Two hundred and forty years ago this July 4, delegates to the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia voted to adopt the Declaration of Independence. While the optimal phrase: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” is known world-wide, lost to history is the fact that the final declaration was significantly modified from the original drafted by Thomas Jefferson.
The Declaration's central point – “that all men are created equal” - was an obvious rebuke to the institution of slavery. However, delegates from primarily slave colonies pushed, and prevailed, for the deletion of Jefferson's more detailed passage on slavery, which was removed from the final document. The inconsistency of the institution of slavery with the principles of the Declaration of Independence was seen and lamented, but never rectified until the adoption of the 13th Amendment to Constitution in 1865.
Throughout its history, the United States has struggled to maintain its founding principles, while at the same time address the ever-present questions that derive from a diverse multi-racial, multi-ethnic pluralistic society. Such challenges are especially prevalent in the current presidential election campaign.
The vast majority of our citizens believe that “equal” does in fact mean “equal”. Yet, as much as the United States was founded on the idea that we are all created equal; economic, racial, and educational inequality have become key themes in our civic discourse. Once thought to be “the great equalizer,” American education today is not providing equal opportunity to all children.
According the Education Equity Index:
- Only two in 10 students from low-income families attend schools that have successfully closed the achievement gap.
- In most major U.S. cities, the achievement gap between students from low-income families and their more advantaged peers stagnated or grew since 2010.
- Only six percent of students from low-income families in the largest 100 U.S. cities attend a school with no achievement gap.
In addition, countless school districts – in large urban centers, cities, towns, and rural areas – are confronted with dramatic shortfalls in education funding. The Chicago Public Schools has a $1 Billion deficit; Detroit Schools a $617 Million deficit; Durham Schools a $16 Million deficit; Norfolk Schools an $8.6 Million deficit; and the Gary Community School Corporation’s total deficit is estimated at $75 Million – which is larger than their actual annual budget.
Equal opportunity to quality education is facing the harsh reality of lower local tax revenues and rising costs. Most distressing is that collateral impacts of these conditions are falling disproportionately on low-income students, and their families. But, regardless of the challenges, roadblocks, and socio-economic status there are young people who are rising up to persevere, overcome, and succeed.
Over the past month, 600 young people received high school diplomas from EdisonLearning partnership schools. This impressive number includes students who never thought they would ever finish school – but are now graduates of Bridgescape Learning Academies in five states, Theodore Roosevelt College and Career Academy, Provost Academy Ohio, and Provost Academy South Carolina.
Having attended the recent Bridgescape commencement ceremony in Columbus, I was overwhelmed by the grit and determination shown by so many of the graduates. Faced with unimaginable life circumstances; homelessness, averse poverty, parenthood, bullying, and abuse – each of them beamed with pride when they were handed that hard earned diploma.
Our company has accepted a significant role in shaping the future. Our product is education: the transformative power that learning, curiosity and thinking can have not only on the lives of individuals, but on society. Our ability to succeed in carrying out this role is dependent on the passion and professionalism of each and every one of us. We owe it to those young people we serve to show them the same hard work, determination, and competence they have displayed in achieving their goals.
Alone, we cannot fill education funding gaps, or ameliorate socio-economic disparities. But, we do have the ability and capacity to eliminate achievement gaps, and to prepare young people both academically and in character development to overcome socio-economic disparities.
July 4, 1776 marks the first time in human history that individuals, bound together by a common purpose, sense of commitment, and drive to succeed rose up against domination by a monarch. They did so to create a society in which every citizen had equal opportunity to succeed. It was the ultimate “team effort”, and the continued impetus for all of us to work together for the benefit of others.
On June 24, Norfolk Public Schools’ (NPS) Open Campus/Bridgescape program awarded high school diplomas to its class of 2016.
In congratulating the students, NPS said: “This program has given you the support and direction to overcome obstacles experienced in a traditional high school environment. The demands outside of school can sometimes make traditional classes difficult to attend - that’s why we developed a customized program to meet your needs. School counselors have helped you get back on track. Now, you've earned a standard diploma by outlining the critical steps toward finding a career, enrolling in college or completing a technical degree. Congratulations! You are prepared for the next chapter of your lives.”
On Tuesday, June 21, 2016, 35 students from the George V. Voinovich/Bridgescape Learning Academy in Cleveland, Ohio received their diplomas before an assembly of 700 friends, family and supporters. Ms. Kym Seller a well-known Ohio radio personality delivered the Keynote address focused on determination and overcoming obstacles. Ms. Seller is the founder of the Kym Sellers Foundation which raises hundreds of thousands of dollars each year for multiple sclerosis research and awareness. Sophomore students Vania Johnson and her younger brother Kendrick performed and string duet of violin and base. Prior to the Commencement exercises, senior students enjoyed a luncheon with GVRA staff.
Provost Academy South Carolina awarded diplomas to the seventh graduating class in the school’s history on June 17 at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center. One hundred twenty-eight students were awarded diplomas, with more expected at the close of the summer school session.
Specializing in the S.T.E.M. program, (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), Provost Academy was established in 2009, as one of the first public charter online high schools in the state.
Robert “Donnie” Pritchard, “Student of the Year”, gave the welcome speech; Milner Martin, Salutatorian, gave the Farewell Speech to the graduates; and Alexandra McKibbin, number three in the graduating class, led everyone in the pledge of allegiance and sang the national anthem.
On June 10, thirty-one students received their high school diplomas from the Capital High and Road to Success Bridgescape Learning Academies in Columbus, Ohio. Liban Behi was recognized as Valedictorian from Capital High; and Road to Success honored Shianne Jeffers as Valedictorian, and Shaquille Samuels as Salutatorian.
In addition to family and friends, a number of graduates were joined at the ceremony by their children.
In his remarks to the graduates, Thom Jackson commended them for overcoming “difficult challenges” to become high school graduates. He stated,
“This is not a usual graduation ceremony. Because in fact, it is a ceremony that celebrates a truly unique form of success and achievement; success that was best described by the foremost African-American leader and educator, who was born a slave – Booker T. Washington: ‘Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life, as by the obstacles which one has overcome while trying to succeed.’”
Thom further said to the graduates,
“You are to be congratulated not only for your academic success, but for your determination to persevere above and beyond difficult life circumstances to earn their high school diploma. Some of you have stood up to bullying. Some of you dropped everything to help take care of a child or ailing family member. Some, due to your economic situation, were forced to set aside your education.”
In concluding his remarks, he said,
“I also want you to realize that not only have you defied the odds -- not only have you shown your resolve, perseverance, and tenacity -- each one of you has given the gift of hope to every student who will come through the doors of a Bridgescape Academy after you. You are proving that hard work pays off.”