“Let’s Lengthen the Bridge Instead of Making the Fence Higher”
Education is one of the biggest assets a person can have.
From the time that I was a little girl, it was always emphasized to me how important it is to stay in school and maintain good grades—I’m sure I’m not the only one. We are always being told to keep learning and to never think that there is an ending to that learning. That, the more education we receive, the better our lives are going to be. For whatever reason, we have developed a system that doesn’t really look at the individuals on a personal level, rather, whether or not a person has a certain piece of paper. This sheet of paper that either gets hung up on a wall or kept in an envelope can make or break a person’s future. Of course, networking and developing communication skills is huge, but, this piece of paper has shown to surpass those qualities.
Being an African-American woman, this piece of paper has both given me great accomplishments and great pain.
Although I have put in the same amount of work as my colleagues, my journey to this piece of paper was not an easy one, and I’m not just referring to the courses I had to take. Discrimination for my skin and ridicule for being a “nerd” always haunted me. Getting straight A’s was not something the cool kids did and because I am African-American, I automatically have a disadvantage. However, though these things haunted me, my biggest struggle with receiving my education all circled around one big thing: money.
Though we have the chance to go to college and can all apply to whatever school our hearts desire, the underlining question that many people and myself face is whether we are even able to pay for it.
I know I’m not the only one whose financial package from a school was a factor into whether I would be able to attend—this is a harsh reality for a lot of people. I’ve watched TOO many times the same story of a person getting into their dream school and getting so excited, just to have those dreams crushed because they are financially incapable of paying for it; the financial aid they received just wasn’t enough. So, we find ourselves either not going to school at all or attending a college that wasn’t our first choice, but, it gave us the most money.
Coughing up $20,000+ every year is not something the average family can do, regardless of what Sallie Mae may determine after their “financial analysis” of each parent. What that financial analysis doesn’t take into consideration is that a college tuition is NOT the only thing a parent is paying for. Parents have phone bills, mortgages, food to purchase to survive, clothes to put on their and our backs, single-parent households and—in many situations—other children to care for. My mother is one of many who was a single-parent that overworked herself so that I could have a great education.
I got into the school of my dreams and my mother was not letting me attend anywhere else. Yes, we struggled a lot and yes, there were moments where we didn’t think we’d be able to send me back for another semester, but I thank God for my grants and my eligibility for loans. I’m a little in debt, but, I am so grateful for the education I have received.
LeBron James is trying to change the future of children like me with his latest education project.
Recently, the new Los Angeles Lakers player opened a school in his hometown—Akron, Ohio—called the I Promise School. This is a school that currently has 240 third and fourth graders who were chosen because they were behind their peers by a few years regarding academic performance—he is engaging the at-risk youth. In this environment, the children will get much more than just a great education:
Each child gets free breakfast, lunch and snacks.
Children have access to a free trainer.
After lunch, each child participates in a “supportive circle” in order to refocus.
Each student has been given a new bicycle and helmet.
The school days and academic year are much longer: children are in school from 9:00am to 5:00pm and the academic year runs from July to May.
However, James doesn’t just stop there. In addition to providing so much for the children, the I Promise School also offers GED classes and job placement assistance for the parents and guardians of the children. In the summer, there is a seven-week STEM-based summer camp to keep the kids active and learning. Lastly, if these children successfully complete the I Promise program, their tuition to the University of Akron will be covered in full.
By 2022, James says that the school will enroll students from kindergarten to eighth grade, all receiving the same benefits as this first graduating class.
This school is doing more than just paying for their education.
Financial aid is a HUGE factor in a child’s next step in the education sector, however, through the I Promise School, they are receiving so much more than financial aid. In his speech before the official opening of the school, James stated:
“Kids that are 7,8, 9, 10…the most important thing that we can give them is structure and a sense of…they just want someone to feel like we care. Kids just want to know that we care about [them]. They have the dreams, they have the aspirations, they have everything that they can actually get to whatever they want to get to in life, they just want to know that someone cares.”
If given the right environment and the opportunities, kids are able to do anything. I know that without the motivation and care of my family, teachers and friends, I would not be where I am at today. This is what LeBron James is trying to give to the at-risk children of Akron, Ohio.
Just because these children have struggled, that does not mean that they should be deprived of a great future. A lot of the time, we don’t see the possibilities of a great future because the environment we are being educated in is feeding us the complete opposite. Sometimes, it is not enough to just have the support at home.
Education can make or break a person and, just like LeBron James, we should keep trying to push to have the system work in favor of everyone and allow everyone to reap the same opportunities and the same care. Sometimes, it just takes a little love and dedication to make a big difference.