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Let's Talk About It: We have to level the playing field in education

My story is not unique. Many share this same story: at a disadvantage but expected to succeed.

LaSonya Natividad
LaSonya Natividad.
Contributed / Jonathan Robinson
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Greetings and salutations! Welcome to another edition of "Let’s Talk About It," where you get to learn more about me through my storytelling. I appreciate you reading last month's introductory edition and I received your comments with gratitude.

As I pondered what topics were important to me for the month of January, a resounding theme occurred: education. This will be a two-part discussion as there is so much to unpack. Let’s talk about how access to quality education is not equal for all, but could and should be in this land of opportunity by investing resources to underserved populated areas. We all would benefit.

My elementary education was sub-par, as there was not a focus on preparing for standardized tests —which should have transpired since that is how success was measured and placement occurred. I DO NOT agree with that approach, by the way.

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Lasonya in third grade.
Contributed

During high school, I did not receive much guidance for college prep in spite of taking AP (advanced placement) classes. I was not well prepared for the ACT (American College Testing) and never took the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test). Class offerings were not very diverse either. My AP senior English class focused on vocabulary, not writing papers. So much for college prep.

Thankfully, I was blessed to have a life-changing experience during my sophomore year of high school. The first half of the school year was spent in Washington, D.C., at Cardozo High School, where I was enrolled in an honors program called Trans Tech. It was an education program that provided students with skills to pursue pathways leading to professional and technical careers in the areas of electro-mechanical technology, aviation, aeronautics, pre-engineering, transportation and planning. All classes were AP with adequate resources. Excellence was the standard and expectation.

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The second half of that year was spent at Tallulah High School. Many of the teachers acted as if they had given up. Several teachers were not prepared to teach various subjects. These experiences translated to substandard college preparation and test-taking performance.

I got my first B in fourth grade and almost had a nervous breakdown. No really, I started sleepwalking. I maintained honor roll status through high school graduation. I was a National Honor Society member, vice president of 4-H, president of the Future Business Leaders of America, vice president of a peer group, enrolled in AP classes, a member of the high school choir, marching and concert band. I even tried my hand at the track team. LaSonya Natividad APRN CNP MSN MBA is my full credentialed name. I was in college for a total of 12 years. While I am quite proud of my accomplishments academically, my journey was quite rocky. It didn't have to be.

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Lasonya at her kindergarten graduation.
Contributed

Now do not get me wrong, I ran across some excellent teachers and many of them did what they could with the resources they had. My seventh-grade science teacher sparked my love for science (Coach Ed Dandridge). My third-grade teacher (Mrs. Sue Johnson) and my church piano player who was also a sixth-grade teacher (Mrs. Patricia Buchanan) pushed me toward singing. I was privy to distance learning classes for AP math.

But I never dissected a frog, nor did I have access to science laboratory equipment past the seventh grade, for example. Many of the teachers were blatantly racist and were not invested in students like me.

Fast-forward to college — I was not prepared. I struggled in many classes with information I should have been taught in high school. In my nursing program, college professors were partial to the white students despite my college being a historically Black college/university (HBCU). Graduate school was not much better.

My story is not unique. Many share this same story: at a disadvantage but expected to succeed.

My experience highlights many problems with our school systems in America, which are evident in our performance against other countries, rate of college-prepared individuals for many industries and reduced amounts of persons enrolling in the teaching profession. There are also systemic and structural educational barriers contributing to the problem (more on that next time).

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Lasonya during her internship at Mayo Clinic during her junior year in college.
Contributed

Benefits to obtaining a higher education are clear, and elementary and secondary education lay the foundation for successful participation in the U.S. democracy. Americans with higher education are more likely to vote, volunteer and donate to charity. Lifetime earning potential increases exponentially with higher education in spite of the advent of the internet, globalization and exceptions to the rule such as those who have a talent to flee their underprivileged circumstances (such as those involved in the arts — music, dance, acting — writers, inventors, influencers or creators).

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We the people have the power to fix these problems. State budgets should include allocating dollars to hire assessors of education systems to determine where barriers lie and to come up with innovative ideas to mitigate those barriers. This would mean the federal government would need to allocate more education funds.

Trade programs should be part of the curriculum to offer opportunity to those students who are not cut out for, nor want to attend a two- or four-year college.

Teachers need to have the appropriate equipment to do their jobs. Colleges should focus on preparing diverse teachers. Primary and secondary schools should seek out hiring teachers from diverse backgrounds, which will make teaching more appealing for some of their students to consider for their own careers. Teachers DESERVE a pay raise PERIOD!

College-prep classes should in fact prepare students for college. Lastly, dollars should be allocated to programs focusing on closing the education and wealth gaps.

I am not the only person singing this same song; others have made similar points, as I have read. “We all do better when we all do better” is what Paul Wellstone said.

These are my thoughts; until next time, Let's Talk About It.

Lasonya Natividad is a musician and health care professional in Rochester. Send comments on columns to jpieters@postbulletin.com .

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