You notice many things walking the halls of your middle school: Some kids are bigger than you, some are a different gender, some have a different hair color.
At my middle school, it was as easy to notice some kids were not getting the same education as me.
I attended Hamilton Middle School in Denver for three years as a young teenager, and I was in what was known as the IPM Program, or the International Preparatory Magnet program. Essentially, it was the program for kids who were going to succeed.
But naturally, when some children are selected to succeed, others aren’t. At my school, they were the “TAP kids,” or the students in the Traditional Academic Program.
We were divided neatly, I’d even say segregated, along these program lines to the point where we had different classes on different floors. It did not take a patient observer to realize the main floor, where many eighth-grade TAP classes were held, was less resourced than the upper floor, where I had my classes.
When I compared notes years later with a friend in TAP, we realized how much more writing I did in my classes. One example: An outside program once gave every student at the school a box of energy-efficient lightbulbs and shower heads — but only the IPM kids were required to write essays about how to use them to save energy.
From grading standards to locker quality to college encouragement, IPM was clearly the part of the school the Hamilton faculty was paying attention to.
In the years since I attended, Hamilton has changed its programs. George Washington High School, where the International Baccalaureate program has been a popular destination for Hamilton’s IPM students, has opened itself up more, too.
Still, I wonder what happened to my TAP peers, many of whom were my friends, and most of whom came from poorer families.
It’s hard for me to imagine that, after being tracked into the TAP program, most of those students ended up prepared to graduate from college. I wonder how that contributes to the state’s high school graduation rate — one of the lowest in the country.
Now, as a grown man and voting citizen of the great state of Colorado, I’m asking, what can I do for those kids who have fewer resources and for years endure schools that don’t care about them?
For one, I have an electoral fellowship this summer to help lobby for better education policies and support local school board candidates. I have also been working to oppose cuts to federal student aid and rollbacks of civil rights protections for transgender students being proposed or implemented by Betsy DeVos, our U.S. Secretary of Education.
But while those federal issues really matter, it’s the local issues that first inspired me.
We need to look carefully at schools separating their students as fully as my middle school did, and encourage leaders to push for an equitable, challenging education for all, instead of being selective and pushing some students to the wayside.
Marcos Descalzi is a third-year student at the University of Denver studying public policy and a Colorado SFER Action Network summer fellow.
About our First Person series:
First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.