School-Life Navigation: Surviving the Tracking and Inequality–A Student’s Journey

(A guest post by Edrees Saied an Oakland public school graduate and Energy Convertor Alumni)

For students of color, school can be a pathless land. A land covered with a very thin layer of ice that breaks and swallows you when you make a wrong step.

Being the only one in my family that can take my education to the next level, I’ve felt like a lone wanderer.

But I am also finding a community. As I said in “What Does It Mean To Be Yemeni At School?”, I’ve found people who share my struggles. Who are willing to help me out along the way. And who can help me project my voice in events or conferences like ‘Yemen: Global to Local to Household.’

Nevertheless, everyone I grew up in my family drifted away from me as our circumstances differed.

Nobody else had parents who stressed academic excellence and college right after high school as much as mine.

So now, everyone either works in a liquor store, is working for someone they don’t even like, was married before they even got a chance to live on their own, or has abandoned their dreams. I drift further away from my cousins at the same rate our paths diverge.

A Lone Climber On a Foreign Mountain

And no, I don’t have a private advisor. No, I don’t have parents that are all into the choices I make at school. No, I don’t have anyone in my family who has made it up the mountain I’m climbing towards. I had to figure it out!

In middle school, I didn’t get a say in what classes I got. Even in high school, when I could choose my own classes, I didn’t understand the difference nor how my choices would impact my education options down the line.

Tracking Inequality

I remember the day we were choosing our classes for the next year when I was freshman in high school.

While I was too busy being confused, everyone else was enrolling in the Paideia program, taking HP Chemistry, or applying for other academies I knew nothing about. No one wanted to give me information about all these things, or even encourage me to take some of the advanced classes.

That’s the thing; school wasn’t designed to be straight-forward. If it was, then we would see higher success rates from groups like the African American community, who make up the majority in lower level classes at my school.

The worst part is the actual research, showing that “for those at the bottom, the effects of tracking produce slower and slower rates of learning and smaller and smaller chances of receiving [assignments to higher level classes]” from Alternatives to Tracking.

Catching Up Is Hard

As a student who has been stuck in lower level classes for most of his school life, I can say that, once I forced myself into advanced classes, I was a much slower learner than other folks in the room. School felt ever more foreign. But as I kept pushing and climbing up the ladder, I was competing with the top students in my classes.

Sometimes, to succeed in school as a student of color, you need take the initiative. You can’t waver for a second. You can’t lose focus. You have to fight to find people who can help you navigate through the system.

Change The System

Not once in any of my classes have I ever discussed my goals for the future. No one talked to me about that in school, so I never really planned my journey ahead of time. That’s why I felt lost every step of the way.

This needs to change, on a systematic level. Schools have a major responsibility to provide enough academic advisory, mentoring, and programs for those who slip between the cracks. Otherwise, what is the purpose of school if you don’t have the resources to succeed?

We need school counseling for students even in middle school. Adults must build better communications with the students, and actually help them plan out their own academic pathways as early as possible. Things like early goal-setting and building future timelines are key for student navigation.   

Students should have their academic pathway navigated before they even go through it. The school should make students fully aware of everything they have to offer.

Students shouldn’t have to do this alone.


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