks and beach ball extravaganza called “graduation.”

For these reasons, I am proud to engage in this election by launching the e3 project, in my school district, BUHSD, at www.e3buhs.org. I encourage candidates, parents, and students across the Valley to advocate for what e3 stands for in their schools, by becoming engaged, boldly demanding enhanced opportunities through our schools, and becoming empowered to enact meaningful change. e3 is a public service, and will serve as a way for the community to ask questions and get engaged with the candidates and Board in real time.

e3 stands for Education Election Exchange, but also stands for Engage, Enhance, and Empower. These are values that all candidates and board members should embrace and actively seek to employ.

The goal is to change the typical outcome of an ordinary election, where folks pick their neighbor, friend, or whoever puts out the most signs, and tend to be detached in the months and years following. This election can have a real impact on the futures of the lives of students who pass through our schools. Impacted either for better or worse.

In this election, candidates and future Board Members have the opportunity to be that change. Empty terms like “room for improvement”, “make things better”, “experience” should be replaced with well thought, solid, and tangible solutions that strengthen and improve the prospects for all children attending schools across our Valley. Our schools should actively strive to change lives and to serve as a beacon of opportunity for kids who would otherwise never know what the future could hold for them. e3 seeks to help facilitate that change, by opening up discussion and brining to the forefront community ideas for improvement of education through the use of social media and online platforms.

e3 will seek to focus and create a conversation surrounding this election. The mission is simple: to engage the public with greater participation and discussion, in order to enhance the quality and focus of education, to empower parents and students with tools and knowledge necessary to enact solutions with tangible results.

Through these next few weeks, and especially in the time following the election, I hope that the public will become engaged in these issues, educate themselves, not take for truth what any one person, group, or candidate has to say, but demand real opportunities for kids. I look forward to e3 serving as not just a forum for discussion and finding new ideas, but as a springboard for better and brighter futures for students across our Valley, and some better zip codes.

Brooks Hamby, BUHS Class of 2014, Contact at jbhamby@stanford.edu

 

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