One way to grasp the achievement gap at is to look at the test scores. Another is to look around an advance placement class where, said junior Adrianne Ramsey, you’ll likely see just one or two African American and one or two Latino students among the sea of white and Asian faces.
Ramsey is the incoming president of Angaza, a program founded by former principal Jason Reimann.
The academic performance of African American and Latino students compared to white and Asian students has been a hot topic in many schools in recent years. Still, says a message by Reimann posted on the school’s website, “remarkably little has been done at most school sites to implement intervention programs based on site-based needs.”
Reimann’s message describes the group, which he founded in 2008, as “a support and enrichment program for high-achieving students from historically underserved communities.” Angaza is a Swahili word for illuminate or shine the light.
It’s likely to be a year of changes for Angaza, with the departure of the adults who worked most closely with the project: , instructional specialist Humphrey Kiuruwi, and counselor Sarah Larson.
Still, support for the program remains solid. Newly appointed principal David Luongo spoke highly of the program at a , and Ramsey said a 10-member student board is in place to lead the program, including a “wonderful” vice president in senior Linda Orduno. Also, recent graduate was a great help in getting Ramsey started in her leadership role, Ramsey said.
Ramsey comes to her role as the group’s president fresh from a leadership program this summer at Brown University, which she attended through the Ivy League Connection. That program, also singled out for praise by Luongo at his recent talk, gives high school students the opportunity to attend summer programs at top universities.
Rojas-Carroll attended a previous summer leadership program at Brown. As part of the program students write an action plan, which they are expected to carry out once they return to school. Ramsey said Rojas-Carroll’s plan to reduce harassment through education on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues has had a noticeable impact on the campus. Ramsey’s action plan is on the achievement gap.
Hearing about all the leaders leaving the school was shocking at first, Ramsey said, but it does provide a good opportunity for more student leadership and responsibility. She said she ultimately decided, “I can do this. It’s just going to be different. I think (Angaza) will be a lot more student-run this year.”
A key part of the program is pairing younger students with mentors – freshman with juniors and sophomores with seniors. Participants also hear from speakers, like El Cerrito High graduates who are now in college and can talk about what the transition from high school to college is like, and learn about educational opportunities such as Upward Bound, SMASH, and ATDP.
According to Reimann’s description, the high school staff monitors the academic progress of Angaza students closely.
“I’ve always been really interested in my education,” said Ramsey, who has been in the program since she was a freshman. Still, she said, her involvement with Angaza has put her more in tune with her education and compelled her to strive even harder to succeed academically. It has also given her a chance to develop her leadership skills. Serving as the group’s president is something she never imagined coming in as a freshman.
In addition to continuing and beefing up existing activities like bringing in recent graduates as speakers, she’d like to set up tours of Stanford and UC Berkeley and make presentations to freshman and Portola Middle School students about the achievement gap.
She’d also like to see the study hall required of student athletes whose grade point average is below a certain level be replaced by something that involves more one-on-one tutoring and mentoring. Many successful people cite the importance of having a mentor, she said. That person can both provide encouragement and practical information like what courses to take and scholarship opportunities, Ramsey said, and students as well as adults can fill that role.
Not all students have the same support systems at home, she noted. She believes a key to success is for students to really care about learning. “People need to want an education.” She said as a freshman she had other students ask her why she read and studied so much. There wasn’t necessarily meanness or criticism to the questions, she said, but genuine curiosity.
She hopes that the group’s efforts will help each participant grow “not just as a student but as a person.”
Despite the focus on closing the achievement gap, Ramsey is sensitive to criticism Angaza has received from some students who feel excluded. She hopes to expand the group’s reach beyond the high achieving African American and Latino students targeted by the school staff.
“I think the whole school needs to know a lot more about the achievement gap,” she said, but also that the issues around academic success that Angaza focuses on are concerns all students have in common.
Ramsey is the daughter of Charles Ramsey, president of the West Contra Costa Unified School District board, and Donna Ramsey, an active school volunteer.