The Second Line Blog

What’s in a School Mission? A Look into New Orleans’ Collegiate Academies Promise of College Success to its Students and Families


The mission: CA builds world-class public schools that prepare all students for college success and lives of unlimited opportunity.

“College isn’t for everyone!”

Or is it?

No matter which side you stand on, the promise of preparation for college is one that Ben Marcovitz, CEO of Collegiate Academies, and his school leaders and staff plan to keep to the students and families they serve within the city of New Orleans.  

Within the network of Collegiate Academies are its four schools: Abramson Sci Academy, Carver Collegiate, Livingston Collegiate, and the newly founded, Baton Rouge Collegiate(currently enrolling for its Fall 2017 opening).

Additionally, Opportunities Academy is the network’s post-secondary full day program for scholars with moderate to significant disabilities with a focus on supporting each student in achieving his or her highest level of independence in pursuit of meaningful and fulfilling personal and professional outcomes in the areas of independent living, community access, and career readiness.

When this image blared across the projector during Marcovitz’s presentation to his school staff during the network’s retreat, I couldn’t help but become consumed with emotion.  

This could have been because of his strategic pairing of the image and mission with a story of a former student who despite struggling significantly(evidenced by a series of documents and reports) to excel both academically and behavioral, is a 2017 graduate of Grambling State University and is currently in the process of applying for employment with the network’s CA Next program(designed to provide support throughout CA graduates’ college career to promote college persistence) to assist students with barriers that mirror his own so that they too can successfully complete college.

Or too, because this was a particularly difficult school year for myself as a school staff member, and despite how desperately my colleagues and I want our kids to persevere, see past their barriers and become successful, the truth is that it takes more than our passion to get the job done.

And while passion is definitely a prerequisite, more than this, after seeing the CA’s revamped mission statement, I’m beginning to realize that it takes our promise.

I feel compelled to repeat this during each blog post I write, but this work is hard.

And with hard work, there are measurable outcomes that not only funding sources but educators too, look forward to in order to identify that the work we do is worthwhile.

Is it worth the sacrifice?  Worth all the stress?

And what about the students themselves?  What about their parents and families?

What about the community? What do they want?  What do they equate to success?

Is college the desired outcome?

Since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the proposition of college preparation for all kids is a blaring one among NOLA schools, and although possibly intimidating and/or seemingly unrealistic to some natives, given data such as a 2015 report from the National Student Clearinghouse that concluded that students from low-income high schools are less likely to attend four-year colleges compared to graduates from higher income high schools, regardless of location or minority enrollment, I don’t believe CA and other schools alike’s mission is to distract or deter young adults from seeking alternative routes for success; as Markovitz went on to acknowledge that there is a percentage(approx 15%) the network’s students that will need an alternative pathway, including career/technical avenues, etc, but a school and network that promises that its students will have a chance to attend college, if they choose, is a school that is determined to do the necessary pre-work to ensure this possibility is a tangible one.  

And as New Orleans continues to rank among the highest in poverty rates across the country (In 2015, nearly 37 percent of children under 18 were living in poverty. For children under the age of 5, the number was bleaker: 44.2 percent were living in poverty.) it is no wonder why school leaders are placing so much emphasis on changing mindsets and creating opportunities to narrow achievement gaps to ensure our kids are able to maximize their chances for success.  

The formula may not be a perfect one just yet.

But keeping the promise is the ownership we need as educators to put our best foot forward to get the job done for our future world leaders.

Click here to read more about Collegiate Academies and its four schools throughout the region.

Click here to read more about Baton Rouge Collegiate and explore enrollment options.

Click here to read more about Opportunities Academy as a post-secondary option for students with moderate to significant disabilities.


The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Collegiate Academies.

Happy Father’s Day: How a Father Impacts a Black Boy’s Education


Many would argue that a great school, quality teachers, and a well-rounded curriculum are the most important factors to educating a black boy. They wouldn’t be wrong in arguing these points. All of which are important; however, one factor that seems always to be neglected from the argument is the role and the importance a father plays in the education of that black boy.

