Escambia public schools worked for me

Carly Borden’s at N.B. Cook Magnet School of the Arts. Photo by Michael Spooneybarger

Education means different things to different people. For my parents, it meant leaving a house and a familiar neighborhood on the west side of Pensacola to move to East Hill in search of better schools for me and my brother.

I owe them a lot for that. I not only got a good education, but a great education. But not everyone who goes to school in the Escambia County School District can say that. I started my freshman year at Washington High School in 2006. By the time I graduated in 2010, only 55 percent of the students in the district who started their freshman year with me ended up graduating. What’s even more discouraging is that only 44 percent of blacks in the district graduated in 2010. Sometimes I wonder why our school system didn’t work as well for some kids who started school when I did. One of the reasons I’m with the Studer Institute is because I want to better understand why some children succeed in school and others don’t.  More important, I want to study ways we can improve not only graduation rates, but also preschool education. As I begin my work and research at the Institute, I’ve thought a lot about why the system worked for me.  Looking back, I can see it was a mixture of parents, community, teachers and drive. I grew up in a close-knit neighborhood with many kids my age who also had involved and supportive parents. That kind of environment was just as important as my schools. My school journey began at the N.B. Cook Magnet School of the Arts in kindergarten. I was in the initial first-grade class to attend school in the new state-of-the-art building.

At Cook, students to this day perform in plays twice a year, before a standing-room crowd in an auditorium. The popular opinion seems to be that public schools don’t measure up. But my decision to remain in public schools worked out fine for me. In middle school I found my niche. My eighth-grade gifted language-arts teacher allowed me to study classic works of literature in a way I’d never experienced before. She instilled in me a hunger for knowledge and a drive toward creative expression that I still have today. After middle school, I chose to attend Booker T. Washington High School. The International Baccalaureate program at Pensacola High School offered a challenging course load, but Washington was a better fit for me. I remember in ninth grade sitting in an advanced-placement human geography class having to defend my position on an issue. It was a class where we used a Socratic method of debate. My teacher cultivated a classroom where vigorous discussion, strong arguments and enlightened speeches flowed in a way that made each student want to channel his or her inner Cicero. I got involved with various clubs and organizations, some social and some academic. Most of our teachers were already involved with clubs on campus and urged us to get involved, too. They felt it was a great way to keep students engaged in the school community. And, indeed, it was. My junior year, a teacher encouraged me to run for office and I was elected student government president my senior year. I learned quickly that coming to a consensus with students, teachers and administrators was not an easy task. At the time, we had just merged with Woodham High School and the influx of new students not accustomed to our school had created some friction. With the help of the administration, however, we were able to plan events that increased school spirit and made the school community more inclusive. After graduating from Washington, I was accepted into the University of Florida. I graduated last December with a bachelor’s degree. Despite the criticism that public education receives, it worked well for me. What I can say is that there’s not one key or solution to the problems in public schools today. It takes a motivated community, willing students, participating parents and supportive administrators and teachers. There’s no one thing that’s going to fix the system, and no one thing that’s responsible for the problems. The one thing I know, however, is that if it weren’t for my parents, my teachers and my neighborhood, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

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