Johnathon Carrington grew up on the sixth floor of a low-income D.C. apartment complex, a building most recently in the news for a drive-by shooting that injured 13.
His parents told him early on that education could be his escape, and Carrington took them at their word. He graduated Friday as the valedictorian of his neighborhood school, Dunbar High, and against all odds is headed to Georgetown University.
But Carrington, 17, is nervous, and so are his parents. What if Dunbar — where truancy is chronic and fewer than one-third of students are proficient in reading — didn’t prepare him for the rigors of college? What if he isn’t ready?
“I don’t think I’m going to fail everything,” Carrington said. “But I think I’m going to be a bit behind.”
It’s a valid concern. Past valedictorians of low-performing District high schools say their own transitions to college were eye-opening and at times ego-shattering, filled with revelations that — despite taking their public schools’ most difficult classes and acing them — they were not equipped to excel at the nation’s top colleges.
When these students arrived on campuses filled with students from high-flying suburban public schools and posh privates, they found a world vastly different from the one they knew in their urban high schools.
For Sache Collier, it meant writing her first research paper. For Darryl Robinson, it meant realizing that professors expected original ideas, not just regurgitated facts. For Angelica Wardell, who grew up going to school almost exclusively with African American students, it meant taking classes with whites and Asians.