Public High School

by Vielka

Many of you may have already heard about the student from Oakland Tech high school who earned a 5.0 and admissions to top universities.  The young person has the enviable dilemma of having to choose between a few Ivy Leagues and Stanford, among others.  You may have also heard about the young person who managed to gain admissions to all eight of the Ivy League universities, something that happens close to never.  Both young people attained a feat only few can imagine.

And both are Black males.

As families, students, and college counselors talk about what the two young men have managed to do, often the commentary returns to both being Black: “Well, they are African American so…?”  (shrug, wink, nudge).  I can’t speak to where the young man in New York went to school as well as I can to the young person from Oakland Tech, having worked in Oakland Unified for a number of years and public schools in the Bay Area for even longer, so I would like to take the opportunity here to discuss the “so…?” for this young man.

1)  Oakland Tech is one of the better public Oakland high schools and if I am living in Oakland when my son is high-school aged, I would probably send him there.  But when we are talking about rankings and test scores, violence and urban schools, access and college admissions, OT doesn’t quite get up there, especially compared to its private school counterpart down the street.  There is a major difference between a school culture where everyone is saying “I will definitely go to college” versus one where *shrug* “I might do that one thing one day”.

2)  OT doesn’t offer AP or honors courses until the 11th grade assuming a student is taking the standard course-load.  That means that in order for this student to earn a 5.0, he would have had to take every AP and honors course available in the 11th grade, something that the College Board (the committee that creates the AP courses) doesn’t recommend since it is too rigorous and can’t be done to fidelity.

3)  His 5.0 also means that he would have needed to take the prerequisites for those AP and honors courses.  Some schools allow students to take AP and honors if they want to; OT isn’t one of those schools.  Students have to qualify.  I am a fan of either option but either way, it isn’t easy.  I am a heritage Spanish speaker who took five years of Spanish in middle and high school before the AP Spanish Literature Exam and I still found that to be impossible.  I believe there were about ten students in my high school who attempted it that year and that was all they could attempt.  As a teacher of AP US History, I know that how difficult that curriculum is to master.  And my students who are taking multiple AP and honors classes are slightly…unpleasant…with their lack of sleep and social skills.  So for that young man to manage the course-load and not get jumped or kicked out of his house or be an all-around jackass is a feat in itself.

This young man managed to get the grades, complete the prerequisites, and create his own college-going culture, despite everything around him doing and saying something different.  That is nothing short of amazing.  And shame on anyone who thinks otherwise.

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