Recently nine bold students from the Urban League of Rochester’s Project Ready met with Secretary Duncan to fulfill a challenge issued to them in January at the Voices in Action National Youth Summit at Howard University. At the summit, students were asked to return to their schools and formulate a plan to increase college preparedness in their communities. On June 17, the students from New York returned to Washington—with their program counselors and one parent in tow—to present their work to the Secretary and talk with him about challenges their community faces raising college completion rates. The students developed a presentation that outlined barriers to increasing high school graduation in their community and recommended support systems and solutions for educational leaders to consider, including extending the school day, raising expectations of the community, and requiring students to wear uniforms. They also discussed their participation in Project Ready’s After School Academy, which serves students in 7th-12th grades and which they credit for helping them to succeed in high school. Here is an excerpt from 16-year-old Pamineo Richards’s reaction to the visit.
“I understood the importance of the event. This was a chance that not many students have, and I felt that if I took advantage of it, I was making a difference for those who often go unheard.
“At first I was nervous; being in a room with people who you know have great power is never easy. I sat not too far from a man who oversees our educational system and has an impact on it. To be sharing my ideas with him hadn’t seemed real.
“The people of the Department were very down to earth. I realized they were much like us, and we could joke around and have fun while still accomplishing what was on the agenda.
“Never before had I been so engaged in a conversation that actually pertained to solving problems teens like me face. The conversation was so productive, and it was surprising to see that our ideas were actually in sync with those of the people in the room.
“What really stuck out to me and my group was when Mr. Duncan informed us that less than 2 percent of African-American males are teachers. That really hit me because our program predominantly serves black males, and some of the young men in the room want to one day pursue a teaching career so that they can make a difference with future generations.
“This opportunity better helped me understand how the public’s perspective of our educational system can be so misguided. The people at the Department are really trying to change the way things are. We just need to give them the chance.”
Pamineo Richards is a junior at Bishop Kearney High School High School in Rochester, N.Y. He plans to attend Rochester Institute of Technology and pursue a career as a software engineer. His involvement with the Urban League’s Project Ready program has prepared him for college through mentoring, tutoring, and guidance. This summer Pamineo and students in the program will be working with the Urban League to write college application essays in preparation for their senior year.
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