I am a survivior of the New York City Public School System.
It took me five years to finish high school. Yes, Shawn is a super-senior.
And I almost dropped out of school twice. At the end of 1989 and again towards the Summer of 1991.
But my struggles in the classroom started in Junior High.
Before Junior High I was reading above grade level and on grade level in math.
But in Junior high I started to fall apart. IS 148, the Juinior High I attended was an anarchistic environment with no rules, structure, or support systems; a place where children are tossed into the wild with minimal supervision. It was a place where indifference and apathy were the norm from faculty and fights and violence between students were almost an everyday thing. Instead of finding an environment where I’d be encouraged to pursue my education and actualize my potential, I spent every day there struggling to survive.
As I fell through the academic cracks at IS 148, I didn’t get the preparation I needed for High School. Even though I got good grades in Junior High, the curriculum used by the Board of Education at the time wasn’t comprehensive enough. The coursework at the time didn’t teach pre-algebra or introduce me to the novel and literary concepts such as irony, foreshadowing contrast and symbolism, essentials for any student seriously planning on finishing high School or preparing for college.
After I managed to survive to graduation of IS 148 in 1987, I ran into a wall starting my first semester at Park West High School. During that semester of High School I felt overwhelmed because the coursework was far more complicated than what I was used to. In the first semester I failed Math and English classes and struggled with Science and Global Studies classes. Over the course of that freshman year I was absent over 27 days and cut classes regularly to avoid fights and rumored violence from the Decepticons, a gang that terrorized Manhattan public schools.
I spent my sophomore year at Park West in the SOAR (Students On Absentee Roster) program. In that program with support services and a team environment, I did manage to get my grades back up and earned most of my credits. However, while I was making some academic progress in the first semester and my grades rebounded I had a hard time in the second semester of the program. Many of the supportive teachers and counselors left the program and were replaced by new staff who practiced the apathetic practices of Resentment, Resistance, and Racism.
In addition to academic struggles in that second semester, I was still having a hard time because it just wasn’t safe to go to school. During that time the crack epidemic was in full swing, and many of the hoods who roamed the halls were either drug dealers or connected to drug dealers. Any small beef with a hood working with a drug dealer or drug posse could cost a young brother his life. It was hard to for me to concentrate on classwork because I worried about someone wanting to start some beef over something silly like not having a girlfriend, not standing right, not wearing the right clothes,or wearing the right clothes and worrying about someone wanting to jump you afterschool, speaking articulately, or trying to get good grades. In my best attempts to survive in that hostile territory I tried to appease my peers by conforming to their standards. Unfortunately, in my attempts to fit in, my grades slipped again.
After I left the SOAR program in June 1989, I spent so much time worrying about my safety at Park West the following fall I was having anxiety attacks. In November of 1989 after was assaulted on a subway ride home by a gang of teens, my grades which were strong at the start of the semester fell off and I became depressed. I started skipping school for days and sometimes weeks. By December 1989 I had been written off by my indifferent guidance counselor at Park West and was about to give up on myself.
Because of problems I was having with other black males (and some females) at Park West, I had to transfer to Taft High school in 1990. Developing a war strategy to deal with the extreme environment of public high school I took my own education in my own hands. I cut off all social contact with my classmates and focused on my classswork. I didn’t trust my guidance counselor and kept track of my credits, and state exams. I got my grade point average up to 80-90 level at Taft from the 65-75 average it was in Park West. I even made the Honor roll a couple of times. Thankfully by June 1992 I passed all the classes I needed to graduate and marched with the class of 1992. I still can’t do algebra for crap, but I have my diploma.
Now that I’m older, I’m not ashamed to admit that it took me an extra year to get my High School diploma. With the support of my family I was encouraged to stay in school that fifth year at Taft and get my diploma instead of a GED. While I managed to survive high school, I understand that many other young brothers in the black community today aren’t as blessed.
I wanted to share my story with those brothers so they’d be encouraged to continue working towards their diplomas. I want them to understand it’s okay if they have to take an extra year or even two or three years in high school. I want them to understand it’s okay if they’re struggling with subjects or with social stuff in school and they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help. I want them to understand that others faced the problems they’re facing in school right now and they aren’t alone.
I also wanted to share my story so other brothers and sisters can understand the numerous obstacles young black males face on their journey through the educational system. Many older brothers and sisters are insensitive to the problems young black males currently face in school with peer pressure and academic struggles. They think because their sons are teenagers that they’re grown men when it’s not the case. From the ages of eleven to eighteen black males are extremely vulnerable to the influences of their peers and the media. It’s during this period when young brothers need even more guidance and support to navigate the dangerous courses of High School and Adolescence.