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Minority Scholars Program Comes to Kennedy

Maya Bickel, Editor-in-Chief

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“I know we [the Minority Scholars Program] will completely transform the image of Kennedy and the self belief of Kennedy,” said Mr. Williams.

This year at Kennedy High School, Mr. Williams, with the help of Ms. Neely, Ms. Rocha, and other staff members, started a Minority Scholars Program (MSP). Kennedy is now the 15th school in Montgomery County with such a program.

Minority Scholars Program was started around 10 years ago by Mr. Williams while he was a teacher at Walter Johnson High School. He started the program when the school principal asked him to look into the fact that not a single African American student met the 3.0 GPA requirement for a scholarship to the all-male Morehouse College.

The main goal of Minority Scholars Program is to tackle the achievement gap, which is the observed disparity in academic performance between different groups of students, primarily White and Asian students and Black and Hispanic students. MSP makes a difference by positively changing the culture at each school. “We are challenging them [the students] with one of the nation’s biggest problems,” said Mr. Williams.

Since its founding, Minority Scholars Programs in each school have been tailored to fit each school’s community. Last year four key initiatives were developed to provide more consistency in the programs across the county and to more easily demonstrate progress. The initiatives are college visits, speaker series, peer to peer tutoring in school, and community outreach.

Kennedy’s Minority Scholars Program had a number of successful events this year. They brought in Kwame Alexander, a famous author and literacy activist, to speak to students. MSP also took students to see the movie Race about Jesse Owens. Five students were also selected to participate in a moderated debate in front a large student audience about issues ranging from minimum wage and the presidential race to the Kennedy community and the MCPS grading policy. “MSP has created an opportunity for me to voice my opinion about racial issues in education,” said senior Kristaly Guerra.  

Across the county Minority Scholars Programs have been very successful. Last year 500 students from 12 high schools came to march from the Carver Educational Center to the Montgomery County Courthouse to raise awareness of the achievement gap. This year at the annual retreat on a Saturday morning 276 students from 16 high schools came to share ideas about combating the achievement gap and creating positive change.

Despite all of the success generated by Minority Scholars Programs, they receive almost no support from the county. “We are doing all of this on our own time without being paid for years. It becomes tiresome,” said Mr. Williams. MSP does not have funding from the county. Instead, students pay for events, coordinators use their own money, and the program has to minimize cost as much as possible. For the student-organized retreat this year, MSP still had to pay for the building use of Springbrook High School.

This year MCEA (Montgomery County Education Association), the teacher’s union began fully supporting MSP by providing funds, a place for the monthly task force meetings student leaders have, and a way to collect money like donations from community organizations. Nevertheless the county government has not done the same.

Mr. Williams wishes that the Minority Scholars Program will become an MCPS initiative. He says that students have gone before the Board of Education, talked to county town halls, gone to Annapolis to speak before the state government, spoken with the County Executive and talked before the County Council in order to get support for the program. While the Board of Education is very supportive morally, and gives lip service to MSP, convincing the Board to provide more support and funding is still difficult. “If you find a program that…the kids not only need but are yearning for, let’s work some things out so we can make sure they have that access and opportunity,” says Mr. Williams.

In the future Mr. Williams wants every high school in Montgomery County to have a Minority Scholars Programs. He wants to see Kennedy have one of the best Minority Scholars Programs in the county. “It’s going to look like students within the school who having far more rigorous discussions about various things, students challenging themselves to take more rigorous course because they see the long term benefits, [and] students who will be demanding more of their teachers,” he said.

Mr. Williams hopes that the Minority Scholars Program at Kennedy will help students ask themselves “How are you going to positively impact the culture at Kennedy and insure that all of Kennedy rises?”

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Minority Scholars Program Comes to Kennedy