School forum addresses two-track approach to education

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Tenants and Workers United held a forum on education last Saturday to discuss college prep for all Alexandria City Public School students and to introduce the concept of Restorative Justice to parents and educators who attended.

The conference came just on the heels of a report that the group released harshly criticizing the school system for its two track approach to education.

White students are given better access to honors and advance placement courses and students of color are not exposed to challenging curriculum that prepare them for college, said Leslie Auceda, a 2007 graduate of T.C. Williams High School.

Leslie was born and grew up in Alexandria. Her mother, however, is not a legal permanent resident. Leslie attended ACPS throughout school and did not take honors or AP classes.

I just didnt think I was ready for those classes, she said.

When she began to think about college, she simply selected schools that seemed appealing to her. I got very little help from guidance counselors and my mother couldnt help me because no one in my family has ever attended college, Leslie said.

She applied to several schools and was accepted at all of them. But I had no way to pay tuition at any of them and my counselor told me I would have to talk to the schools, Leslie said.

Her mother suffered a stroke and her sister, who has a severe disability, needed her. Instead of going away to school, Leslie decided to attend Northern Virginia Community College.

I registered for classes and they charged me out-of-state tuition, she said. I didnt know what to do.

The staff at TWU helped Leslie get an appointment with the president of NOVA. I told him my story, told him that I was a citizen and was paying my own tuition and he allowed me to pay in-state tuition, she said.

Anecdotally, the stories are similar. Jennifer Granado is a sophomore at T. C. Williams. She went to a guidance counselor last year to ask if there was a way to finish high school in three years, so that I could graduate at 18 instead of 19, Jennifer said.

She was surprised at what she was told. She told me to get a GED because it meant the same, Jennifer said. Jennifer has decided to remain in school where she is doing well in honors courses.

The survey, on which the report was based, was developed by members of TWUs youth group, Alexandria United Teens, with assistance from The Advancement Project. It was administered at T.C. Williams High School last year and, while students were told about its availability through their laptop computers, they were not encouraged to participate.

Those who participated told us that they did not generally have access to higher level courses and got very little help from guidance counselors, said Giselle Avalos.

When members of ACPS Central Office saw the report, they showed concern and prepared a response, refuting the methodology and the conclusions, stating that the minority achievement gap is shrinking and that the system is making significant progress in offering higher level courses to students of all races.

Were kind of saying the same thing, said Jon Liss, executive director of TWU. Were all saying that the cup is half full and that there is still room for improvement. Apparently, any criticism at all isnt acceptable.

School Board member Scott Newsham helped make distribution of the survey a possibility. I have looked at the report and at the administrations response, Newsham said. The report indicates that at least some members of this community have concerns about access to college prep courses and we should look at that.

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