Documenting inner-city kids' rise to the top
Inner-city public schools often bring to mind images from movies like "Dangerous Minds": menacing minority students, drugs, and gangs. But Miles Corwin offers another view in his book, "And Still We Rise: The Trials and Triumphs of Twelve Gifted Inner-City High School Students" (Bard Books), available later this month.Skip to next paragraph
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The Los Angeles Times reporter followed seniors in an advanced placement English class during the 1997 school year. Crenshaw High School is notorious as the setting for the movie "Boyz 'n the Hood" and as home base for one of L.A.'s worst gangs. Its dropout rate is almost 50 percent.
The struggling students, whose stories Mr. Corwin adroitly interweaves faced many challenges: Some had parents on welfare, in prison, or addicted to crack; many worked part- or full-time jobs; several have coped with abuse. Yet most minority students in Crenshaw's gifted magnet program manage to get A's and go on to college.
Excerpts follow from a recent interview with Corwin by the Monitor's Sara Steindorf:
What obstacles did the students face in getting into college?
Well there's Olivia, who was living in yet another foster home where the people didn't really care about her, where it was impossible to study, it was noisy, and she was working full time. (See story, below.) And then there was Sadikifu, who grew up in a tough neighborhood and was a gangbanger and had to leave the gang scene. Then there was Toya, whose stepfather murdered her mother. Then she got pregnant.
What motivated them to rise above their challenges?
You know, that's something I really struggled with. Why do some kids withstand all these difficulties and persist and graduate and go on to college, and why do some fall by the wayside? The kids I followed, by and large, persisted and succeeded. I think part of it is, their intelligence saved them.
They were directed to gifted programs in grammar school and junior high school, and then high school. With the horrendous state of inner-city education, these kids had a little bit of an edge over the other kids.
Oftentimes in the inner city, if the kid is bright and articulate and speaks out in class, he's given a very hard time by the other students. Especially in black schools, sometimes they're accused of selling out and acting white. These kids never had to deal with that to the same extent, because they were in classes with other gifted kids.
And I think because they were bright kids and tested well, it was a little easier for them to envision their future.
From very early on in high school, [a lot of them] were getting recruiting letters from colleges - making it a very real possibility.
Your book suggests the criteria for university admissions are not equitable. Can you give some examples?