Central High Student Keeps His Eyes on the Prize

High school junior Tailore Dawson (front row, fourth from left) and friends at Central High School in Little Rock, Ark.

As we wandered around the manicured grounds of Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., last Thursday—it’s the only active school in America that’s also a national park—a young man came over.

“Need help finding something?” he asked.

Tailore Dawson, 17, is a junior at Central. It’s not the school he’d normally attend, since his family lives in another part of town. But his neighborhood high school isn’t up to his mother’s standards—or his own.

“My academic standard for me is different than for other students,” Tailore said. Also, “I want to go to a school that has some type of character, and Central has character. And it has history.”

Tailore’s homework the night before we met him included a three-page profile of a classmate. The assignment—to get “beyond the surface” and really learn about the other person—was for a communications and college preparation program called AVID, Advancement Via Individual Determination. Worldwide, AVID serves approximately 400,000 students, grades 4-12, in nearly 4,500 schools in 45 states, the District of Columbia and 16 countries and territories.

Central’s communications teacher, Stacey McAdoo, coordinates the AVID program there and was part of a roundtable discussion with Secretary Duncan and teachers Thursday morning. A partnership with the University of Arkansas-Little Rock provides tutors for the Central students to get them focused on college.

“They help students navigate the college choices they will have,” McAdoo explained. Visits to colleges and universities throughout the year give the high schoolers a sense of what life on campus is like.

“Leaving high school, people don’t know what to do next,” Tailore said, estimating that 60 percent of his friends have an idea of what they’ll do after graduation. “Having those connections at these colleges—those friends—helps you get where you want to go.”

Two years from graduation, Tailore already knows where he wants to go: Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., where he wants to major in robotics or genetics. He’s preparing to apply to the Ivy League school by taking physics and chemistry, along with several Advanced Placement classes, and he is a member of Central’s robotics club. He is taking the right tests for admission—the ACT last year (which he’ll take again) and the SAT this year.

Central High School’s history as a flashpoint in the civil rights movement is not lost on Tailore. He’s African American—more than half of Central’s students are—but in 1957, federal troops had to be called in so that nine black teenagers could enter what was then an all-white school.

“People thought, ‘These nine got in. Why can’t we do it?’ They got the mentality and kept coming and coming, and eventually we just mixed all together…Everybody’s friends with everybody. There’s no segregation of anything.”

When we met him last week, Tailore hadn’t yet heard about President Obama’s national education goal—that the United States will once again lead the world in college graduates by 2020—but he immediately homed in on what it will take to be successful.

“I think we can achieve this goal,” he said, “but what we’ll need is everybody helping. A few people can’t do good and cover up for everybody else. We need everybody’s help.”

On the path to college, Tailore Dawson is doing his part.

Massie Ritsch
Office of Communications & Outreach