Through STEP, student DaVonti' Haynes worked with Columbus City Schools, gained a deeper understanding of the issues students, educators and districts face and decided to do something about it.
This past year I was a part of the Second-year Transformational Experience Program (STEP), and for my experience I chose to work with Columbus City Schools (CCS) Superintendent Dan Good. I decided to remain in Columbus because I believe a lot of people overlook urban school districts and the support they need, and I wanted to become civically engaged with the community I lived in for the past two years.
Right here within the city of Columbus, a few miles away from Ohio State’s campus, thousands of people are suffering – with poverty, inequality and a lack of education. Contrary to popular belief, they need just as much help as those abroad.
While at CCS, I had the opportunity to speak with various district administrators, principals and teachers, and I realized just how complex their jobs are. In October, I shadowed a middle school principal for a day. While at her school, I learned about countless circumstances students were facing at home, which ultimately affects their behavior and learning ability in school. There were students dealing with depression, a transfer student from Medina County who was 16 in the eighth grade and two cousins whose parents were using heroin. While at an elementary school, I learned about a third-grader who was homeless and experiencing emotional distress, as his mother had recently died of an overdose in bed beside him.
For me, this experience was not only eye-opening, but it also reassured me of my passion to advocate for students from these backgrounds. And it allowed me to factor in another obstacle these kids are dealing with: their mental health. At such a young age, they're battling traumatic experiences most people will never experience in their entire lives. Most of these kids want to excel in school and in life, but they just don’t know how.
I think one of the most important lessons I learned is not to point the figure at one party. It’s not solely the teachers at fault, nor is it the students. There are a host of obstacles, and we will never accurately address the performance problem in our schools until we address those obstacles and realize there is no “one size fits all” solution. Every school district, every school and every student has his or her own obstacles to overcome, and we cannot expect one piece of legislation or rule to fix everything.
We have too many citizens, right here in our very own community, who believe it’s not their responsibility to care about and advocate for these students. However, I feel that we should all have a common goal in life: to have a positive and extraordinary impact on the lives of others.
Even as students, we can give back in important ways. For inspiration, here are a couple ways I give back:
- I coordinate a program through the Office of Student Life’s Department of Social Change, called A Day in the Life of a Buckeye. This allows me to bring inner-city and Appalachian-area high school students to campus and offer them a one-on-one experience of life at The Ohio State University – and college in general – for a day.
- I am actively involved with Buckeye Civic Engagement Connection, a Student Life department that works to connect Ohio State with its surrounding communities, focusing specifically on programming for individuals, families and entire communities facing poverty and its consequences.
The city of Columbus, state of Ohio and the nation needs our help! Help is needed in our communities, in our schools, in our prisons, in our retirement centers, in our libraries, in our food banks and in our recreation centers. There’s no experience more valuable than being civically engaged with your community; you have the power to make a difference.