The university is brimming with some of the brightest young minds in the country. Students from all over the world fly to Winston-Salem by the hundreds in search of a phenomenal educational experience and leave possessing not only a priceless degree, but a countless number of professional connections and opportunities. For an institution that prides itself so much on the love of learning that it fosters within students, one would think that this passion would bleed out into the Winston-Salem community as a whole. Sadly, this is not quite the case.
Now, let it be said that the university’s Office of Civic and Community Engagement (OCCE) does a phenomenal job of propelling service-minded individuals into Winston-Salem’s school communities. The OCCE accomplishes the majority of their educational outreach service through their Network of Educational Resources and Development. Project Launch, a mentoring program that pairs student mentors with Paisley Middle School Seventh graders, and Girl Up, a feminist organization dedicated to providing young Winston-Salem girls with positive, educational role models, are two examples of the selfless work that students pursue to break intellectual and social barriers with the most powerful, comprehensive tool of all: education.
As the daughter of a high school administrator and as a student myself, my exposure to the world of school policy has led me to believe that education is a right, not a privilege. If this is true, should it not be prioritized as such? The fact of the matter is, not all education is created equal. Inequality in the world of education is not some foreign, intangible entity. In fact, it is weighing down on the community of Winston-Salem day-in and day-out.
Just look at Cook Elementary and Whitaker Elementary. These two schools, while located a short, seven-minute drive from one another, could not be further apart. Whitaker’s student body is 77.3% white and only 17.7% of students enrolled qualify for free or reduced lunches. In addition, third to fifth grade Whitaker students’ standardized test scores rest comfortably above the 82nd percentile in reading and math, securing a spot for Whitaker within the top 25 public elementary schools in North Carolina.
[The U.S. Education System]funnels students into certain educational systems based on the socioeconomic status.”
When we take a look just a little way down the road, it is clear that Whitaker’s academic successes are not shared among other Forsyth County schools. Cook Elementary possesses a student population in which over 90% of students define themselves as belonging to a minority and 98.6% of students qualify for free and reduced lunches. In 2019, only 14.3% of Cook Elementary fourth grade students met the North Carolina standard in the scores they received in their End of Grade standardized math test.
As these stats from the National Center for Education Statistics showcase, the physical infrastructure of each school, student-to-teacher-ratio and general treatment awarded to students and their families are night and day at both of these institutions.
Educational inequality is not solely an issue found in Winston-Salem. My hometown of Erie, Pa. is not exactly the posterchild for what the public education system should look like. The same can be said about virtually any city in America. The fact of the matter is that educational inequity is tied deeply to financial inequity. Because of this added layer of complication, the only true way to ensure positive growth in the realm of education is drastic, structural reform.
The way the education system currently exists in the United States funnels students into certain educational systems based on the socioeconomic status they fall into. The way the system benefits students from certain family backgrounds and punishes those from others is unfair, unethical and unjust.
Major change is needed. Thankfully, there is still action that can be taken on a local level. Stay up to date on K-12 Education Policy. Write to your senator. Write to your school board. Volunteer at local elementary schools. Thank your teachers. Continue to advocate for the right to learn.
Many of us are enrolled at the university because we are in love with the art of learning and believe deeply in the power of education. Therefore, I feel that it is our responsibility to foster these positive feelings toward education within the hearts and minds of other young students.