I attended Boyd Elementary School in an economically and racially segregated school in a rich suburb. One doesn’t normally equate suburbs with this problem, but in my hometown of Allen, which was recently ranked the second best suburb in America by realtor.com and MONEY Magazine, that’s the way things were, and still are today. Fourteen percent of students in Allen are categorized as economically disadvantaged. At Boyd, 67.4 percent are. It’s ironic that a place known for amazing schools can have one so far behind the others.
Throughout my youth, I witnessed countless peers excel in an under-challenging elementary school environment, but fall short in subsequent school years. Despite hard work and effort, their educational foundation simply was not there. I often wonder how I managed to make it to college when many of my elementary peers did not. I grew up in a low-income, single parent home without a father. Statistically speaking, the odds were stacked against me. It has only recently occurred to me that I was successful because of the role my mother played in my academic pursuits.
My mother taught preschool and always stressed the importance of education in our household. I remember spending late nights with her reading Harry Potter, or competing with my little sister to see who could count to 100 first. I always had the mindset growing up that learning was important, and I feel that truly helped me. The problem remains, however, that not all children are fortunate enough to have that academic support.
When I arrived at college, I knew I had to find a way to contribute to the community I came from. I joined Students Expanding Austin Literacy (SEAL) to help fight the educational inequity I saw throughout my youth. SEAL aims to help low-income elementary school children dive into reading by serving as mentors and reading buddies for them. We hope to instill a love for reading that continues even after their time in SEAL.
Each time I volunteer with SEAL, I am reminded of how smart and hard-working these children are. We often see “at-risk” children as nothing more than a statistic. Are they low income? What are their grades? What race are they? But working side-by-side with them you see more than that. You see how much they love to learn. You see how much they love their friends. You see how much they love Pokémon and laughing. They’re just normal kids.
SEAL has always served as an integral part of my college-career. It’s where I met some of my closest friends, it’s why my passion for education equity has flourished, it’s how I learned to become a leader, and it’s what I’ll always look back on with pride.
– James Treuthardt, former SEAL president (2018-2019)