February 16, 2016

ZUMBA | What I Learned in Public School

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A large part of who I am comes from my educational experience, similar to others who have had the opportunity to get an education. My education does not only consist of what is found in books, which is something I realized early on in my educational career. Education also consists of learning more about yourself, about the world around you and building relationships. It’s really up to the individual to decide what they consider to be educational. Part of what helped me grow, and actually introduced me to systemic issues, was my public school education.

I’m a direct product of the Chicago Public School system. I attended those schools from first to 12th grade (I spent kindergarten in a Catholic school). Based on the fact that I’m now attending an Ivy League institution, it’s assumed that I’m thankful to the education that the city so kindly provided me. The truth is I owe everything to the teachers and staff that took their time to build relationships with me and helped develop my abilities. My “success” definitely was not due to the CEO of CPS or the mayor of Chicago at the time who chose them.

Actually, due to the inadequacies in the education system that the current mayor, Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), continues to perpetuate, it’s a huge surprise that I made it to where I am today. The root of all the issues in the public schooling system is budgeting. Teachers in the city constantly face low funding for their schools, layoffs, school closings, unfair contracts, etc. All these actions demonstrate that the decision makers in the city don’t care about their educators or their students. My high school, for example, had a little over 3,000 students, but did not have room for that many. By my senior year, my school had use whatever spare rooms it had to fit so many kids. I remember my first period class not even being held in an actual classroom. I also remember my freshman year where one of my classes had 36 kids in it and not enough desks, forcing me to use a spare teacher’s desk in the room.

I’ve only touched upon one aspect of my high school experience and it isn’t even as bad as a large amount of other schools in Chicago. I went to a predominantly white high school on the north side of the city, so it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been. As much as educational institutions praise “diversity,” it still doesn’t mean they’re exempt of institutional racism.

Despite the limitations that public schools are met with, teachers still manage to make do with what they have and provide a meaningful education to their students. I’m using Chicago as an example because it’s something I actually went through. I know these issues are applicable to education systems throughout the United States, including colleges and universities. The attitude towards education has developed into thinking about profit rather than actual education. It’s an epidemic in the U.S. at this point. Everyone is trying to figure out how to make money off of students instead of actually caring for them as human beings, which is why educators are so important. They’re the ones who typically treat us like people and want to see us thrive.

Teachers were the ones who really helped me figure out where I wanted to go in life, even though I’m still working on it. I am so grateful to have had the teachers I did in the past, especially the ones from my high school. I’m able to write the way I do because of the dedication of my favorite history and English teachers. I can’t ever forget about them because they were part of my personal foundation. Every time I build a relationship with a new professor or staff member, they’re also contributing to my growth. These relationships help me remember that there will always be people who genuinely care about me as a person and care about my advancement. Whenever I see the Chicago Teachers Union having a protest or rally, I still feel that dedication and care even though I’m hundreds of miles away.