Many black boys grow up in a neighborhood and household where the father is not present. They grow up never seeing a father supporting them especially when it comes to school. Their father isn’t there to take them to school on the first day, they are not there to attend the parent-teacher conference, they are not there to come to their talent show, and they are not there to see them received their certificate for honor roll. Even worse the father is not there the day they accomplish a significant milestone like graduating high school and college.

Numerous studies suggest that a black boy who grows up in a household where the father is not present have the highest chances of being incarcerated at some point in their life. They also have the highest chances of having some behavioral issues in school and are more likely to be suspended. It is the Father’s role especially in a black boy’s life to provide guidance, structure, and the expectations. When those pieces are missing the boys seeks other avenues and very rarely does education become a priority.

Nationwide there are efforts to combat the issue of fatherless boys. Former President Barack Obama launched an initiative in 2014 entitled My Brother’s Keeper. The purpose was to create and expand opportunities for black boys with one of the focuses being on education. Across the country, there are many communities that are fortunate enough to have schools that help address the needs of fatherless black boys in education. In Ohio, there is Ginn Academy. In Chicago, they have the national recognized Urban Prep Academies In New York, there is Eagle Academy, and in Indianapolis, there is Tindley Preparatory Academy. These are all steps in the right directions, but things would be so much easier if there were fathers present to support the schools and their sons.

In his 2007 book Raising Black Boys author, Jawanza Kunjufu stated many black boys are suffering what is called “post-traumatic missing daddy disorder.” He also talked about that it is important that boys have a mentor, but there is no one a black boy wants more than to have his father in his life.

As we celebrate Father’s Day today. We cannot underestimate the importance of the impact a father has on a black boy’s education. We salute the Fathers who are present in the lives of their black boys. We encourage those that are not in their son’s life that it is not too late to step up and get in their child’s lives. More importantly, we must focus on raising our black boys up that we can reverse the statistics of black boys growing up fatherless that we raise our black boys to be men that will be in the lives of their black boys.

The Cautionary Tale of a White Supremacist Principal

The story of a white supremacist principal in charge of a charter school whose student body is mostly African-American is the kind of horror story that sits with me. It’s the kind of story that requires some time and analysis to move through the layers of the question of how this happened. In the past few weeks, I’ve read through news stories and commentaries about Nicholas Dean, the principal of Crescent Leadership Academy who was fired after his participation at a pro-confederate monuments rally led to revelations of possible ties to white supremacist organizations. While his involvement in any organized effort at Nazism or white supremacy may be inconclusive, his ideology of white supremacy is certain. His participation on a “White Genocide” podcast alone is clarifying. And it’s scary. Thinking of him as an authority figure, a disciplinarian, perhaps even a role model to young students of color sends a shiver down my spine.

I’ve never met Nicholas Dean, but I’ve heard of him and knew of him simply because his school was flagged on my list of sixteen New Orleans schools that have excessively high suspension rates. Suspending 51% of the student population in 2014-2015 was beyond excessively high, as the state average is 14%. But some of my colleagues had assured me that the numbers were mitigated by the fact that his school, Crescent Leadership Academy, is an alternative school for at-risk students.

I’m not so sure now, and I regret not paying more attention to this red flag. But in all likelihood, no one would have listened anyway. No one has listened while many Black residents of New Orleans have been predicting this, or at least warning against this for years now. Go to any Monday night meeting with the local activist organization Justice and Beyond and someone likely will tell you she saw this coming. Some education activists have been questioning the cultural competency of the influx of White charters school administrators and teachers since it started—since the flood and the firing of 7,000 teachers, most of whom were Black. Since then, the percent of Black teachers has decreased from 71 to 49 percent. Young White newcomers with programs like Teach for America have replaced them.

Moreover, to understand the full context, one must look at the way education reform has been enacted. In meetings, conferences, blogs, and even casual conversations, someone will tell you that while just about everybody wanted improvements in schools prior to and after the flood, the charter school movement disenfranchised and disengaged the communities they purportedly sought to serve. Advocates have been expressing outrage that it was enacted without community leadership, engagement, or buy-in, and without respect for culture. One community activist likened the situation to colonialism.

