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826 Boston Convenes Panel on Future of Boston High Schools

December 7, 2015

On Wednesday, October 21st, 826 Boston and the Margarita Muñiz Academy in Jamaica Plain hosted a panel discussion on High School Redesign Boston – a initiative by the Mayor’s’ Office to reimagine the city’s high schools in an effort to better prepare graduates for the future. The four panelists were Mission H.S. Headmaster Naia Wilson, Boston Chief of Education Rahn Dorsey, Center for Collaborative Education Executive Director Dan French, and Muñiz 12th Grader Jimmy Díaz.

The panel was moderated by Muñiz Headmaster Dania Vázquez and explored a wide range of challenges facing the Boston school system, including race and equity, cultural competency, testing and dropout rates. It was followed by a lively Q&A where Muñiz 12th graders put their questions to the panelists.

826 Boston would like to thank BPS Superintendent Tommy Chang for attending the event and the Margarita Muñiz Academy for hosting. We are also thrilled to have partnered with the first graduating class from the Muñiz and Ms. Laura Gersch to publish a book of student recommendations for modernizing BPS High Schools. Stay tuned for more updates from the field.

Read below the full text of the keynote address by panelist and Muñiz senior Jimmy Díaz

Good morning everyone! My name is Jimmy Diaz and I am 17 years old. I am originally from Honduras and I’m here with my family: my two parents and my younger brother and sister. We have been here for a year and 3 months. I would like to become a civil engineer. I don’t know where I would like to go to college yet, I have several in mind including BU and MIT.

I come from a poor country with limited resources. In school, there are not enough desks and chairs for the students. Up to 30 students need to sit on the ground. Not only that but many of them have to walk two hours, crossing rivers and remote areas. They don’t even have enough to eat. Believe me when I tell you that we are very lucky, not only because we have all that we need. But also because we have the privilege to be able to make change in the world. Not everyone is so lucky.

There are many factors that can prevent BPS from improving. Not only do we need to change the education system but we need to change how we think about school and education.

We need a reduction of standardized testing. I know people who cannot multiply 4 by 3 but managed to pass the MCAS. It’s frustrating that the system is build around preparing students for an exam that tests for information they will never need again. There are also people who do very well in class and get good grades but for some reason cannot pass the standardized test that they need to graduate. It’s stressful how we concentrate more on PSAT, SAT, WIDA and TOEFL than on basic skills that we need for day to day life in 21th century.

This next point is very personal to me. We need to have more bilingual teachers and staff across BPS High Schools. When I entered BPS one year ago I had no idea how to express myself in English. I was lucky enough to attend Margarita Muñiz Academy where most of our teachers are bilingual in English and Spanish. This allowed me to continue my education in Spanish while I learned English. Not all newcomers have that opportunity. For most of them, the experience of not being able to understand the teachers or express themselves is very frustrating and makes them not want to go to school. They can only communicate through hand gestures. Their bad grades are not a reflection of their intelligence but the school system inability to accommodate them. The system must adjust to fit the needs of these students if the students are unable to adjust to the current system.

My vision for this redesign is for high school students have a say and take responsibility for their own education and learn what they need to succeed in life. A graduate should have the ability to overcome the challenges they face in school and in life. I know students who have gotten accepted in to college but decided to drop out during the first few weeks because they did not feel like they were prepared. This is a failure of high school. A good education system should help students accomplish their goals and offer them a variety of paths to achieve them and support them in their decisions no matter the results.

In order to be successful in life, knowledge and information is not enough. You need to be able to think critically and solve problems. Tests do not teach students these skills, good teachers and supportive classmates do. Education is not everything in life but it can prepare you for it. Students should not feel like they are unprepared for school or for life when they graduate high school. If we have the opportunity to improve our education system we should. We cannot waste it. Thank you!

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