Tale of two schools: Division amongst diversity

Jonathan Guzman, Staff Reporter

Diversity is prominent in the hallways of Sequoia, but upon entering a classroom, the Sequoia experience is dramatically different. Many diverse schools experience achievement gaps—a common pattern in America’s education system of underachieving low-income, African American and Latino students. The achievement gap is evident in standardized test scores, course selection, dropout rates and other measures of success within education.

Admissions officers do not just look at grades, but also the rigor of classes a student has taken throughout high school. African American and Latino students make up 37 percent of high school students but only 27 percent of students in AP classes and 18 percent of students passing AP exams, according to the U.S. Dept. of Education.

Similarly, at Sequoia, minorities comprise 72 percent of the student body—59 percent being Hispanics, according to Greatschools.org. Despite this diversity, only 57 percent of students who sat for an International Baccalaureate (IB) exam were students of color. Of the 26 IB Diploma candidates of the Class of 2017, only 31 percent were students of color.

IB English Year 2 classes include diverse books such as “The Thief and the Dogs”, originally written in Arabic, and “Beloved”, a book inspired by the story of an African-American slave, in their curriculum.

“There are a lot of institutional reasons why there is a divide. Sequoia offers more opportunities for access, but, historically, schools with honors programs have a higher population of white students,” said IB English and Health Academy teacher Nicole Vaughan.

However, she does not entirely blame the system.

“Students have a lower perception of what they are able to do,” Vaughan said.

This may stem from students having to deal with hardships early on in their lives. An estimated 12 percent of students at Sequoia are undocumented. Although undocumented students are admitted into four-year universities, these students tend to go to two-year colleges due to a lack of financial aid. Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) is a program that erodes the achievement gap. AVID is one of four support programs Sequoia offers to help students successfully pursue higher education. Others include BUILD, Boys & Girls Club and Upward Bound.

The recent push for minority students to participate in the IB program has left some students feeling pressured into taking more difficult classes than they believe they can take. Junior Gerryk

Madrigal was a former candidate for the IB Diploma but had trouble dropping it.

“They didn’t want me to drop the IB Diploma because they needed diversity; more representation of Latino and minority candidates,” Madrigal said. “If I were to do the IB diploma it would be to show what I’m mentally capable of achieving not because I am Latino.”

“Students need to know how valid their voice is. Don’t be intimidated to speak up on what you feel strongly about,” Vaughan said.