While that may be an extreme view, the takeaway is the underlying concerns of implicit bias in education reform, including the concerns about administrators and teachers. In all likelihood, many of these White school leaders and educators have some degree of implicit bias in favor of whiteness. It might be helpful to remember that implicit bias affects our attitudes and behaviors unconsciously and involuntarily. They can override our conscious, stated beliefs and commitments, such as the good intention of helping in an underserved community. The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity highlighted some studies that showed that implicit bias in education leads to disproportionate disciplining of students of color, perceptions that students of color and their parents are disconnected from the education process, and lower expectations of success.

Yet, when I’ve seen Black parents and advocates share these concerns at meetings, policymakers dismiss them as ‘using the race card.’ They don’t want them questioning the ethos of these institutions. Like most discussions about race, the conversation doesn’t go very far without feelings of defensiveness and anger shutting it down. The media is just as culpable. For the most part, only a narrative of the success of education reform is being spread throughout the country, without much attention to the most high-risk communities that have shown little to no improvement. The Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education found that “the New Orleans reforms have created a set of schools that are highly stratified by race, class, and educational advantage.” The cries and concerns of low-income and communities of color have gone mostly unheard by policymakers and the news media.

In contrast, a couple of weeks later after Dean was fired from his school, several media outlets published articles and video of him defending himself. As a woman of color, whose voice often goes ignored and unheard, this privilege did not go unnoticed. This felt like a slap in the face to the advocates, parents, teachers, and students of color who for years have been warning about the detrimental effects of racism and implicit bias in education reform. It was a disheartening reminder of how far we have to go in reaching equity. But I always look for a silver lining, and in this case, I believe it’s the opportunity to have an authentic conversation about race and the racial biases administrators and teachers bring into a classroom. Since the voices of so many advocates have not been enough, I’m hoping that the cautionary tale of Nicholas Dean will make us pay more attention.

I am Woman. I am an African American Muslim. I am an Educator. An Interview with Mariam Ogunsanya

Mariam Ogunsanya is a Nigerian born, Maryland raised teacher who has taught Math Essential Skills at Abramson Sci Academy in New Orleans for the last two years. With a younger sister who required early supportive services to manage Autism, Mariam saw first hand the power of intervention and was driven to narrow her teaching focus on special education.

Even more unique than her area of interest is that Mariam is an African American Muslim who courageously continues to open herself up to her students’ curious minds; in turn, giving her, even more, opportunities to break barriers by debunking societal stereotypes which widen her students’ frame of reference and exposure to the power of diversity.

As a Teach for America(TFA) alum, what are your feelings regarding the community’s often negative perception of their placement within NOLA schools?
I know the message of TFA is in the right place. I went into TFA knowing that I want to teach. When TFA is paired with educators who want to be in it for the long haul, it works, and there is often longevity. TFA’s heart is in the right place. Retention rates are always a thing, no matter what the job is. But the downside of that is the effect on the community. But I don’t think this is always at the fault of anyone. Some educators give their heart and souls for two years and just get burned out and decide that their passion lies somewhere else. I think having that perspective and understanding that it ‘s hard for a community to lose its teachers because the concern is the effect on their children is necessary.

Of course, I’m only giving my opinion, but in a lot of cases, a TFA member’s decision not to teach after their two years is not out of spite for that community or wanting to abandon that community. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of “now that I know how to do it, I am motivated to take what I have learned and impact other communities.

I feel that guilt right now because I’m leaving now, but I remind myself that I’m not going to a private school. I’m still fighting for equality and equity. I’m just moving to another school that serves the same community but is closer to my family.

