Students Open Up Discussions To Close The Achievement Gap

Sep 29, 2017

Maybe the most obvious lesson I learned from my Advanced Placement Psychology class was about math. There were some numbers that didn’t seem to add up.

All I had to do was look around. In my AP psychology class, I was one of five black students in a class of 32 students. That felt weird considering my school is more than 40 percent black. It made me wonder if I actually belonged. One of my friends, Jaden Jules, experienced a similar feeling at Governor’s School.

”I just kept wracking my brain on why were the reasons more black people were not at Governor's School and I just concluded that there were just some educational inequalities in North Carolina,” Jules said.

This is our club. I'm not going let somebody tell us that we can't do it. -Jaden Jules

After Governor’s School, Jules decided to do something. He came back to Durham, grabbed me and a few others, and we formed the Riverside High School Black Student Union. But we got some pushback from the school administration.

”The first meeting was actually an illegal meeting, we were not supposed to have it because we already did the advertisements, we were like, “Okay we are going to talk about Colin Kaepernick,” Jules said.

The administration didn’t like us using the word black in the club’s name. They wanted us to call it something else.

“I was just like ‘Why not? Honestly this is our club.’ I'm not going to let somebody tell us that we can't do it,” Jules said. “So we had an Underground Railroad meeting at the Starbucks, we sat outside, pulled up a couple of tables and we put them together and we just had a meeting. It was everything I could have asked for of a first meeting.”


A meeting of the Black Student Union at Riverside High School in Durham.
Credit Emmanuel Tobe / WUNC

We had a lot more meetings after that. We earned the respect of the administration and started making progress. We held SAT and ACT tutoring in the winter, and a college application workshop in the spring.

One day during homeroom, we walked from class to class talking to freshmen and sophomores about how we need more black students in honors and AP classes. We got a bunch of black students to sign up.

“I think we got 35 more students for the fall 2017, spring 2018 school year,” Jules said.

People talk about the achievement gap in abstract. But it has real impact on me and my friends. Take Makena Kenyua. She is smart but not everyone saw it that way in the beginning. We ended up on what feels like different roads. Now, she still talks about what it would have been like if she’d had an opportunity to excel in elementary school. She spent just one day in a gifted class.

“We were building Legos, I remember like yesterday,” she said. “I was mad because the one day I didn’t get to play. I don’t know why I never went back.”

I had no idea anything about FAFSA or anything like that...By going to [the BSU meetings] I learned things I did not know. -Makena Kenyua

But I did. Again and again and again. I was one of few black kids picked for gifted classes in elementary school. This set me up for more honors classes in high school. And I finished Riverside with all honors. I’m going to Elon University with a scholarship this fall.

Now, Kenyua is trying to catch up.

She’s taking four AP classes this year as a senior, and she’s applying to colleges. She’s one of the people our club has been able to help.

“I had no idea anything about FAFSA or anything like that,” she said. “By going to [the BSU meetings] I learned things I did not know… So that’s kept me informed and I’m glad he did that.”

Jules and I are moving on, but Kenyua will keep at it. And so will others, because the club is going to keep at it, too.

The achievement gap is real. It’s not going to close by itself.