I came across this article by Rainier Beach HS student Ifrah Abshir. It’s terrific, I encourage everyone to read the whole thing:

Fighting Inequality In Seattle, Students Lead Protests to Change School and Transit Policies

Some highlights (emphasis mine):

As a black and Muslim immigrant, I could write for days about the ways in which my family has experienced racism in the United States – both at the individual and institutional levels. Being a young person, one of the primary sources of the institutional racism I experience is the public school system.

The school I currently attend is Rainier Beach High School, located in South Seattle. Although Seattle is one of the most homogeneous major cities in the country, with nearly 70% of the population being white, my neighborhood in the South End is very much the opposite. In fact, a few years ago the neighborhood where my school is located, 98118, was considered to be among the most diverse zip codes in the country.

At Beach, we have approximately 95% students of color and over 50 languages spoken, making us the most diverse school in the Seattle School District. Nearly nine in ten students here receive free/reduced lunch, meaning the majority of us come from low income families, many of whom are immigrants. These statistics are exactly why I selected Beach when choosing a high school. I wanted to receive my education in a diverse multi-cultural setting. I didn’t want to be the only brown girl in my class. I wanted to belong.

Rainier Beach HS has experienced a renaissance in the last few years, sparked largely by the new International Baccalaureate program that “came to Rainier Beach largely at the insistence of South End parents desperate to make the school more attractive to families.” They also have a TEALS program wherein Microsoft employees teach classes in computer science. The author of the piece above credits this program with sparking a love for computer programming:

The editorial calls for two immediate changes for Rainier Beach students:

#1: End Seattle Public School’s ‘Walk-Zone rule’ that requires students who live within 2.5 miles of their school to walk or pay for their own public transportation. This negatively impacts low-income students who are less likely to have access to a car or a ride to school. As Ifrah lays out:

“The cost of a round trip bus ticket to school is $3 a day. To put this in perspective, remember that 88% of students at RBHS have free or reduced lunch. This means their family’s income is low enough that they cannot afford $1.50 a day for lunch. If a student cannot afford $1.50 a day for lunch, how can they be expected to pay for a bus that costs twice as much as lunch? Does that make any sense at all?”

I live in this zip code, and I technically fall within the ‘Walk-Zone.’ Google Maps says it would take me 45 minutes to walk to the school. That’s 45 minutes along the city’s most dangerous street (though I applaud the changes the city has finally started to make, narrowing parts of Rainier from four lane to two lane with turn lane). I would definitely not walk this, and I wouldn’t drive either: I would take the bus. Get these kids ORCA cards, that seems like a no-brainer.

hell no, that's not happening.

hell no, that’s not happening.

#2: Renovate the building to get it up to code both structurally and with the latest innovations in learning technology:

‘Built in 1960, our school is the only one in the district that has not yet received a full renovation. Just last year we had nearly 15 power outages, some of them causing us to attend school in the dark and cold, or even to close school for the day. Our school still has chalkboards, whereas schools in whiter and more affluent neighborhoods have smart boards and more advanced technological tools that enhance student learning. Each year, students here organize walk outs and protests, and attend school board and city hall meetings – but we only receive promises of a new building. Promises that go unfulfilled.

Students who face additional barriers to learning due to the challenges of living in poverty deserve more learning tools, not less. I mean, watch this: students walk out over aging school. That’s from 2012!

One last bit of insult to injury:

‘After the Day of Social Action, a representative from the school board came and visited our site, telling us the district had heard us loud and clear and would work to achieve the changes we asked for as quickly as possible. The school board suggested we send letters to the mayor as a follow-up, because they would need the city council to be on board. Interestingly enough, when I spoke to the mayor, he told me we should be speaking with the school district to get the results we were looking for.’

Government bureaucracies famous for giving people the run-around, why should our kiddos receive different treatment?

***

I share because I’m inspired by Ifrah and students like her, activist students demanding equal educational opportunities from school and city systems that have largely ignored them for too long. I’m inspired because it’s working: since the IB program, the school’s graduation rates are up to 79%, greater than the district average.

Whatever path my new career takes me, I hope it’s one where I can contribute to empowering young people through technology and direct action. If my past work in education reform has taught me anything, it’s that change will come from students and parent advocates. Doing things *to* a community doesn’t work. Rainier Beach HS is a stunning example of what’s possible when a community bands together to yell “this is what we need,” and makes it happen. My hope is that the changes that have worked will be sustainable after initial grant funding runs out, and that calls for even more school improvements (like ending the walk zones and upgrading the building) will be impossible to ignore. If this student is any indication of the student self-efficacy brewing at RBHS, they won’t go down without a fight.