Admittedly, I completely underestimated how difficult it is to teach skills that we often take for granted like reading and mathematics to students who may have unfortunately slipped through some cracks and present with learning challenges. Can you share some of the difficulties of teaching math intervention in the high school setting?
The biggest barrier that I come across is, “how did I get to this age and be this behind in math?” My students own this as their identity. There’s only so much of this that is healthy. It’s certainly healthy to acknowledge our shortcomings. But not to sit in them. They own a deficit in math as an academic identity, and that is not healthy. “I’m not good at math,” they say. As if this is just what it is and will always be. I want them to remember to humble themselves to own what they don’t know, but accept that they want to learn it, and with this mindset, the sky’s the limit!! It’s dangerous for children to think they can’t get better or become good at something.

I’ve noticed something different about your energy this year. You seemed to be in a more secure stride and had a greater sense of ownership this school year. Did you notice this? What attributed to this growth?
This year, I was able to narrow down my focus. I could not have named that last year. I realized that I needed more feedback and coaching on my implementation of small groups.
I used my planning periods to grade exit tickets so I could better use data to plan for the next day for instruction. Being more mindful of my seating chart. Not focusing just on behavior, but meeting academic needs as well. Even my students who struggled with behavior, when matched with the right student, were able to grow academically. Also, I realized that the only way kids are going to do well in my class is if they understand that my class is a safe space and they could forget about whatever stress they may have had in another class or the hallway. I was just a lot more intentional about the space and my delivery.

You mentioned feedback and coaching. How important are these tools for professional growth?
Super important! I’ve been able to look at good teaching be modeled both on a personal and professional level. My very close friend Jakia Johnson… She is a mama bear teacher. Seeing her interact with her kids was just so refreshing. She approached her students as if they were HER children; having expectations yet giving love. She was honest, and she was passionate. She preaches to her kids, “Arm yourself with education.” I didn’t think I could do anything like this because I taught math rather than any social studies, but what I learned is that when you make it that personal, you respond to them in a way that gets their attention and in turn, makes the relationship a whole lot better. It makes sense to them.

Aside from Jakia, all of the instructional coaches that I have had while at Abramson Sci Academy have drawn a lot out of me as far as helping me to realize how to maintain a positive culture. Whether it was Aidan Kelly, Katie Bubalo, or Alexie Gaddis, they ALL encouraged me to give more of my personality rather than being so rigid and enforcing rules. I struggled a lot my first year because I just wanted compliance. I realized that I had a no-nonsense approach, but what my coaches at ASA taught me what that it is about a balance. Yes, I expect this from you, but I also love you. I love you when you get it. I love you while you struggle. A lot of my kids live in their deficits, and I don’t want them walking away thinking, “I can’t do this” because that is not the goal. Rather, I want them to say, “Hey, I’m getting better at this even those she’s being hard on me.” Balance. I am hoping to continue to get better.

In terms of student performance, what are your feelings on growth vs. proficiency?
Growth drives proficiency! They go hand in hand. If you are always seeking proficiency but not putting in the tools for students to make gains, then you’re expecting magic. If we only focus on growth, then we don’t have a standard of measurement. But if we only focus on proficiency, we neglect acknowledging our kids’ progress in skill development.
A lot of my kids may not hit proficiency levels, but Oh boy!” the growth that my kid’s show should be celebrated. It has to be!

To see a kid pick their stride and grow is THE BEST FEELING in the world.

To see a student transition from saying, “I’m not good at math” to asking me to look over their work for feedback! Man! It’s just so rewarding and what is needed to master outcomes.

I recognize that this year has been particularly challenging for you with regards to the presidential election and the rhetoric regarding Muslims in America. How has this affected you?
Well, even before the election, I struggled for a while. Not only am I Black, but I’m Muslim, AND I’m a woman. These are three significant identifying markers. America hasn’t upheld any of these markers. I wondered for a while what my kids saw me as. Am I black or am I am immigrant? The minute they see my headscarf, the next question is always, “Where are you from?”

