My wife and I were teaching a sex education class after school at one of the local high schools. This gave me a closer look inside the students and the staff and I am excited about the future of Benton Harbor students! The group of students coming to our class was world class. This observation is what the state of Michigan does not see.
In case you haven't heard, about two months ago, the state of Michigan has been talking about shutting down three of our public schools here in Benton Harbor at the end of this year. Thankfully, the State Board of Education voted to not shutdown any schools in this year. They recognized that closing schools has a profound negative impact on communities. They also gave our school district an opportunity to propose a plan for improving our situation. They also noted that of the 38 schools on the list, the majority of the schools were predominately African-American.
And that is the case for three of our schools here in Benton Harbor:
The initial question that came to my mind when I heard about this was, why in the world would they even be considering closing these schools in the first place? Here is the answer: These three schools rank in the bottom 5% of all schools in the state of Michigan.
I don't know about you but when I first heard this I was hurt. And the more I thought about it, the more I got angry. I got mad.
But hear me, I didn't get mad at the state of Michigan. I didn't get angry with the School Reform Office. I didn't get mad with the governor or the superintendent or the school principals.
Too often we blame others when we should be pointing the finger at ourselves. I learned a long time ago that when you play the blame game your situation doesn't change. It’s not until we take ownership of our own failures and setbacks that we can prepare ourselves for a comeback.
So when I say that I got mad, I got mad with myself. I got mad with the man in the mirror. I asked myself, what could I have done in order to elevate our kid’s academic performance.
Bottom 5%?!?! The last time I checked that's a BIG FAT F with a circle around it! That's failure!
And that's not what our kids are!
Come on y'all! That's an indictment on our kids. That's an indictment on our community. If you are a citizen of Benton Harbor, that's an indictment on you! We should be ticked off that our kids rank this low.
I know and you know that our kids are not dumb. I know and you know that our kids aren't stupid. I know they're not “Bottom 5 Kids.” I know they are smart, they are talented, they are gifted, and I know they have what it takes to perform in the top 5% of all schools! But guess what?
They can't get there if we're giving them bottom 5% effort!!!! And if we’re giving 5% effort, if the adults in their lives are giving 5% effort, they will model what they see. So I hear you asking me right now, Pastor Taurus, what’s bottom 5% effort? Glad you asked!
Bottom 5% Effort Is:
Not showing up when the school district calls a meeting to let your voice be heard.
Letting our kids run over the teachers.
Not reading to our kids at home.
Not sending them to tutoring when you know they’re struggling.
Calling your kids dumb and stupid.
Complaining about administration but never attending a Parent-Teacher conference.
Here's the reality, we can't keep under performing and not expect to get shut down.
I know this from personal experience!
When I got my acceptance letter to college it said, "We have accepted you on academic probation. My GPA was a 1.9. I was in the "bottom 5 percent." You know what I did? I increased my effort!
I woke up earlier to study. I stayed up later to study. I got to class on time. I sat up front in the class. I went to tutoring. I went to the writing lab. I increased my effort!
After my first semester, my GPA was 3.5. Next semester 3.7. Next semester 3.75. I messed around and graduated with a 3.5 GPA!!!! After that, I got my Masters degree. And at the right time, I'm going to get my PhD!
I started in the bottom 5% and graduated in the top 10%. And I know if I could do it, our kids can do it--every kid in the Benton Harbor school district can do it! We may not have total control over the outcomes but we have 100% control of our input!
And that's why I'm determined to do everything within my power to motivate, to encourage, to inspire our young people and our community to increase our effort because I believe we can be the head and not the tail.
I refuse to sit back and let these schools close. It's not going down like that. Not on my watch. Not on your watch. Not on our watch!