-By Gerald Boyd, a native of Houston, Texas and Principal at IDEA Mays College Preparatory in San Antonio, Texas. Gerald was a Teach For America Corps member, teacher and curriculum leader for KIPP Houston Schools and Dean of Instruction for KIPP Boston Schools before transitioning to IDEA Public Schools as a Principal-in-Residence. This is his first year as Founding Principal at IDEA Mays College Preparatory.
My senior year of high school, nine classmates and I, all African American, received a scholarship to attend the University of Texas at Austin due to good grades and a strong application. In our first semester at UT, seven of us were placed on academic probation. Four years later, only two of us graduated.
Our high school did not prepare us for the rigors of college. In fact, my high school, middle school, and elementary school were later shut down due to low performance.
In America, 9% of kids from low-income communities graduate from college. When I think of my story, and the story of my nine peers who began college with bright eyes and high hopes, I’m shaken by the fact that we were the norm for underprivileged students. In fact, we fared a bit better than the national average—two out of ten, instead of one, graduated with a college degree.
Here’s one more startling statistic for you. Without a high school diploma, African American males have a 68% chance of going to jail. With a high school diploma, that percentage decreases to 28, and with a college degree, it decreases to 3.
Black, white, Hispanic—it doesn’t matter—a good education sets you up to have a better life and more opportunities. At IDEA Public Schools, we prepare all of our kids to attend, and graduate from, college. We’re setting up our students, most of them from zip codes synonymous with low expectations, to be great citizens of this world.
My students at IDEA Mays College Preparatory are aware of my G.P.A. from my first semester at UT. I’ve shared my story in hopes that they won’t find themselves in the same situation when they step foot on a college campus as a freshman. I’m confident that in six years, when our first class of seniors graduates from IDEA Mays, they will thrive at the university of their choice from day one, thanks to proper mentorship, preparation and a great education.
During Black History Month, and every day, celebrate how far we’ve come in this nation and honor individuals who have contributed their talents and wisdom to this work and have opened many doors for the generations to come. Thirty years ago, I would never have been allowed to attend the University of Austin. Now, I’m a proud alumnus.
Every morning, during announcements, our students recognize an African American figure who has made an impact on society. Today’s was Garret Morgan—the inventor of the traffic light and the gas mask. “Where would we be without the traffic light or the gas mask?” Students at IDEA Mays discuss. “Traffic would not be a pretty picture. And what about firefighters who save people’s lives? How would they do it?”
Yes, celebrate the steps we’ve taken in the right direction, honor the hidden heroes, but also reflect on how far we still must go to close the achievement gap. I’ve found my calling in this mission, as Principal of IDEA Mays College Preparatory, where every student, regardless of race or income, receives a great education that prepares them to graduate to and through college.
Like I tell my students: “What is your calling going to be?”