Last year, kids asked about my religion all the time, but this year was different. Kids didn’t ask me about my religion. It was weird. The first time it happens, I use it as an opportunity to educate my kids, because they just don’t know. So many of my kids that I taught last year were SO compassionate toward me this year with everything that was going on. I love being able to dispel the myths that are in the media. There have been times in the past when I’ve thought about teaching in a private Muslim setting to minimize the discomfort, but then I reflect on how powerful it is to see the opposite of what they are used to seeing. How many of our students get to see a Muslim in a teaching setting? One student said to me, “I used to be scared of Muslims until I met you.” This just gave me a feeling of power…of hope. If I can change what the world has told you about people like me, that is impactful enough for me to keep going. It’s such a gratifying feeling being able to be so open with my identity and not hide it. A lot of the things that kids say are things that they are taught. Seeing something opposite of what you are taught, especially if you’ve been taught negative, can be life changing.

As you prepare to relocate back home, what will you miss about New Orleans? EVERYTHING! I’m going to miss my kids A LOT! My kids’ personalities are something else. Both the ups and the downs. I’m going to miss being able to monitor their growth. There is no way I would be the teacher that I am without both seeing my friend Jakia teach and the structure of the instructional coaching that ASA has provided me over the last few years. I’m getting emotional just thinking about how I much I want to be able to follow the growth of my kids as they continue to advance in their math courses and take their state tests.

What do you want your legacy to be? How do you want the students of ASA to remember you?
I want them to remember that I care about them. I love celebrating their successes in math. I didn’t give up on them, and they shouldn’t give up on themselves. I want them always to remember that math is NOT impossible. It takes work, but it is something that they can do, and they should never tell themselves that they cannot do it. As I mentioned earlier, it’s dangerous for children to think they can’t get better or be good at something, and I hope that I have made them believe that what they have been taught about their learning is not what it is. It is not true that you “just aren’t a math person”. It is okay to make a mistake. In math making mistakes is critical because it teaches you to get better. We have to normalize mistakes as a part of the process to grow.

Some damage was done somewhere within other schools or among other teachers and possibly families, but I want them to remember that I was motivated to tap into their strengths and change the way they look at their academic identity.

Teaching a child not to quit is a very hard thing to do when a child has been allowed to quit.They can say they need help with something, but they cannot quit, and I want them to remember that they’ve worked through and accomplished what they thought they couldn’t do and this mindset will be transferable to other areas of success in their lives.

5 Suggestions on how Teachers Can Stay Sharp During the Summer


Last week I wrote an article about ways parents can prevent the summer slide for their students. Summer slide is not only isolated to students, but teachers can also suffer from the “Summer Slide.” Here are five things teachers can do this summer to stay sharp.

1. Read: The same message we give to kids about reading teachers must do the same thing. Often for teachers during the school year, you do not have time to read. So the summer time is the perfect chance to grab a book or two and do some summer reading. Here are my top 3 recommended summer books 1. Black Students, Middle-Class Teachers by Jawanza Kunjufu. 2. For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood… and the Rest of Y’all Too. By Christopher Embin. 3. The Ball by Todd Whitaker. 

2. Engage in a Twitter Chat: I find myself engaged in Twitter Chats all the time. For me, they serve the purpose for getting into a healthy debate on current educational issues. More importantly, they serve the purpose of engaging and learning from fellow teachers. Some of the best Twitter Chats currently available are #NTChat, a chat for new teachers, #EdChat, which is a new chat where teachers share best practices and discuss issues of the day, and also my favorite and one I join every Tuesday, #BMETalks, it is a talk started by black male educators and open to anyone who wants to engage in best practices for black male students.

3. Learn a New Skill: Out with the old in with the new. As teachers, we must keep our toolbox sharp. The best way to do that is to make sure we have new tools for the new school year. The summertime is the perfect time to explore skills and techniques for your students. You can also enhance new skills. During the summer is the perfect time to learn the latest technology integration for your classroom. Also, maybe you saw an influence of ELL students, so maybe spend the summer learning a new language to better engage with those students and families.

4. Low-Cost Professional Developments: Research some local PD opportunities at school districts and local universities in your area. Many school districts offer PD opportunities for teachers. Often times these PDs are free or cost little to nothing. They are great opportunities to spend one day learning from local teachers on best practices. Also, look online for PD opportunities. If you check out TeachHUB, you can find a professional development that may have a discussion group you can join.

