Former National Urban League head Hugh B. Price told the Princeton Chamber yesterday that one of the strategies for improving education is to increase and enhance the opportunities for student recognition. Prizes, awards, parades – they matter more than we would think, he said.
Looking back at the previous Sunday, when Not in Our Town gave out the 12th edition of its Interfaith Unity Awards, I get it. There wasn’t a dry eye when The Witherspoon Five, five eighth grade youths from John Witherspoon Middle School, gave their recitation of a poem by David E. Talbert on what it means to young black men for Barack Obama to be president. Evelyn Counts, JWMS counselor, had organized this for a Martin Luther King Day assembly, and the effort earned them the awards, a state citation, and a U.S. Savings Bond. (Pictured, Carole Krauthamer, left, with Evelyn Counts and the boys). JWMS Principal Bill Johnson has scheduled the Witherspoon Five to recite for a third time, at the Martin House graduation next week.
Not in Our Town is the interracial, interfaith social action group that recently presented a White Privilege workshop, co-sponsored by the Princeton Public Library, which brought 90 participants. NIOT also honored PHS seniors Moriah Akrong and Tamara Curtis as role models in their efforts to promote respect for diversity and to advance the cause of good race relations. (Tamara is pictured with her father, John Curtis, at the NIOT reception at the Carl Fields Center on the Princeton University Campus. For more photos, click here.)
Friends, family, and school officials spoke at length, affirming each of the honorees. The eighth graders, in particular, are at that perilous age when it is not a sure thing that they will succeed – and they are not afraid to wear their emotions on their sleeves. Jamal Williams’ mother (pictured with her sons by the banner) told of how, as a single mom, she was proud of her son and his friends, and it was especially poignant when Isaac Williams piped up to say how Jamal took care of him like a father.
Price, a product of the DC public schools (where his father was a doctor) plus Amherst and Yale, is a warm and witty speaker. He put much of his advice in his latest book, “Mobilizing the Community to Help Students Succeed.” He is in the first year of a five-year endowed visiting professorship at the Woodrow Wilson School, so he’ll also be around for the next couple of years. (He speaks in Trenton at Gallery 125 at 6:30 p.m. )
Another idea to celebrate achievement: herd the entire third grade of Trenton and surrounding area schools into the Thunder stadium or Sovereign Bank Arena and have them read a book in unison together. The only cost would be the buses and I bet that would be a popular corporate grant idea. Or give out a free bike, as they did in New Rochelle, to any youngster who read 50 books in a year. That year, 600 youngsters read 25 or more books.
“Children are hungry for this kind of engagement,” Price said. “The point is to create a drum roll for academic achievement, and engage the community in beating the drum.”
So — drum roll, please!