Jose Rangel is an eighth-grader at Chase Middle School, and he doesn’t think of himself as a natural student: “I’m not a school kid,” the 14-year-old said last week.
When Rangel lived in California for a year and a half (his family moved back to Topeka a couple of months ago), he says he was occasionally caught stealing. While this sort of behavior doesn’t typically herald a promising academic future, Rangel has every intention of graduating from high school and attending Washburn University: “The way I am, it might be hard to accomplish. But if I commit to it, I can do it.”
Kareem Wall is an assistant site coordinator for KU GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs), a federally funded program that provides academic support and financial information to students who plan to attend college. Although Rangel mentioned “the way I am” as if it’s an impediment, Wall had a different message for him and his classmates: “The decisions you make now don’t have to define you. You can make the right decisions.” When it comes to students as young as Rangel, the opportunities are innumerable.
On Friday, Chase Middle School held a daylong “Male Summit” that was organized by Principal Keith Jones. Speakers included Wall, Nick Wiggins (the program coordinator for Call Me MISTER, a K-State College of Education initiative to train diverse teachers) and former KU basketball player Wayne Simien (who went on to play for the Miami Heat). Other African-American mentors and professionals were there to discuss ways the students could avoid crime, drugs, gangs and other traps. There were around 85 boys in attendance.
Simien told the students — many of whom were African-American — about a devoted teacher who intervened when he became involved with a gang in high school: “He cared so much about me. He said some really hard things. He said, ‘Wayne, if you keep hanging around those people, you will sink.’ ” Simien went on to warn the students about similar decisions they’ll soon have to make: “You’re going to be faced with that moment. If you desire greatness, you will listen and you will change. You guys have to take responsibility for your own greatness.”
Even though there are corrosive educational inequities that need to be addressed in Kansas (such as the persistent racial achievement gap on the ACT — Hispanic, African-American and American Indian students perform far worse than their white counterparts), Simien’s message of personal responsibility is empowering. He has been forced to confront many of the obstacles that were discussed on Friday, and he proves what can be accomplished when a young man is willing to listen and change in the relentless pursuit of his goals.
Wiggins pointed out that the “physical presence” of such accomplished mentors “makes a big difference.” It certainly had an effect on Rangel, who said the experience taught him that school is an opportunity that shouldn’t be wasted: “If you want to do something, you go and do it.”
Members of The Capital-Journal’s editorial advisory board are Zach Ahrens, Matt Johnson, Ray Beers Jr., Laura Burton, Garry Cushinberry, Mike Hall, Jessica Hosman, Jessica Lucas, Vern McFalls, Veronica Padilla and John Stauffer.
Source: Topeka Capital Journal