5. Rest: These new skills will not do you any good if you do not get any rest. You will be a better teacher next school year if you take some time to just rest. Find a block in the summer that is your time. Maybe take a week, two weeks, or even an entire month and do nothing I mean absolutely nothing. Taking time off will help you to refresh and recharge.

Teachers whether you take my advice or not, remember to use your summer wisely you want to make sure you at your best when you return to your students in the Fall!

‘Take Em Down Nola’ is Ed Reform at its Finest


If you think “Take Em Down Nola” is just about monuments, then allow me to broaden your thoughts on the importance of the history that was just made. It is not a coincidence that the movement was spearheaded by a group of dedicated and creative educators who have succeeded in fulfilling one of the greatest acts in education ever. The collaboration of ‘K-16’ educators is something that is dreamed of by organizations throughout the nation who call for increased alignment with policies and strategies in regards to the move from K-12 to postsecondary education. From Malcolm Suber, an adjunct professor and long time activist in New Orleans to Michael “Quess?” Moore, a colorful, vivid and visionary librarian and teacher along with Angela Kinlaw the powerful, dedicated and vocal K-8 principal, the role of educator is looking great marching toward the future while simultaneously absorbing the strength and social fortitude of educators of a distinguished past. The Take Em Down Nola movement should be used as a catalyst in education throughout the world.

I always push the mantra of controlling the narrative through conversation, dialogue and actions.  In my humble opinion, the removal of these monuments has shifted the narrative to focus on a part of history that was never told. Take Em Down Nola has begun to literally change history and history books for the betterment of all of our education.

Deeper than a symbolic act of a removal is giving hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children of African descent a voice and the opportunity for their story to be told. The movement can be used by people of various ethnic backgrounds and cultures to insert their coveted and sacred narratives into places that have historically been according to white men and whatever versions of stories that they wanted the world to know and learn.

The movement also embraces the notion of parent and stakeholder engagement that Ed Reform and charter schools advocates speak of so dearly. Take Em Down Nola has also worked alongside a vast group of community organizations and activists as well as supporting other the campaigns of other civics groups. They have also engaged their students about the true, and untold history that lie beneath every story, monument, plaque situated amongst the unheard slave voices of the many plantations previously aligned along Louisiana’s waterways. In a classroom chat with his students, Michael “Quess?” Moore delves into the mind of our young people about their feelings on the monuments:

“I showed the news footage to my third graders. I asked them if they could make a connection between the man in the statue and the discussions that we had been having all year. “Yeah, that’s them people who wanted to keep slavery,” they said. “That’s right,” I told them. “And what do you think our city is trying to tell us when they make people like that monuments and put ’em way up in the sky?” “That they over us, like our parents,” said one student. “That they have power,” said another. Ahh…the mouths of babes. I told them that they’d just spoken a truth that even their great-grandparents may have not been able to freely articulate”.

The city of New Orleans removal of monuments erected to honor men who fought against our country and who desperately wanted to continue taking advantage of the free labor that made many of their families rich goes further than just symbolism. The work done by this group of educators can be used as a catalyst for classroom topics and discussions by other educators locally, nationally and worldwide. This is a chance to reinvent the narrative around what really happened during the time of these abominable men’s lives. The Take Em Down Nola movement offers an installation of stories to be shared throughout cultures and heritages. What a great time to be an educator or student with so many possibilities that lie ahead. This moment should be just the beginning.

5 Tips for Summer College Prep for Millennials


As the summer season sets in and the last high school graduates walk across the stage, we all remain hopeful for new experiences that the fall season and the start of a new school year will bring. For most graduating seniors, the thrill and exhilaration of high school graduation will wane as the summer break concludes while eagerness and possible anxiety will commence as you await the beginning of your college journey.  Incoming college freshman can be proactive in ensuring you are prepared to succeed in college and beyond. Follow these 5 useful tips to help prepare for your new life on a college campus.

1) Understand the layout of your campus.

