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By Cormell J. Padillow, contributing writer & intern
My name is Cormell, and I attended McLain Junior High for 8th grade. It’s an inner-city majority black and brown school in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
I had recently moved from a lower to middle-income school in Wichita, Kansas, prior to starting at McLain two weeks before Christmas break.
I was the new kid and knew what McLain was. Having attended a majority white school, and despite being a 14-year-old, I knew that McLain was an academically-low performing and underfunded school — a typical experience for black and brown students.
I was, however, optimistic about going to a school with people who looked like me.
Like yesterday, I can still remember my second day of school. I sat agitatedly in my Algebra 1 class, melting a hole through my seat because I was burning red hot with anger. I couldn’t accept being in a class with a substitute hired as a teacher, who seemingly appeared to have never taught a class for a full year.
Moreover, sitting and doing absolutely nothing but a single-sided math worksheet — with little to zero instruction.
I felt for the students who arrived that year already behind in basic math skills.
After completing my assignment, I snapped, having been accused of talking when I was the only student who did the work.
Out of frustration, I cussed repeatedly at my seat.
My new classmates tried calming me down, but that didn’t help.
I got up from my desk, stormed out of the classroom, and walked directly into the 8th-grade section office and demanded to be placed in a new class.
Shortly after arriving, my grandmother was notified by the school regarding my complaint. She defended me. “He is the type of kid that needs to be challenged,” she said sternly and added “He can’t just sit around doing nothing all day. Put him in a more challenging class.”
The very next day, I was immediately placed into the other Algebra 1 class, the all-girls Algebra 1 class.
That year, and only that year, McLain Junior High was trying gender separate education. This meant the school was split into two sides: girls on one side and boys on the other. This policy only held for core classes: Social Studies, English, Math, and Science.
I was one of the three other boys to get moved to the all-girls Algebra 1 class that week.
My previous Algebra 1 class was changed to Pre-Algebra. Effectively taking the only Algebra 1 class away from the boys who hadn’t been moved to the majority female class.
After my experience, my grandmother had had enough and wanted me out of Tulsa Public Schools. I begged them to send me to Booker T., but that wasn’t an option.
Hence upon finishing my 8th-grade year, I was told I would be enrolled into a new school, Langston Hughes Academy, a free public charter school.
In the fall of that following year, I was wearing Langston Hughes Academy’s red, black, and green. I didn’t like it, unaware of what those colors meant for me as a young black man growing up in America.
At my new school, the first thing I noticed was how small the school was, and more importantly, all of the staff members could recall the students’ names by heart.
Honestly, it was scary for me when a teacher, whose class I’ve never stepped foot in, could call me out by name. In all of my life as a student, if I didn’t have a particular teachers’ class, that teacher and I didn’t know each other. But at this school, it seemed the same social rules didn’t apply.
At this school, the ratio of students to teachers was smaller. The number of students was smaller. The attention individual students received was greater, and the amount of mentorship was unlike anything I had previously experienced, and I’m better for it.
I’ve always had conflicting feelings about charter schools, and subsequently about school choice arguments.
Although, there’s much debate to be had about the place of charter schools in education, this is a story about my journey and how my life has benefited from merely attending a great school.
Cormell J. Padillow is a contributing writer/intern for The Black Wall Street Times and is a Wichita, Kansas transplant. He is The Black Wall Street Times’ first intern and is currently a high schooler at Langston Hughes Academy for Art and Technology. Padillow has been a high school policy debater for 3-years and has competed at the National, State, and local levels. His words and pin have become the tool he uses to change the mind of the many.