LaFollette Student Writes About the Achievement Gap

The March issue of the Simpson Street Free Press included this article by Jazmin Jackson about fighting the achievement gap. Ms. Jackson is a 15 year old student at LaFollette High School. She wrote this piece for the paper’s Fresh Face section, and graciously consented to let me post her article here.
Don’t Be a Statistic: Fight the Achievement Gap
by Jazmin Jackson
So you think �it�s not gangsta, it�s not hot, it�s not cool� to get good grades. Well consider this: It�s the 1820�s. Millions of African Americans are enslaved. A young African American boy would give anything to be able to read, but it�s against the law.
Now, fast forward to the year 2005. A 15 year-old black boy decides to skip school so he can smoke a joint with his crew.
What I want to know is when did it become cool to not get good grades and to not take advantage of the opportunity to learn? In what year did some kids decide that grade point averages could be sacrificed for popularity?


You may not realize it, but there is something called the �minority achievement gap.� If you don�t believe it, just attend a high school graduation ceremony. Count how many minority students are graduating with high honors or even honors. I can guarantee not one high school in Madison has more than 25 minority students graduating with high honors.
But why?
Well, because many African Americans, Asians, Mexicans, and other minority group members decided that it is way cooler to fail in school, become part of a gang, get high, get drunk or spend time souping up their car. It�s a real problem. What I want to know is what causes kids, especially teen minorities, to think this is OK.
You might want to think about life over the next few years. Think about the importance of grades. I know it may not seem like a big deal now, but putting off future plans and trying to earn good grades when you�re a junior and senior in high school just won�t work. Trust me, a 2.0 GPA won�t get you into a good college. The fact is, these days, you won�t go to college at all if you don�t have good grades.
But hey, look at the bright side…living in a dirty, unheated apartment with no food or electricity and no job isn�t that bad, right? Nothing, and I mean nothing, beats having future plans for life.
Many high school students also think that being the top athlete in their school will earn them a free pass into college. Your natural born talents aren�t going to get you there. You�re not born being able to throw down baskets from the other side of the court, and even if you were, college is not going to accept you if you are failing high school.
Sorry.
It�s frustrating being forced into a category that is looked upon as the people who usually receive bad grades in school. Every time a minority student receives a bad grade, it doesn�t just affect that individual. It affects an entire group of students. For those that actually try in school, the difference we make is microscopic.
Come on guys!
The fact that a minority achievement gap even exists is ridiculous. If you�ve ever thought, �that kid only gets good grades because he�s white,� then you definitely need to step back and really look at the situation. Maybe that kid got good grades because he didn�t skip school to go have a cigarette or go to MacDonalds. Where did this peer pressure come from, that it isn�t cool to get good grades?
Today, the pressure to be like your friends, or do what you see on TV to fit in, can be exhausting. I mean come on, you can�t still wear the year old, once white but now gray, tennis shoes, it�s all about having the new G-unit sneakers. I understand, because I feel the pressure too. What I can�t understand though, is that this gap is made up largely by African Americans.
How can that be?
Blacks in America spent about 200 years in slavery. They weren�t allowed to learn to read and write, and if they could and were discovered, the consequences were cruel. Some were beaten, auctioned off, and some were killed. It is those people who suffered for the very thing that you now disrespect. You disrespect them every time you fail in school. Those people would have died–and did, for the chance to sit in the very desk you sleep in.
I can�t imagine what they think of us now.
We need to stop spending time glorifying things that aren�t glamorous: living in a rough neighborhood, not having a way to get to school, failing. These aren�t things to glorify. African American slaves did not walk around talking about how wonderful picking cotton in the blazing sun or getting whipped was. They couldn�t even let on if they knew how to read and write, which is something they took great pride in.
That�s something worth glorifying, and you have the chance to flaunt it, every time you sit in a classroom.
Here�s what I believe: Succeeding in school is cool. We�ve got to start reaching for more and expecting more from ourselves. The teacher doesn�t determine your grades. You do. Set high expectations for yourself.
Lastly, if you happen to be a gangster, have a nice car, like to party or are simply just someone who�s failing–it�s never too late. Just think, by doing something about your grades, you can help fight the so-called achievement gap.
And by the way, no one has to know you read this. You can still be cool. But fighting an achievement gap is just a bonus. Most of all, do it for yourself. Get those A�s for you.

