By Kirk Clay
Parents, teachers, and many students across America are now engaged in an endeavor that occurs every summer — they are on “summer vacation.” Some teachers will take a trip for a much-needed break “away from it all.” Others are set to visit their family while some will be busy earning extra money on short term projects like teaching summer school. Though it will be a diverse mix of experiences, make no mistake that their collective activities will have a significant impact next year.
Similar to all educational systems in the U.S., this is a critical moment for Washington, DC school communities. For the learning community at Ron Brown College Preparatory — an innovative public high school in Washington, DC that serves male students of color — this moment and movement are even more important. Yes, this summer vacation brings with it the same introspection, joy, and liberation that most educational communities will enjoy, and yet it is still a bit different. The difference lies with the singular purpose of this school. This community aspires to connect talented young males of color to a multitude of opportunities, therefore providing them with a path to live free from the fear of poverty, violence, and death.
This concept originates from the radical but straightforward vision set out by a collection of innovative community leaders, lawmakers, and educators, which asserts that “America will successfully teach every child regardless of zip code.” I know this sounds easy, but as someone that spends time in the class rooms at Ron Brown, I see all of the remarkable efforts, genius, and curriculum implementation happen every day. Honestly, the teachers, care team, and administrators are some of the most committed, supportive, and sophisticated educators I have ever met. In fact, I am routinely impressed by the teachers as they executed their curriculum and the care team as they implemented “restorative” practices. The way they give “props” for student accomplishments while having courageous conversations on the areas that we all can improve is inspirational.
This reminds me of the school’s namesake. Ron Brown was the 1st black Commerce Secretary for the United States of America. Note that this was a massive deal at the time considering not many African Americans had a position with that level of responsibility in the 90s. I met Secretary Brown the summer I first arrived in Washington, DC. I was amazed by his intellect, leadership skills, and fashion sense. He would often ask about my “people,” and I would talk with him about my grandmother that lived in the area before we would “talk shop.” Later, he would give me tips on picking the right combination of shirts and ties.
He taught me that the summer is like a mirror. “It is a tool for reflection, discovery, correction, and action.” His point was that I should use my summer to reflect on life, assess what changes need to be made, plan my next steps, and implement my new learning. What’s funny is that educators have always used their summers to innovate. The only difference is that this summer we have a little more to reflect on than usual.
To be continued…
Kirk Clay is the President of Capitol View Advisors — a collaborative acting on its values in creative and strategic ways to connect communities with the information and resources they need to support and further their aspirations.