Black Parents Seek to Raise Ambitions
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Twelve-year-old Alex Carter is an A student who loves science and reads a book a week. So it surprised his father when he announced last year that he didn't want to enroll in an honors class that his teacher recommended for the following term.
"That class is for the smart people, the nerds," Alex told him. His father replied, "Well, who are you?"
Alex is a junior league football player, an avid golfer and a lifelong suburbanite. He's also one of only a handful of African American students in his seventh-grade class at Eagle Ridge Middle School in Ashburn. He dreams of becoming a professional athlete like his dad, Tom, who played cornerback for the Washington Redskins. But as he nears his teenage years in a predominantly white school in Loudoun County, his parents are concerned that he could abandon academic pursuits because he thinks they are better left to his white classmates.
That's why Tom and Renee Carter joined last year with about 15 families, including the parents of nearly every black male sixth-grader, to push their sons to graduate on time in 2012 with options for the future and without lowering their expectations or test scores along the way. They call it Club 2012.
The group holds monthly house meetings, twice-weekly homework sessions, "rap sessions" between fathers and sons, and social or community service activities. The parents speak often with teachers and administrators, many of whom come to parent-organized events.
"We know there is an achievement gap in the county, in the state, in the country," said Gabrielle Carpenter, mother of one of Alex's classmates and a guidance counselor at Dominion High School in Sterling who founded Club 2012. Her goal is to make sure their sons aren't part of it.
After eight years in her field, Carpenter said, she has seen countless young black students start school enthusiastically, then lose interest because they don't feel "a part of their environment ."
Her son Alden was sometimes the only black student in his class in elementary school, and although he did well, she worried about how comfortable he was. In first grade, he got in trouble for pushing a girl who kept touching his hair. Another time, Carpenter asked Alden what color he was, and he answered, "Dark white."
By middle school, an age when children begin to more fully grasp racial and social differences, Alden started sitting with the other black students at lunch. Concerned about their potential isolation, Carpenter decided it was time to get more involved. She approached Tom Carter, who was teaching math at Dominion High, a year ago with the idea of setting up a black parents group to raise their sons' confidence and expectations.
They invited other parents, including doctors and business owners, to the Carpenters' house to share some sobering statistics.
In affluent Loudoun, known for its strong schools, black students consistently lag behind their white classmates on standardized tests. Last year, 63 percent of black eighth-graders in the county passed the state math test; 62 percent passed in English. White students' pass rate for both subjects was 89 percent. At Eagle Ridge, where 8 percent of students are black, the gaps were similar.
Many parents in the group have college degrees and can afford such activities as summer camp and tutoring, two indicators that researchers have linked to higher achievement.