15 thoughts on “LaFollette Student Writes About the Achievement Gap”

  1. Ms. Jackson please forward your article to the Wi Journal and Capital Times as an opinion piece for more to read.
    I hope middle school and high school principals get permission to give every teacher, child and parent a copy of this inspiring and dead on article.
    I hope teachers and parents ask kids to read this article and follow that up with challenging discussions in the classroom and at home. I’m printing Jazmin Jackson’s article as we speak, and I plan to share her article with my daughter this evening — maybe I’ll drive over to her school and give it to her to read now and to begin a discussion with her friends.

  2. Thank you Jeff for bringing this wonderful piece to our attention. Miss Jackson is wise beyond her years and she will greatly benefit for her insight into the future.
    Studies have shown that the #1 impact on student success is not peers but parental expectation. I remember being so scared when I made a C on my report card in 5th grade that I wrote my parents an apology note with the report card on the kitchen table and ran away from home……only for a short while…….but the point is I knew my parents expectations were high, my kids know my expectations are high, and I truly belief if our (parents, teachers, community) expectations of every child were higher, with no excuses to fail, that many more children would be as wise as Miss Jackson. I wonder if Miss Jackson’s parents have been a bigger infuence than her peers?

  3. Hi Jazmin,
    Great perspective and wisdom for your years. I am not a racial minority, but your article still moved me almost to tears. These lines had great impact on me when I read the article:
    “It is those people who suffered for the very thing that you now disrespect. You disrespect them every time you fail in school. Those people would have died–and did, for the chance to sit in the very desk you sleep in. I can�t imagine what they think of us now.”
    Please keep the faith….and keep up the hard work. You are right…it DOES pay off!
    God Bless,
    Salle – Mother of a young daughter that I hope will also have great aspirations one day.

  4. Miss Jackson,
    Thank you for the words that you spoke from your Heart! It is hard to fight the pressures that young people are exposed to daily. But with folks like yourself, the battle can be won! Our Ancestors would be very proud of you! KEep up the good work and words!

  5. Ms. Jackson,
    Thank you very much for this wonderful article. As a parent in the MMSD, I cannot start to tell you how much I appreciate a student of color having the vision and courage to write this article. It is right on and I hope the school district enables the students (epecially students of color) to read it together and even discuss it. I know that you will be a success at whatever you decide to do. Best wishes. Solomy Ntambi

  6. Ms. Jackson:
    Your poignant comments are appreciated. As a pediatrician, I appreciate the number of young men and women who are being influenced by the drug culture, peers and are consequently failing out of school and looking at a huge uphill battle in obtaining a quality higher education, finding a decent job or having a stable life. I hope your article can find the way into the home of every high school and middle school student and hopefully influence many of your peers to look the other way and think about the sacrifices that need to be made to be successful in and out of the classroom.
    Thank you for writing this wonderful article.
    Good luck from a former Lancer.
    David Bernhardt

  7. Dear Miss. Jackson:
    Thank you for your thought provoking words concerning the achievement gap and advice on avoiding becoming a statistic, as they are very inspiring indeed. Your words also have power and they need to be heard and then heeded by more young people of your generation.
    Additionally, you have shown that wisdom is truly timeless, because I recall being told basically many of the same things you have shared here with us by my parents long before you and any of your peers were born.
    Today, and in retrospect, I have never regretted that I wasn’t ever too cool to pay attention and listen to what my mom and dad told me about peer pressure, fitting in, and working to get a lasting education.
    Finally, your reasoning is not only an excellent example of what can go a long way toward changing the hearts, souls and minds of those you know it can, more importantly, change the hearts, souls and minds of many young folks you’ve never met. It can completely change their lives.
    You and your parents must be extremely proud of your shared thoughts and insights, as is our entire community right now. Piece and take care!
    Lenny Alston
    The Northside Connection
    City Affirmative Action Commissioner

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