Rocketship Education: A Real Alternative

One of the focuses of my blog is education, and one of my key principles is “Creating Ecosystems of Success”. As such, when appropriate I will partner with other groups and organizations with similar interests. One such organization is the non-profit Rocketship Education. The following is a brief overview of Rocketship Education provided by the organization itself, their school system and their model. The picture in this post was provided courtesy of Rocketship Education.

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A good education is the best way to ensure that your child has a bright future ahead of them; unfortunately, however, many public school-aged children are relegated to attending underperforming schools, based on the district that they reside in. Thankfully, Rocketship Education provides an alternative; if you’re unfamiliar with Rocketship Education, it is a network of public charter schools available to elementary-aged students.

These non-profit charter schools are aimed at low-income families, who would otherwise have to settle for schools in their district that don’t meet the children’s needs. Founded in 2006, Rocketship Education has made it a mission to provide children with personalized learning, which includes parental engagement, community organizations, and unique lesson plans.

Since opening its first school in San Jose, California, Rocketship Education has earned tremendous praise for helping students score well on state assessments, and for making charter schools a viable alternative for low-income families. In an effort to build on its success in California, Rocketship Education has opened charter schools in the Midwest and as of 2016, opened a school in Washington, D.C. To learn more about Rocketship Education, visit Rocketship Public Schools.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Hill Harper discusses Honor Your Future Now campaign part one

Late in 2015, I was approached with an opportunity to conduct an interview with Hill Harper regarding his collaboration with the National Honor Society for its “Honor Your Future Now” campaign.  Of all of my submissions for the Examiner, this felt like my biggest one yet.  In addition to getting the word out about Honor Your Future Now, Hill and the National Honor Society’s goal was to get parents and young people thinking early about the steps they could take towards preparing for college.  He also shared some important aspects of his own journey through life.  Having started off 2016 with this piece, I thought it would be appropriate to republish my two-part interview with Hill to conclude the year.  This interview was previously published on the both the Examiner and the Edvocate.

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With roles in a long list of films including: Get on the Bus, Beloved, He Got Game, The Skulls, For Colored Girls, and most recently, Concussion, Hill Harper needs no introduction.  Also an education advocate, the actor/author recently gave an interview on Jan. 12 in collaboration with the National Honor Society regarding its Honor Your Future Now Campaign.  In the following interview, Hill discusses the campaign, in addition to other keys to success for students and parents in the areas of college and career planning, and life.

Anwar Dunbar- First off Hill, I’m a longtime fan of your work and appreciate this opportunity to interview you.  You are a very well accomplished actor, writer, and an education advocate.  Were you always a straight A student yourself?  If not, what was the turning point for you?

Hill Harper- No I wasn’t, though my parents very much emphasized the value education can play in your life.  In high school I don’t think the teachers or my peers necessarily expected me to be great or do well. I was just an okay student.  But there was a fire lit within me, because it was explained to me that there was a link between how I performed in school and my future opportunities.  That’s really the key because when we tell kids to stay in school, we usually just stop there.  We usually don’t tell them why, and someone had the foresight to pull me to the side and say, “Hey, you don’t just have to be on the same level as everybody else.  If you apply yourself, you can excel, and if you do excel, this is what can happen.”

Because of this I was one of the first people from my school to go away to and graduate from an Ivy League institution (Brown and Harvard Universities).  Again, the reason this happened was because I was fortunate enough to have someone pull me to the side and say, “Hey, what you do in school now will impact your future options, so apply yourself,” and that’s why I’m so proud of the National Honor Society pillars; because when you think about what they represent, you can see that you can really build a life of a well-rounded student and individual.  That’s what I aspired to do, and that’s ultimately what I became.

AD- I see that you’re from Iowa and have two very accomplished parents.  Did you have any challenges as a youth on your journey through school and to all of your successes?

HH- What’s interesting for me is that we left Iowa when I was just starting first grade, very early.  I came back for just a little bit, one year of eighth grade, but for the most part I was educated somewhere else.  As an African American and moving through different schools and around a lot, maybe that’s why I became an actor because you have to get comfortable meeting new people and adapting to new situations.  Certainly in Iowa, African Americans are not the majority, but my parents always made it very clear not to focus on race, and race-based thinking in terms of my education, and in terms of whatever preconceived notions some people may have had.

I can’t speak for how the teachers may have perceived me, but I can say that I was never going to allow anyone to think that I couldn’t perform on the same level as them based on anything having to do with race, and any kinds of stereotypes around education and educational performance.  I’m proud of being from the Midwest and having Midwestern roots because it really seems the Midwest is a place where old school values are.  I’m also proud that I went to high school in California because that opened me up to different types of diversity that I wouldn’t have experienced otherwise. So I kind of got the best of both worlds growing up, certainly by having two parents who were educated.  Both of my parents met at medical school at Howard University.  I’m very proud that I was able to follow in their footsteps to go to college and graduate school.

AD- That’s interesting because for some black males even when they come from “successful” homes, they’re still caught between following that path or following the negative images in the media, you know, the “street credibility” type of thing.

