Twenty-five high school seniors, mostly African-American and Hispanic, sit in the bleachers of the gym, recruited by their counselor to participate in a college readiness advising session. Most are there because their TAKS scores, though good, are not quite good enough to qualify them as “college ready” according to the Texas Success Initiative (TSI) standards. They can still go to college if they choose, but they will be required to complete and pass costly, non-credit bearing developmental courses in their initial college semesters. Statistics show that many of those students will drop out of college before they ever see the more engaging, college-level classes that can open up new worlds for them.
On this day, they will meet with advisors from APIE who will inform them about the TSI standards that must be achieved, how much of a gap they need to close, and what they can do to close the gaps. But first, they will have a lecture. Dr. Leonard Moore, Associate Vice President of the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement at UT and a tenured History Professor is there to educate them on the value of a college education.
He described his own history of graduating from high school with a 1.6 grade point average. He grabbed their attention with a discussion about the culture of anti-intellectualism that many of them are immersed in, where family and friends may discourage their interest in academics, rendering them too cool for school. He collected a dozen backpacks from them, slinging the textbook laden sacks around his neck and shoulders, using this as a graphic illustration of the baggage that may predispose them to low expectations of what they might accomplish, or worse, failure. He spoke their language, named their demons and then he did something transformational: he looked each student in the eye and asked, “Where are you going to college? Have you applied? Have you visited the campus? Have you been accepted anywhere yet?”
In that moment, twenty-five young men and women, one by one claimed – out loud – a future for themselves that perhaps no one before had ever dreamed for them. Awesome!