Nick Simmons wrote -
As most of you know, I have had the privilege of spending my last four years working as a teacher and school-leader at the Success Academy Charter School network.
Working in these Harlem middle schools has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Before teaching, I had always thought that being an educator was an act of sacrifice - a one-way transaction of an adult giving time and energy to children in need. What I discovered was quite the opposite. My students taught me more about the world and the power of the human spirit than I ever thought possible. They showed me how limitless any person can be when he or she is determined, optimistic, and resilient - how undeterred hard work, strong character values and compassionate hearts can open a life to boundless opportunity.
I am so grateful to my students for the life-lessons they have imparted on me over the past four years. In a token of gratitude, I will use my next four weeks paying it back to them.
Starting today, Tuesday, July 12th, I will begin a 1,500 mile bicycle trip along the Pacific Coast, from Canada to Mexico. I will be riding to raise money to support my former students in their process of matriculating to and graduating from four-year universities.
You can also track my location through GPS on the app Firefly. The link to my Firefly group is: https://app.firefly.cool/group-invite/qI6b19aaPb/
Here are some of the troubling statistics they are up against:
In the United States today, while 81% of high-income students matriculate to college, only 45% of low-income students do the same - an opportunity gap that is entirely unacceptable. In New York City, although 75% of students graduate high school, a recent study shows that only 37% of them are deemed “college-ready”. And of the students who are accepted to college and have concretely signaled their intention of matriculating, a report from the Harvard University Center for Education Policy Research, shows that somewhere between 10% - 40% of these students do not actually show up to their universities once the school-year begins. They call this phenomenon Summer Melt.
Why are they absent? Experts believe that the start-up costs of college can be prohibitively overwhelming. Just look at the basic initial costs of starting a college experience:
- College enrollment deposits (up to $500)
- Housing deposits (up to $200)
- Transportation to the college for the start of fall semester (varies – rental car, bus, train, plane ~ $200 -$500)
- Health insurance fees (up to $600)
- Dorm room necessities ($200 minimum)
- School supplies ($75 minimum)
- Textbooks (up to $1,000)
- Everyday living expenses until the first paycheck from the student’s Work Study job (varies)
- Tuition that is not covered by financial aid (varies)
Total average cost to begin school: ~ $3,000
Imagine trying to justify these costs as a first-generation college bound student if your family’s income is less than $35,000 a year. It should be no surprise that low-income students experience “summer melt” at much higher rates than middle or high-income students.
When you take all of these factors into account, in New York City, we estimate only 2 in 10 12th grade students will go to college.
The status quo is unacceptable. At a time when the college degree is more necessary than ever, we cannot rob our young people of the American Dream. They work too hard. This is why I will be biking. I am biking to ensure my students, who have shown me so much, not only get accepted to college, but also matriculate and graduate.
To assist with the first phase of the college experience, the Young Professionals Committee of Success Academy has created the “Launch Fund”. Our fund will assist students with all the associated costs of beginning college and ensure that they start this critical phase on the right footing.
I hope you can consider donating to this cause and helping me to raise awareness about the challenges students across America face on the path to graduating college.
To give you some context of how wonderful these students are, I have shared some of my favorite pictures with them over the years. It is hard to believe that my first 7th grade students - the ones you will see in my pictures from 2012 - will be juniors in high school this Fall. They are an inspiring group of young adults, and most of them will be the first in their families to go to college.
Thank you in advance for your support, and be sure to check back here as I post updates from the trail!