HH- Exactly.  That does happen.  In part, to me that happens because many of those young men don’t have enough positive male role models to emulate, which is why it’s important for me to be visible and vocal about my education. A lot of young men will send letters, emails, tweets, or posts on Instagram saying, “Hey man, people used to tell me that it wasn’t cool to be smart and now knowing you, I realize that it’s cool to be smart, because you’re a cool guy.  It’s sexy to be smart.”

Smart is the new cool, so I think we can turn the corner on that, particularly with campaigns like Honor Your Future Now, which is a cool campaign.  It’s about honoring your future, but it starts right now and to me, if we can get that message out to young people and young African American men, we can really have impact because oftentimes a lot of these young men are taught not to think about their future.  They’re taught to think about right now only, and that leads to poor sets of choices.  Ultimately in life, we’re all the aggregation and accumulation of a series of choices that we make, and those choices determine our life’s path.

This interview will be continued in part two of; Hill Harper discusses Honor Your Future Now campaign.

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Challenging misconceptions and stereotypes in academic achievement

playlandThe following piece was my second piece published on the Examiner back in November of 2012.  It was based upon an actual conversation between me and my father during my youth growing up on the Buffalo’s east side.  Early on I developed misconceptions and stereotypes about peers from various ethnic groups and what they were and were not good at – Asians in particular.  My father challenged those stereotypes which is something that empowered me later on in life and helped change my academic paradigm and world view.  The visual for this piece is a playground for young children, because at a young age before we get socialized and develop racial biases and ideas, we all start off with the same potential to learn and achieve.  It’s what happens to us as we grow up in our unique environments that determine how our lives turn out, our successes, our achievements, and our failures.

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“Those Asian kids are smarter than everyone else and they’re on the honor roll every quarter,” the son said to his father.  His statement was partially true.  At his school there were students of Asian descent who were on the honor roll every quarter and consistently had grade point averages of 90% or greater.

He was an average student from the inner city.  Like many young people, his views of the world were shaped by what he saw in his community, his peers, the media and ignorance.  His older brother and his best friend, both of whom he spent most of his time with, were not honor roll students either.

The father challenged his son’s statement saying, “They’re not necessarily smarter than you; they just spend more time in their books than you do consistently after school every week.”

“A study showed that Asian students study an average of 12 hours a week or more after school.  For Caucasian students the number is six hours, and for African American and Latino students the number is four hours,” the father said citing a study he had read.  The study suggested that academic performance was a function of time invested, not the intelligence of one race over another.

The conversation changed the son’s educational paradigms allowing him to become an honor roll student himself later on.  This true story demonstrates the importance of both parenting and mentoring.  With limited experience and wisdom, young people don’t always understand the world around them and can make conclusions that aren’t accurate.

In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People the late Stephen Covey describes paradigms as mental road maps that guide our behaviors.  These paradigms direct us and tell us how to react in certain situations.  Paradigms largely influence perceptions of academic achievement.

Dr. Ralph G. Perrino, of the Northern Virginia Tutoring Service, describes in The Socialization Process and Its Impact on Children and Learning, that a student’s academic performance is influenced by family, school, peers, mass media, public opinion, work, volunteer groups and religion/spirituality.  In summary, the expectations and culture students are exposed to, affects their performance.

The counties in northern Virginia, for example, are inhabited by families with highly educated parents.  “These parents are willing to invest their financial resources to make sure their children do well and go to college,” said Dr. Perrino.  The 90% college matriculation rate in these counties is thus a function of values and resources, and not necessarily an innate superior ability over other students such as those within the neighboring District of Columbia.

In Savage Inequalities, Jonathan Kozol argues that the quality of education available in any community is strongly affected by economics and politics.  These two factors directly impact not only educational and neighborhood environments, but also the culture, expectations and long term goals of the parents and children within communities.

Circling back to the opening of this article, at the University of Michigan and similar research institutions, a trend started in the early 21st Century.  Many of the research labs, particularly in the biomedical sciences, were employing large populations of Asian scientists.

It wasn’t magic though.  A professor noted that these scientists were “extremely hardworking, dedicated, and not concerned with things that their American counterparts are preoccupied with things such as having social lives and lots of leisure time.”

“Not everyone in China is smart.  Similar to America, there are a lot of people who aren’t smart and successful,” said Dr. Cheng Fang, a talented scientist from China, discussing the stereotypes about his people and his country.  Simply put, some of China’s most motivated and successful families come to the United States seeking the opportunities for advancement that this country has to offer, many in the sciences, and those are the ones that are seen most often.

Interestingly, Cheng further revealed that there are no second chances in China academically.  In the Asian countries if you don’t excel early in school, numerous doors and opportunities permanently slam shut.  In the United States you can under achieve in the lower grade levels and still positively make something of yourself through higher education or other avenues such as the military, entrepreneurship or entertainment.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post.  If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment.  To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site.  Lastly follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful.  While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM, and Financial literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.