Minority students share ideas about bridging achievement gap at conference

Friday, September 23, 2011 | 7:24 p.m. CDT; updated 7:16 p.m. CDT, Sunday, September 25, 2011

COLUMBIA — Myah McCrary, a senior at Hickman High School, gets passionate when she talks about the role she plays in helping students succeed. She's the student government president, and she gets frustrated when she hears her peers say they don’t feel the need to push themselves academically.

"They're setting themselves up for failure," she said. "I try to tell everyone I see that they can do whatever they put their minds to. They listen to kids their own age, but it's still hard to get them to want to achieve."

McCrary was one of 200 high school students and chaperones selected to represent their school districts at the 12th annual Minority Student Achievement Network student conference this week at the Holiday Inn Executive Center.

The students are sophomores, juniors and seniors from across the nation who came to Columbia to discuss ways they could impact their districts and bridge the academic achievement gap between white and minority students.

At the conference, the students were given statistics and information about the achievement gap and asked to come up with possible "action plans."

One plan called for middle school and high school students to engage more of their peers in the discussion about academic achievement.

"A lot of problems with kids going off track happens in middle school," Cid Ferreira, a senior from Amherst, Mass., said. The mentality exists in middle school students that they'll start to get serious about their education when they get to high school, but that doesn't help them in the long run, Ferreira said.

The 25 students at the conference from Douglass, Hickman and Rock Bridge high schools focused their discussion on barriers to academic success that minority students in Columbia face. Their goal now is to find creative ways to address these barriers during their annual MAC Scholars district-wide “Failure Is Not An Option” conference.

Malachi Matthews, a senior at Rock Bridge, also thought MAC Scholars should encourage more community involvement with their program.

"I've been told that it takes a village to raise a child,” Matthews said. "Unfortunately, we're a little bigger than a village, so we have to come together and help everyone be successful. We have to get the community as a whole on board."

Other students also presented ideas to take back to their districts.  These included:

  • Derek Colaizzo, a senior from Princeton, N.J., suggested hosting information sessions led by student leaders to inform incoming ninth-graders about academic opportunities and help available to them through the school.
  • Kyle Ian Josias, a senior from Amherst, Mass., suggested meeting with middle school students and their parents to map out academic pathways based on their goals and challenge them to get on track to take more challenging classes.
  • Whitney Barthelemy and Zarifah Muhammad, sophomores from Maplewood, N.J., suggested creating a mentoring program like the Columbia Public Schools' MAC Scholars program and encouraging students to study so they are able to move into AP or honors classes.
  • Naomi Tsegaye, a senior from Cambridge, Mass., suggested organizing three different panel discussions for parents, students and teachers to promote conversation about how to form effective support structures and tackle challenges students face in the classroom.

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