Build a bet­ter fu­ture for Aurora’s chil­dren

The Denver Post - - PERSPECTIVE - By Papa Dia

hen I ar­rived in this coun­try in 1998, my first job was stock­ing shelves at the iconic Tat­tered Cover book store. It was with the vast menu of books and au­dio­tapes there that I taught my­self to read and speak English.

Since then, I’ve risen to be­come a vice pres­i­dent at BBVA Com­pass, and branch man­ager at Wells Fargo and Key Bank.

The Amer­i­can dream is alive and well for me. But as a com­mu­nity leader in the African im­mi­grant com­mu­nity, the fastest grow­ing pop­u­la­tion in Aurora, I fear for the next gen­er­a­tion.

With the poor state of Aurora Pub­lic Schools (APS), the Amer­i­can dream is be­gin­ning to dim for many stu­dents, re­gard­less of back­ground.

The city of Aurora has be­come split into two: one for stu­dents in Cherry Creek School District, which has some of the best schools in the coun­try, and one for stu­dents in APS, with some of the worst.

The grad­u­a­tion rate in APS is an abysmal 55 per­cent, and only one in 10 stu­dents is pre­pared for col­lege af­ter grad­u­at­ing from APS high schools. Even for gifted and tal­ented stu­dents, the grad­u­a­tion rate is a shock­ingly low 72 per­cent. That can­not be al­lowed to con­tinue. I speak to fam­i­lies ev­ery day who are grow­ing in­creas­ingly con­cerned that their chil­dren are be­ing left be­hind. If a stu­dent does not grad­u­ate high school, there are very lit­tle op­tions for him to suc­ceed in life.

Th­ese stu­dents are more likely to live in poverty, more likely to get in trou­ble with the law, and far less likely to ac­com­plish the great things their par­ents dream for them.

Hav­ing been a board mem­ber of a char­ter school where my chil­dren at­tend, I know there are ways we can pro­vide the chil­dren and par­ents in Aurora with more op­tions.

We do not have to ac­cept that our schools are fail­ing and stand by with­out do­ing any­thing. We can work to­gether to cre­ate a bet­ter fu­ture for our chil­dren.

While I do not have all the an­swers for how to fix the schools in APS, I do know we can’t con­tinue along this path.

I urge the school board and lead­ers in APS to do what­ever it takes to turn things around.

We must work to­gether to cre­ate a bet­ter fu­ture for our chil­dren. We must work to build a bet­ter school sys­tem that finds and de­vel­ops the po­ten­tial found in­side ev­ery stu­dent.

While some find the di­ver­sity of APS — there are more than 130 lan­guages spo­ken by stu­dents — to be a chal­lenge, I be­lieve it is an op­por­tu­nity. We should em­brace our di­ver­sity as a strength.

If the school district needs to pass a bond to build more schools, we as a com­mu­nity should stand be­hind that.

If clos­ing fail­ing schools and open­ing new ones helps im­prove the education of our chil­dren, we as a com­mu­nity should sup­port that.

If bring­ing more char­ter schools into the city is the right path for our stu­dents, we as a com­mu­nity should sup­port that.

I don’t have all the an­swers, but as a par­ent and a leader in the African im­mi­grant com­mu­nity, I do know we need to stand be­hind bold changes. If we don’t, we will fail our chil­dren. And that is an op­tion we can­not ac­cept. Papa Dia is pres­i­dent of the African Lead­er­ship Group.

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