Knowing how your campus is set up can be very important for success during your college years. If you can choose which dorm to stay in make sure that you find one that is close to where most of your classes are going to be. Take time to explore the campus and find out where each of your classes is held. Unlike high school, not all of your classes will be in the same building Residing close to your class locations means you won’t always have to be in a rush if your morning routine happens to take an extra 5 minutes. We all know how getting up in the morning can sometimes be a pain.

You will also want to know where the dining hall and restaurant options are in relation to your dorm and classrooms. Making a mad dash to get lunch at the same time as 1,000 other students won’t be too much of a hassle if you’re eating near your next class or dorm. In my experience, I have also used the knowledge of my campus to find the perfect spots to study or do assignments. Finding that right environment that encourages you to be productive is also key. I could never study or do work in my dorm room, but you could catch me on the 4th floor of the library any day of the week. Know your campus layout so that you can use it to your advantage.

2) Use your resources.

There are a plethora of resources to get support and assistance for students on most college campuses. These resources can help you with a range of issues that you may run into as a student from a physical injury to help on that bio lab. It is important to know what resources are available to you and where they may be found. Sometimes emergencies happen, and they can be resolved faster and more efficiently if you know exactly where to go. Academically, the best thing you can do is at least occasionally attend tutor sessions for some of the classes that you have and build a relationship with an academic advisor and/or career counselor. Going to tutoring sessions and maintaining communication with your academic advisor are great ways to remain academically astute and get any unanswered questions addressed. You may also get lucky and have a tutor who is willing to help you with your homework as well. Never be afraid or ashamed to go in and get help from your academic advisor either. As adults, we like to be independent and figure things out on our own, but your academic advisor has been hired by your college or university so that you don’t have to do that. Always remember that there is help for you during your college journey if you know where and how to access it.

3) Keep an eye out for financial aid.

Most departments within a college or university have scholarships and financial assistance that they will provide to students who apply and meet requirements. It is important to talk to your professors and department staff to stay in the know about scholarship opportunities. Going to tutoring, as was discussed in the previous tip, can also help you get your foot in the door for scholarships. You will be able to connect with older students who can help you as well. You will also need to visit your actual financial aid office and check to see what they can do for you. They may also recommend that you apply to a work-study program. These programs will allow you to make money to help pay for tuition while also working on campus. Money is out there, but it is important to know where and how to obtain it.

4) Invest in the right technology.

Today’s educational environment can be very saturated with tech. In some classes, you won’t even see a piece of paper because the professor has decided to convert her/his whole teaching style to digital. In this case, certain devices are becoming necessary for the modern student to thrive. Number one gadget: A LAPTOP. This might be the most important for a student today besides their brain (up for debate). And when paper is being used in the classroom, it might also be a good idea to invest in a printer. One of the excuses I’ve heard the most for being late in college was something along the lines of “My paper wouldn’t print at the library.” If you have your own printer then know where else you can go to print. Some computer labs around campus may be able to provide free printing and use of computers in the event you are not able to secure your own. Consider your technology needs when requesting and/or applying for financial aid as well. It is also likely that financial aid for some students will include refund money. Remember that your refund money shouldn’t be used for a shopping spree or a night on the town. Investing your financial resources wisely is essential to set yourself up for success – and technology needs should be part of your investment.

5) Get to know your professors.

On day one it is very important to speak to all of your professors and at least tell them your name so they can put a name to a face. Some professors do not even see some of their students at all. That student is then reduced to a name, an ID Number, and her/his grades. Don’t be a number. Show your professor that you are a person who takes their education seriously, and they will be very willing to get to know you. There is so much help on class concepts, homework, and tests that can be received from your professor if you know them on a more personal level. Everything that you will apply for from here on out will require at least one letter or recommendation. Who better to talk highly of you than your professor that you have befriended over the course of the semester? Getting to know your professor from the start has nothing but positive outcomes. You never know what kind of opportunities they may open up for you in the future.

Mendell Grinter is the Founder & Executive Director of Campaign for School Equity –  nonprofit organization committed to the equitable utilization of high quality educational options. Grinter is also a member of the 2017 Forbes 30 Under 30.

