I never question the importance of education. Education is the force that drives success. To question the significance of education is blasphemous. Any successful individual will attribute his or her successes to education. The importance of education has escalated now that a graduate degree is needed to compete in the nation's competitive job markets. The only reasonable debate against education is that there are not enough students receiving a quality education.
Questions are raised: why is there a gap in the quality of education between districts and why is education not the highest priority for reform? There have been strides in educational reform but there has yet to be a comprehensive change measure in which progress can be seen by district officials, school staff, students and parents. The next question then becomes: will changes ever occur?
I witnessed the beginning of a transformation at my high school, Alain Leroy Locke High. I attended Locke for four years and while in attendance, I was constantly questioned by individuals as to why I had chosen Locke high school? Which gang ran Locke? Was it true teachers hung in the halls and skipped class? Was everyone stupid at Locke? Who graduated from Locke? And the most disheartening, what did I think I would become after graduating from Locke? Where did I think I could possibly end up?
Yes, people in this world are harsh, but that has inspired my pursuit of prosperity. Yes, at one time many of the worst teachers in the district resided on staff at Locke, but there were teachers who cared dearly about their performance, our performance and the performance of the school as a whole. Yes, there were continuously 200 student or lower culminating classes from Locke and a high percentage of dropouts. People outside of Locke often highlighted the number of students that fell at the feet of success and surrendered to a life of complacency and underachievement, but not the number of students who confronted academic and societal boundaries and succeeded. The group of students who did not prosper would become the faces of Locke, and the group of successful graduates would be disregarded. Society often emphasizes the negative aspects of situations, placing them at the forefront of any issue, while stating ways to resolve the issues without ever actively instituting a solution.
In 2007, there was a break in the storm of negativity, and optimism peered through in the form of revolution by concerned staff. After years of petitioning and finding resources to escape the Los Angeles Unified School District's grip on Locke, Green Dot Public Schools helped pull Locke from the quicksand it would surely have sunk in if the status quo had remained.
The transformation of Locke High school went into effect after a school board decision to give rights and privileges of Locke to Green Dot in September 2007. The first transition I saw was the shift in the scenery. Actress Cameron Diaz donated trees, flowers and grass to the landscape reconstruction of our quad. The generous donation beautified our campus and made it comforting for all students.
Green Dot made every teacher and staff member reapply for their respective positions. While this upset many, it showed me who truly cared about the reformation of Locke and who did not. After the application process ended, I witnessed the influx of young, vibrant, insightful, concerned and proactive teachers and staff.
Although I was blessed with teachers with those qualities before the reformation, the majority of my peers were not as fortunate. Green Dot provided all students an avenue for success. The stronger students were placed in intellectually and academically challenging classes. Average-performing students were placed in classes where they were challenged to improve, yet encouraged to complete the requisite courses for graduation. Students who were credit deficient were placed in a newly constructed system called the Advanced Path Academy, which allowed them to recover credits and, in many cases, graduate on time with the rest of their class.
What I learned after I graduated from Locke was that I did not choose Locke in 2005, Locke chose me. Locke was not the best academic or athletic high school in LAUSD, but it may be the only school in LAUSD that saw a problem within their school and made a change. Although I knew I was on track to graduate prior to Green Dot's arrival, I felt a sense of inspiration in witnessing and living the transformation process. Locke took a chance so maybe I needed to take one. I took a chance leaving home in Watts for college in Washington, D.C. I took a chance leaving my comfortable surrounding for the unknown. I took those chances for education. And since then, my future has never seemed so bright. Education illuminated opportunities that were once invisible. Now that I am aware of just a fragment of these opportunities, I have no choice but to explore them all.
However, I should not be the exception. There are students like me, with similar drive and spirit, who aspire to become much more than average; who refuse to allow the imposed barriers of a sub-par public education stop them from accomplishing their dreams. I did not prevail on my own and neither will those students. My question becomes: who will illuminate opportunities for those students who cannot see past the skepticism? Who will advocate?