COVE Connection Opening Education

Marvin Vilma

Upon hearing that there is statistical evidence to prove that schools are more racially and socio-economically segregated now than ever before, I was a bit surprised. It has been more than 50 years since the Brown vs. Board of Education decision to integrate schools and yet de facto segregation still dictates the types of schools that students in the United States are able to attend. It is an unfortunate situation, but a reality nonetheless. The separatism that occurs, regardless of judicial law, has been a contributing factor of the achievement gap, a social issue that is a growing concern for educators. Countless policies and programs have been set in place in order to address the issue, but yet it still persists. It is daunting to think about this large scale social issue, but through my work with the COVE, I have found smaller and more personal ways in which I can make a difference within this movement.

This past summer, I had the opportunity to work with an amazing organization called Breakthrough Collaboration, a non-profit organization that helps low-income middle school students on the path to college by putting programs in place that academically prepare under­privileged and disadvantaged students. The goal of the organization is to close the achievement gap and make an excellent education accessible to more students.

What initially seemed to be a typical internship turned into an incredibly eye opening ex­perience. Waking up at 5:00 in the morning to arrive at school by 7:30, only to leave at 6:30 in the evening, was not the best of situations. However, those long hours spent in the classroom were some of the most fulfilling hours of my life. I learned about what it meant to care about a social issue, to invest time and effort to something larger than myself: educational reform. One of the fascinating aspects of the program is that the faculty is completely made up of college students for the summer programs, “students teaching students.” While preparing these mid­dle school students for high school, they were preparing a group of passionate college students to become progressive educators in a sustainable movement to close the achievement gap.

Every morning, I looked forward to walking into a cafeteria filled with smiling, laughing faces. Sitting down and having a conversation with one of my students over lunch or breakfast was always the highlight of my day. Apart from my contribution in the classroom, I know that I had an effect on the lives of my students by sharing my experiences navigating middle school life and my journey to high school and college with them. The relationships that I developed with my students during those conversations are just as pivotal as the knowledge they acquired through academic classes. Whether my role as a mentor was to be a confidante, adviser or just a supporter, it was important nevertheless because I showed that I cared and that I was committed to their achievement and success. Forming a special bond with a younger student may not seem to have a lasting effect, but that relationship has the potential to transform a life. Programs like Students for Fiver, Let’s Get Ready and Sidekicks work with students who are not privy to a lot of the resources and opportunities that many of us have had. While being a mentor does not ensure that a child will go to high school or college, a mentor can inspire someone to achieve a dream they never thought they could accomplish, a pretty powerful thing to do.

Looking back at my summer, it is hard to encapsulate my experience into a short piece with the full gravity of what happened, but it is important for me to take advantage of opportuni­ties that challenge me in a meaningful ways and it is a suggestion that I always make to others. This summer I had the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others and that is what I did. Being an educator and a mentor to one student will not drastically affect the achievement gap, but it is part of a process towards reforming a struggling educational system.

Contact Marvin Vilma at [email protected]