One By One Campaign Gives Voice to the Education Crisis
Published: Friday, January 27, 2012
Updated: Friday, January 27, 2012 18:01
James Williams nearly didn't graduate from high school. His problems began in early childhood after his parents divorced. He moved back and forth between parents, switching elementary schools more than 10 times. James struggled to keep up, failing the third grade twice, and he eventually ended up at an alternative school after being kicked out of Kirby Smith in the 7th grade for fighting.
By the time he reached Terry Parker High School, James had more or less given up on school.
James' struggle highlights a growing problem. Nearly one third of ninth-graders in Duval County will not graduate on time or at all. The One by One Campaign is working to change that statistic.
The One by One Campaign, sponsored by the Jacksonville Public Education Fund, will be hosting a series of open-forum discussions encouraging parents, teachers and students alike to talk about the educational dilemma in public schools. These discussions aim to identify problems and solicit possible solutions from members of the community. A particularly unique feature of these discussions is that no member of the community is excluded; even the students have an opportunity to share their experiences and ideas.
In James' case, he lost interest in trying to catch up on the fundamental skills he missed in elementary and middle school because he failed to see the point. "It was like a playground," James recalled. "I just messed around, skipped school, got in fights. I didn't really take it seriously at all."
In the 11th grade, James made the decision to drop out. "My dad was just like, "OK, if that's what you decide to do." James and his dad went up to Terry Parker to sign the paperwork necessary for James to drop out of school; however, the guidance counselor who would finalize the document was absent that day. James and his father left, and James never went back.
The One by One Campaign is asking people to listen to stories like James' and to share their own. Then, One by One volunteers will take the discussions to another level. They will record all of the comments, suggestions and issues raised during the open-forum discussions and compile and analyze them. "What is said during the discussions is recorded by volunteers, and all the ideas and themes that emerge as a result of the discussions is entered into a database," said Dierdre Connor, communications manager for the Jacksonville Public Education Fund.
One by One Campaign discussions will be held all over Duval, moving from one neighborhood to the next. "At the end of the process, our goal is to have at least 1500 people from every neighborhood and every walk of life," Connor continued. "We want to make sure that every possible perspective is included."
After the information is compiled, volunteers will work with the school board to turn it into a shared action plan. James, who learned the hard way about the importance of earning a high school diploma, will be able to help other students by simply sharing his experiences.
After leaving school, James tried to find a job, putting in applications everywhere. "No one would hire me because I didn't have a high school diploma. They had stacks of applications of people with diplomas. Why would they hire me?" James said. After an unsuccessful search for gainful employment, he went to work with his father, a construction worker. "After working with my dad for four months, I was ready to go back to school," James said.
When James went back to Terry Parker, his counselor discovered that he had never finished the paperwork to drop out of school. By the time he returned to class, his GPA was below a 1.0. Fortunately, it didn't stay that way for long. James soon found a source of motivation. Terry Parker's football coach, who supervised his grade recovery class, began pushing him to bring up his grades so he could play on the football team. James knew he needed to get a diploma to be able to get a job, and with the added push from the coach, he began working towards catching up. "I stayed after school every day for like 4 hours. The janitors would be locking up, and they would be like, "You need to get out." Then when I got home I would get right back on the computer and keep working," said James.
In spite of his monumental effort, James still failed the 11th grade. Undaunted, he plugged away at his schoolwork during summer school, raising his GPA to a 2.2, a passing mark which allowed him to play football. From then on, James began to focus on school, knowing he needed to keep his grades up to stay on the team. "I wouldn't even go to lunch because I didn't want to be around the other kids and get in trouble. I spent 30 minutes in the library every day," said James. By the end of the year, he had raised his GPA to a 2.8, allowing him to qualify for graduation.
James' hard work also managed to qualify him for something else: a $2000 per semester college scholarship.
"There was an awards ceremony, and I didn't go because I didn't think I was going to get an award, you know, I was just happy to be graduating … I was on a roof helping my dad when a friend of mine called me," said James. When his friend told him he was receiving an award, James was taken completely by surprise. "I told my dad, and he was like, "Go, go!" And I jumped in the truck and flew up there... when I walked in, everyone was sitting, and there was a row of chairs up on the stage, and they were all full except for one, and that one was mine."