Minority students tutor peers to close achievement gap

The group’s student officers operate the
meetings themselves.
Sunday, September 5, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:40 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 12, 2008

The problem of black student academic underachievement has been battling a familiar foe at Hickman High School.

For the past three years, Hickman High has been home to the Minority Achievement Committee Scholars, the main goals of which include the promotion and encouragement of academic success in all classes, as well as the building of a support group so that minority students can form strong relationships focused on scholarly achievement.

“I heard that MAC Scholars would help minority students with their academics and support them in their honors classes,” said junior Kenna Smith, the secretary and one of five elected student officers at the group’s first meeting on Tuesday.

According to the group, elections are held at the end of each school year and all officers face stiff competition.

Gozie Ndolo serves as the group’s treasurer, and she is a senior on the group’s executive board. She said Hickman officials approached her when she was in the ninth grade because she had a high grade point average. To become members of the group, students must earn at least a 3.0 grade point average.

However, the group also looks at students with 2.5 GPAs as potential students who might become eligible to join one day.

Gozie said her interest in the group was piqued when she was told of the strong student community. She also said black students are not represented as much as white students in Honors and Advanced Placement classes. The scholars group has helped her get into those types of classes and realize the importance of having peers there to help with education.

“MAC Scholars helps out with scholarships and other opportunities,” she said. “And I have other black students supporting me that are also taking harder classes, and it’s really a good support group.”

One of the main tasks of all student scholars is to be able to tutor other minority students who may either be potential MAC scholars or have low GPAs.

Symone Langston-Thomas, the director of the scholars program at Hickman, is quick to add that many students who are struggling with their school work actually seek out group members because they know they will receive support. This year Langston-Thomas plans on playing more of an adviser role to the group and has handed the majority of control to the student officers.

The officers are now in charge of their own meetings, and each meeting must have at least one element where the concept of academic achievement is addressed. The group has already scheduled speakers, including Columbia Public School District Superintendent Phyllis Chase, who will focus on student academic accomplishments.

Last year, there were 28 members of the group, and the new roster has yet to be tallied. Members of the group are all female, and blacks are the only race represented. Student officers said they welcome any group, and they have no problem with tutoring white students if they were asked.

They also mentioned that it is hard for males to join because the many males who have expressed interest also play high school sports, and there are scheduling conflicts.

The group is usually rewarded with an optional trip in March to tour historically black colleges. Last year they traveled to Nashville and visited several schools.

Langston-Thomas said he thinks that by visiting an all-black college, the students see the importance behind school and realize that black students can achieve their own distinct accomplishments through education.

The trip proved enlightening, according for Kayla Lucas, student co-president of the group. “It was just good to see African-Americans together doing positive things at the academic level, and their scores are as high as any other school,” Lucas said.

Still, the positive nature of the group struggles with why there is an achievement gap between black and white students. They mention that some black students might not try as hard in class or simply do not care enough. They also said that at some point black students started to think that they could not achieve the same academic success as white students, and black students started to limit their own opportunities. But the officers also know that MAC Scholars will continue to help students in the future.

“It’s important that other students know that MAC Scholars are there to help out and close that gap,” Smith said.

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