Black People Support Vouchers, Black Leaders Don’t. Who’s Right?

At times, black people, like any group battered and oppressed by the state, may celebrate any perception of forward motion. Folks scour social media pages to see who has what appointment, what political power is being amassed, and what black person has been newly elected.

Although I strongly believe in the need for more representation and more political action, unfortunately, too often, having black people in positions of power—especially politicians—does not necessarily further the educational causes of black children in America. Recently, I wrote about a local legislator who works to ensure other people’s children have the same opportunities he did growing up. But, for many politicians, including black ones, parity between the choices their constituents’ children have and the choices their own children have is always elusive.

In a 2002 New York Times article, “Why Blacks Support Vouchers,” Michael Leo Owens stated that black students’ achievement in schools should have a strong and direct positive correlation with the increase in black political power. Although it is remarkably clear that black people remain underrepresented in America’s legislative bodies, those who are in these positions too often side against the most disenfranchised of their constituencies.

An increase in black and brown political power should have ushered in unprecedented levels of black and brown academic achievement, but it hasn’t.

The NAACP’s stance against charter schools and the right to school choice for millions of poor black parents starkly symbolizes how black political influence is too often black political cowardice and hypocrisy.

Owens remarked that:

… we are desperate for decent education for our children. And people in my generation and those younger doubt the ability of black government leaders to influence public education policies in ways that would benefit our children. Our support for vouchers is essentially a critique of politicians’ ineffectiveness.

In the post-civil rights era, the number of blacks sharing power and responsibility for urban public education has grown dramatically. From 1977 to 1999, the number of black elected officials with influence over public education in cities (mayors, council members, school board members and superintendents) more than doubled, to 5,815 from 2,724

The educational achievement of black children and the overall quality of urban public schools have failed to improve significantly.

I predict that if vouchers are funded, black families will flock to them. It is not that they believe they are the cure-all, but it reflects black communities’ desperation for better educational opportunities for their children. Those who strongly oppose vouchers—especially black politicians and policy influencers—are usually the same people who wouldn’t sacrifice their own children for the good of the poor. It is for this reason that black parents will typically ignore those cautioning against vouchers. Just as black folks braved the cautions about what lay north and west when they participated in the Great Migration, black folks know that hope is captured in moving forward, not standing still.

The truth is that as much as black families need more school options, vouchers will be harmful in some ways, especially if the U.S. Department of Education fails to regulate them and continues to decline its responsibility to hold all schools receiving public dollars accountable for outcomes—especially for those who continue to suffer the greatest educational inequities.

Owens concluded by acknowledging the limitations of a voucher system in improving the overall educational justice that has been diverted from our communities:

My generation knows that vouchers have serious limitations. We recognize that no voucher program can save a failing public system. Poorly funded vouchers don’t offer much of a chance for poor children to enroll in expensive alternative schools. … And vouchers can’t end the resistance of many suburban schools to black enrollment.

But they offer the only hope available to many poor students trapped in the nation’s worst schools. For a limited number of children, they may make a crucial difference. That possibility is enough for black parents to take a chance.

Owens’s reflections about poor black people’s perspectives about vouchers remind me of Pauli Murray’s poem about hope:

Hope is a crushed stalk

Between clenched fingers

Hope is a bird’s wing

Broken by a stone.

Hope is a word in a tuneless ditty —

A word whispered with the wind,

A dream of forty acres and a mule,

A cabin of one’s own and a moment to rest,

A name and place for one’s children

And children’s children at last . . .

Hope is a song in a weary throat.

Read Owens’ entire article here.

Sharif El-Mekki is the principal of Mastery Charter School–Shoemaker Campus, a neighborhood public charter school in Philadelphia that serves 750 students in grades 7-12. From 2013-2015, he was one of three principal ambassador fellows working on issues of education policy and practice with U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Arne Duncan.

El-Mekki holds a bachelor’s degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and gained his master’s degree and principal certification from Cheyney University of Pennsylvania.

El-Mekki blogs at Philly’s 7th Ward.