Teaching hope

By Barbara Goodmon

A glimmer of hope is stirring in a handful of North Carolina’s poorest schools, but converting it to a real future for students will require a lot more investment than taxpayers and public officials have been willing to make.

I recently visited Halifax Southeast High School and spent a class period with Katie Smith, a Teach for America teacher in her second year of teaching ninth graders.

Teach for America teachers are some of the brightest college graduates who have chosen to teach for at least two years in the poorest schools in the U.S.

As a poor county that finds it almost impossible to recruit qualified teachers, Halifax is fortunate to have five Teach for America teachers.

I met 14 ninth graders in Katie’s 1 o’clock English class.

As she called on students to read out loud, I saw that many were reading at 4th-grade level or below.

I should not have been surprised because I knew that half of Halifax students do not finish high school.

I looked into the eyes of these 14 students, trying to guess who would at least finish high school, and saw a roomful of young people who had dreams of a better life but little hope.

I asked the students what they thought they would be doing in three years.

While most said they did not know and had no plans, one young man said he wanted to go to Duke.

Obviously bright, he is suspended regularly for behavior problems, and the school seems unable to provide him with positive challenges.

Teach for America teachers like Katie Smith offer hope and enthusiasm where none existed.

But they alone cannot fix school districts throughout our state that are equally grim and underfunded.

North Carolina is not a third-world country, but you might not know it by visiting schools in which poverty and hopelessness have replaced the American dream.

Heartless neglect of our schools sentences students to a future of poverty, drugs and prison.

North Carolinians must push elected officials to invest whatever is needed to give all of our young people an education that fills them with hope and equips them with the tools to be productive citizens.

Barbara Goodmon is the President of the A.J. Fletcher Foundation.

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