Focus on Access to Education

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If you think lack of access to quality education only affects students in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, Nathaniel Larimore ’16, an MS in Education graduate, would like to set the record straight.

“Inequality in access to education hurts all of us,” he says. “Failure to provide access to an education that prepares young people to be successful workers and productive members of society in the 21st century has a negative effect on our country’s economy and our communities in the form of high unemployment, a less-skilled workforce, and increased crime.”

For nearly 20 years, Larimore has been on the front line of the fight to ensure every student has access to the high-quality education needed to succeed. As a teacher in Baltimore City Public Schools since 1999, he not only provides his students with an academically rigorous college-prep education, but he is also an active mentor for many of his young African-American and Hispanic male students.

“Even though Baltimore City College High School is an International Baccalaureate World School and a magnet school with a selective admissions process, we were still seeing some students who were struggling,” Larimore says. “Data has shown that black men are at risk as they move through school, regardless of their social or economic background. Several years ago, we saw that with a number of our own students who repeatedly got into trouble, which impeded their academic progress.”

As part of the school’s effort to solve this problem, the assistant principal did away with detention and created a therapeutic mentoring program for these young men. Led by Larimore, A Few Good Men is designed to address the factors outside the classroom that impede academic progress, such as family background and support, and social and communication skills. Students in the program learn the study, organizational, social, and leadership skills they need to make the most of their educational opportunities at City College and to move on to college or get good jobs.

“Students who come into the program with grades in the 60 to 70 range leave with grades in the mid-80s, a solid B,” Larimore says. “Several of these young men are now in college or have recently graduated. I recently received an email from a former group member who lived in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood of Baltimore—a very poor neighborhood that gained national attention after the arrest and death of Freddie Gray. This former student told me how he used the skills he learned in A Few Good Men to succeed in college and that he will be graduating from the University of Maryland, College Park debt-free thanks, in part, to what he learned about managing his finances and paying for college in the program.

“That’s why I teach and mentor,” Larimore says. “To help my students get on—and stay on—that path to higher achievement.”

As a teacher, Larimore knows that one size does not fit all in terms of instruction. Different strategies are needed to help different students succeed. He says the same is true for working to ensure that all students have equal access to education. Each community and each school needs to develop a strategy that addresses its specific challenges. Funding is a major component of the problem. The richest 25% of school districts in the country get 15.6% more state and local funding for their schools than the poorest 25% of school districts.

“People need to make their voices heard by the state and federal government to ensure adequate, fair funding for their schools,” Larimore says. “You don’t have to be a teacher or a school administrator to make a difference for the students in your community. If your school has limited resources, contact the school, and volunteer to help fill in the gaps in the day-to-day operations. It may seem small, but it does make a difference for the students.”

What you can do:

AWARENESS: An in-depth report from The Century Foundation details the effects on U.S. students when schools are segregated by socio-economic factors and race.

ACTION: The School Fund gives you the chance to help fund scholarships for children in sub-Saharan Africa.

ADVOCACY: The Education Trust works with students, parents, teachers, policymakers, and civic and business leaders to ensure all students, especially students of color and those living in poverty, have access to the education they need. You can also get involved in your state and local government to advocate for fair funding of the school districts in your area. Start a parent group that lobbies for more funding with legislators and school district leaders. Parents for Public Schools has a list of local chapters and ways to get involved.

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