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Minority students step up

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Published on: Thursday, March 14, 2013

By Tazeen Ahmad

ROCKVILLE - While local politicians and educators tackle the persistent achievement gap between White or Asian students and their African American and Latino counterparts, some local schools have let the students take the lead in motivating their peers to get excited about school.

Through the Minority Scholars Leadership Program students have been working in a variety of ways including holding themselves accountable to specific GPA requirements, tutoring, and encouraging fellow students to take part in Honors and Advanced Placement classes.

The program, a student-led initiative, whose main mission is to increase the academic success of minority students and foster positive relationships, began at Walter Johnson High School eight years ago and has since spread to Clarksburg, Bethesda/Chevy Chase and Wootton high schools.

“The main goal of the program is to ensure that African America and Latino students are performing at their highest ability and raising the bar so they can have better opportunities for college and beyond,” said Michael Williams, social studies teacher and program coordinator at Walter Johnson High School

 “Minority Scholars program has had a huge impact and has changed the culture at our school,” Williams said.  “It is a great way for students to give back and support other students.”

Vilma Najera, program coordinator at Clarksburg High School, said the program supports goals set by the school administration and promotes academic success and high expectations for students throughout the school.

“We are planting the seed to ensure that students don’t just settle for the minimum but try to go above and beyond.  Which means to get on the honor roll, to get the straight A’s, to take upper level classes,” Najera said.

Byron Arriola Jr. is a senior at Clarksburg and has been in the Minority Scholars Leadership program for the past two years.  Arriola enjoys being in the program because it helps him with his classes and says he in turn helps out any fellow students that need help.

Arriola, who play football and runs track for Clarksburg, plans on pursuing a degree in business administration at the University of Maryland next year.  Arriola  said the Minority Scholars program has made a big difference for him and for other minority students at his school by encouraging them to excel academically and putting them in leadership positions which gives them confidence and the skills to succeed.   

“One major change they instituted at Walter Johnson was having students say ‘I want to take that [advanced placement] course’ rather than having the teachers be the ones that decide who takes the course,” said Renee Howell, Walter Johnson PTSA president.  

Howell said that by actively having the students make that decision greatly increases the likelihood of them succeeding.  She would like to see PTSA do more to get parents of minority students involved in the main body of the PTSA.

“We need to find a way to reach out and not only have parents of minority students involved in the Minority Scholars program but also represented in the main body of the PTSA,” Howell said.

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