Education is a topic that I feel strongly about. On this blog, I focus a great deal on issues of politics, history, civic responsibility, and current events. This grouping of concerns was cultivated by the educational background that I am fortunate enough to have. I use this site as a vehicle to share the things I have learned in my years of study, and to keep people informed of what is going on in the Black community of New York City in particular, and the African-American community in general.
On Thursday night, I got wind of a recent story in The Daily News about my alma mater, Rice High School possibly closing in June due to funding issues. Immediately, I was disheartened. Yes, I was distraught at the very idea that the school that gave me so many opportunities is now financially struggling, and may either have to move or close altogether. However, I must say that I was equally disappointed with the angle of the story. All you get from reading the article, is that if Rice High School closes, the city will have lost one of it’s best basketball programs. Not to diminish from the legacy of the Raiders, but there is much more to Rice High School than b-ball. Just saying that good ball players is the main thing that would be lost gives short shrift to the very tangible academic excellence that the school encourages.
The best way for me to illustrate this to you is to tell a little bit about my experience at Rice. In the last year of junior high school, my parents began to look for high school options for me. At the time, I was living on Amsterdam Avenue, and George Washington was my zone school. They definitely did not want me to go there, considering my difficult experiences in junior high. So, I took the extrance exam to Rice, passed it, and got in. Even though it was a struggle making the tuition payment at times, my parents still did it, wanting better for me.
So here I was, in Catholic school after going public for both elementary and junior. At Rice, in my freshman year, I really began to get into the curriculum, doing okay for my first year. The only issue was that I was deficient in math, and had to do the class again over the summer. Long story short, that experience made me work harder at the subject, and that was the last time I was ever in mandatory summer school. In my case, it was really sophomore year that I really showed up, and started applying myself to the work in front of me. I turned around, with the encouragement of the teachers at the school. I began getting kudos and recognition for my improved attitude towards the subjects, especially English and Global Studies as it was then called. It was in high school that I developed my strengths in reading regularly, literary analysis, interpretation, and understanding the connection between history and current events. All things I would need to do well in college.
I had improved so much as a student, that I was given an opportunity at the end of my Junior year to attend the Cornell University Summer College Program. The teachers and administrators recognized the potential in me, and rewarded my diligent work with a once in a lifetime experience to study for the summer at an Ivy League school. So not only did Rice High School prepare me for college, they also afforded me the chance to see what going away to college would be like. I would never have had that chance at George Washington High School. This experience, in addition to my participation in the Rice High School debate team in my senior year, forged the mind of the opinionated and at times intellectually combative person you see today.
While I was not a bad student, I needed an extra push. Rice gave that to me, along with my other brethren who attended. I want the next generation of young Black men to be able to have the opportunities I had, and greater. This little catholic school which takes up a corner on 124th street serves as an oasis in an unfortunately under-served Harlem community. In spite of the very real challenges to those who seek to do better in urban environments, the faculty and staff continue to provide an alternative template for success beyond the streets and the music industry for Black males. It would be a shame if in the midst of the “revitalization” of Harlem, Rice High School would close its doors forever. There is no way a school with a one hundred percent college acceptance rate should be allowed to close.
If funds aren’t raised, and the Black community of New York fails to pull together, then the class of 2011 will be the last graduates of the famed central Harlem school. I encourage my fellow Rice men to share their stories as well, and do what we can to preserve this valuable Harlem institution. For more information on what you can do to help, contact Stephen Fitzgerald, the Chairman of the Board of Directors. Please do what you can to save Harlem’s only catholic school. If it is not preserved, than the young Black men of Harlem and the Bronx have one less good option for education in their own community.
Marc W. Polite
Class of 1997