Coun­cil in­terns shine hopeful light on city youths

The Washington Times Daily - - Metro - DEB­O­RAH SIM­MONS

Eigh­teen years ago, when it had be­come clear that D.C. Public Schools was well on its way to­ward fail­ing an­other gen­er­a­tion of chil­dren, mem­bers of the 2012 class were but a vague gleam in their par­ents’ eyes.

To­day, as of­fi­cials pon­der such ques­tions as what works and what’s next on the ed­u­ca­tion-re­form front, the true an­swers are sit­ting right un­der their noses.

All of­fi­cials need to do is look at the stu­dents par­tic­i­pat­ing in the D.C. Coun­cil’s Youth In­tern­ship Pro­gram, which al­lows ju­niors and se­niors to get a bird’seye view of how their gov­ern­ment works, fully en­gage their gov­ern­ment lead­ers, of­fer ideas and de­cide whether city lead­ers are in­deed look­ing out for their best in­ter­ests.

These teens share much in com­mon, as most of those I sat down with at­tend public char­ter schools or mag­net schools, ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions that, for the most part, are de­cid­edly at arm’s length from the DCPS.

In­quis­i­tive, highly mo­ti­vated and aca­dem­i­cally fo­cused, they are de­ter­mined to ful­fill their own dreams, and by ex­ten­sion their par­ents’ dreams, of re­ceiv­ing a post-sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion as they anx­iously await let­ters of ac­cep­tance from Ivy League uni­ver­si­ties, as well as state schools and his­tor­i­cally black col­leges.

The en­gag­ing Ri­cardo Dupree, who at­tends Washington Math­e­mat­ics Sci­ence Tech­nol­ogy Public Char­ter High School, ap­plied to Prince­ton and sev­eral black schools in­clud­ing More­house, an all-men’s col­lege in At­lanta. He also ap­plied to Emory in At­lanta, a school with alumni in­clud­ing for­mer House Speaker Newt Gin­grich and Lee Hong-koo, for­mer South Korean prime min­is­ter.

Ri­cardo hopes to ma­jor in ac­count­ing and busi­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion and po­si­tion him­self to be­come a fa­mous en­tre­pre­neur or For­tune 500 ex­ec­u­tive. “It’s the math and tech­nol­ogy that I like best,” he said. Honor Wil­liams has cast her sights upon ivory tow­ers in the North­east and can­not wait to hear back from Dart­mouth, Har­vard and Columbia. She wants to fo­cus on law and po­lit­i­cal sci­ence. She, too, has ap­pli­ca­tions at his­tor­i­cally black schools. And, like the other in­terns, she vol­un­teers be­cause she “likes to be in­volved” and “be con­nected.”

Imag­ine, if you will, this pe­tite teen, who at­tends the School With­out Walls and vol­un­teers at Martha’s Ta­ble, as a fully grown woman, her un­flap­pable de­meanor in a judge’s robe perched on the bench.

As young­sters in grade school, most of the in­terns at­tended reg­u­lar el­e­men­tary schools un­til their par­ents saw some­thing in them and even­tu­ally took ad­van­tage of the broad op­tions that char­ter and mag­net school­ing pro­vides.

Yet even those in­terns who at­tend tra­di­tional D.C. schools are an ex­cep­tion to pop­u­larly held views.

Shanta Wil­son, for ex­am­ple, at­tends H.D. Wood­son in far North­east, where vi­o­lence, low test scores, job­less­ness and a wel­fare state of mind are daily re­minders that school re­form has yet to cross the Ana­cos­tia River.

When I met Shanta a cou­ple of weeks ago, she was in­tern­ing in the of­fice of Coun­cil Chair­man Kwame R. Brown along­side Imani Humphries, who at­tends Woodrow Wil­son, the only tra­di­tional high school in North­west.

As I hap­pened into the chair­man’s of­fice, Imani and Shanta greeted me with smiles, cour­tesy and key in­for­ma­tion with­out any prompt­ing.

Their pro­fes­sion­al­ism was hardly shock­ing, but what I later learned was truly re­veal­ing of their char­ac­ter.

Both girls were sup­posed to be off the day of my visit, but they vol­un­teered to work be­cause school was closed.

These young peo­ple, fu­ture pro­fes­sion­als in train­ing, don’t need the mayor, coun­cil or school of­fi­cials teth­er­ing their hands or those of their teach­ers or par­ents to laws, rules or re­stric­tions that would place a noose around their necks. These se­niors and ris­ing se­niors, who an­swered in a cho­rus of “yes” when asked if they want to go away to col­lege, are the first gen­er­a­tion to ben­e­fit from the D.C. school­re­form seeds that were planted in the 1990s.

Ev­ery time D.C. of­fi­cials want to know what works and what should be the next steps in ed­u­ca­tion re­form, they should turn to Ri­cardo, Shanta, Honor and Imani, and the other 2012 in­terns.

The chances that all or any of them will be­come as renowned as Michelle Obama (Prince­ton) is slim, to be sure. But one thing is cer­tain: The hands-off ap­proach to school re­form works for chil­dren.

This week, as the Gray ad­min­is­tra­tion and the coun­cil con­tinue to search for clues to pos­i­tive ed­u­ca­tional out­comes, they re­ally don’t have to look too far.

Hey, they don’t even have to leave city hall, where the in­terns aid law­mak­ers and their staff, learn what makes gov­ern­ment tick, and are gin­ning up their own per­spec­tives on the rules of public dis­course.

If ed­u­ca­tion truly is the next em­bat­tled fron­tier in the realm of civil rights, D.C. lead­ers would be wise to do right by the cur­rent and next gen­er­a­tion.

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