Opinion | Local schools need to create more programs that engage black students

Illustration by Karly Andersen

Gabriel Thomas, Contributing Writer

For as long as I can remember, black students have been stripped of their rights to a fair and equal education. Not only do they suffer in areas such as school attendance, test results and “gifted and talented” placement; they are drowning in their own community without a positive influence. Many black students have no desire to succeed because of the negative behaviors they see so often.

There is a lack of attention toward students in the black community. When it comes to learning, there’s something that attracts African American students more. We like feeling welcome and involved. There’s something different about knowing you belong.

Richmond schools are in desperate need of more extracurricular programs for African American students to express themselves and grow. Studies have shown school attendance and academic success increase with extracurricular activities, giving students a purpose and creating team-building skills that will last them a lifetime. They create balance for students inside and outside the classroom while introducing time management skills at a young age.

Students at Hanover High School, located in Mechanicsville, can enroll in a program on heating, ventilation and air conditioning at The Hanover Center for Trades and Technology. It saw about 24 students hoping to be inspired and possibly find their careers directly after high school. 

I believe what Hanover is doing for their students is very impactful. However, other local schools in poverty like Armstrong High School and Thomas Jefferson High School are in desperate need of school-affiliated programs to help get their students engaged. These schools consist mainly of black students who are consistently exposed to drugs and violence right outside their front door. They don’t have an escape.

A course like HVAC/R at Hanover could give black students courage to be successful for themselves and their families. Many of these students have younger siblings who look up to them. How can they be the example if no one else is showing up to do so? Children are supposed to be at school at least 7-8 hours a day. They are surrounded by their teachers more than they are with their parents. It is important for the teachers to take the initiative in wanting more for their students.

Since most students will no longer have school due to COVID-19, teachers could come together to create activities to make them feel involved and keep them busy at home. They are so used to being in school and being encouraged in that specific setting. What better way to inspire a student more than showing them you care from your living room?

For the black community, this could be a breath of fresh air. HVAC/R is a paid program and provides knowledge for students about carpentry and electricity to push them ahead of the game. We’ve never had opportunities given to us that will encourage us to be in control of our future. Small chances like this will inspire black students to learn with a purpose. All they need is one chance. Black students are capable, but most importantly: powerful. They can succeed.

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