Marching the gap into the light -- Gazette.Net







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A group of Montgomery County students is marching to close the achievement gap — and they want everyone to join them.

The roughly 20 students organizing the March to Close the Gap hail from Minority Scholars Programs at about 10 high schools around the county. As leaders and members of the program aimed at closing the gap, the students have planned the march as a platform to share their work and direct attention and support to the issue they say is prevalent but sometimes unknown.

The march on April 27 will take its participants from the Carver Educational Services Center to the Montgomery County District Court in Rockville.

Performance gaps between student groups — especially those between African-American and Hispanic students, and their white and Asian peers — remain a long-standing issue for Montgomery County Public Schools.

With a little more than three weeks left to plan and recruit participants for the march, the students and their teachers in the program met at Clarksburg High School on April 2 to discuss a range of issues, including where they stood cultivating interest in the event from their peers and others.

Gabriella Bianchi, a 16-year-old sophomore at Wootton, said after the meeting her school has a small percentage of minority students and many of her friends aren’t aware of the achievement gap.

“It just doesn’t make sense to them because at our school, the problem, socially, isn’t a very big issue,” said Bianchi, a co-leader of Wootton’s Minority Scholars Program.

To raise support at Wootton — where the idea of the march originated — Bianchi said she and others had reached out to a range of student groups and were working toward a spot on the school’s announcements and sending information home to students’ families.

She said the march has received “good support so far” at the school, but there was more work for them to do in the next few weeks.

“We don’t have as much support as we wish we had,” Bianchi said.

Mariam Jalloh-Jamboria, a senior at Clarksburg High School who leads its Minority Scholars Program, said she has emailed area churches and mosques and talked to members of other groups she’s involved in.

“Anything that I have my foot in is where I’m promoting the march,” she said.

Jalloh-Jamboria, 17, said she has learned that performance gaps exist beyond those found between students of different races. Gaps also appear along the lines of socioeconomic status and sexual orientation, she said.

In her outreach, she said, she has told others that, whether they are a minority student or not, the gap and the Minority Scholars Program’s work affects them.

Skylar Mitchell, a junior at Walt Whitman, joined the efforts to organize the march after hearing about the event from Michael Williams, a Minority Scholars Program coordinator and a fellow member of the county school system’s African American Student Achievement Action Group.

Mitchell said she has not seen many other minority students in her advanced placement and honors courses.

She said, from her experience, she thinks minority students too often don’t strive for academic success.

“If we’re not all exceeding at the same rate for whatever reason, there’s a problem, and that’s something that needs to be addressed,” she said.

Williams, a teacher and the Minority Scholars Program coordinator at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, said the program coordinators involved in the march’s planning knew the students were “on to something” when they raised the idea of a march.

The march, he said, will serve to raise awareness and garner support from the community for efforts to close the gap.

Vilma Najera, a foreign language resource teacher and the Minority Scholars Program coordinator at Clarksburg High, said she thinks the issue has escaped many county students.

“I think a lot of kids don’t get it, and I think it’s just because it’s not a conversation a lot of kids are having,” she said.