Finding Happiness Beyond the Classroom
I am employed to empower youth. I’m not sure there’s anything more fulfilling than this.
I started out as a student with the Baltimore Algebra Project (BAP) in the 8th grade. The BAP is a local chapter of a national math tutoring program run by students who are employed to tutor their peers. I really enjoyed each after-school math session with an older student, and it motivated me to become a tutor when I entered high school. It’s been six years, and I’ve been employed there ever since.
The Algebra Project’s goal is to build math literacy and raise the socio-economic status of inner city youth across the nation. Here in Baltimore, we have learned to reach beyond classroom math tutoring to mobilize hundreds of youth to take political action for their education rights.
My story begins in the 10th grade, when a group of my classmates and I took a field trip to a high school in Essex County. What I saw that day blew my mind. My high school was supposedly one of the best in the country, yet the two could not compare; it really opened my eyes to how a school should look. Many students still don’t know how a school should look and function. It made me so angry, I felt I had to do something about this.
Today, I work as an Educational Organizer for the BAP. My co-workers and I help coordinate tutoring sites across the city and make sure everything functions correctly, from hiring to tutor trainings. We also have an advocacy committee, and we try to ensure that we take full advantage of the one-on-one environment tutoring allows us with our students. We are now based in more than four schools and serve up to 200 students. About 150 tutors are paid at least $10 an hour to tutor their peers in a city where youth employment is a major obstacle.
So what does this have to do with classroom teachers?
Teachers have the ability to control the structure and environment in their classrooms and to build deep relationships with their students. When you are employed by a school, you begin to understand the flaws of school systems. Our job is to work on improving the quality of education for our students, and there’s not much holding us back. Once you understand this concept, math becomes just one part of a larger problem, and in order to change things, we must do something about it. Simply teaching or tutoring will not solve it—you have to do more.
Recently, we organized a demonstration in front of the governor’s mansion to protest the millions of dollars of educations cuts he made. We were overwhelmed by the response. Busloads of students from several high schools came down to support the project. Almost 400 people showed up to attend workshops, open mikes and marches. 26 of us were handcuffed and detained that day, but released within the hour with no charges.
Although the cuts have not been reversed, in retrospect, that entire process brought much happiness. The demonstrations carried out by all the hard-working students were amazing, and we learned that we must build on the energy of the youth and develop stronger actions that make an impact on public officials as well as students.
Working with the BAP is more than just a job, however. I derive my happiness from knowing I am employed to improve education and my community, and to help other youths to do the same thing. The most fulfilling aspect of working here is having the creative freedom we all share to develop a structure that can bring life to our community. Improving school conditions improves teacher conditions and salaries, and on a whole makes a great impact on society.
My advice for those who are looking to start making change in their communities is to never give up and to understand that we can make a difference. It takes time, blood, sweat, and tears. It’s one thing to mobilize people to attend and be a part of a project. At the same time, it is also significant to organize groups and establish relationships with your community to build an understanding of love and justice.
Students and teachers are in this together, and we must continue to fight for quality education as a constitutional right!
The above resources accompany the December 2008 YES! Education Connection Newsletter
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